Tied playoff enemies Highlands, New Castle have a history of close games



Wednesday 3 November 2021 | 6:30 p.m.

Highlands and New Castle have played close games over the past few seasons, and Friday’s first round playoff appears to be tied.

That’s what one would expect when a ninth-seeded team like New Castle (6-4, 3-2) take on the No.8 Highlands (7-3, 4-3) at the Golden. Rams Stadium.

Both teams finished third in their respective conferences.

Highlands have won their last two Greater Allegheny Conference games, beating Greensburg Salem and Knoch. New Castle started 1-1 in the tough Parkway conference, but handled business against Blackhawk and Chartiers Valley before losing to Aliquippa last Friday.

“I’m happy we’re playing in front of our fans, and we’ve had a few good games against them in the past here and I would expect more of the same on Friday,” Golden Rams coach Dom Girardi said.

Highlands won a 24-19 playoff game in 2013 and a 28-22 home decision in 2019.

New Castle came from behind in 2016 at Taggart Stadium to claim a 29-26 victory. The following season at Highlands, the Red Hurricanes won a 48-47 double overtime thriller.

“Every time I speak with Coach Girardi, we talk about great games with us,” New Castle coach Joe Cowart said. “I expect a physical and close game. I like where we are on our offensive and defensive lines.

New Castle has been a WPIAL powerhouse for nearly 125 years. The school has 11 WPIAL titles and 13 undefeated regular seasons. The Red Hurricanes are in the playoffs for the 29th time. Several of their championships were won when they were the only undefeated and untied team in their standings.

From 1932 to 1935, New Castle lost only one match. The school had the all-time WPIAL record for wins for many years until it was recently passed by Jeannette. Yet New Castle has 751 victories to its name.

As for the current edition of the Red Hurricanes, Girardi describes them as “big, fast and well trained”.

“With their size they can play more of a power play, but they can also flaunt it and show their speed,” said Girardi.

Each team has a quarterback who can do damage with their arms and feet. Chandler Thimons of Highlands has 1,105 passing yards and 806 rushing yards. Chris Hood of New Castle passed for 953 yards and ran for 771 yards.

Hood also excelled in defense with his senior colleague Mike Wells at linebacker.

Ending a six-year playoff drought, the Golden Rams are capitalizing on the playoff return.

“We spoke before we watched the movie on Saturday morning and told them we wanted them to have fun,” Girardi said. “There are a lot of schools today that have finished their season, and we can practice on a beautiful fall day.”

Two-way lineman Tyler Bender agrees.

“I feel excited and we’ve worked hard as a team all season to get to where we are now,” said the junior right tackle and left defensive end. “The pressure was on us for the past two weeks and we knew what we had to do. We played well against some of the best teams in our conference.

Luke Bombalski leads Highlands on rushing with 1,237 yards.

Tags: Highlands, New Castle

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