The going is getting tougher for Highlands as the playoffs continue, and so are the Rams’ opponents. But the Rams are showing tenacity.
As No. 4 Highlands (10-0) prepares for its WPIAL Class AA quarterfinal game against No. 5 Seton-La Salle, the Rams are dealing with the loss of four starters to injury. A handful of others, notably quarterback Brayden Thimons and running back Elijah Jackson, are “banged up,” coach Sam Albert said.
Yet Highlands managed to overcome all of that in the first round, outlasting No. 13 New Brighton, 24-19.
“I know every week they’re going to give me everything they have,” Albert said. “I don’t think we played a very good game last week. We made a lot of mistakes (and) missed assignments, but we won the game. And I know our kids. You’d better play a good game to beat us because they’re not going to quit. They’re going to come just as hard every single play.”
As many as three freshmen played at one time for Highlands last week, and some underclassmen will be expected to contribute again this week, Albert said.
“In college, your first-, second- and third-teamers are right there with each other skillwise,” Albert said. “It’s not that way in high school. But what I’m sure of is that they’ll come in and give everything they have. That’s all you can ask for.”
Seton-La Salle (9-1) finished second in the Century Conference behind defending WPIAL and PIAA champion South Fayette.
The Rebels, ranked seventh in the state, boast a defense that shut out three opponents, including McGuffey in the first round of the playoffs.
“When you put together that much talent on one side of the ball, you’re expecting them to excel and to dominate,” Seton-La Salle coach Damon Rosol said. “Outside of the South Fayette game where we had a hiccup where we didn’t coach well, we didn’t play well and we didn’t execute, our defense has been pretty spot-on the rest of the year.”
Offensively, Seton-La Salle has a balanced attack with a 1,000-yard rusher in Rick Mellick and a strong passing game led by quarterback Tyler Perone (1,858 yards, 22 touchdowns).
“I think it’s going to be a fun, high-level football game between two competitive, fast, feisty football teams,” Rosol said.
Even with their injuries, Jackson and Thimons came up big for Highlands last week. Jackson rushed for 170 yards and two touchdowns “on one leg,” Albert said, and Thimons added 130 yards and one touchdown on the ground.
“There’s no slouches. There’s no easy ones,” Albert said. “To get this far, you’ve got to be physical. You’ve got to be talented. (There’s) a little bit of luck involved with the health thing. But there’s only eight teams left in all of Double-A. They’re all pretty good.”