Sinclair lifts fourth-ranked Rams over No. 2 Montour
Highlands needed a number of Montour penalties to keep the Spartans at bay in the first half.
But in the second half, Highlands' defense became an independent bunch. The Rams didn't need any help in pushing Montour backwards.
Highlands' defense came up with a marvelous performance in the final two quarters, and it was one of the primary reasons the Rams knocked off host Montour, 20-12, in a WPIAL Class AAA non-conference game last night.
The win will certainly have an effect on the Post-Gazette's Class AAA rankings. Montour (1-1) was No. 2 and Highlands (2-0) No. 4.
"It was definitely the defense that won it," said Highlands quarterback-defensive back Jeff Sinclair.
Sinclair was being modest because his play at quarterback was a big key. A 6-foot-3, 184-pound senior, Sinclair rushed for 65 yards on 16 carries, and completed 7 of 14 passes for 45 yards. He scored all three Highlands touchdowns on runs and also intercepted two passes on defense.
But Sinclair prefered to talk about defense.
"How many first downs did [Montour] have in the second half?" Sinclair asked reporters after the game.
Three was the answer -- and two of those came on Montour's final possession, which was ended by Sinclair's interception.
In the second half, Montour had minus-9 yards rushing and 51 yards passing. E.J. Banks, a Notre Dame recruit and Montour's versatile quarterback, had minus-19 yards rushing in the second half. In the season opener against Pine-Richland, a Class AAAA team, Banks had 283 yards offense. He finished this game with 186 yards -- 32 rushing, and 154 passing on 14 of 26 attempts.
"Pretty much our game plan was to contain No. 5," Sinclair said.
It didn't work too well in the first half as Banks had 154 yards offense. Highlands still held a 13-12 halftime lead, but Montour was hurt badly by eight penalties for 97 yards.
"We were just trying to bring a lot of people on blitzes at him," said Highlands coach Sam Albert. "That's the way we play defense. We told the kids at halftime that our schemes were working because we were getting to him. We just weren't tackling."
Things changed drastically in the second half.
"We would've been in a little better position without the penalties. That's probably the most penalties we've had in the last three years," said Montour coach Lou Cerro. "But they tackled real well and had a nice game plan. They kept E.J. from getting to the outside much."
Banks had a second-half touchdown run called back because of a penalty.
The lead changed hands three times in the first half. Banks hit R.J. Diecks on a 5-yard touchdown pass late in the first quarter to give the Spartans a 6-0 lead, but Highlands went ahead in the second when Sinclair scored on a 4-yard run on fourth down. The extra-point kick made it 7-6.
Montour drove 75 yards in seven plays to take the lead when Banks hit Anthony Mattarazzo on a 15-yard scoring strike to make it 12-7.
But Sinclair led a 50-yard scoring march in the final few minutes of the half, and he scored on a 25-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-two.
Montour wasted two excellent scoring opportunities early in the third quarter. Highlands fumbled the second-half kickoff at its own 19. Montour recovered, but it turned the ball over on downs. Highlands fumbled the ball away again on its next possession on the 37, but the Rams' defense again stiffened, and Montour couldn't pick up a first down.
Highlands' final touchdown came with 6:51 left when Sinclair's 12-yard run capped a 12-play, 81-yard drive.
"E.J. Banks is incredible, and he deserved all the scholarship offers he got, and he deserves to go to Notre Dame," Albert said. "But, for the life of me, I can't figure out why Jeff Sinclair doesn't have a Division I college offer. He's as good as anyone I've ever coached, and I've been blessed in my career to have some Division I quarterbacks. And if you don't want him at quarterback, he's the best free safety in the WPIAL."
Sinclair said, "This was a big win for us. We're trying to make a statement this year, and this helps."
First published on September 6, 2008 at 12:20 am