Long pass sparks Highlands comeback
It was one of those moments when time seems to slow down.
Highlands sophomore wide receiver Chris Fick stood wide open behind Indiana's defensive backs and waited for sophomore quarterback Blake Leri's home-run ball.
Fick caught the pass, spun 180 degrees, brushed off a diving defender and sprinted about 30 yards to complete the 70-yard, go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
Highlands added an insurance touchdown and held on for its first victory of the season by defeating Indiana, 28-17, on Friday in a Class AAA Greater Allegheny Conference matchup at Golden Rams Stadium.
Propelled mainly by sophomores and juniors, Highlands (1-4, 1-4) rallied for 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to knock off Indiana (1-4, 1-4).
The turning point came when Highlands was faced with a third-and-21 at its 30-yard line.
Leri scrambled around, kept the play alive and apparently fooled the defensive backs into believing he would run before launching a long pass down the left side of the field.
Fick's touchdown and senior Michael Masarik's extra point gave Highlands its first lead of the game, 21-17, with 8:16 to play.
“I was looking back, waiting,” Fick said. “I thought the play was dead. Then I saw the ball.”
Leri completed 9 of 12 passes for 174 yards and rushed for 36 yards on 12 carries. But his highlight hookup with Fick in a desperate situation was the backbreaker.
“That play killed us,” Indiana coach Mark Zilinskas said. “He wasn't even running when he caught the ball. He was stationary.”
Highlands also received a standout performance from 5-foot-7, 145-pound sophomore running back Elijah Jackson, who rushed for 124 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries and sealed the victory with an interception late in the fourth quarter.
“What people don't realize is Elijah's a sophomore, as is the quarterback,” Highlands coach Sam Albert said. “Elijah runs hard every time he touches the ball. We're really young. We have three seniors. I'm so proud of our kids.”
In the first half, the teams traded touchdowns and went into the intermission tied at 14. Late in the second quarter, Highlands recovered a fumble at the Indiana 33-yard line.
On the following play, Leri hit junior tight end Allan Cratsenberg with a 31-yard pass. Then the versatile, 6-foot-3, 220-pound Cratsenberg lined up at quarterback and pushed into the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown with 2:08 left before halftime.
Cratsenberg finished with three catches for 83 yards and made numerous tackles while playing outside linebacker.
Indiana was hit by a major setback when dual-threat quarterback Dequan West left early in the second quarter with a hip injury. In his short appearance, West rushed for 48 yards and a touchdown on nine carries and completed 2 of 6 passes for 19 yards.
Paul Kogut is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-224-2696.