FORT THOMAS, Ky. -- The Pulaski County Maroons advanced to the state championship game with a 41-31 win over the Highlands Bluebirds Friday afternoon at David Cecil Memorial Stadium.
Pulaski County (13-1) scored the final 28 points of the game after trailing 31-14 midway through the third quarter to secure the come from behind victory.
"We didn’t play well in the first half," head coach John Hines said. "We just had to play better, and we felt like we could do some damage running the football. We wore them down up front, and they were gassed from chasing the quarterback around."
The Maroons lost their leading rusher, junior running back Jaylon Conwell, to an injury in the first half, which put the running back duties on senior wide receiver George Gregory.
Gregory responded in a major way, carrying the ball 23 times for 130 yards and four touchdowns, including the clinching score from 3 yards out with 1:31 to go in the game.
"I don't really play running back -- I just fill in," Gregory said. "The starting running back went down, so I had to fill in his spot, and that’s a big spot to fill in too."
Gregory also had six catches in the game for 104 yards to lead a very balanced Pulaski County offense that finished with 243 rushing yards and 305 passing yards.
Highlands (8-6) had 388 yards of offense, although most of that came in the first half and couldn’t sustain any second-half drives, forcing the defense to stay on the field for far too long.
"At halftime, the coaches told us we had to play our A-game and to just have fun. We just played our game," said senior safety Christian Holman.
The Maroons had built momentum in the third quarter with two touchdowns, drawing them within three points. And in the final minute of the third quarter, Holman intercepted a pass from senior quarterback Austin Hergott inside Bluebird territory.
That interception set up Pulaski County’s go-ahead score on a 1-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter, but there was still plenty of game left with 10:22 remaining.
Highlands had two fourth-quarter possessions with the chance to regain the lead; however, the offense was unable to move the football anywhere close to the Maroons’ end zone.
"You just gotta hand it to the Maroons' defense -- they played fast and didn’t make mistakes in the second half," Hines said. "I'm proud of our team. They have great resiliency and they’re a lot of fun to coach."
After a rocky start to the season, the Bluebirds were on a roll having won seven straight games and will end up just one game short of the state title game, snapping an eight-year streak of playing in the championship game.
While Highlands now prepares for another run in 2016, Pulaski County will play in the state finals next weekend against the winner of Fern Creek and Bowling Green at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium on the campus of Western Kentucky University.
The Maroons are in their third straight 5A state championship game and are seeking back-to-back titles after knocking off Graves County 14-7 to claim last season’s crown.