After decades apart, North Catholic, Highlands to meet in conference clash

Wednesday, September 14, 2022 | 8:08 PM

The enthusiasm Highlands has for its Greater Allegheny Conference opener against North Catholic belies the fact that the schools haven’t played each other for 25 years.

The Golden Rams host the Trojans on Friday night with North Catholic holding a 20-14-1 lead in the all-time series.

The schools go back a long way. In fact, Highlands’ inaugural game Sept. 6, 1968, was a 12-6 setback to North Catholic, which wasn’t even a WPIAL member at the time.

A lot has changed since the teams last played in 1997.

Highlands now has Golden Rams Stadium, and North Catholic is no longer in Pittsburgh’s Troy Hill section.

North Catholic (2-1) also has one of the WPIAL’s longest conference winning streaks. The Trojans have won 25 consecutive conference games and 35 of their past 36, losing only to Derry, 27-0, on Sept. 21, 2018.

One reason many are looking forward to the game is Highlands is off to a 3-0 start for the second straight season, coming off last Friday’s 28-20 victory at Chartiers Valley.

“They’re definitely our toughest opponent thus far,” Golden Rams first-year coach Matt Bonislawski said. “We’re aware of that and their conference winning streak. It’ll be a true test to see where we’re at.”

Fourth-year quarterback Chandler Thimons trained his focus on the Trojans.

“They’re definitely good,” Thimons said. “I go day-by-day, game-by-game. We came in today, and coach is real amped up. They’re a very talented team, and we’re very excited to play them.”

Perhaps most excited for Highlands is transfer student Daniel Long, formerly of North Catholic.

“He’s been amped up the whole season to play them,” Thimons said. “He’s really ready to go.”

Said Bonislawski: “It’s always good to be 3-0. We’ve been good at times, and we’ve been sloppy at times, especially the last game with some penalties and stopping ourselves. There’s a lot to clean up, and our goal is to try and get better each week.”

Highlands is led on the ground by junior Luke Bombalski with 313 rushing yards. Thimons is showing he can beat people with his arm and feet. He has 170 rushing yards and 207 passing yards.

“The pieces are starting to come together, and we’re looking a lot better,” Thimons said.

Both players also are doing their jobs on defense as linebackers. Bombalski leads in tackles with 23, and Thimons has 15.

North Catholic quarterback Jason Siket has big shoes to fill after the graduation of one of the WPIAL’s top passers over the last two seasons, Joey Prentice, who had 1,547 passing yards last year. Siket has 141 passing yards, and Jack Fennell is the leading rusher with 171 yards.

Thimons will be recognized before the game for setting a Highlands school record of 48 career touchdown passes last week against Chartiers Valley.

Har-Brack, a Highlands predecessor school, had a 6-4 record against North Catholic from 1954-67.

Series history

Highlands and North Catholic haven’t played since 1997. Here are the results of the last 10 games in the series:

1997: North Catholic 23, Highlands 15

1996: North Catholic 37, Highlands 0

1995: North Catholic 28, Highlands 7

1994: North Catholic 54, Highlands 0

1993: North Catholic 34, Highlands 0

1992: North Catholic 15, Highlands 0

1991: Highlands 15, North Catholic 0

1989: Highlands 26, North Catholic 6

1988: Highlands 17, North Catholic 7

1987: North Catholic 17, Highlands 14

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