Friday, September 15, 2023 | 10:45 PM
North Catholic came into its Greater Allegheny Conference opener allowing more than 36 points per game. Highlands had started the season undefeated in large part because of a stingy defense and a great running attack.
The defense helped keep the Golden Rams (3-1) in the game through the first half, but two quick scoring passes by the Trojans (2-2) in the third quarter propelled North Catholic to a 19-0 victory on homecoming at J.C. Stone Field in North Park.
North Catholic coach Chris Rizzo said the slugfest victory felt good.
“It does,” Rizzo said. “We’ve been trying to improve our game each week. It seems like this is the one we were able to play a complete game in.”
A poor punt snap cost Highlands on its first possession. With Luke Bombalski back to punt, the snap was low, and the ball was recovered by North Catholic’s Trey Purnsley at the Golden Rams 3-yard line.
Jack Fennel scored on the next play to give North Catholic a 6-0 lead.
For a while, it seemed like that could be the game’s only score, as both defenses were stout.
“You had 22 guys out there in white and red that were competing, flying around and hitting each other,” Rizzo said. “Any time that two teams show up to do that, you’re always up for a slugfest.”
The score would stay 6-0 until 4 minutes, 8 seconds remained in the third quarter, when North Catholic scored on back-to-back offensive plays.
Senior quarterback Jason Siket found Jack White in the end zone from 27 yards to make it 12-0. The pass on the 2- point conversion was stopped.
After a Highlands punt, Siket went back to work, hitting big tight end Brady O’Hara for a touchdown.
The 6-foot-6, 245-pound junior caught the pass in the left flat, broke a tackle and outraced several Golden Rams defenders for the game’s last score. Ryker Kennedy’s extra point made it 19-0.
“He’s (O’Hara) a very blessed young man athletically, and he works really hard,” Rizzo said of his junior playmaker, who already has at least six Division I offers. “It shows when moments like that happen.”
Highlands, which was held to 71 yards on the ground and 90 yards of total offense, finally put together a drive midway through the fourth quarter that reached inside the Trojans 10-yard line.
Junior quarterback Menage Lucas had a couple of big runs on the drive, which stalled at the North Catholic 5-yard line.
The Trojans were able to take 5 minutes off the clock on their ensuing drive before turning the ball over on downs at the Highlands 31-yard line before time eventually expired.
Lucas, starting in place of injured Aaron Randolph, led Highlands with 55 yards rushing on 17 carries.
Fennell paced the Trojans running game his third 100-yard performance on the season, gaining 137 yards on 17 carries to go with his touchdown.
Siket completed 7 of 16 passes for 126 yards and two scores. O’Hara had three receptions for 83 yards and the long catch-and-run touchdown.
“Jason is settling in to run our offense in a good way,” Rizzo said. “He was able to see the field tonight and get the ball out in a timely fashion, and it was good to watch him have some success out there.”
Coach Rizzo singled out Fennell and Siket as two of the teams’ senior leaders who will be a key for North Catholic moving forward.
“We have to make sure that the seniors keep the cohesiveness going and do their part. They need to enjoy the win but do their part to eliminate the mistakes they see on tape. If those guys buckle down and realize it’s a long season, we can put ourselves in a very advantageous position.”