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Knoch, Highlands rivalry continues to grow in Greater Allegheny

Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch - Highlands football coach Sam Albert directs players during a practice on Oct. 22, 2012. Highlands hopes to clinch a playoff spot Friday, Oct. 26, 2012.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em> Erica Hilliard  |  Valley News Dispatch</em></div>Highlands football coach Sam Albert directs players during a practice on Oct. 22, 2012. Highlands hopes to clinch a playoff spot Friday, Oct. 26, 2012.
Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch - Highlands' Blake Leri evades a teammate during a practice on Oct. 22, 2012.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em> Erica Hilliard  |  Valley News Dispatch</em></div>Highlands' Blake Leri evades a teammate during a practice on Oct. 22, 2012.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch - Knoch's Ben Tackett (No. 8) runs the ball past Mars' Chris Smith (No. 6) and Jake Tumminello (No. 68) during their game at Mars on Friday, Oct. 12, 2012.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em> Jason Bridge  |  Valley News Dispatch</em></div>Knoch's Ben Tackett (No. 8) runs the ball past Mars' Chris Smith (No. 6) and Jake Tumminello (No. 68) during their game at Mars on Friday, Oct. 12, 2012.

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Knoch and Highlands have their traditional rivals.

For Knoch, it's Mars. For Highlands, it's usually Valley, but with the Vikings dropping to Class AA, the “Battle for the Bridge” game has been, well, suspended.

But what about their own, personal head-to-head showdown?

When it comes to the A-K's best rivalry games, Knoch-Highlands seems to get stuck backstage. Yet it keeps tugging at the curtain.

Friday night will be the teams' 30th meeting since they first smacked helmets in 1984. Knoch has 15 wins, Highlands 14.

Maybe the game is simply a friendly rivalry.

“We know they're a dangerous team,” Knoch quarterback Dakota Bruggeman said. “I think, deep down, we know it's a rivalry. It's just that no one really says it.”

Knoch has won four straight against Highlands, including 24-6 last season. Highlands won, 35-18, in 2008, a year after Knoch downed the Rams in the WPIAL quarterfinals.

Class AAA No. 9 Knoch (6-2, 5-2) clinched a playoff berth last week and hopes to use Friday's Greater Allegheny Conference finale in Harrison Township as a first-round tune-up.

Highlands (4-4, 3-4), needs an upset — and some help — to get into the playoffs. The Golden Rams have gotten used to winning lately. The team started 0-4 but has sprinted to four straight wins, with an inexperienced-turned-upstart offense finally finding continuity.

It needs a win and a Hollidaysburg loss to Indiana to clinch. If both teams lose, the WPIAL tiebreaker system will be used to break a three-way tie between Highlands, Hollidaysburg and Indiana, who would all be 3-5 in conference.

“There's always a lot at stake when we play (Knoch); that's the nature of it,” said Highlands coach Sam Albert, whose son, Adam, sees substantial playing time at receiver and defensive back for Knoch. “The kids know each other, in this case more than usual.”

Knoch knows Highlands is improving each week.

“You know, the thing about Sammy's teams is that they always — always — get better,” Knoch coach Mike King said. “That's as big a compliment as I can give them. They just hang in there.”

Knoch had to hold off a non-playoff team last week. Knoch trailed Indiana, 7-6, at halftime before rallying for a 20-14 win.

Indiana went to the pass, throwing 30 times against the Knights.

Knoch running back Ben Tackett went over 1,000 yards for the season, rushing for 156 yards and two scores, while throwing for another from the team's “Ben-cat,” against the Indians.

Knoch's defense, though, had to keep the end zone protected late, and it did.

“We had to adjust and I thought our defense did a great job adjusting,” Knoch senior nose tackle Jonathan Whalen said.”The thing about our guys is that we go 100 percent until the last whistle.”

Highlands' defense is led by linebacker Allan Cratsenberg. The standout junior has 35 tackles and seven sacks the last two games.

“The whole team sees Knoch as a rival, and we are gonna come ready this week,” Cratsenberg said. “Playing them for playoffs is going to be a challenge, but we are going to be ready.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-224-2696 or bbeckner@tribweb.com.

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