The first look at quarterback Jeff Sinclair in Highlands’ 26-7 victory against Mars on Thursday night was something to behold, but it had nothing to do with the authoritarian way he runs the offense.
On Mars’ first offensive snap, Sinclair flashed out of the secondary from his safety position, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Brendan Lucchino.
Highlands coach Sam Albert has told people that he believes Sinclair is one of the best safeties in the WPIAL. Albert will get no argument here.
After the fumble recovery, Sinclair converted two fourth downs into first downs with his legs, setting up Lucchino’s touchdown run. Before the end of the first half, Sinclair added a touchdown pass. He added a short scoring run in the fourth quarter as Highlands went on to dominate a good, tough Mars team and establish itself as the team to beat in Class AAA Greater Allegheny Conference.
The physical part of Sinclair’s game is obvious — he combined for nearly 200 yards of total offense — but he also has clear control of the team, hollering at his players while getting them aligned properly.
He is the complete package at 6-foot-3, 185 pounds. No, he has no interesting college offers at the moment, but that’s only a matter of time.
Another thing that’s a matter of time — Highlands challenging No. 1 Thomas Jefferson and/or No. 2 Blackhawk deep into the Class AAA playoffs in November.
The only positive for Mars coach Scott Heinauer on Thursday was the day of the week. With Friday off, he had an opportunity to watch what turned out to be one of the most exciting games of the season.
Heinauer’s sons Justin and Dan play for North Hills, which defeated Pine-Richland, 22-21, in a double-overtime thriller. It was the first time in history the two northern Allegheny County powerhouses played each other in football, and fans got a good look at what they have been missing.
Pine-Richland, playing in the Quad North for the first time after many years in the Class AAA Greater Allegheny Conference, took a 14-0 lead into the fourth quarter on two short touchdown runs by Mitch Elliot.
Justin Heinauer brought his team back, with a 40-yard touchdown pass to Lloyd Phillips and a 1-yard sneak to send the game into overtime. After a scoreless first extra session, Heinauer threw scoring passes of 8 yards to R.J. Miller for a touchdown and Mike Hirt for the decisive two-point conversion.
Putting the brakes on Brake
Mars quarterback John Brake was not given much freedom to show off his strong arm, but his 49-yard completion to Austin Miele was the best pass of the night. Brake, who is being tutored by former Pitt and Steelers quarterback Pete Gonzalez, has attempted only 41 passes this season, with 13 completions and three touchdowns. Not a bad scoring percentage (.230), almost one in every four attempts.
Highlands kicker Dave Buterbaugh continued a trend we’ve seen throughout the WPIAL this season — he kicked field goals of 22 and 34 yards. The kicking game was key for Bishop Canevin Friday when Drake Greer hit a 29-yarder in the fourth quarter to break a 6-6 tie. Canevin won, 9-6, when South Park’s Nick Karzcka, who had kicked two field goals previously, missed the potential game-tying kick with 1:12 left.
Also, defending PIAA and WPIAL champion Central Catholic continues to survive on defense, a running game and the foot of Matt Oczypok, whose 48-yarder beat Upper St. Clair last week. Oczypok scored the first six points in a 20-12 victory against Woodland Hills on Friday night.
Central Catholic takes a four-game winning streak into its big Quad East game against Penn Hills next Friday.
How about this for teasing fans? Seneca Valley opened the season with three victories in four games, thanks to the most potent offense in the WPIAL (an average of 437.25 yards per game). In its Quad North opener/showdown against North Allegheny — on Homecoming, no less — Seneca Valley fell behind 21-0 in the first quarter. No problem? The Raiders immediately rallied to 21-14 — and lost, 56-14. Ouch!
Seneca Valley quarterback C.J. Brown, who had averaged 280.25 passing yards, was held to 168.
The new Quad North star — sophomore running back Alex Papson of North Allegheny (20 carries 210 yards and four touchdowns). And he’s only 5-9, 165. Next up for North Allegheny, which is only 3-2, by the way: Undefeated Shaler (5-0) and its new coach Neil Gordon.
I can already see the traffic snaking up the hill on Route 19 toward the University of North Allegheny campus.
Doesn’t anyone play defense?
A sampling of 60 WPIAL games Friday and Saturday revealed that the winning team scored 40 or more points in 25 of them (41.6 percent). The average score for the winning team in those games was 48.9 points, with North Catholic’s 66-13 victory over Leechburg leading the way.
But it wasn’t just small schools that were allowing a lot of points. Five Class AAAA teams — Seneca Valley, Hempfield, Norwin, Latrobe and Mt. Lebanon — gave up an average of 48.4 points per game.
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