Big-play Penn Hills knocks off Bethel Park in WPIAL Class 6A first round

Saturday, November 4, 2017 | 1:06 AM

A 25-yard fumble return for a touchdown by George Freeman late in the fourth quarter proved to be the difference as sixth-seeded Penn Hills upset third-seeded Bethel Park, 30-28, in a WPIAL Class 6A first-round game Friday.

The Indians (8-3) advanced to face second-seeded Central Catholic — a team that beat Penn Hills, 21-0, last week — in a semifinal next Friday night.

“Our guys dug deep and made some plays when we needed to make plays,” Penn Hills coach Jon LeDonne said.

Bethel Park coach Jeff Metheny's team failed to come through in the second half.

“We just didn't play our game,” he said. “We gave up a couple plays early, but we bounced back. (Our) kids fought hard, (Penn Hills quarterback Hollis Mathis) made a lot of throws, and they have some good players. They're fast, they're big and that's a dangerous team. We're not pleased how we executed.”

The game started off fast as Penn Hills scored on its first play from scrimmage. Mathis found Daequan Hardy, who broke free for a 55-yard score and 6-0 advantage after a failed 2-point conversion.

Penn Hills then forced a three-and-out, but the Black Hawks (8-2) intercepted the first pass on the ensuing drive deep in Indians territory. Luke Mattola capitalized, pounding the ball in from 1 yard to give Bethel Park a 7-6 lead with 7 minutes, 23 seconds left in the first quarter.

Penn Hills responded 54 seconds later with another big play, this time a 68-yard run down the sideline by Tank Smith to put the Indians back on top 12-6. The Black Hawks answered on their ensuing drive as Tanner Volpatti broke free for a 56-yard touchdown run just 1:14 later. That made it 14-12.

With seven minutes to go before halftime, Mathis connected with Dante Cephas for a 46-yard score. But again, Bethel Park answered less than two minutes later when Anthony Chiccitt threw a 28-yard TD to Volpatti. Bethel Park led 21-18 at halftime.

The offenses quieted in the second half. Penn Hills went ahead for good on Mathis' 50-yard touchdown pass to Cephas in the third quarter, and Freeman's fumble return made it 30-21.

Bethel Park scored on Mattola's 6-yard touchdown catch with 28 seconds left, but it couldn't recover the ensuing onside kick.

“The kids didn't give up. They were fighting hard,” Metheny said. “That's a good football team. We gave them too many big plays and turned the ball over.”

Mathis finished 14 of 21 for 238 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran for 47 yards.

“He made some plays when he had to, especially when he was scrambling,” LeDonne said. “Our blocking isn't always the best, but we can use his legs to create some things. He's still young. This is his first year playing varsity football and his first playoff game, but he's growing up quickly.”

A game-changer for Bethel Park was the loss of its two top running backs, Volpatti and John Doleno, in the second half. Volpatti left early in the third quarter and didn't return, and Doleno got hit hard midway through the second half and left the game on a stretcher. The duo combined for more than 2,000 yards on the ground this season.

“(Doleno) had a great year. Volpatti and that line — they're going to be hard to replace. We're real proud of their efforts throughout the whole season. Tonight wasn't our best game. It's going to be a long offseason. It's a hard loss.”

LeDonne has an idea of what to expect from the Vikings next week.

“Central Catholic shut us out last time, so we have to get back on the drawing board and game plan a little bit,” he said. “It's just about execution for us and taking care of the ball.”

Tyler Godwin is a freelance writer.

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