PATTON - On the first play of the fourth quarter of Friday night's football game between Cambria Heights and visiting Westmont Hilltop, CH shook off a weak third quarter to pull within a touchdown of the surging Hilltoppers.
But on the ensuing kickoff, Westmont sophomore Kyler Pyshnik took returned the kick 90 yards for a score and a 35-21 lead after the extra point, with a little less than 11 minutes remaining in the game.
For many teams, it would have been a back-breaker. But that wasn't the case for coach Jarrod Lewis's Highlanders squad.
"It was the seniors - they stepped up. Hey, we knew we were going to face adversity at some point," Lewis said. "They never let it affect us. They always rise to the occasion."
Heights responded with 15 unanswered points, capping off the game with just over four minutes remaining with a touchdown dive by senior running back Josh Fees, followed by a two-point conversion run by Joe Davis to set the final score of a 36-35 victory in the Highlanders' home opener.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, the Heights faithful exploded in cheers, the Highlanders leapt into the air and several of their Westmont opponents fell to the ground in exhausted tears. Lewis, too, showed the emotional toll of the win, dropping into a crouch multiple times during a post-game interview.
"We knew we had to dig down deep," Lewis said. "They scored on that kickoff return for a touchdown and we knew we had to answer. Luckily for us tonight, we did."
The Hilltoppers seemed to have the game in hand through the first three quarters, unloading a few big plays, usually led by quarterback Liam Moran, and regaining the lead each time Heights tied it up. Moran finished the game 17-of-27 with 195 yards passing and two touchdowns through the air, and added a rushing score in the third.
But, particularly in the fourth quarter, Westmont couldn't stop the Highlanders rushing game, which was led by Fees' 130 yards and three touchdowns and Davis's 81 yards and a score. Adding to the Hilltoppers' woes were five fumbles, two of which were recovered by their opponents deep on their own side of the field.
"They were able to convert on some key fourth downs and we just snake-bit ourselves in the fourth [with turnovers]," Westmont coach Pat Barron said. "When you turn the ball over deep in your own territory, you're asking for trouble. That's how you lose games."
The Hilltoppers dropped to 0-2 with the loss and look to rebound next week when they host Johnstown.
After a tough 48-7 loss to Richland in the season opener last week, Friday's thrilling victory gives Heights (1-1) new life going into next week's showdown with Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic in Patton.
"I was happy with the way we rebounded," Lewis said. "The first week wasn't real pretty, but we rebounded. The seniors, they're really hungry and they really wanted this game and it showed tonight."
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Westmont Hilltop7 7 14 7 - 35
Cambria Heights7 7 0 22 - 36
WH-Curry 1 run (Causer kick), 7:27.
CH-Fees 24 run (Galinis kick), 4:40.
CH-Davis 20 run (Galinis), 11:53.
WH-Barron 5 pass from Moran (Causer kick), :47.
WH-Moran 1 run (Causer kick), 8:52.
WH-Barron 35 pass from Moran (Causer kick), 1:18.
CH-Fees 1 run (Galinis kick), 11:04.
WH-Pyshnik 90 kickoff return (Causer kick), 10:48.
CH-D. Link 1 run (Galinis kick), 6:22.
CH-Fees 3 run (Davis run), 4:03.
RUSHING: Westmont Hilltop-Curry 17-55, Moran 11-45, Barron 3-1, Pyshnik 2-(-3), Sabo 2-7. Cambria Heights-Fees 28-130, D. Link 1-1, Davis 8-81.
PASSING: Westmont Hilltop-Moran 17-27-0-195. Cambria Heights-E. Link 3-7-0-35, Baum 1-1-0-27.
RECEIVING: Westmont Hilltop-Curry 8-83, Barron 8-104, Pyshnik 1-8. Cambria Heights-Baker 1-13, E. Link 1-27, Lacue 1-13, Fees 1-9.