Highland are back in business after losing their first two games of the season, stunning Heriots Blues in injury time to win 28-27.
The visitors to Canal Park are one of the fancied sides for the National League 1 title and led until almost the last play of the game.
A dramatic last-gasp conversion from a nerveless Scott Fraser was enough to send the sizeable home crowd into raptures and was a perfect response to the challenge of Highland head coach Dave Carson, who had lambasted his charges after their shocking 43-3 defeat away to Kelso the previous week.
Carson acknowledged the tremendous efforts of his team. A number of new faces, mingled with the return of some experienced players, gave the Canal Park crowd one of its best moments since Highland came back into the national leagues.
The boss said: “They were just awesome, each and everyone of them. They just wouldn’t lie down to a very organised, fluent Heriots side who tackled us out of the game early on, but eventually caved in to our incessant pressure in the second half.
“I was particularly pleased with the performances of 18-year-old Fraser Craig in the front row and new stand-off Ben Morris, who both stepped up to the plate to deliver great performances,”
Carson, despite his strong reaction to the loss at Kelso, never lost faith in the squad’s ability, adding: “They showed real character and by the end of the afternoon had regained their self confidence.
“It’s been a great day for the club, who fielded three senior teams today for the first time in years, all of whom won.”
The early stages of the game suggested the Edinburgh visitors were on course to repeat the double of the 2019/20 season over the northerners, racing into a seven-point lead in eight minutes through a try from flanker Rory Jackson – converted by scrum half Graham Wilson – after ceaseless pressure on the home line.
A rout looked on the cards, only for the Inverness side to rally with a stunning effort from centre Seamus Ross after being released by winger Craig Findlater. It mattered little that full-back Fraser missed the kick as he was to go on to kick 13 points in a flawless demonstration of place kicking as the game went on.
But it was the capital side who scored next when full-back Rory Steele took advantage of poor home defending to race over for his side’s second of the afternoon, converted again by Wilson, who also added a penalty to give the Goldenacre side a commanding 17-5 lead, which was reduced just on the stroke of half-time by a Fraser penalty.
Whatever was said by Carson at the break worked, as the homesters set about dominating the second half, but they were unable to breach the line until replacement winger Magnus Henry stormed over in the corner in 51 minutes. Fraser’s touchline kick split the posts to make it 17-15 and a famous victory was in view, only for Heriots to hit back with another Wilson penalty. Fraser would reply with another penalty of his own soon after.
Going into the closing 20 minutes, it was anybody’s game at 20-18.
Phil Smith’s charges had at last shaken off their second half lethargy, scoring a third try through replacement winger Craig Robertson, and, with Wilson adding the extras, it looked all over.
But Highland were not done, battling back through a Fraser penalty and then a try from Owen McDonald, leaving Fraser the trickiest of kicks to win the game deep into injury time. The fact he was able to hold his nerve made it a memorable moment for him and his never-say-die teammates.
“I never doubted he would kick it,” said veteran hooker Kevin Brown.