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Muffed punt lifts Highlands

| Saturday, Oct. 15, 2011

Highlands is making a habit of converting muffed punt returns into touchdowns.

Last week against Mars, a pair of muffs led to both of Highlands' touchdowns.

Friday night, the Golden Rams avoided Valley's upset bid by recovering a muff and turning it into a touchdown and two-point conversion to escape Valley Memorial Stadium with an 8-7 victory.

Highlands (6-1, 3-1) stays within a game of Knoch for first place in the Greater Allegheny Conference and will host the Knights on Friday.

Valley fell to 0-6, 0-5.

Highlands coach Sam Albert warned his team all week not to overlook Valley.

"I tried every motivational tool I knew to try to make this game important to our players," Albert said. "I took some heat, but hats off to Valley. I know what the Valley kids are all about."

"That's our best effort of the year, and we really rebounded because we were injured, and we had kids who got sick this week," said Valley coach Mark Kaczanowicz. "The kids really responded, and I can't be happier with their effort."

Valley took a 7-0 lead with 6:32 left in the game when Tyler Balla hauled in a 7-yard pass from Chaz Cheatham. After Valley was flagged for a false start and then for having 12 men on the field, Cody Schreckengost converted the extra point from the 20-yard line.

Highlands couldn't move the ball and punted with 3:18 to go. Blake Leri recovered the muff at the 12 and scored, but a muff can't be returned in high school football.

On the play, the Vikings were flagged for ripping off a Highlands player's helmet, giving Highlands the ball at the Valley 6. Jerrial Carver scored on the following play.

Highlands lined up for the extra point, but Valley was called for offsides twice, putting the ball about a foot from the goal line.

Albert decided to go for the two-point conversion, and Gage Clark broke into the end zone to give the Golden Rams their first lead of the game, 8-7.

That almost wasn't enough for Highlands, as Valley drove to the Highlands' 15. The Vikings had 14 players on the field and were called for delay of game as they lined for a field-goal attempt.

A 37-yard try from Schreckengost veered left with 19 seconds remaining.

"I'm just proud of our kids for not quitting. This was one of those games where everyone was out of sync," said Albert, who celebrated his 100th career coaching win, as Highlands took a 15-13 lead in the all-time series against its cross-river rival.

Jaden Walker rushed for 101 yards for Valley, and Cheatham came in to relieve Balla after Balla injured his ankle. Cheatham then directed three long drives.

"We put Chaz in there, and he moved the ball, then we put Tyler in there as a receiver, and he made a couple of good catches and outjumped those tall guys," Kaczanowicz said.

Carver returned a punt 77 yards to the Valley 16 late in the third period, but Vikings defender Justin Roher blocked a Michael Masarik field-goal attempt.

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