Central Catholic drops Hempfield to get back in win column

Friday, September 13, 2019 | 11:26 PM

Central Catholic shook off a tough, one-point loss a week ago to North Allegheny with a successful trip Friday night to Hempfield.

But the Vikings would’ve liked a more convincing outcome.

As it was, No. 3 Central Catholic, behind 112 yards rushing and two touchdowns from Eddie Tillman, beat Hempfield, 31-14, in a WPIAL Class 6A game to rediscover a winning way.

“Similar to last year’s game,” Central Catholic coach Terry Totten said, referring to the Vikings’ 28-13 victory over the Spartans at Carnegie Mellon. “I thought there were moments in this game where we were about to take over, and we didn’t.”

But the Vikings (3-1, 1-2 Class 6A) did enough to stay comfortable.

Tillman carried 18 times and scored on runs of 9 and 15 yards. The junior also had a 60-yard run to the Hempfield 5 in the fourth quarter nullified by a holding penalty.

“Central can run a lot of players at you,” Hempfield coach Rich Bowen said. “Give our guys credit. We battled.”

Central Catholic senior Jonathan Opalko kicked a 54-yard field goal with 51 seconds left in the second quarter to give the Vikings a 17-7 halftime lead.

Central Catholic, which suffered an 11-10 loss last week to No. 2 North Allegheny, took a 7-0 lead four minutes into the first quarter on a 5-yard touchdown run by Dontre Jones.

Hempfield pulled even later in the quarter on Blake Remaley’s 49-yard scoring strike to Nathan Roby.

Central Catholic took a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter on Tillman’s 9-yard TD run before Opalko’s field goal provided the Vikings with their 10-point halftime advantage.

“We’ve seen him do it in practice,” Totten said, “but he had a (strong) wind behind him. He’s still capable. He did it and it cleared by a couple of yards.”

Bowen shook his head afterwards when reminded of the kick.

“That as a big point for them because now it’s a two-score game going into halftime,” he said. “If we could have gone in 14-7 or sustained a drive … it gave them some momentum.”

Bowen said he was amazed to see Opalko’s kick sail through the uprights from that distance.

“When do you see a 54-yard field goal in high school? Not very often,” he said. “I thought he was going to miss it. I was hoping he would. But he made it with plenty of room to spare.”

Totten said Opalko has attracted moderate interest from colleges and is hoping to attend FCS Lafayette.

“He’s an excellent student,” Totten said.

Tillman’s 15-yard touchdown run to start the third quarter increased Central Catholic’s lead to 24-7 before quarterback Dom Pieto scored on a 1-yard sneak later in the quarter for a 31-7 advantage.

Roby provided Hempfield’s second and final touchdown on a 1-yard run after setting up the third-quarter score on the previous play, a 35-yard run to the Central Catholic 1.

“He runs hard, and they caught us on (a touchdown) early,” Totten said. “We’ve got to tighten some things down.”

Totten praised Bowen and his staff, saying, “I believe he’s doing a great job. They’re getting better and better. They’re pretty big up front this year, and they had a good plan.”

Remaley completed 10 of 19 passes for 107 yards for Hempfield (2-2, 1-2) before leaving in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury.

Bowen said the 6-foot-2, 206-pound senior was day-to-day and would be reevaluated Saturday.

“We’re hoping he’ll be OK,” Bowen said. The Spartans will play host Friday to Canon-McMillan.

“We’re right there, playing with the big boys,” Bowen said. “We’re close. We’d like to think we can be one of the big boys, but we haven’t won one yet against the big boys. We’ve just got to keep working hard. I think we’re building a good foundation for the rest of the season.”

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