Despite playoff exit, Highlands enjoys ‘successful season’ under 1st-year coach

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Tuesday, November 22, 2022 | 12:37 PM


Despite an overtime loss in an opening round playoff game, it was an outstanding season for Highlands.

The Golden Rams finished at 9-2, garnered second place in the Greater Allegheny Conference at 5-1 and outscored the opposition 356-182.

In six conference games, Highlands gave up 99 points, 56 of those to Armstrong in one game.

This was the 23rd playoff trip in school history. Latrobe beat Highlands in overtime, 28-21.

“I think it was a very successful season, especially in the regular season,” Golden Rams coach Matt Bonislawski said. “We didn’t advance in the playoff like we wanted to. Playing some of the teams and the schedule we played, I thought it was very good for us.”

Seven of Highlands’ 11 opponents were playoff teams.

“We made some huge steps from the previous season,” fourth-year quarterback Chandler Thimons said. “We made the playoffs last year, but we had a coaching change and the guys bought in to the new system and kept playing to our full potential.”

While Thimons had another historic season, Aaran Randolph emerged as one of the Alle-Kiski Valley’s standouts.

“He came around, we put him in the lineup at mid-season, and he represented another dimension for us,” Bonislawski said. “Anytime you put the ball in his hands, he can make big plays. He showed that over and over.”

In a pivotal game of the season against Mars, Randolph lined up in wildcat formation, and the result was five touchdowns in six plays.

A 13-yard run was followed by an interception and a 24-yard run. Highlands forced a punt and got the ball back at the Mars 19 where Randolph scored on the first play from scrimmage.

After another punt, Randolph took the ball 65 yards for a score. Once more after a punt and a 3-yard gain, Randolph threw a 56-yard touchdown pass to — of all people — Thimons. The Golden Rams scored 33 points in 7 minutes, 44 seconds of play.

Besides the touchdown reception, Thimons was downfield blocking on one of the Randolph runs.

Said Bonislawski: “Chandler’s just unselfish, he holds the A-K Valley record for passing yardage, but he just wanted to win games and he really did it well. He was even working with Aaran in practice, trying to help him out.”

“I never wanted my career to be about records,” Thimons said. “I’d rather still be playing right now and winning.”

Thimons finished with 5,014 passing yards, one of just 37 players in WPIAL history to exceed that barrier. He had 964 passing yards and 747 rushing yards in 2022.

“With the coaching staffs we had from Day 1, first with Coach Dom (Girardi) and with Coach Bones, I had a lot of coaches and players helping me out,” Thimons said. “It really makes you humble.”

One problem Highlands had late in the season was an injury to junior Luke Bombalski, who was hoping to make it back had the Golden Rams defeated Latrobe.

Despite missing the last four games, Bombalski still led the team in rushing with 798 yards and had 55 tackles.

Landan Signorella and Brayden White led the team in pass receptions with 16.

Defensively, Highlands gave up 446 rushing yards — just 41 per game.

Tyler Bender led with 72 tackles and Daniel Long had 61 to go with 17 sacks. Bender had 11 sacks. Nick McQuade had 55 tackles.

Highlands will return Bombalski, White, running back Julius Saunders and defenders Montrell Johnson and Aiden Burford next season.

As for Thimons, he’s currently fielding college offers. He may stay in Western Pennsylvania, perhaps at Westminster or Edinboro.

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