HARRISON CITY (93-7 THE FAN) — The Penn-Trafford offense punched and counter-punched effectively, but it was the Pittsburgh Central Catholic defense that delivered two knockout blows in the final moments of a 30-27 triumph at Warrior Stadium in the First Round of the WPIAL Class AAAA Football Playoffs Friday night.
Dorian Stevens marched the sixth-seeded Warriors (7-3) to midfield as regulation time ticked away, but when he tried to go deep down the near sideline to Dom Cima, Joe Tindal picked him off near the goal line with 1:02 left.
“He was a beast,” said defensive lineman Zack DeLuca, adorned with a chain necklace the team awards after every game. “He should be extremely happy with himself. He gave one up earlier, but he came back, and he saved us.”
The decision by Penn-Trafford head coach John Ruane to conserve his timeouts paid off; Central Catholic could not move the chains, and the Warriors got one more shot from the Vikings’ 48 with the same number of seconds remaining. However, the leader of the so-called “Chain Gang” made sure they didn’t move the chains at all with his third sack of the night, a ten-yard loss that effectively ended it.
“It was about staying low, playing hard, and doing what our coaches told us to do,” DeLuca said. “They wanted us to go for the pass rush. All I could think was, I wanted that quarterback on his back, so I pushed, pulled, and that was it.”
A 15-yard touchdown run by Luigi Lista-Brinza gave the 11th-seeded Vikings (8-2) a 17-6 lead with just over a minute to play in the first half, but, before time expired, Stevens hit Brian McDonough for an 11-yard pass that turned into a 43-yard hook-and-lateral to Cima, cutting the deficit to 17-12 at the break.
Once again, Stevens answered a Lista-Brinza scoring run, this time with a 24-yard strike to McDonough over the middle to bring Penn-Trafford within five. A four-yard touchdown by Shaler transfer Niko Thorpe, his first of the season, gave Central a 30-19 advantage before the teams traded turnovers consecutively, and Stevens hit Cima for a 56-yard score, followed by a two-point pass to McDonough.
Lista-Brinza finished with a game-best 167 yards rushing on 27 carries. Here’s what he had to say after the win:
Meanwhile, the first Friday of the WPIAL postseason featured several notable performances by future University of Pittsburgh stars, as mentioned below. You can “like” us on Facebook right now to vote on our expanded Athlete Of The Week ballot for the First Round.
Here’s our comprehensive list of highlights:
North Allegheny 42, Altoona 14 – The Tigers rode the arm of dual-threat quarterback Mack Leftwich to an easy win over the Mountain Lions. Leftwich completed eight of 13 passes for 198 yards and two touchdowns, including a 78-yard strike to D-1 prospect Elijah Zeise.
Bethel Park 31, McKeesport 20 – Freshman quarterback Levi Metheny chipped in 211 total yards, including 138 in the air, and two touchdowns. The Black Hawks scored four of those on their first five offensive series to hold off the Tigers.
Seneca Valley 50, Hempfield 20 – Forrest Barnes scored twice from short range, and he also caught touchdown passes of 45 and 35 yards from Jordan Brown, as the Raiders put the mercy rule into effect on the Spartans. Barnes finished with over 200 all-purpose yards in the first half alone.
Mount Lebanon 31, Butler 7 – Tyler Roth, the first quarterback in team history to surpass 2,000 passing yards during the regular season, completed 20 of 28 attempts for 288 yards and two scores. Troy Apke, thanks to Roth, became the first Blue Devils receiver to top the 1,000-yard mark in a single year.
Gateway 35, Peters Township 19 – One future Panther and another player scouted by Pitt helped the Gators pull away from the pesky Indians. Arizona commit Tom Woodson hit 15 of his 23 passes for 265 yards, including touchdowns by wide receiver Montae Nicholson and tight end/linebacker Jaymar Parrish.
Woodland Hills 27, North Hills 7 – Defensively the Wolverines gave the Indians a taste of their own medicine in a battle of two of the top coaches in WPIAL history. Miles Sanders helped the victors break open the game in the second half, finishing with 115 yards on the ground and a critical goal-line plunge for what proved to be the winning touchdown.
Upper St. Clair 49, Kiski Area 0 – In a mercy-rule victory over the Cavaliers, quarterback Pete Coughlin, one of last year’s postseason heroes, paced the Panthers with 177 total yards. He accounted for two TD’s and 117 of those yards in the air, and also ran for a 32-yard score.
Thomas Jefferson 63, Hollidaysburg 19 – For the second time this season the Jaguars handled their business against the Golden Tigers to remain the only undefeated team in the classification. One of many offensive sources was Zach Talley, who found the end zone on a 70-yard kickoff return and later returned a punt for a 61-yard touchdown.
Franklin Regional 44, Elizabeth Forward 7 – The Panthers blew open this one early, and blew out the Warriors behind the running of Dane Brown, who joined the district’s elite 4,000-yard club. The Cornell recruit ran for 148 yards and four scores on 22 attempts.
West Allegheny 48, Ringgold 7 – Chayse Dillon only needed six runs to amass 127 yards, scoring two touchdowns in the process, as Bob Palko’s wildcat offense was too much for the Rams. Nick Halbedl, also a member of that quarterback rotation, chipped in three TD’s from close range.
Montour 27, Trinity 6 – Cole Macek ran 17 times for 143 yards and supplied two touchdowns in a victory by the defending champion Spartans. Ryan Mihelic provided balance, and he kept the Hillers off balance with 192 yards and one TD on 10-of-13 passing.
Mars 45, Blackhawk 21 – The Planets burst well out in front behind the powerful running of Josh Schulteis, who scored four touchdowns while racking up 251 yards on 26 carries. Despite a WPIAL First-Round-high 337 yards by future Pitt QB Chandler Kincade, Mars recorded five sacks.
West Mifflin 28, Knoch 14 – In a game seen on ROOT Sports, the Titans overpowered the Knights with well over 300 yards rushing. Jimmy Wheeler racked up 189 yards and three touchdowns, and Derrick Fulmore added 145 on 14 attempts, including a 71-yard score.
Central Valley 17, Belle Vernon 16 – Because the Warriors were missing their top guns, they needed a last-second, 22-yard field goal from Elliot Taylor to sustain their dreams of a second WPIAL title in three years. Backup rushers Jaquan “Milky” Pennington and John George helped provide the final margin with short TD’s.
Hopewell 14, Hampton 6 – Another Parkway Conference team used an effective ground game to advance, as Tyler Ishman ran for 157 yards and what proved to be the game-winning touchdown on 20 attempts. Stefan Mrkonja broke a scoreless halftime tie with a TD pass.
Aliquippa 55, Steel Valley 0 – Coming off a rare third straight undefeated regular season, the WPIAL champion Quips made the Ironmen their ninth mercy rule victim in ten games. Junior Dravon Henry, who was offered by Ohio State earlier this week, racked up 178 yards rushing and three TD’s.
Mount Pleasant 48, Burrell 28 – In a showdown of two of the premier rushers in the district, the Vikings, led by Tyler Mellors, enjoyed perhaps one last laugh before meeting Aliquippa. Mellors ran for 185 yards and four scores, and Taylor Allison added 108 yards to go with three touchdowns.
Jeannette 40, South Allegheny 7 – The Jayhawks overcame a slow start and made the rare playoff appearance by the Gladiators a brief one by forcing six turnovers. Two-way star Jordan Edmunds led the offense with 113 yards rushing and a touchdown on 16 carries.
Beaver 28, Valley 14 – Despite running into ball control problems in the third quarter, the Bobcats bowled over the vastly-improved Vikings, as Anthony Keriotis rolled to a big night. He ran for 113 yards on 21 attempts, scored two touchdowns and a two-point conversion, and sealed the game with an interception.
South Fayette 49, Freedom 13 – Brett Brumbaugh, the top passer in the district during the regular season, only needed 115 yards passing to move the Lions past the Bulldogs. He threw for one touchdown, but the brighter star was running back Grant Fetchet, who added three.
Beaver Falls 28, Freeport 14 – With their loaded backfield, the Tigers overcame the stubborn defense of the Yellowjackets, wiping out a two-touchdown deficit in the third quarter. Damian Rawl and Rob Bell accounted for 379 of the 458 total offensive yards by the victors, including 221 and two rush TD’s by the former.
Washington 47, Shady Side Academy 12 – Shai McKenzie, the leading rusher in the WPIAL during the regular season, once again stole the show, and stole the game from the Indians. He led the Little Prexies into the Quarterfinals with 260 yards and six TD’s, including over 100 in the third quarter alone.
Seton-LaSalle 28, Greensburg Central Catholic 10 – The Rebels rallied in this defensive struggle and eventually broke the Centurions with their superior ground game. Pitt recruit Scott Orndoff supplied a pick-six, while Nick Sywyj and Tom Rizza each rumbled for over 120 yards and a touchdown.
Clairton 59, Frazier 6 – The three-time state champion Bears extended the nation’s longest winning streak to 57 games, three shy of a new PIAA record, thanks to another typically dominant effort on both sides. Undecided Tyler Boyd, one of the top D-1 prospects in the state, accounted for six touchdowns and 238 rushing yards.
Brentwood 34, Springdale 6 – At least the Spartans will get one more litmus test against their Black Hills rivals, thanks to another big performance by tailback Justin Vickless. He ran for three touchdowns and 142 total yards, and Chris Shortley threw for two scores.
Neshannock 42, Jefferson-Morgan 14 – The Rockets couldn’t handle dual-threat quarterback Ernie Burkes, who lifted the Lancers off into the Quarterfinals against Monessen. Burkes racked up 220 offensive yards, running for three TD’s, and throwing for three as well.
Monessen 48, Apollo-Ridge 19 – The Greyhounds set up a second-round matchup between two of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the classification thanks to a big night from WVU commit Chavas Rawlins. He threw for 174 yards and one TD while scoring three more times on the ground.
Sto-Rox 40, Carmichaels 7 – One of the premier offensive players in the area mauled the Mighty Mikes with 339 all-purpose yards to prolong his outstanding junior season. Vikings quarterback Lenny Williams threw for 200 of those and scored five touchdowns in all.
Union 21, Beth-Center 7 – For the first time since 1979 the Scotties can celebrate a playoff victory, albeit briefly, before having to swallow that pride for a tough test against conference co-champ Sto-Rox. Drew Robinson ran for 157 yards and sparked a rally with a game-tying 31-yard fumble return touchdown.
Rochester 35, Avonworth 15 – One of the district’s top point-getters struck twice in a row, but the real back-breaker for the ‘Lopes was an ensuing 97-yard TD run by Dante Marsick. The senior tailback led the Rams to a perfunctory First Round win with 200 yards rushing and four scores.
North Catholic 21, Bishop Canevin 0 – Another of the top rushers in Class A was P.J. Fulmore, and the sophomore paced the Trojans in his playoff debut by scoring all three of their touchdowns and amassing 224 yards on 29 carries. Meanwhile, the defense forced three turnovers by the Crusaders.
(The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review contributed to this post.)
(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)