Highlands logs senior-night overtime win vs. New Castle

Saturday, October 19, 2019 | 12:09 AM

When New Castle traveled to Highlands’ Golden Rams Stadium two years ago, the Red Hurricanes escaped with a 48-47 victory in two overtimes.

On Friday in Natrona Heights, the teams played another overtime game, and this time, the home team left the field victorious.

Highlands took the lead on a 10-yard pass from Chandler Thimons to DJ Loveland on its OT possession, and the Golden Rams defense stopped New Castle in four plays to come away with a 28-22 senior-night victory.

“The kids fought so hard, and this is a great win,” Highlands coach Dom Girardi said. “We made plays tonight in all three phases. The defense really stepped up. That’s what it’s been doing the past few weeks.

“Hats off to New Castle. Their kids fought. They are tough and well-coached. Our kids love going against them. We know it’s going to be a hard-hitting, competitive game. That’s what we had tonight.”

Brock White was stopped short of the end zone on his 2-point conversion attempt after the Golden Rams OT score, so Highlands was tasked with protecting a six-point lead.

Demetrius McKnight, New Castle’s leading rusher this season, carried the ball for 2 yards on first down and lost 8 back to the 16 on a second-down carry.

Quarterback Michael Wells then found Jason Williams for 15 yards down to the 1, setting up the final play.

McKnight took the ball at the start and looked for room. He had change course facing a host of Highlands defenders who eventually forced a desperation pass that fell incomplete.

“Danny Thimons shot the gap right away, disrupted what they wanted to do and forced them outside,” Girardi said. “He wanted to go downhill because there was only 1 yard to get. Our kids ran well to the ball. The kids from both teams fought and fought that final play, and it was that way the whole game.”

New Castle coach Joe Cowart tipped his cap to the Golden Rams defense.

“Their guys did a good job of hitting the seam and getting some penetration,” he said. “They did a nice job of making a play in a big moment.”

Highlands improved to 3-6 and concluded its Northwest 8 slate at 3-4. The Golden Rams came in with slim playoff hopes, and despite the dramatic victory, they were eliminated from postseason contention with Montour’s 46-7 victory over Beaver.

New Castle fell to 3-3 in the conference and remains alive with a home game against Ambridge to close out the regular-season schedule.

Highlands freshman Chandler Thimons finished with a season-high 221 yards on 11 of 19 passing. He found Johnny Crise four times for 152 yards and touchdowns of 34 and 76 yards.

The 76-yarder came on third and 22 from the Golden Rams 24 with 8 minutes, 30 seconds left in the third quarter, and it broke a 14-14 halftime tie.

Loveland caught Thimons’ 2-point conversion pass, and the Golden Rams led 22-14.

“Coming off the game last week against South Fayette, we knew they were a great team,” Crise said. “We had something good going there, so it just rolled over to this game. We had a great week of practice. We just kept it rolling.”

New Castle was forced to turn the ball over on downs at the Highlands 19 and 8 on two second-half possessions, but it broke through to tie the score with less than three minutes left in the fourth on a 6-yard run from McKnight.

He added the conversion run to tie the score 22-22.

It was the first touchdown Highlands gave up in the second half in the last five games.

McKnight finished with 93 yards on 31 carries. He got New Castle on the board in the first quarter with a 1-yard run and hauled in a 53-yard touchdown pass from Wells later in the half.

Wells ended the game with 188 yards through the air.

Loveland, in addition to his winning score, put points on the board for the Golden Rams in the second quarter with a 60-yard punt return.

“I saw the ball bounce, and I was hoping for a good bounce,” he said. “I got the momentum, and I just turned on the jets.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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