Highlands makes good in final seconds to defeat Armstrong

Friday, October 16, 2020 | 10:44 PM

It looked for a while like a remarkable comeback would fall short for the Highlands football team.

Down a point and going for a 2-point conversion, a pass slipped through the hands of Brock White backpedaling out of the end zone with 4 minutes, 27 seconds left in the game Friday.

But Highlands got the ball back, and White scored the winner with 17 seconds to go as the Golden Rams pulled out a 34-27 victory over the Armstrong River Hawks at NexTier Bank Complex.

Highlands was down 27-6 with 7:44 left in the third quarter of the Greater Allegheny Conference encounter.

The thrilling comeback was bittersweet, however, as the Golden Rams (3-3, 3-3) were eliminated mathematically from the WPIAL Class 4A playoff race with Hampton defeating Indiana.

“I’m so proud of our kids to fight back,” Highlands coach Dom Girardi said. “It’s very easy for a high school kid to get down on himself when you’re down by multiple scores. But we kept fighting and clawing.”

After White’s miscue, the Highlands defense held and forced an Armstrong punt to the Golden Rams 34, but an unnecessary roughness penalty gave Highlands the ball at the 49.

An offside call against the River Hawks on fourth down gave Highlands life. A 19-yard pass to D.J. Loveland put the ball at the Armstrong 14.

Four plays later, White scored his third touchdown on the night and ran in the 2-pointer after another Armstrong penalty.

“They just imposed their will on us,” River Hawks coach Frank Fabian said. “We thought we had a chance to put them away, and we didn’t. At times, it looked like their quarterback was playing 7-on-7, just standing there. Our pass rush disappeared.”

Armstrong fell to 3-3, 3-3.

It was another big night for River Hawks sophomore Cadin Olsen, who completed 17 passes for 280 yards and four touchdowns.

He has 1,641 yards on the season.

On the opening play of the second half, Olsen threw to a wide-open Aaron Robb for a 76-yard touchdown.

On Armstrong’s next possession, Olsen threw a 42-yard screen pass to Caleb Retzer to give the River Hawks a 27-6 advantage.

Shortly after, Highlands began the comeback with a 6-yard pass from Chandler Thimons to Kaeleb White.

“We just got out of our rhythm in the second half on offense,” Fabian said.

“We made some adjustments, but it was a tall task stopping them,” Girardi said. “Their quarterback is terrific.”

Thimons finished the night with 272 passing yards and has 1,104 yards this season.

White had 31 carries for 203 yards, and Loveland had nine receptions for 113 yards.

Robb had four catches for 102 yards.

The Highlands defense held Armstrong to one first down in its final four possessions.

Highlands took the opening kickoff and drove to the Armstrong 2 before the River Hawks broke up passes on third and fourth down.

The first half ended with Thimons tackled at the Armstrong 1 and the Golden Rams out of timeouts.

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