Alex Tecza’s 4 TDs help lift Mt. Lebanon to 1st WPIAL football title in 21 years
Saturday, November 20, 2021 | 9:59 PM
Central Catholic had about six weeks to devise a new strategy for stopping Alex Tecza, Eli Heidenreich and Joey Daniels, yet the three seniors and their Mt. Lebanon teammates proved undeniable.
So, too, was the Blue Devils’ desire for a WPIAL title.
Tecza alone rolled up more than 200 yards from scrimmage and scored four times Saturday night as Mt. Lebanon celebrated its first WPIAL title in 21 years and a record-tying ninth for coach Bob Palko.
The top-seeded Blue Devils scored touchdowns on seven of their first eight possessions in a 47-7 mercy rule victory over No. 2 Central Catholic in the WPIAL Class 6A final at Norwin.
The title was Mt. Lebanon’s first since 2000.
“It’s been 21 years,” Tecza said. “We’ve worked since January for this. Really, we’ve worked since my sophomore year. It feels great. We’re going to celebrate but we’re not done. We’re going to take this to Hershey.”
This wasn’t the first time Tecza gashed Central Catholic.
The 6-foot, 200-pound senior had 256 yards on 29 carries and scored twice in early October. Mt. Lebanon won 35-14. Central Catholic coach Terry Totten said Tecza is talented, but he couldn’t explain why Tecza had caused them so much trouble.
“We’ve played backs that are going to stand on the steps of Canton someday,” Totten said. “For some reason, we couldn’t tackle him.”
In the celebration, Mt. Lebanon players credited a culture change created by Palko, who tied Thomas Jefferson’s Bill Cherpak as the only football coaches with nine WPIAL titles. Palko won eight in 24 seasons at West Allegheny before starting over at Mt. Lebanon three years ago.
“As soon as he got here, we started acting different,” Tecza said. “Football became a different mentality. We started treating each other differently. I give all of the credit to him. … It’s really special what he’s done for this place.”
In his three years with the Blue Devils, Palko turned them from occasional contenders into WPIAL champions.
“It’s been a journey,” Palko said. “It’s pretty cool to see it unfold. Is this special and does it mean something? Absolutely.”
Central Catholic (9-3) was a two-time defending WPIAL champion and had reached the finals for the eighth time in nine years. Yet, the 40-point margin of victory tied for the fifth-largest in WPIAL championship history.
Mt. Lebanon (12-0) scored 47 unanswered points after falling behind 7-0 on the opening possession.
“I think it’s fair to say we have a lot of versatility on this team,” Tecza said. “It’s hard to game plan against us. We have athletes all over the field. We have playmaker all over the field.”
Tecza did much of the damage, rushing 16 times for 193 yards and catching five passes for another 48 yards. He scored on runs of 2, 59 and 25 yards and added a 23-yard touchdown catch.
But Tecza wasn’t a one-man team. Heidenreich made five catches, added 138 yards from scrimmage and scored twice. Daniels completed 12 of 14 passes for 140 yards and three touchdowns. And defensively, senior Owen Halter had three of Mt. Lebanon’s six sacks.
Central Catholic’s starters totalled only 105 yards from scrimmage.
“When we started back in January, this was our expectation,” Heidenreich said. “Coach (Dave) Jancisin, our QB coach, always said, ‘ketchup and chocolate.’ We got the ketchup down. We’ve got to go for the chocolate now. That’s the bigger goal.”
Ketchup stands for a WPIAL title, even though the Class 6A final wasn’t played at Heinz Field. Chocolate represent the state championship in Hershey. Mt. Lebanon will face Erie McDowell in the PIAA quarterfinals next Friday or Saturday.
Palko said he walked into Norwin’s stadium with a team he sensed was mentally ready.
“They were dialed in,” Palko said.
Tecza scored three of his four touchdowns in the first half as Mt. Lebanon built a 28-7 halftime lead. The Blue Devils’ first touchdown was 2-yard touchdown run by Tecza in the first quarter, followed by a 5-yard touchdown catch by Brendan Anderson early in the second.
Mt. Lebanon scored twice more in the second quarter to extend its lead. Tecza had a 59-yard touchdown run and later caught a 23-yard touchdown pass Daniels just before halftime.
The Blue Devils started the second half by scoring touchdowns on their first three possessions. Two were by Heidenreich, and Tecza scored the other. Two of the touchdown drives were one-play possessions.
The mercy rule was enacted with 7 minutes left in the third quarter.
Central Catholic’s only touchdown came on a 15-yard run by Gannon Carothers on the game’s opening possession.
“I thought we had closed the gap, but not so, I guess,” Totten said. “What can you say? To the seniors, it’s sad. To the younger people, we’ve got to rebuild our football program.”
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .
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