Highlands beats Greensburg Salem, remains in playoff chase
Highlands' playoff hopes were intensified Friday night, leaving coach Sam Albert amazed at his team's resiliency.
Sophomore Elijah Jackson rushed for a career-high 205 yards and three touchdowns to lead visiting Highlands over injury-stricken Greensburg Salem, 37-14, in an Allegheny Conference game, the Golden Rams' third consecutive victory after an 0-4 start.
“This is the best job my coaching staff has done since I've been here,” said Albert, in his 10th season at Highlands. “What I'm proud of most is that this team just goes about its business and never lets up. These guys come to practice — and we have only 30 of them — and they are diligent about what they do.”
Jackson carried 23 times and topped the 200-yard mark on his final carry, a 17-yard run that gave Highlands its 23-point margin of victory.
His 47-yard reception from Blake Leri set up Leri's 1-yard touchdown run earlier in the fourth quarter after Greensburg Salem had pulled within 24-14 on a 95-yard kickoff return by Dom McKinley.
Greensburg Salem wasted a chance to close the gap when it failed to score after recovering an onsides kick following McKinley's return.
The Golden Lions were without several key players, including freshman quarterback Daniel Walters, running back Tyler Shook and tight end Tanner Hahn.
“We had only six seniors that dressed tonight,” Greensburg Salem coach Casey Cavanaugh said. “We're very, very young.”
Highlands (3-4, 3-4), which has beaten Indiana, Derry and Greensburg Salem in succession to enter the WPIAL Class AAA playoff race, took a 3-0 lead on Mike Masarik's 30-yard field goal before Jackson gave the Golden Rams a 10-0 lead with a 5-yard touchdown run.
Jackson was coming off a 151-yard rushing performance against Derry last week.
“It feels good because I've never run for this many yards before in a game,” said the 5-foot-7, 143-pound Jackson. “We came out tonight and really blocked, and we played well. We're ready to keep it going.”
Greensburg Salem cut the Highlands lead to 10-7 in the second quarter on Nate Sweeney's 11-yard reception from Denzell Jackson, who took over at quarterback in place of Walters (concussion-like symptoms).
Another 5-yard touchdown run by Elijah Jackson and a 1-yard plunge by Allan Cratsenberg put Highlands ahead, 24-7, and it looked as though the Golden Rams would run away from Greensburg Salem (1-6, 1-6), which lost its fourth game in a row.
But following Cratsenberg's touchdown, McKinley maneuvered his way through the Highlands defense for his long kickoff return, and Greensburg Salem then recovered an onsides kick, trailing 24-14.
“We're just trying to get this group to go out and compete with every snap,” Cavanaugh said.
Greensburg Salem was unable to sustain a drive and gave up possession, setting the stage for Leri's 1-yard run that stretched Highlands' lead to 30-14 midway through the fourth.
Highlands, which is 5-0 all-time against Greensburg Salem, kept pressure on Denzell Jackson all night. The Golden Rams' defense recorded 10 sacks, including four by Cratsenberg, who had 21 tackles.
Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.