The last time the Pine-Richland Rams tasted WPIAL Championship gold was 2003 when it was still a Class AAA team. The mass exodus of the Allegheny population from the Pittsburgh city limits worked to the school’s advantage, warranting the WPIAL to raise the Rams’ status to Quad-A competition beginning in 2010. Since that time, the program had experienced quite a few growing pains as they assimilated themselves to the competition…until now! Pine-Richland beat defending champion Pittsburgh Central Catholic Friday 21-13 at Heinz Field.
(Picture above: Usually he’s throwing touchdown passes, above Ben DiNucci catches a TD toss that put the Rams up 14-0)
In 2003, Eric Kasperowicz, who had won a WPIAL title as a player with the North Hills Indians in the 1990’s along with former NFL star LaVar Arrington, took over the program in 2013 and steered his new troops in the right direction despite losing in the first round to the Woodland Hills Wolverines.
In stark contrast, the Pittsburgh Central Catholic Vikings have been a pillar of stability in Quad-A, winning WPIAL titles in 2003, 04, 07, and came in as the defending Quad-A Champions. They were also looking to exact revenge against the Rams for a 48-28 loss they suffered in Week 8, giving Pine-Richland the Northern Eight Conference title.
The first half of the game was largely uneventful as neither team was able to penetrate the other’s territory deep enough even for a field goal. As a matter of fact, Central Catholic was largely able to keep the Rams’ high-powered offense off the field for a majority of the 1st Quarter, possessing the ball 8:18 and picking off PR QB Ben DiNucci once.
The defensive stalemate continued into the 2nd Quarter as the Vikings, who averaged just under 11.5 points game in scoring defense, continued to keep the Rams in check and holding the Rams to 109 total yards while they managed to gain 136 of their own, all but 3 of those yards on the ground. PCC’s John Petrishen led all rushers with 67 yards in the first half.
The Rams implemented their halftime adjustments well, and they wasted no time marching down the field in the opening possession of the second half.Utilizing the no-huddle, PR went 10 plays for 72 yards in just 1:32, culminating in a 6-yard shovel pass from DiNucci to Mike Merhaut, his favorite target, to take the lead. Adam Napotnik tacked on the extra point to make it 7-0. DiNucci and Merhaut connected 3 times on that drive. The score was was set up after a half-the-distance penalty for pass interference call on Central moved the Rams closer.
Central was able to move the ball on Pine-Richland on the ensuing possession, but the drive stalled on the Rams’ 17-yard line, and they turned the ball over on downs. The Rams continued to mix up the pass and run well on the next possession. Another pass interference call placed the Rams on PCC’s 12-yard line. The next play saw PR’s Earnest Williams fumble on the 10 which was recovered by the Vikings. However, an inadvertent whistle had blown the play dead before the fumble, which caused quite a bit of controversy and gave the ball back to the Rams to replay the down.
PR capitalized on the blown play by reaching into the gadget playbook. A double reverse placed the ball in the hands of WR D’ondre Gastion, who fired a pass to a wide-open DiNucci in the end zone, completing 14-point swing. Again, Napotnik’s extra point gave the Rams’ the 2-TD lead.
Central Catholic would not die, however, as they used nearly 7 minutes on a 13-play, 77-yard drive to cut the lead in half with 7:54 remaining in the game. Petrishen busted in from 5 yards out with Mitchell McZura’s extra point making it 14-7. The defense held PR to just inside their own territory, but DiNucci’s pooch-punt pinned Central deep in their own territory.
The Rams were able to turn up their own defense, keeping the Vikes in poor field position. Central Catholic attempted to punt, but a bad snap spoiled the play and set up Pine-Richland for the proverbial nail in the coffin as 3 plays later, DiNucci called his own number and scored from 6 yards out to make it 21-7 with the extra point.
Central would close out the scoring as time expired. QB Gunnar Frerotte fired a 37-yard TD pass to Grahan Adomitis, but it was too little, too late for the Vikings. The Pine-Richland Rams are the 2014 WPIAL Class Quad-A Football Champions with the 21-13 victory.
DiNucci, who threw for over 3,400 yards and 34 TD’s before this game, was 16-29 for 174 yards and a TD while running for catching 2 others. Merhaut caught 8 of his passes for 114 yards and 1 TD.
Petrishen put up a valiant effort on the loss for Central Catholic, carrying the ball 34 times for 170 yards and a TD. Central Catholic’s season, however, comes to an end at 11-2, both losses coming at the hands of Pine-Richland.
The Rams’ season continues on the Road to Hershey as they will face the winner between Erie McDowell and State College in a game that will transpire Saturday, November 22.
SCORING SUMMARY 1 2 3 4 FINAL
Pittsburgh Central Catholic Vikings : 0 – 0 – 0 – 13 = 13
Pine-Richland Rams : 0 – 0 – 14 – 7 = 21
PR – 10:24 – Michael Merhaut 6-yard pass from Ben DiNucci (Adam Napotnik kick) – Pine-Richland 7-0
PR – 2:45 – DiNucci 12-yard pass from D’omdre Gastion (Napotnik kick) – Pine-Richland 14-0
CC – 7:54 – John Petrishen 5-yard run (Mitchell McZura kick) – Pine-Richland 14-7
PR – 1:11 – DiNucci 6-yard run (Napotnik kick) – Pine-Richland 21-7
CC – 0:00 – Graham Adomitis 37-yard pass from Gunnar Frerotte – Pine-Richland 21-13