Highlands ready to fight as New Castle pays a visit

Wednesday, October 16, 2019 | 5:51 PM

Throughout this season, Highlands has displayed an ability to physically compete with teams every Friday night, but it hasn’t always resulted in wins.

A Week 7 matchup against Class 4A Northwest Eight-leading South Fayette was the perfect example. The Golden Rams gave up 14 points in the first quarter and trailed 21-6 at halftime.

But the Golden Rams answered the bell out of the break and scored 12 unanswered points while shutting down the third-highest scoring offense in the classification.

“We feel like we can go out there and put together a pretty good game against anybody,” Highlands coach Dom Girardi said. “That’s the great thing about our kids. They don’t back down from anybody. It doesn’t matter who comes in here or who we have to play. They go and give everything they have.”

Highlands (2-6, 2-4) will have another opportunity to put that fight on display when it hosts New Castle on Friday in a Northwest Eight Conference matchup at Golden Rams Stadium.

The last time the Hurricanes (5-3, 3-2) made a trip to Natrona Heights, the teams went into double overtime and New Castle came out on top with a one-point victory. They’ve won the past three meetings between the teams, but New Castle coach Joe Cowart knows any time the teams get together, a physical battle is to be expected.

“When you put their tape on, especially last week against a good South Fayette team, their record doesn’t reflect the talent they have,” Cowart said. “They have guys at every level that are really good football players, and coach Girardi has them playing really hard. We always play good football games against them, and I’d expect nothing less this weekend.”

This year, the Hurricanes display a big and experienced offensive line along with a few talented athletes who have helped them capture wins over Shaler, Montour, Beaver, South Park and, most recently, Knoch.

New Castle is led by running back Demetris McKnight, who has 158 carries for 895 yards and nine touchdowns. Quarterback Michael Wells has also been dangerous for the Hurricanes, completing 53 passes for 996 yards and nine touchdowns. He also is a threat to run with 225 rushing yards and five touchdowns.

“They have a nice line up front, and McKnight is a terrific football player, so we have to slow him down, but he’s not the only one,” Girardi said. “The quarterback (Wells) is good, and they have skill on both sides of the ball. They are a good team, so it’s going to take a good effort and we have to keep everything in front of us.”

Other than a 17-0 loss against Montour, the Golden Rams have played well. They shut out Ambridge and Beaver while scoring 60 points. Their game against South Fayette last week, in which Chandler Thimons threw for 172 yards and two touchdowns and wide receiver Johnny Crise had eight catches for 143 yards and two touchdowns, is another example of what they can do.

“With South Fayette being such a good team and us having the type of season that we were having,” Crise said, “it took a game like that to realize that we could bang with a team like them. It was definitely a confidence booster for us.”

The Golden Rams will get to put that confidence to the test on Friday when they look to keep their playoff hopes alive. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Golden Rams Stadium.

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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