Tough challenges await unbeaten Kiski Area, Highlands

Saturday, September 18, 2021 | 8:06 PM

The last time the Kiski Area football team was 4-0, the current players weren’t born.

The year was 2002, and the Cavaliers finished 6-4 and qualified for the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs.

Highlands is 4-0 for the first time since 2015, when the Golden Rams began the season 5-0 en route to a 7-3 overall mark and a spot in the WPIAL Class AA postseason.

Both teams are eyeing key matchups this week in and out of section play. Kiski Area hosts West Allegheny, and Highlands welcomes Greater Allegheny Conference foe Hampton to Golden Rams Stadium.

“The kids are very excited to be where they are, but they are not satisfied,” Kiski Area coach Sam Albert said after his team’s 41-7 rout of Connellsville on Friday.

“Of course, we want to keep improving each week, and also getting healthy is a key thing for us.”

Albert said he hopes players such as junior quarterback Lebryn Smith and senior wideout/running back/linebacker Matt Hilty can return to the lineup this week as the team focuses its attention toward a West Allegheny team that is 3-0 after dispatching Shaler, 24-0, on Friday.

“West Allegheny is a very good football team,” Albert said.

“It will be a good test for us before we start conference play. We want to keep everything in perspective that it is still an exhibition game, but there is pride on the line, and the guys want to go 5-0.

“They have a 6-4 Division I quarterback and two or three great receivers. They throw the ball extremely well. They can also run the ball with power. They are a well-balanced, well-coached football team. We will have to play a near-perfect game to stay on the field with them. Our defense takes a lot of pride in being physical like we were Friday, so we’re excited for that challenge.”

Albert said he appreciates Kiski’s “loud and enthusiastic” student section and hopes they will again be out in full force Friday.

“They do a great job supporting us,” he said. “West Allegheny has the same thing. That should be a battle in itself, who has the best student section.”

Senior quarterback Logan Johnson ran for three touchdowns against Connellsville, added a passing touchdown and intercepting a pass on defense. Senior CJ Hepler rushed for 148 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries.

“CJ is doing an unbelievable job for us,” Albert said. “He hadn’t played since eighth grade, but we talked him into joining the team this year.

“Logan Johnson, when the ball is in his hands, is really exciting. You never know what he’s going to do.”

Senior Dylan Hutcherson had three receptions for 81 yards and a touchdown.

For Highlands, Friday’s result — a 22-7 triumph at Mars in its conference opener — was a little closer than Kiski’s but no less satisfying, coach Dom Girardi said.

The Golden Rams scored twice in the second half to break open a tie game and keep the Planets winless.

“We have to continue to understand the physicality of conference play and the quality of opponent we are facing,” Girardi said.

“The guys saw that firsthand Friday against a Mars team who was big up front and very physical. They came in having played a really tough schedule. It took that first half to realize that this was going to be a dogfight. That’s how it’s going to be from here on out, every single week, every single quarter and every single play. They embraced that at halftime Friday and came out and played a really good (second) half of football.”

Like West Allegheny and Kiski Area, this week’s game between Highlands and Hampton will match up a pair of undefeated teams. The Talbots edged Armstrong, 21-20, on Friday and outlasted Shaler, 41-38, in Week 2.

“Hampton executes on both sides of the ball with tough kids who have motors that don’t stop,” Girardi said. “It’s going to be an extremely challenging week. We’re going to have to be at our best with our focus in practice. We know we will have to play our best for it to be a close game.”

Junior Chandler Thimons threw for 154 yards and three touchdowns against Mars. Two of the touchdown tosses went to junior Landan Signorella, who caught four passes for 100 yards.

Sophomore Luke Bombalski continued his breakout season with 132 yards rushing on 25 carries.

Girardi said senior running back/linebacker Brock White, who caught the other TD pass from Thimons, brought a new level in his second game back after recovering from an offseason knee injury.

“Early in the week, we started to see him get into that fifth gear,” Girardi said.

“He was going a little faster in practice than he was last week. Then on Friday, he looked really close to 100 percent with the way he was flying around on defense and hitting people. He’s always been a physical kid, and you could tell he had been deprived of contact for a while. He was really seeking that on both sides of the ball. He did a great job with the roles we ask him to take on.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at or via Twitter .

Tags: ,

More High School Football

Trib HSSN broadcast schedule: Week of Oct. 25, 2021
Trib HSSN Football Player of the Week for 2021 Week 8
2021 WPIAL football playoff picture entering final week of regular season
Penn Hills grad Claude Vangelus steps right into tackle spot on Millersville line
Chartiers Valley’s Lamont Payne thriving since committing to Penn State

click me