Ben Guidugli picked off a Brandon Smith pass on the third play of the game, but Highlands couldn't move the ball against Boyle's defense. Justin Auton's 50-yard field goal attempt came up short.
The Rebels' mistakes continued on their next play when Quinn Givhan fumbled and Craig Gosney recovered for the Bluebirds at the Boyle 22-yard line.
Despite two penalties, Highlands reached the Boyle 13 after a 12-yard pass from junior quarterback Chase Cecil to Nick Sheffield. This time Auton nailed a 32-yard field goal to give Highlands a 3-0 lead with 6:17 to play in the first period.
Boyle finally moved the football late in the quarter. Smith connected with Josh Miller for 21 yards, Greg Peck and Evan Teague for 7 yards each and Seth Tamme for 27 yards to the Highlands 24. But on the next play Gosney took away a pass intended for Tamme at the six-yard line to end the threat.
"The pass was there, but the kid just made a nice defensive play," Chuck Smith said.
The Rebels finally hit paydirt early in the second quarter. Taking over at the Bluebirds' 33 following a punt, Givhan ran for 14 yards on the first play and two plays later Smith connected with Tamme for a 17-yard touchdown pass to give Boyle a 6-3 advantage with 9:47 to play in the half.
The Rebels were penalized late in the half for a personal foul on Greg Peck, his second such penalty in the game and that resulted in his ejection from the game, and the ball was placed at the 10, forcing Brandon Smith to punt out of his end zone.
Taking over at the Boyle 45-yard line, Cecil connected with Nick Sheffield for 34 yards to the 15, and Auton kicked his second field goal rom 32 yards out as time expired to knot the score at 6-6 at the half.
Auton missed wide left on a 36-yard field goal attempt midway through period three, but Highlands used a trick play on a halfback option to surprise Boyle's defense on its next possession. James Hubbard, who rushed 19 times for 71 yards, took a pitch out from Cecil and found Chris Owens open for a 61-yard gain to the Boyle two. Three plays later Hubbard scored on a 1-yard run, but Auton's extra point attempt hit the right upright to give Highlands a 12-6 advantage. "We were able to find a gap in Boyle's defense and exploited it," Hubbard said. "Our coaches (upstairs) made a great call. All I had to do was get it to him."
Auton added a 38-yard field goal and Jordan Kramer put the finishing touch on the win with a 4-yard touchdown run with 3:47 to play.
"We were able to put together a great run with 29 straight playoff wins, but it still doesn't take the sting out of this," Chuck Smith said. "I'm really proud of these kids."
Highlands played without Michael Mitchell, whose on-again, off-again court battle finally ended Friday night when the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 to not allow him to play in the championship.
Much of the pregame talk focused on whether Mitchell would play for Highlands. He transferred from Covington Catholic earlier in the year, but the Kentucky High School Athletic Association ruled him ineligible. He went to court and had the decision reversed in Campbell County Circuit Court, but that decision was then reversed last Tuesday.
Chuck Smith was disappointed in how the whole situation was handled.
"This was supposed to be a week of celebration for getting a chance to play for a state championship, and it turned out to be somewhat of a circus atmosphere," Smith said. "I thought it was a mockery of the game, and I'm really disappointed in the way it was handled."