Latrobe ends playoff win drought with OT thriller over Highlands in 4A

Friday, November 4, 2022 | 10:40 PM

It’s been 54 years since Latrobe tasted a postseason victory.

But the Wildcats will get to savor a hard-fought, 28-21 first-round Class 4A overtime win Friday night against Highlands at Golden Rams Stadium.

Robert Fulton’s 6-yard touchdown run in the extra session gave Latrobe its first lead of the night, and an interception by JaTawn Williams at the 3-yard line sealed it.

Latrobe’s only other postseason victory came in the 1968, a 19-7 win over Kiski Area at Forbes Field. It was the last WPIAL game played at that iconic facility.

No. 6-seeded Highlands (9-2) tried to respond after No. 11 Latrobe’s touchdown. The Golden Rams were flagged for a personal foul after Aaran Randolph had reached the 3. So instead of third-and-goal at the 3, the ball was placed on the 18 and Highlands called a timeout.

The Williams interception took place on the following play.

“I picked it, and we were deciding whether to play a cover-3 or a nickel,” Williams said. “We wanted to keep them out of the end zone.”

It was an extra-sweet win for first-year coach Ron Prady.

“It’s not about me,” Prady said. “It’s about these kids busting their tails since March. They deserve this one. Highlands is a very good football team. They’re 9-1. They beat a lot of good teams and have some good players.”

Latrobe (7-4) will play at Thomas Jefferson in the quarterfinals Friday. It’s the first seven-win Wildcats team since 2001.

The loss overshadowed the end of a spectacular career for Golden Rams quarterback Chandler Thimons. The four-year starter became the first passer in Alle-Kiski Valley history to eclipse 5,000 career yards, finishing with 5,014.

Highlands took the lead three times, only to see Latrobe tie the score each time.

Landan Signorella caught a pair of touchdown passes, one from Randolph and the other from Thimons.

Latrobe tied it twice, first on a 14-yard pass from sophomore John Wetzel to Corey Boerio. The Wildcats tied it at 14-all on Wetzel’s 7-yard toss to Connor Lakin.

Both teams were foiled with onside kick attempts. Highlands tried one after the first touchdown, and Latrobe turned it into a 51-yard drive in three plays.

Then the Wildcats kicked one directly to Tyler Bender, and the Golden Rams went 53 yards on eight plays, taking the lead on a 13-yard run by Thimons.

After Latrobe tied the score, a Highlands drive was thwarted by Alex Tatsch’s interception at the Wildcats 33. Before the pickoff, Highlands had converted 3 of 3 fourth-down attempts.

“We had a lot of penalties at some terrible times,” Golden Rams coach Matt Bonislawsksi said. “Selfish penalties, especially in overtime. You go from the 3 to the 18. We had multiple holds, but give them credit. They ran the ball well. We had some nice drives but just didn’t get it done.”

It looked as if Highlands got a break when Brennan Haidze and Noah Leslie sacked Wetzel and forced a Latrobe punt to the Golden Rams 29 with 1:54 left.

Highlands ran nine plays, but regulation expired at the Latrobe 42.

Latrobe dominated the line of scrimmage as the night went on. After just 10 net rushing yards in the first half, the Wildcats ran for 160 yards in the second half.

“I think we controlled the ball a lot more in the second half,” Prady said. “We only ran 15 plays in the first half, so to control the ball it did wear on them.”

Wetzel finished with 87 rushing yards and 66 passing yards. Fulton had 75 yards in 10 tries.

Latrobe had lost 10 consecutive playoff games before Friday night.

Thimons finished with 124 passing yards, and he picked up 87 rushing yards. Brayden White had six receptions for 62 yards and Signorella caught five for 62.

Highlands, which last won a playoff game in 2014, is now 10-23 all-time in playoff games.

Watch an archived broadcast of this game on Trib HSSN.

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