Highlands pulls away from Greensburg Salem for important Greater Allegheny win

Friday, October 22, 2021 | 10:46 PM

On a rainy senior night at Greensburg Salem, the Golden Lions and Highlands had an important contest when it came to their playoff hopes.

After a first quarter in which both teams traded punts, Highlands (6-3, 3-3) capitalized on Greensburg Salem mistakes, which gave the Golden Rams short fields on three consecutive drives in the second quarter. That helped them on their way to a 40-20 win over Greensburg Salem (5-4, 3-3) in a Class 4A Greater Allegheny conference game Friday night at Offutt Field.

“It was a matter of who could cash in on the other’s mistakes. They were very physical, and we at times had difficulties moving the ball. It was good to get those short fields and capitalize,” Highlands coach Domenick Girardi said.

“I think both teams can look at themselves and say there are some things we need to clean up as we make a late-season push here. But it gives us confidence that we can beat really good teams.”

The Golden Rams broke a scoreless game open in three minutes as junior quarterback Chandler Thimons factored in all three touchdowns.

Thimons called his own number twice as he scored from 3 yards and 5 yards to give Highlands a 13-0 lead with 6 minutes, 26 seconds remaining in the first half.

After a short punt by Greensburg Salem that gave Highlands ball at the Golden Lions 40-yard line, Thimons connected with junior wide receiver Landan Signorella on a bubble screen that Signorella took 39 yards for a touchdown to extend Highlands lead to 20-0 with 4:43 remaining in the first half.

Thimons finished 12 for 21 with 131 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Thimons added 93 yards rushing with three rushing touchdowns.

The Golden Lions built some positive momentum heading into halftime as senior quarterback Hayden Teska connected with junior wide receiver Cody Rubrecht for a 26-yard touchdown with 33 seconds remaining in the first half.

On the opening drive of the second half, the Greensburg Salem defense forced a Highlands punt. But after a bad snap and recovery, the Golden Lions took over inside the Highlands 20-yard line. Teska found senior wide receiver Donavin Waller for a 16-yard touchdown to narrow the deficit to 20-12 with under nine minutes remaining in the third quarter.

Greensburg Salem had a chance to potentially tie the game in the third quarter, but Teska was picked off by Highlands’ Jordyn Tavarez, who returned it to the Golden Lions’ 19-yard line. A couple of plays later, Thimons located Tony Jones, who shook loose from his defender, for a 14-yard touchdown.

“I think those three drives steered the direction of the game. We started off great in the second half and made it a one-score game. We just didn’t take advantage of the opportunities when we had possession to take the lead,” Greensburg Salem coach Dave Keefer said.

“If we took the lead, I think we would have a pretty good opportunity to win. We just didn’t seize on the momentum a couple times.”

The Golden Lions didn’t quit as Teska recovered a fumble on defense and then connected with Rubrecht for a 11-yard touchdown on the Golden Lions’ first play of the ensuing drive to trim the Highlands lead to 26-20 with 1:17 remaining in the third quarter.

Teska finished 20 for 44 with 251 yards with three touchdowns and one interception for the Golden Lions. Rubrecht made nine catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns.

Highlands pulled away in the fourth quarter with back-to-back touchdowns as sophomore running back Luke Bombalski ran the first in from 27 yards and Thimons the second from 14 yards.

“It’s very beneficial to have two guys back there that are two legitimate run threats without having that the defense could key on one person. Some weeks, the runs for the running back are open, and some weeks, like tonight, the runs for the quarterback are open. We go with whatever is working,” Girardi said.

Highlands finished with 293 yards of total offense with 162 yards coming on the ground. Greensburg Salem finished with 299 yards of total offense with only 48 yards coming on the ground. Both teams had two fumbles and an interception on the wet night.

Greensburg Salem will travel to Plum in their season finale, and Highlands will host Knoch as the playoff picture looks to be decided in the final week.

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