Central Catholic motors past Mt. Lebanon back into WPIAL championship game

Friday, November 10, 2023 | 11:34 PM

Central Catholic is back in position to go after another WPIAL football championship.

The Vikings, the No. 1 seed in Class 6A, held a two-touchdown lead at halftime of Friday’s semifinal matchup with No. 4 Mt. Lebanon at Fox Chapel.

They added on over the final 24 minutes, fronted by the running of junior tailback Elijah Faulkner, and finished off a 42-7 victory.

“I was pleased with how we played,” Central Catholic coach Ryan Lehmeier said. “Our coaches did a nice job of segmenting the week and getting our guys ready to play, and they responded really well.”

Central Catholic, now 10-1 on the season, will play for a WPIAL championship for the 10th time in the past 11 seasons.

The Vikings will face No. 2 North Allegheny (10-1) for the title next Saturday at Norwin. The Tigers routed No. 3 Canon-McMillan, 49-7, in the other semifinal.

Central Catholic will seek its fourth Class 6A title, having won it all in 2016, 2019, and 2020.

Next week’s championship game is a rematch of last year’s title clash won by North Allegheny and a return engagement from a 50-22 win by the Vikings from Sept. 22.

“We take it one game at a time and one day at a time too, and now that this one is done, we’re going to get back to work, take that same approach and get ready for next week,” Lehmeier said.

“It is another great opportunity for our football team. We know that North Allegheny will be ready with a goal of winning the title too. We’ll see them again in eight days.”

Faulkner carried the ball just 13 times, but he finished with 192 yards and five touchdowns.

He had second-half TD totes of 31, 40 and 13 yards as the Vikings pulled away from the Blue Devils.

Faulkner’s final score with 7:42 left in the fourth put Central Catholic up 35 and put the mercy rule running clock into effect.

“The offensive line blocked very, very well for me and allowed me to run like I like to do,” Faulkner said. “We were a little slow at the beginning, but we started to heat up, and they couldn’t stop us.”

Faulkner picked up where he left off two weeks ago in the Vikings’ 51-7 drubbing of Gateway in the regular-season finale. That night, he had 12 carries for 146 yards and two scores.

“Elijah is a special, special person,” Lehmeier said. “It shows out on the field, but it is also what he means to this locker room. The studying and the work ethic and the daily tireless and selfless work he does for this team, I couldn’t be any prouder or more excited for him for what he did tonight.”

Senior Payton Wehner finished 17 of 25 passing for 222 yards and a touchdown. Fellow senior Vernon Settles caught eight of Wehner’s passes for 115 yards.

Senior Pete Gonzalez added five grabs for 54 yards.

It all added up to a tough night for a young Blue Devils team that finished the season 5-6 overall. Mt. Lebanon hoped to turn around its fortunes and pull off the upset after a 49-0 loss to Central Catholic in the regular season. But the Vikings again were too tough.

“I just told the guys how proud of them I am,” Blue Devils coach Mike Collodi said. “We hung with them into the second half, but we just got worn down a little bit. But I am pleased with the physicality we showed. They didn’t give up and weren’t intimidated.

“Faulkner is a really good runner, and he’s not the only one, so you have to worry about so many of the weapons they have. It’s tough to game plan and tough to stop when you have so many Division I guys. But again, our guys played hard and did as well as they could. Central Catholic was just a little bit better.”

Fred LaSota finished with 71 tough yards on 24 carries. He had the Blue Devils’ lone touchdown, a 5-yard run in the second quarter.

Central Catholic struck quickly out of the gate, taking a 7-0 lead just 43 seconds into the game.

On the third play of the opening drive, Wehner found a streaking Cole Sullivan for 38 yards.

The Vikings looked to add on late in the quarter, but Billy Lech missed a 35-yard field goal.

Mt. Lebanon, which trailed Central Catholic 21-0 after the first quarter in the first meeting Sept. 15, turned the Vikings’ special teams miss into points.

The Blue Devils marched 80 yards in 12 plays with LaSota capping the drive with his short TD run. The Ben McAuley point-after kick tied the game 7-7 with 7:23 to play until halftime.

But Central Catholic was able to get back on track on consecutive possessions. Faulkner gave the Vikings back the lead with a 42-yard burst with 5:25 on the clock.

Then, after a shanked Mt. Lebanon punt gave Central Catholic the ball at the Blue Devils 28, the Vikings found the end zone in four plays. Faulkner carried it the final 7 for the score with 1:26 to go until the break.

Faulkner finished the half with five carries for 77 yards.

“We started to find our groove as the first half went on,” Lehmeier said. “The defense buttoned some things up, and the offense did the same. I was pleased.”

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at mlove@triblive.com.

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