A-K Valley football notebook: Highlands hopes to avenge loss to Mars

Thursday, September 21, 2017 | 6:36 PM

Logan Crise can't forget the final play of Highlands' game last season against Mars.

It's not exactly an easy one to get over.

With an out-of-timeouts Highlands trailing rival Mars by six points, Crise took a lateral from quarterback Brayden Thimons and cut all the way across the field, with the chance to at least tie the score in his sights — only to get knocked out of bounds at the 2-yard line. Just like that, the Golden Rams lost 14-8, perhaps the most painful defeat in their 3-6 season.

The teams meet at 7 p.m. Friday at Mars for a Northwest Nine Conference game.

“We've got some revenge from last year,” said Crise, who caught seven passes for 149 yards and a touchdown in Highlands' 24-16 Week 3 win over Knoch. “It was tough last year. That's a game that really stuck by me.”

After breaking a six-game losing streak against Knoch last week, Highlands (2-1, 2-1) will look to snap another skid against a former Greater Allegheny Conference rival. Mars won the last three meetings, with Highlands' last victory coming in 2011.

Class 4A No. 4 Mars (3-1, 2-1) is coming off a 26-15 victory at Montour. The Fightin' Planets present a challenge with their wing-T option offense, but Highlands is coming off a strong defensive performance against Knoch's option attack. The Golden Rams shut the Knights out in the second half.

“Obviously, they both want to run the ball, and they want to give you some misdirection,” Highlands coach Dom Girardi said. “It'll just be a matter of us coming up with a good plan and relaying it to the kids.”

Fine line

The Plum offense was stuck in low gear the first three weeks of the season, averaging 95 yards a game and producing nine points on three field goals. That changed last Friday against Big East 9 foe Franklin Regional as the Mustangs produced 320 yards — 118 passing and 212 rushing — in a 33-7 rout of the Panthers.

Coach Matt Morgan said he challenged many players to improve after a 48-0 loss to Penn-Trafford a week earlier. That included the offensive line, and Morgan said it rose to the occasion.

“We've expected big things out of the line, and they stepped up and got the job done,” Morgan said. “Against Penn-Trafford, we lost the line of scrimmage, and it showed. That's why we lost 48-0. But this week, we won the line of scrimmage.”

The offensive line, often in the past much smaller than its counterparts, has size this year and is a mixture of veterans and new blood.

Junior left tackle Cooper Aubele is 260 pounds. Senior Aaron Shefler checks in at around 300. Right guard Mike Giannuzzi, a senior, is 270, and senior right tackle Nick Florek is 250. Starting left guard Adam Garvin, a junior, is the “skinny guy” at 210. Sophomore tight end Nick Stitt, at 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds, is a converted left guard.

Senior tailback Coulter Robb had a career night against Franklin Regional with 17 carries for 116 yards, including 82 in the second half.

“Every time I got the ball, there were wide-open holes,” Robb said. “I had a lot of options of where to run, all because of the line.”

Meet (West) Virginia

Freeport junior Austin Romanchak got an up-close-and-personal view of big-time college football last week when he took an unofficial visit to West Virginia.

“It's all beautiful down there,” Romanchak said. “They've got a gorgeous football facility, and their campus is gorgeous.”

As part of the visit, Romanchak spent time on the sidelines before the Mountaineers' 59-16 victory over Delaware State. He also got to briefly see Logan Thimons, a 2016 Freeport graduate and redshirt freshman linebacker for WVU.

Romanchak starts at quarterback and defensive back for Freeport (2-1, 1-0 Allegheny Conference). He has 262 rushing yards, 113 passing yards and five total touchdowns on offense, plus 14 tackles and a pick-six.

Zero hour

Four Alle-Kiski Valley teams are sitting without a win heading into Week Four, but that will change for at least one of them.

Deer Lakes (0-3, 0-3) hosts Valley (0-3, 0-2) in Allegheny Conference play, with each team seeking its first victory. The Vikings prevailed in a 41-34 shootout last season, but both teams are having trouble on offense this season. Deer Lakes was shut out the past two weeks, by Freeport and Keystone Oaks.

Kiski Area (0-4, 0-3) travels to Connellsville (1-3, 0-3) for a Big East 9 game. The Cavaliers have a nine-game losing streak dating to last season, with their last victory coming over Connellsville.

Leechburg (0-4, 0-3) heads to Springdale (1-3, 0-1) for an Eastern Conference battle. The Blue Devils are looking for more on offense, averaging five points. But they knocked off Springdale as recently as 2014, posting a 19-13 upset that season of a Springdale team that made the playoffs.

Staff writer Michael Love contributed. Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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