New coaches have Mars, Highlands in thick of section race

Wednesday, September 28, 2022 | 6:52 PM

Two first-year coaches have Highlands and Mars back in conference contention.

Highlands graduate Matt Bonislawski, who quarterbacked the Golden Rams to the 2001 WPIAL Class 3A semifinals, has piloted the Highlands to a 5-0 overall mark, 2-0 in Greater Allegheny Conference play.

Eric Kasperowicz, after a year in the collegiate ranks with Pitt, has the Planets 1-1 and 4-1 overall. Kasperowicz was the Pine-Richland coach for 10 seasons, compiling an 85-18 record with the Rams.

Mars visits Highlands at 7 p.m. Friday.

“We’re playing well and getting better each week,” Kasperowicz said of his team. “We lost a tough one there (15-14 to Blackhawk), but we’re getting a total team effort.”

While Highlands has an exciting offense, it’s the Golden Rams defense that’s been garnering the accolades with a shutout over Indiana last week and holding North Catholic to just seven the previous week.

“The defense had been playing well,” Bonislawski said. “Everyone has their role on defense, and they complement each other well. They fly to the ball, and there are a lot of athletes making plays.”

The Golden Rams have to stop a Mars offense that has scored 51 points in a game twice this season.

“Mars is very solid. They’ve got a good offense, and their defense is aggressive,” Bonislawski said. “If we don’t contain them, they can put up a lot of points, and we can’t let them put up any big plays.”

Highlands defensive coordinator Mark Kaczanowicz has the Golden Rams playing in a 3-3 set with various people rushing the quarterbacks. Defensive ends Tyler Bender and Daniel Long are making big plays.

While Luke Bombalski keeps pacing the rushing attack with exactly 1,900 career rushing yards, the junior linebacker also leads the team in tackles with 43.

“I would say the defense has a chemistry, and you play off each other’s energy,” Bombalski said. “The defense plays together. We find a way to attack the ball. There’s no single player on the defense playing for himself.”

Kasperowicz says the Mars offense isn’t doing anything special.

“We’re taking whatever a defense allows us to have,” he said. “We have an opportunistic defense, and our special teams are playing well. But Highlands is 5-0. You can’t beat that.”

His son, sophomore quarterback Eric Kasperowicz, has 581 passing yards, and Evan Wright has 628 rushing yards, four more than Bombalski.

Highlands’ four-year quarterback, Chandler Thimons, has 4,460 career yards entering Friday’s game.

When Coach Kasperowicz graduated from North Hills, he was the No. 1 all-time WPIAL passer with 5,500 yards.

Series history

Highands and Mars have played 10 times, with the Planets winning seven

2008: Highlands 26, Mars 7

2009: Mars 43, Highlands 0

2010: Mars 21, Highlands 0

2011: Highlands 14, Mars 11

2012: Mars 55, Highlands 6

2013: Mars 39, Highlands 0

2016: Mars 14, Highlands 8

2017: Mars 21, Highlands 10

2020: Mars 12, Highlands 7

2021: Highlands 22, Mars 7

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