Central Catholic loses in overtime to nationally ranked St. Joseph’s Prep

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Saturday, November 30, 2019 | 4:55 PM


ALTOONA — Nationally ranked St. Joseph’s Prep needed overtime Saturday to defeat Central Catholic, 31-24, but the WPIAL champion didn’t leave Mansion Park Stadium satisfied with just coming close.

The Vikings knew they could have won — maybe even should have won — and they couldn’t hide their hurt.

“We hung in strong with a team that’s nationally ranked,” said quarterback Dom Pieto, who took Central Catholic on a go-ahead touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter. “We came out and played one of our best games. We should have come out on top.”

Central Catholic had led 24-17 with 15 seconds left in the PIAA Class 6A semifinal when St. Joseph’s Prep junior Marvin Harrison Jr. caught a 12-yard, game-tying touchdown on fourth-and-10. The 6-foot-4 son of a former NFL wide receiver was covered in the back of the end zone but made a spectacular leaping catch and got one foot inbounds.

Antonio Chadha added the extra point kick for a 24-24 tie.

“I thought we had them,” Central Catholic coach Terry Totten said.

In overtime, St. Joseph’s Prep won the coin toss, took the ball first and scored in two plays. Hawks quarterback Malik Cooper ran five yards for a touchdown and a 31-24 lead. Central Catholic tried to answer, but Pieto’s third-down pass was intercepted near the goal line.

“I think this in essence was the state championship,” Totten said.

St. Joseph’s Prep (11-2), ranked No. 22 nationally by USA Today, will play District 3 champion Central Dauphin (13-2) at 6 p.m. Saturday in Hershey. The Philadelphia Catholic League power reached the state finals for the sixth time in seven years.

Central Catholic (12-2) lost to St. Joseph’s Prep twice previously in the state finals, but this was likely the most painful. The Vikings had led 3-0, 10-7 and 24-17.

Pieto guided the offense on four scoring drives. The first lasted 14 plays, consumed more than 6 minutes and ended with a 33-yard field goal by Johnathan Opalko on Central’s opening possession. Pieto had a 40-yard touchdown run in the second quarter and threw a 51-yard touchdown to Sharod Lindsey in the fourth for a 17-17 tie.

The senior completed 9 of 21 passes for 138 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. He also rushed for 77 yards despite injuring an ankle in the third quarter.

St. Joseph’s Prep threatened to break the 17-17 tie with 6 minutes left but was stopped on fourth down at Central Catholic’s 34. The Vikings took possession and immediately grabbed the lead. They moved 66 yards in six plays and Eddy Tillman scored on a 19-yard touchdown run to lead 24-17 with 2:46 left.

Tillman rushed for 142 yards on 24 carries.

St. Joseph’s Prep was playing its third consecutive game without star quarterback Kyle McCord, a junior committed to Ohio State. In his place, Cooper started and completed 21 of 24 attempts for 258 yards. The converted wide receiver hadn’t thrown much in his two other playoff starts but passed often against Central Catholic.

Known more for his foot speed, Cooper also rushed for two touchdowns including the game-winner. His other touchdown was a 37-yarder in the first-quarter to lead 7-3.

St. Joseph’s Prep scored 10 points in the second quarter to lead 17-10 at half. Chadha kicked a 26-yard field goal and Sahmir Hagans scored on a 14-yard end-around.

The teams combined for a scoreless third quarter.

After Central Catholic took a 24-17 lead with 2:46 left, St. Joseph’s Prep answered with an 11-play, 82-yard drive. Cooper went 5 for 5 passing for 56 yards on the possession.

Facing fourth-and-10 at Central Catholic’s 12-yard line, Cooper escaped pressure and was on the run when he lobbed a pass to Harrison in the end zone.

Harrison, an Ohio State commit, finished with six catches for 115 yards. He had two other touchdowns called back by penalty: a 62-yarder in the second quarter and a 37-yarder in the fourth.

“He’s a great football player,” Central Catholic defensive coordinator Dave Fleming said. “We had two guys on him (for the game-tying touchdown). He just goes up over two guys and makes a great football play.”

That fourth-down play wasn’t designed to go Harrison’s direction but Cooper improvised.

“We thought they would double Marv so we tried to take him out of the picture, take some (defenders) with him, and run some guys on underneath routes,” St. Joseph’s Prep coach Tim Roken said.

Instead, Cooper ran away from Central Catholic’s pass rush, scrambled to his right and found Harrison in the back-right corner of the end zone.

“This one hurts bad,” Fleming said. “We fought for 48 minutes. It felt like we should have won that football game.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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