Nov. 11—NORTHERN CAMBRIA — In just two weeks, Cambria Heights transformed itself into a new football team.
The Highlanders, after falling to Northern Cambria in a turnover-plagued performance on Oct. 27, completely flipped the script for Friday's District 6 Class 1A semifinal.
Cambria Heights was able to capitalize on multiple key miscues and penalties by Northern Cambria as the No. 4 seed Highlanders took down the top seeded Colts 21-12 at Duffy Daugherty Memorial Stadium.
"We're a young football team, and to be in this spot, it's special," Cambria Heights coach Jarrod Lewis said. "We lost Week 1, the guys stayed resilient. We lost to (Northern Cambria) a couple weeks ago, and we had a great week of practice to be able to respond. Credit to our seniors, these leaders, they did a great job."
Cambria Heights advanced to a title tilt for just the second time in program history.
The Highlanders fell to Richland 27-6 in the 2020 Class 2A championship at the tail end of the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened season.
Cambria Heights (9-3) will meet No. 2 seed Purchase Line, a 19-0 winner over No. 6 Penns Manor in the other semifinal, next Friday at Mansion Park Stadium in Altoona. The Red Dragons defeated the Highlanders 19-7 in Week 1.
"This is awesome," said Cambria Heights junior Stephen Nelen, who intercepted a pass in the third quarter and followed with a 45-yard touchdown reception that put Cambria Heights ahead by two scores.
"Nobody thought that we would be here at the beginning of the season but us. We believed, and that's all that matters. We brought the intensity this time. We knew what we had to do to win."
Northern Cambria closed its season at 10-2. The Colts will be unable to defend their district crown after claiming the title for the first time in 2022.
"Tonight, it seemed like we had a lot of touchdowns that were left out there," Northern Cambria coach Sam Shutty said. "We had those chances, we were just unable to capitalize.
"We had a couple mistakes here and there, then with the penalties, it backed us into a corner we couldn't get out of."
After leading 7-6 at the half, Cambria Heights recovered a fumble on Northern Cambria's first offensive play of the third quarter.
The Highlanders capitalized with Jaxxon Kline's second rushing touchdown of the game to go ahead by eight. Nelen's ensuing interception and touchdown reception put Cambria Heights ahead 21-6 with 7:26 to go in the third.
It was all the offense Cambria Heights needed, as the Highlanders' defense contained the Colts for the remainder of the contest. Northern Cambria playmaker Ty Dumm was held to 16 rushing yards and just one catch for 8 yards.
"Our defense was opportunistic," Lewis said. "We got those turnovers we needed. That was a difference that didn't happen last game. We had those opportunities then, but tonight we capitalized."
Jack Sheredy kept the Colts alive with a 39-yard touchdown run to cut the lead to 21-12 at 5:12 of the third quarter following a failed two-point conversion.
Northern Cambria's final drive resulted in the offense's third turnover on downs, as the Highlanders were then able to run out the rest of the fourth quarter clock.
Sheredy finished with 161 yards and two scores on 18 carries.
"It seemed like a lot of our kids were unusually nervous," Shutty said. "They came off the field and they said, 'I've never been this nervous before.' I wasn't sure why because it was a team we played before. It was on our home field. We were just nervous, and it showed."
Following a scoreless first quarter, Northern Cambria got on the board first via a 65-yard run by Sheredy with 10:00 left in the half.
Cambria Heights answered with an 11-play, 64-yard drive capped off by a three-yard score from Kline at 4:09.
Prior to the Highlanders' first touchdown, the offense mustered just two total yards on its previous four drives. Cambria Heights also fumbled on its first offensive play on the opening quarter.
"After losing to them the first time, there's no better feeling than this," Kline said. "We really came together as a team and got the job done. If we play with the same heart we did tonight, there's no reason we can't win next week."