Highlands holds off Indiana with late stop
Highlands tailback Elijah Jackson scored his third touchdown of the game with 46 seconds left.
But there was no time for celebrating.
The Golden Rams had to force an incomplete Indiana pass in the end zone on the game's final play to emerge with a 21-14 victory Friday night at Andy Kuzneski Field.
The win gave Highlands a 4-1 Greater Allegheny Conference mark at the season's midway point.
Highlands stopped Indiana on fourth down five times.
Indiana (2-3, 2-3) had tied the game at 14-14 with 4:52 remaining on a 14-yard touchdown pass from Sean Thompson to Riley Stapleton.
The Indians had to try a two-point conversion after both of their touchdowns because kicker Ian Scott was ejected during a chippy exchange with the Golden Rams from his running back position in the first half.
Stapleton caught the touchdown and conversion toss from Thompson. But Highlands drove 57 yards in nine plays to retake the lead.
Jackson ran it in on third-and-4 from the Indiana 9, pulling away from a pair of defenders near the goal line.
Highlands coach Sam Albert said Sam Elliott would have tried a field goal had Jackson come up short of the first down.
“I have confidence in Sammy. We would have set up for a field goal, but we didn't have to make that decision,” Albert said. “I was proud of the kids, how they played during that drive.”
After Elliott's extra point, Thomson drove the Indians downfield, using sideline patterns to Stapleton and Temple recruit Darrious Carter to stop the clock.
With three seconds left and the ball at the Highlands 15, Thompson eluded a rush by defenders Weston Bernath, Allan Cratsenberg and Robert Love.
Thompson got the pass away toward the corner of the end zone, but the ball went off Carter's fingertips.
“I'm proud of the way we played tonight. I think we jelled as a football team,” Indiana coach Mark Zilinskas said.
“I think we served notice that we can play with anybody in the conference. That's a good football team we played. It was so close. ”
Jackson scored on Highlands' first possession.
The Indiana defense adjusted after that series, holding the Golden Knights without a first down until the final play of the third quarter.
Keldon Spicher put the Indians on the scoreboard with a 13-yard run midway through the third quarter, but the conversion pass failed.
Jackson scored his second touchdown with 7:51 to go, picking up three of his game-high 158 yards.
But Albert was most happy with how his cornerbacks — Jackson at 5-foot-7 and Will Burris at 5-9 — played Indiana receivers Stapleton and Carter, both of whom stand 6-5.
“I preach that it's not about getting knocked down; it's about whether you're getting up or not,” Albert said.
“Wouldn't you know, I get a letter from Temple University that said the same thing when I opened it.”
Thompson finished with 175 passing yards — including 45 on the final possession — after completing 16 of 34 attempts.
George Guido is a freelance writer.