Late miscue proves costly for ’Canes in loss
New Castle (19) vs. Highlands (24)
Written: Nov 02, 2013
By Joe Sager
New Castle News
NATRONA HEIGHTS — New Castle had the momentum.
The Red Hurricane was driving late in the fourth quarter of last night’s WPIAL Class AAA first-round football playoff game at Highlands. Then, disaster struck. New Castle fumbled the ball away and the Golden Rams recovered and ran out the clock to seal the win.
“That’s as big as it gets,” Highlands coach Sam Albert said. “We played probably our worst game of the year last week, but I told the kids that it’s not about getting knocked down, it’s about getting back up. Our focus this week was sharp.”
Highlands (7-3) meets Thomas Jefferson (10-0), a 39-0 winner over Hampton, on Friday at a time and site to be determined by the WPIAL.
The ’Canes (7-3), in the playoffs for the first time since 2009, saw their season come to a frustrating conclusion. Two lost fumbles short-circuited their comeback attempt. They withstood their first turnover early in the fourth quarter and rallied to trim the deficit to 24-19 with 3:07 remaining.
New Castle’s defense forced the Golden Rams to punt on their next possession. The ’Canes took over with 2:08 to play. A short pass and a pass interference penalty set them up at the Highlands 46. However, the team fumbled the ball away on its next snap and the hosts recovered.
“Turnovers have reared their ugly heads at points in the season, but we’ve been pretty good with not having them throughout the year, minus a few games. They came back and hurt us tonight,” New Castle coach Joe Cowart said. “If you lose the turnover battle, it’s going to get you in trouble in any game, especially a playoff game.”
New Castle scored on its opening drive when Julian Cox found Malik Hooker for a 40-yard TD strike. However, the Golden Rams charged right back with a 38-yard touchdown aerial to post a 7-6 lead.
After that, the ’Canes struggled against the Highlands defense for the rest of the first half.
“That was a tremendous football game. New Castle is a tremendous team. They are just frightening. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that many skilled kids on one team,” Albert said. “I could go on forever with superlatives about them. They are a class act, too. I am proud of our kids’ efforts because we can’t match up with them athletically. Defensively, as I tell them, whoever hits the hardest the longest wins the game. Our kids played our brand of football and that’s just all out hitting.”
The Golden Rams’ defense was strong and limited the ’Canes to 60 yards of total offense — just 20 after Hooker’s TD. Part of the offensive struggles had to do with Cox, who missed most of the second and third quarters with a lingering leg injury. He returned late in the third to help spark the team’s offense. He completed 11 of 16 passes for 174 yards and two TDs.
“We knew our quarterback was significantly hurt. He’s not just a little bit hurt. He was a flat-out warrior to be able to step on the football field. He played on one leg tonight,” Cowart said. “He’s been hurt for a couple weeks and it’s gotten progressively worse. I’ve said it before, but I think he’s the best player, maybe in triple-A. So, without him, that’s a big hit to our offense. They executed their game plan very well. They were physical and tough. We were just able to execute our game plan a little bit better in the second half, but not good enough, unfortunately.”
New Castle was the victim of a bad break early in the fourth quarter. Blake Leri’s third-down pass deflected off a ’Canes defender and landed right in Jordan Lineburg’s hands. He ran into the end zone unopposed for a 42-yard scoring strike to make it a 24-12 game with 9:05 to play.
“Points were at a premium because they play some really good defense. We weren’t able to withstand them and counterpunch enough,” Cowart said. “But, I can’t be more proud of a group of kids more than I am with that group of seniors. They are valiant warriors. Never for one second did they give up. That’s a testament to the type of kids they are. I was lucky enough my first two years as a head coach to coach those guys. I am proud of them. Obviously, I am disheartened we lost the football game, but I am hoping I am lucky enough to build lifelong relationships with those young men. That’ll be bigger than any playoff loss will ever be.”
NEW CASTLE HIGHLANDS
15 First downs 13
51 Yards Rushing 239
50 Yards Lost 14
1 Net Rushing 225
20 Passes Attempted 9
12 Passes Completed 5
0 Passes Intercepted 1
181 Yards Passing 103
182 Total Yards 328
3-2 Fumbles-Lost 0-0
4-44.8 Punts-Average 5-25.6
4-40 Penalties-Yards 6-75
NEW CASTLE 6 0 6 7 — 19
HIGHLANDS 7 10 0 7 — 24
NEW CASTLE — Malik Hooker, 40-yard pass from Julian Cox (Khalil Huddleston kick failed)
HIGHLANDS — Jeremy Jackson, 38-yard pass from Blake Leri (Sam Elliot kick)
HIGHLANDS — Allan Cratsenberg, 31-yard run (Elliot kick)
HIGHLANDS — Elliot, 22-yard field goal
NEW CASTLE — Drew Allen, 18-yard pass from Cox (Cox pass failed)
HIGHLANDS — Jordan Lineburg, 42-yard pass from Leri (Elliot kick)
NEW CASTLE — Tevin McCaster, 1-yard run (Huddleston kick)