Highlands takes down New Castle in trademark style
TribLIVE Sports Videos
If Highlands coach Sam Albert wants to show someone the essence of the Golden Rams' playing style, he might just want to put a video of the second quarter of Friday's 24-19 win over New Castle in the first round of the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs on repeat.
In that 12-minute stretch, one can watch No. 7 seed Highlands (7-3) swarm the No. 10 Red Hurricanes' backfield for an 8-yard loss on fourth-and-1 at the Golden Rams' 37-yard line.
There's also the chance to see Golden Rams junior wide receiver Jeremy Jackson deliver a fierce crack-back block downfield to spring his brother, junior running back Elijah Jackson, for a 50-yard pickup that put Highlands in field goal range just before halftime.
Or Albert might direct a viewer's attention to the play late in the quarter where senior Allan Cratsenberg, as a Wildcat quarterback, went straight up the gut of New Castle's defense, ran over a safety, and raced to the end zone for a 31-yard score.
Relentless defense and gritty offense, two team trademarks, allowed Highlands to secure its first playoff win since 2008. The Golden Rams will play No. 2 Thomas Jefferson in the quarterfinals.
“(New Castle) is an awesome, well-coached football team — you saw the skill,” Highlands coach Sam Albert said. “Our kids could in no way match up, but we played our brand of football. … Our coaches did a great job of getting the kids prepared.”
New Castle (7-3) lost in the first round for the first time since 2007.
At halftime, Highlands led, 17-6. Through two quarters, it held New Castle to minus-10 rushing yards and just three first downs, the last of which came on a defensive holding call with five minutes left in the first quarter.
“We wanted to contain all the athletes they have,” Cratsenberg said. “Just make sure they don't get outside and make big plays.”
New Castle's offense opened the game with a convincing an eight-play drive that ended with a 40-yard touchdown pass from senior Julian Cox to senior wide receiver and Ohio State recruit Malik Hooker.
Highlands responded with its own dominant drive, which ended with a 38-yard touchdown pass from Blake Leri to Jeremy Jackson.
That remained the score until Cratsenberg's touchdown run with three minutes left in the second quarter.
Highlands found itself rolling, and New Castle was reeling. Cox, a dual-threat who threw for more than 1,300 yards this season, missed most of the second quarter due to a deep right thigh bruise suffered three weeks ago that has not healed.
Cox re-entered the game late in the fourth quarter and connected with Drew Allen on fourth-and-11 for an 18-yard touchdown pass that cut New Castle's deficit to 17-12 with 22 seconds left in the third quarter.
Cox finished with 166 yards passing, 103 of which came in the second half.
“He played on one leg tonight and was an absolute warrior,” New Castle coach Joe Cowart said. “Really, you tip your caps to those guys (Highlands). They pushed us around. They were physical. They were aggressive. They executed their game plan a lot better than we executed ours, with or without our starting quarterback.”
The Golden Rams kept Cox and his back-up, sophomore Pat Minenok, under constant pressure. Undersized senior nose guard Derrick Mazur had two sacks.
“I go a little crazy,” the 5-foot-8, 185-pound Mazur said. “You've got to be crazy in there, because they're real technical. You've got to go left, right, left, right, underneath sometimes. You've got to keep them guessing.”
New Castle benefitted from three 15-yard penalties on Highlands in the fourth quarter, but the Golden Rams had their own fortunate breaks. Jordan Lineburg scored the game-deciding touchdown with 9:05 left in the fourth quarter when he caught a 42-yard pass from Leri that a New Castle defender initially tipped.
Twice in the game's final seven minutes, New Castle drove into Highlands' territory only to lose the ball on bad exchanges. The Golden Rams, due in part to their blitzing, recovered both fumbles.
“If (Cox) has time to throw, I don't know if anyone in the WPIAL can go with those kids,” Albert said. “They're that good. So our game plan, like we always do, was to bring heat and hope we get to them.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- WPIAL Class AAAA final preview: Penn-Trafford looking to reverse trend of playoff losses to Central Catholic
- Clairton among greatest WPIAL dynasties; Aliquippa, South Fayette close
- WPIAL history full of football dynasties
- WPIAL Class AAA final preview: Big-play passing attack paying off for defending WPIAL champion Central Valley
- Karns City tops Bedford in state football playoffs
- WPIAL Class AA final preview: Rivals South Fayette, Aliquippa to play for title for record 3rd straight season
- WPIAL Class A final preview: Jeannette proved it was up to challenge of facing Clairton during Eastern Conference matchup
- Central Catholic senior Jones plays key role in all phases for Vikings
- Gorman: Penn-Trafford’s Topper not defined by ‘the miss’
- Jeannette two-way star Sanders has Jayhawks back at Heinz Field
- Gorman: Look out for unsung hero