Highlands scores in bunches for homecoming win vs. Armstrong

Friday, October 15, 2021 | 10:39 PM

The WPIAL postseason doesn’t begin for a few more weeks, but for the Highlands Golden Rams, the playoffs began Friday night.

Backed by quarterback Chandler Thimons’ performance on the ground and in the air, the Golden Rams clipped Armstrong in a 41-27 Class 4A Greater Allegheny Conference win in front of the homecoming crowd Friday at Golden Rams Stadium.

“It was a playoff game, and the next two are playoff games and I’m really happy with the way we played tonight,” Highlands coach Dom Girardi said. “I think the most important thing for us is to continue (this) moving forward, and it starts with practice and its starts with next Friday.”

Highlands (5-3, 2-3) snapped a three-game losing streak, and the loss ends Armstrong’s (5-3, 3-2) three-game wining streak.

“You can’t spot a team 21 points, and you can’t spot a good team 21 points,” Armstrong coach Frank Fabian said. “For whatever reason, we weren’t ready to play. That first quarter and half was very uncharacteristic of how we played all year, and Highlands had a lot to do with that.”

Highlands came out and looked as poised as it has all year. The Golden Rams got touchdown runs of 1 and 31 yards by Thimons for a 14-0 first-quarter lead. Thimons had a field day rushing for 130 yards and passing for 187 yards and one touchdown.

“It was a good gameplan, and they were a tough team to beat,” Thimons said. “We had to come into this game a lot more focused than we had been the past few weeks, and we got the job done.”

The River Hawks ran seven offensive plays in the first quarter. The Highlands defense played aggressive and didn’t give all-conference quarterback Cadin Olson much time.

“They came out, and they took it to us,” Fabian said. “The quarterback was hot early on, and then they got the run game going.”

Thimons connected with wide-open Landan Signorella for a 31-yard touchdown pass to extend the Rams’ lead to 21-0 in the second quarter.

Bulldozer Luke Bombalski scored on a 3-yard run to put Highlands up 28-0 with 2 minutes, 47 seconds remaining in the first half. Bombalski finished with 104 yards on 23 carries.

Olson and the rest of the River Hawks offense seemed to wake up late in the half. Armstrong went no huddle, and Olson marched the team 60 yards for a touchdown when Isaiah Brown pulled in a 6-yard pass to make it 28-7 going into halftime.

Olson finshed 26 of 32 three touchdowns and one interception.

Armstrong went exclusively to the no-huddle offense in the second half and had all the momentum early . On a fourth-and-1 at the Highlands 7-yard line, Armstong swtiched to the wildcat formation. But the snap was fumbled, and senior lineman Jewlius Barnes had no chance as the Highlands defense swared him for a 3-yard loss and turnover on downs. The play changed the momentum.

“It was open, and he dropped the snap,” Fabian said. “It was open. I call them self-inflicted wounds.”

Highlands made the River Hawks pay for their mistake. The Rams drove 89 yards in five plays before Thimons scored on an 8-yard run to put Highlands up 34-7 midway through the third quarter.

Olson added a 1-yard run late in the third quarter to close in on Highlaands, 34-14.

He also connected on two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to cut Highlands’ lead to 41-27 and close out the scoring.

“We kind of had the whole ‘Let’s throw the kitchen sink at them’ mentality,” Girardi said. “They’re a very good team, and they got some terrific players.”

Watch an archived broadcast of this game on Trib HSSN.

William Whalen is a freelance writer.

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