Central Catholic, Mt. Lebanon battle for 1st place in WPIAL Class 6A

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Thursday, October 7, 2021 | 1:34 AM


Unlike last week, there won’t be any motivational banner hanging over Mt. Lebanon’s locker room entrance.

No history lesson.

No hype.

That’s because Friday’s conference matchup may decide the regular-season champion in WPIAL Class 6A when top-ranked Central Catholic (5-1, 3-0) visits the No. 2 Blue Devils (6-0, 3-0) at 7 p.m. This was a date worth circling months ago.

“Listen, you’re playing Central Catholic,” Mt. Lebanon coach Bob Palko said. “What motivation do you need? You don’t need any motivation to play these guys.”

Central Catholic is a two-time defending WPIAL champion but the teams’ have split their recent games.

Mt. Lebanon won 37-30 in the regular season a year ago, but Central Catholic won the rematch 35-0 in the WPIAL semifinals. One was exhilarating and the other probably exhausting for the Blue Devils, who haven’t reached the WPIAL finals since 2000.

Yet, they don’t intend to dwell on last year.

“Hopefully, we’ve learned a lot from that stuff,” Palko said, “but what’s happened in the past has happened in the past. You learn from your past mistakes and your past successes. But is last year going to have any impact on the outcome Friday night?

“I don’t think so.”

Friday’s game matches the two highest-scoring offenses in WPIAL 6A against the two stingiest defenses. Mt. Lebanon is averaging 38.5 points per game while its defense allows only nine. Central Catholic averages 35.3 and 10.2.

The teams are 3-2 in the past five meetings with Central Catholic holding a slim edge.

“I think this is going to be a real good football game,” Central Catholic coach Terry Totten said. “I’m hoping it lives up to the billing.”

The teams started this season ranked first and second in 6A, and neither has dropped.

Central Catholic used two touchdown passes by sophomore quarterback Payton Wehner and a stout defensive effort to defeat Seneca Valley, 35-0, last week. Wehner has 736 passing yards and seven touchdowns.

The Vikings defense, led by linebacker Anthony Speca and defensive tackle Donovan Hinish, has allowed only seven points combined over its past three games.

“(The formula for) every big game is the same,” Totten said. “We’ve got to take care of the football, no big mistakes on the special teams, play solid defense and control the ball.

“That never changes.”

Mt. Lebanon is coming off a 51-20 victory over North Allegheny that featured four touchdowns by running back Alex Tecza. The senior rushed for 178 yards on 21 carries. Palko had a banner strung across the entrance to their locker room in the days before the game reminding the players they hadn’t defeated NA since 2005.

Navy recruit Eli Heidenreich added 109 receiving yards and two TDs in the win.

“They’re a good football team,” Totten said. “They certainly have headliners but they’re sound everywhere.”

The teams have changed somewhat since they met in last year’s playoffs.

Central Catholic has first-year starters at quarterback and running back, but Mt. Lebanon brought back its leading passer, rusher and receiver from a season ago. Blue Devils quarterback Joey Daniels has thrown for 935 yards and 14 touchdowns. Daniels, like Tecza and Heidenreich, is a senior.

“They’ve been building for this year,” Totten said. “They’re a senior-laden group and they’re riding high.”

Those Mt. Lebanon seniors haven’t lost since that 35-0 defeat Central Catholic handed them in last year’s playoffs. Palko said they might have been a little wide-eyed at the time but thought they’d learned from the loss.

“At the end of the day, you tip your hat,” Palko said. “Central won when they needed to win and went on to win the championship. Until someone dethrones them of that, they’re the team you know you’re always chasing.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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