Highlands rests starters in loss to Ringgold
Talk about a confusion set.
Thumbing its nose at conventional thinking, Highlands went with a unique approach in its late-season nonconference game against Ringgold.
In a safe-mode tactic that coach Sam Albert based on injury prevention, the Golden Rams did not play most of their starters —except offensive linemen for the first series — and took a 45-20 loss on Senior Night at Golden Rams Stadium.
Both teams have secured playoff spots, but Highlands has a potential conference-winning game next week at Knoch.
“It's an exhibition game and we treated it like one,” Albert said. “We have a lot of other seniors who practice hard all week, and they got an opportunity to play tonight. And our younger guys got some good reps. We have to look at the big picture. We have some big games ahead of us, and we want to be healthy.
“I am extremely proud of our kids.”
A matchup of two top-10 teams —Ringgold came in No. 9 in Class AAA and Highlands No. 7 — had the feel of a Week 10 exhibition game between non-playoff teams.
Both of them canceled junior varsity games for Saturday after Friday night's game turned into one.
Both teams moved to 6-2.
Ringgold coach Matt Humbert got wind of what Highlands was planning but didn't tell his players until just before kickoff that this wasn't exactly the team for which they had prepared.
“I understand the rationale behind it, but we weren't treating the game any different,” Humbert said. “We already have third place in our (Big Nine) conference, but we wanted to make sure we got work in. It was very hard to prepare for this game.
“Was I surprised by what Highlands did? A little bit. Was I shocked? No.”
Sophomore scat back Chacar Berry scored three first-quarter touchdowns as Ringgold took a 28-0 lead.
Ringgold's offensive starters played three series. The defensive starters played four.
Nick Schran added two scores for Ringgold, which led 35-6 at the half.
Highlands, which remains in the chase for the Greater Allegheny Conference title and a home game in the first round, leaned on a pair of freshmen, clear future flag bearers for the program. Quarterback Brayden Thimons completed 8 of 21 passes for 126 yards and a touchdown and also ran for a score.
He threw three interceptions, and Highlands lost a fumble. Running back Dom Martinka ran for 88 yards, 64 on a late third-quarter touchdown.
“We made the most of it,” Martinka said. “I knew I was going to go out and represent my community and past players, so I wanted to play well.
“I told the guys, would you rather win on Senior Night or in the state championship?”
Said Humbert: “We're physical teams, and you don't want to see anything crazy happen.”
Conner Gary also ran for a touchdown, and Josh Briscoe kicked a 28-yard field goal for Ringgold.
“We're happy to get the win, bu we're glad it's in the books and we can move on,” Humbert said.
Thimons' touchdown pass was a 20-yarder to Chris Fick in the second quarter for Highlands' first points.
Bill Beckner is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at email@example.com.