The start couldn't have been any better for Laurel Highlands, as Rodney Gallagher returned the opening kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown, but Greensburg Salem's rushing attack proved to be too much for the Mustangs in the Golden Lions' 47-27 victory on Friday at Mustang Field in Big Eight Conference action.
Greensburg Salem (2-0, 2-3) gained 428 yards on 55 carries and scored five touchdowns to defeat coach Rich Kolesar's team on Homecoming. Emmie Schad was crowned Homecoming Queen prior to kickoff.
"We are improving," Kolesar said. "We had a good week of preparation and we are in a very tough conference and played a good football team tonight."
Gallagher did much more than the kickoff return, as the talented freshman that already has two Division I offers for basketball caught seven passes for 102 yards and scored two touchdowns.
"Rodney is an amazing athlete and football player," Kolesar said.
Laurel Highlands quarterback Tyler Christopher was 21 of 39 for 296 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Teammate Keandre Cook caught four passes for 95 yards and Robbie Sleightor pulled in four receptions for 53 yards.
"Tyler is getting a lot better," Kolesar said. "We have a lot of talented kids on this team. We just need to find a way to get them the ball."
Gallagher's electrifying return gave the Mustangs (0-2, 0-5) a 6-0 lead 16 seconds into the game, but the Golden Lions marched down the field and scored on their first drive, as Trent Patrick threw an eight-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Thomas for a 7-6 lead with 8:46 left in the first quarter after Wyatt Ramer connected on the first of five PATs.
Patrick extended Greensburg Salem's advantage to 13-6 on an 11-yard run with 5:30 left in the first quarter. Patrick gained 134 yards on 19 carries and scored two touchdowns.
Alexander Briggs got into the end zone for the Golden Lions on a three-yard run with :44.9 left in the first quarter. Briggs had a game-high 145 yards on 22 attempts and one score.
Laurel Highlands had several opportunities to cut into the deficit in the second quarter, but one drive ended in an interception, and another when Greensburg Salem's defense forced a turnover on downs.
The Golden Lions pushed their lead to 26-6 with a touchdown on the opening drive of the second half, as Jalen Page scored on an eight-yard run at 8:20.
The Mustangs moved the ball to Greensburg Salem's 10 on the next drive, as Cook pulled in a 67-yard reception from Christopher, but Laurel Highlands fumbled on the next play and the Golden Lions recovered.
"We made some mistakes early," Kolesar said. "We had some penalties and turnovers that really hurt us. We are just going to keep working on getting better."
The Mustangs defense stepped up on the next drive, forced a three-and-out and Gallagher pulled in a seven-yard touchdown pass from Christopher with :47.2 left in the third quarter that cut Greensburg Salem's lead to 26-13 after the first of three PATs by Zackery Layton.
Patrick scored on a one-yard run and threw another eight-yard touchdown pass to Thomas to extend the Golden Lions' advantage to 40-13 with 4:25 left in the fourth quarter.
Laurel Highlands kept battling, and Gallagher scored on an 18-yard touchdown reception from Christopher to cut the deficit to 40-20 with 3:28 remaining.
Greensburg Salem scored on the next possession on John Wallish's 16-yard run with less than two minutes remaining.
Gallagher almost had his fourth touchdown when he took a 45-yard reception to the 1, but Christopher did the rest in scoring on the keeper with 28 seconds left.
The Mustangs are a West Mifflin (2-0, 3-2) next week in conference play. The kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
"We know that is going to be another tough game, but everyone in this conference is tough," Kolesar said.
Big Eight Conference
Greensburg Salem 19 0 7 21 — 47
Laurel Highlands 6 0 7 14 — 27
LH: Rodney Gallagher 85 kickoff return (kick failed), 11:44
GS: Ryan Thomas 8 pass from Trent Patrick (Wyatt Ramer kick), 8:46
GS: Trent Patrick 11 run (kick failed), 5:30
GS: Alexander Briggs 3 run (kick failed), :44.9
GS: Jalen Page 8 run (Wyatt Ramer kick), 8:20
LH: Rodney Gallagher 7 pass from Tyler Christopher (Zackery Layton kick), :47.2
GS: Trent Patrick 1 run (Wyatt Ramer kick), 9:15
GS: Ryan Thomas 8 pass from Trent Patrick (Wyatt Ramer kick), 5:25
LH: Rodney Gallagher 18 pass from Tyler Christopher (Zackery Layton kick), 3:28
GS: John Wallish 16 run (Wyatt Ramer kick), 1:45
LH: Tyler Christopher 1 run (Zackery Layton kick), :28.6
Records: Greensburg Salem (2-0, 2-3), Laurel Highlands (0-2, 0-5).