Highlands back in Class 4A playoff race after shutting out Ambridge

Friday, September 27, 2019 | 10:49 PM

After a slow start, the emergence of young players has allowed Highlands to crawl back into the Class 4A playoff race.

The Golden Rams won their second consecutive game Friday night with a 33-0 victory over Ambridge.

Freshman quarterback Chandler Thimons threw for 165 yards and two touchdowns, and sophomore running back Brock White carried the ball for 158 yards and a score.

The victory gave Highlands a 2-2 record in the Northwest 8 conference, 2-4 overall. The Golden Rams are a half-game behind fourth-place Blackhawk. The top four teams qualify for the WPIAL playoffs.

“We’re where we want to be right now,” Highlands coach Dom Girardi said. “We dug ourselves a little bit of a hole earlier in the season, but the last two weeks we emphasized getting back to basics on both sides of the ball.”

The loss kept Ambridge winless at 0-6, 0-2. Highlands has a 5-1 lead in the all-time series against the struggling Bridgers.

The Golden Rams travel to Montour next Friday, and the Spartans are coming off their big upset victory at Knoch in overtime.

Said Girardi: “We still have some work to do. We won our last two games and with three conference games to go, we have to make sure we keep the momentum going.”

After a scoreless first quarter, Thimons hooked up with receiver Johnny Crise for a 75-yard touchdown on the initial play of the second period.

Ambridge recovered a muffed punt on the Highlands 34, but Crise picked off a pass from Rick Morrell and returned the ball 47 yards to the Bridgers 30. Caleb White scored four plays later from seven yards out.

On the next series, D.J. Loveland caught a 28-yard pass to set up a 7-yard run from Brock White to put the Golden Rams ahead, 21-0, with 2 minutes, 23 seconds left in the half.

Highlands all but secured the victory by putting together a solid 10-play, 71-yard drive culminated with a 25-yard pass from Thimons to Loveland.

The Golden Rams defense took over from there, keeping Ambridge off the scoreboard, despite the fact the Bridgers started four possessions in Highlands territory. Ambridge’s deepest penetration was the Golden Rams 24 late in the game.

“I want to compliment Highlands, for sure, because their defense rose to the occasion,” said Ambridge coach Don Phillips. “We had some opportunities. Their front people were very physical, and that linebacker kept blitzing. He was coming so hard, it was like a truck.”

Linebacker Jeremiah Sanders had 10 tackles and three sacks to lead the Highlands defense. The junior leads the team with 53 tackles.

“We call him ‘Scrappy’ for a reason,” Girardi said of Sanders. “He’s a scrappy football player, and he’s a making some great plays on defense. But the whole unit did a fantastic job tonight. Any time you can pitch a shutout in a WPIAL football game, that means something.”

It’s the second straight shutout for Highlands.

Ambridge has lost 33 of its past 36 games, but a bright spot against Highlands was junior Deyvon Gill-Martin, who ran for 69 yards and recovered a Golden Rams fumble.

“Deyvon is a great kid who works hard,” Phillips said. “He’s a really tremendous football player, but we over-exploit him to the point where everybody knows to key on him. He’s our ace, but he’s getting pounded. We’re trying to develop some other kids and they’re improving, but they just don’t have Deyvon’s speed.”

Crise caught three passes for 87 yards for Highlands, giving him 20 receptions on the season for 319 yards.

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