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