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Defense lifts Seton-La Salle over Highlands in Class AA quarterfinals | TribLIVE.com
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Defense lifts Seton-La Salle over Highlands in Class AA quarterfinals

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Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
Highlands' Jeremy Jackson (6) is tackled by Seton-La Salle's Nolan Abbiatici (10) and Andrew Lease (51) during their WPIAL Class AA quarterfinal game Friday, Nov. 7, 2014, at Valley Memorial Stadium in New Kensington.
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Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
Highlands' Jeremy Jackson is hit by Seton-La Salle's Chad Murphy after making a catch during a WPIAL Class AA quarterfinal game Friday, Nov. 7, 2014, at Valley Memorial Stadium in New Kensington.
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Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
Highlands' Elijah Jackson (28) runs the ball against Seton-La Salle during their WPIAL Class AA quarterfinal game Friday, Nov. 7, 2014, at Valley Memorial Stadium in New Kensington.
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Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
Seton-La Salle's Danzel McKinley-Lewis scores past Highlands' Wil Burris during a WPIAL Class AA quarterfinal game Friday, Nov. 7, 2014, at Valley Memorial Stadium in New Kensington.
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Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
Highlands' Elijah Jackson (28) is brought down by Seton-La Salle's Paris Ford (1) during a WPIAL Class AA quarterfinal game Friday, Nov. 7, 2014, at Valley Memorial Stadium in New Kensington.
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Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
Seton-La Salle's Ricky Mellick (24) runs the ball past Highlands' Blake Leri (10) during their WPIAL Class AA Quarterfinal game Friday, Nov. 7, 2014, at Valley Memorial Stadium in New Kensington.
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Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
Seton-La Salle's Tyler Perrone (12) throws a pass against Highlands during their WPIAL Class AA Quarterfinal game Friday, Nov. 7, 2014, at Valley Memorial Stadium in New Kensington.
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Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
Highlands' Blake Leri (10), Brayden Thimons (7) and Dylan Nolan (54) walk off the field after their WPIAL Class AA Quarterfinal game against Seton-La Salle on Friday, Nov. 7, 2014, at Valley Memorial Stadium in New Kensington.
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Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
Seton-La Salle's Tyler Perrone (12) runs the ball against Highlands during their Friday, Nov. 7, 2014, at Valley Memorial Stadium in New Kensington.
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Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
Seton-La Salle's Liam Sweeney (44) runs the ball past Highlands' Weston Bernath (46) during their WPIAL Class AA quarterfinal game Friday, Nov. 7, 2014, at Valley Memorial Stadium in New Kensington.
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Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
Seton-La Salle's Danzel McKinley-Lewis (4) is brought down by Highlands' Wil Burris (12) during their WPIAL Class AA quarterfinal game Friday, Nov. 7, 2014, at Valley Memorial Stadium in New Kensington.
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Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
Seton-La Salle's Paris Ford (1) is tackled by Highlands' Jordan Lineburg (2) and Dominic Martinka (32) during their WPIAL Class AA quarterfinal game Friday, Nov. 7, 2014, at Valley Memorial Stadium in New Kensington.
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Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
Seton-La Salle's Quincey Leonard (13) breaks up a pass intended for Highlands' Jeremey Jackson (6) during their WPIAL Class AA quarterfinal game Friday, Nov. 7, 2014, at Valley Memorial Stadium in New Kensington.
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Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
Highlands' Jeremy Jackson (left) runs past Seton-La Salle's Paris Ford during their WPIAL Class AA quarterfinal game Friday, Nov. 7, 2014, at Valley Memorial Stadium in New Kensington.
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Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
Seton-La Salle's Paris Ford (1) is awarded a touchdown as he is brought down by Highlands' Blake Leri (10) at the 2-yard line during their WPIAL Class AA quarterfinal game Friday, Nov. 7, 2014, at Valley Memorial Stadium in New Kensington.
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Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
Seton-La Salle's Ricky Mellick (24) runs the ball against Highlands during their WPIAL Class AA quarterfinal game Friday, Nov. 7, 2014, at Valley Memorial Stadium in New Kensington.

Seton-La Salle pulled out all the stops on offense, but the Rebels’ biggest stop came on defense.

No. 5 Seton-La Salle forced a key three-and-out with less than two minutes left, and the Rebels (10-1) ran out the clock to defeat No. 4 Highlands (10-1), 28-21, in the WPIAL Class AA quarterfinals Friday night at Valley Memorial Stadium.

Earlier in the fourth quarter, the Rebels recovered a Highlands fumble near midfield to preserve their seven-point lead.

“Our defense has stepped it up all year,” Seton-La Salle coach Damon Rosol said. “They bend, but they didn’t break when they had to.”

The big stand came after Highlands safety Jeremy Jackson intercepted a pass at his 7-yard line with just more than three minutes remaining.

The Golden Rams needed to go 93 yards to tie it, but Seton-La Salle linebacker Ricky Mellick short-circuited the drive by sacking Highlands quarterback Blake Leri at the 1 on first down.

“I think we had a bad snap, and that hurts because we’re behind the eight-ball down on our own goal line,” Highlands coach Sam Albert said. “That kind of limits your play selection.”

After an incomplete pass and a short run, Highlands punted, and Seton-La Salle picked up a first down to clinch the victory.

“I thought it was a safety, but that was the play of the game right there,” Rosol said of Mellick’s sack.

For much of the game, the teams traded big plays on offense. Seton-La Salle quarterback Tyler Perone passed for 190 yards and two touchdowns and added a score on the ground, and Highlands quarterback Brayden Thimons passed for 139 yards and a touchdown.

Seton-La Salle took advantage of press coverage on wide receivers Paris Ford and Danzel McKinley-Lewis. Ford caught a 28-yard pass from Perone to open the scoring in the first quarter, and McKinley-Lewis added a 38-yard score to make it 14-7 at halftime.

Highlands had a long scoring pass in the first half as Thimons found Jackson for a 30-yard touchdown to tie it in the first quarter. Jackson finished with eight catches for 125 yards.

“Some of our kids are banged up, but I knew our kids are resilient, and they were going to come and play hard,” Albert said. “And they did. You saw it tonight: They’re warriors.”

Leri, who began the season as Highlands’ starting quarterback before being injured in Week 1, tied it by throwing a 36-yard touchdown pass to Elijah Jackson in the third quarter. Albert said Elijah Jackson was playing at about 70 percent because of an ankle injury.

Seton-La Salle retook the lead on Perone’s 12-yard touchdown scramble, but Highlands tied it again on Elijah Jackson’s 1-yard run on the next drive.

A 33-yard pass from Perone to Bill O’Malley set up McKinley-Lewis’ 13-yard scoring run on a reverse on the first play of the fourth quarter.

Seton-La Salle will play No. 1 South Fayette (11-0) next week in the semifinals. The Lions dealt the Rebels their only loss of the season, 41-14 on Oct. 17.

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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