PATTON - Cambria Heights was heading for a top-two seed in the District 6 playoffs in 2012 before Northern Cambria stunned the archrival Highlanders and squelched the Laurel Highlands Conference school's hopes to host a postseason game after years of gridiron frustrations.
Almost a year to the day, the Highlanders decided to repay the favor.
Josh Fees scored on two long touchdown runs, and the Heights defense stopped the Colts three times on downs deep in CH territory as the Highlanders dashed Northern Cambria's playoff hopes by a 17-13 count in the Coal Bowl on Friday night at Patton Stadium.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Cambria Heights’ Josh Fees zips by Northern Cambria’s Alex Kopera en route to a 63-yard touchdown on Friday.
It was only Heights' second win of the year, but you wouldn't have known that by the expression of the Highlander players.
"This win means the world," a teary-eyed and bloodied Heights senior captain Isaac Sclesky said. "This makes up for all the sting of the games this season."
And it inflicted a painful sting on the Colts. Northern Cambria appeared headed to the District 6 Class A playoffs after upsetting Ligonier Valley a week ago, but the loss to Heights allowed both Blairsville and Williamsburg to move ahead of NC in the rankings, pushing the Colts out of the top eight and ending their season with a 5-5 record.
"I just know that's one [tape] I'm putting away in the library, and I'm not watching it, because there's no need to do that. There's no need for me to put myself through that. There's no need for me to look down on high school kids who just put their heart out on that field," said Colts coach Paul Taranto after spending several emotional minutes hugging his players and talking to his family. "It doesn't matter what happens in this game. That's just the way it is."
Northern held Heights to nine first downs and just 273 yards of total offense but was burned by Fees for touchdown runs of 63 yards early in the first quarter and 64 yards in the fourth that staked the Highlanders to a 10-point lead with 9:41 left. Nolan Paronish scored on a 3-yard run to narrow the gap, but NC was unable to get back into scoring position when it got the ball back with 1:38 to play.
Fees finished his scholastic career with 199 yards on 20 carries.
"Words can't describe it. This is just the greatest feeling in the world to end it on this note," Fees said. "I did what I had to do and got us the win. I couldn't be happier."
The Highlander defense had a big hand in making Fees' big plays hold up. Northern Cambria only punted once and didn't commit a turnover but was stopped on downs at the CH 23, the Heights 1 and the Highlander 16. Clayton Schinkle got into the Colt backfield to upend Dartagnan Suchar on fourth down on the goal-line stand in the second quarter.
"We dug deep, we stuck to our positions, and we just played hard football," Sclesky, a linebacker, said.
Cambria Heights also got a 38-yard field goal from Johnny Galinis in the second quarter that loomed large in its victory. Asked if last year's upset was added incentive for the Highlanders Sclesky said "It was that and more."
After the game, fans that crowded the stands from both sides flooded onto the field and congratulate or console the players. It might be the last time in awhile that the Highlanders and Colts square off for the Coal Bucket Trophy - the LHAC is going to a full 10-game schedule next season, meaning conference crossover games like the Coal Bowl will go by the wayside, at least for the time being.
"It's a shame. It's like the Pitt-Penn State series. Everybody wants it, but for some reason we can't seem to get it together," Heights coach Jarrod Lewis said. "It's above my powers, but I'd like to see it, I know everybody in the community would like to see it. It's one of the best rivalries in football, if not the best.
"After losing last year, the kids' focus was primarily on getting this bucket back. That was our entire offseason focus, our entire offseason goal, and they went out and showed it tonight. They came out with a lot of heart and determination and refused to lose this game."
Game notes: The Colts outgained Heights 299-273. Paronish finished with a team-high 47 yards on the ground for Northern Cambria, while Tyler Pershing passed for 77 and Derek Baker rushed for 41, threw for 36 and scored on a 7-yard run. ... Heights, which took a 22-21-1 lead in the series, was celebrating senior night. ... Heights presented Stan Bem a plaque at halftime. Bem was officiating his final football game, ending a 46-year career.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Northern Cambria7 0 0 6 - 13
Cambria Heights7 3 0 7 - 17
CH-Fees 63 run (Galinis kick), 8:54.
NC-Baker 7 run (Baker kick), 5:55.
CH-Galinis 38 FG, 7:57.
CH-Fees 64 run (Galinis kick), 9:41.
NC-Paronish 3 run (kick failed), 4:50.
RUSHING: Northern Cambria-Paronish 7-47, J. Frontino 15-44, Baker 8-41, Weiland 7-36, Suchar 7-20, Pershing 2-12, TEAM 1-(-14). Cambria Heights-Fees 20-199, Legros 5-22, D. Link 4-12, Coy 3-1, TEAM 2-(-4).
PASSING: Northern Cambria-Pershing 5-10-0-77, Baker 1-2-0-36, TEAM 0-1-0-0. Cambria Heights-Legros 1-1-0-43, E. Link 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING: Northern Cambria-Olish 2-47, Weiland 1-36, Prasko 1-19, J. Frontino 1-9, Paronish 1-2. Cambria Heights-.
INTERCEPTIONS: Northern Cambria-none. Cambria Heights-none.