Central Catholic scores last-minute touchdown, stops Seneca Valley in wild finish

Friday, August 30, 2019 | 11:21 PM

Central Catholic scored with 28 seconds left and then its defense made a touchdown-saving tackle as time expired Friday night, a wild finish to a 10-7 victory at Seneca Valley.

After three quarters without a touchdown, the final minute saw both teams holding their breath.

“You can never get too comfortable in a game like that,” Central Catholic senior Jaishon Hawkins said.

Central Catholic’s offense had managed only 79 yards from scrimmage before it put together an 85-yard touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter. The Vikings ran the ball 14 consecutive times, ending with a 2-yard bootleg around right end by quarterback Dom Pieto on fourth and goal.

The game-winning drive lasted more than seven and a half minutes but left just enough time that Seneca Valley almost rallied.

The Raiders completed a Hail Mary pass from midfield as time expired — thrown by Gabe Lawson, tipped by Mehki Gay and caught by James Sprentz at the 5-yard line. Sprentz pushed toward the goal line but was tackled three yards short by Hawkins, the only defender in position to stop him.

“That last drive was … ,” Hawkins said, pausing to find the right description. “I’m at a loss for words right now.”

The victory gives second-ranked Central Catholic (2-0, 1-0) a key early-season victory in WPIAL Class 6A. Seneca Valley (0-2, 0-1) was ranked fourth.

But the close finish shouldn’t be surprising.

The teams split their head-to-head matchups last season with Central Catholic winning 20-14 in Week 1 and Seneca Valley winning the rematch 15-14 in the WPIAL playoffs.

“We laid it out there and I wish that we could have had a different outcome, but we grew as a team in a week,” Seneca Valley coach Ron Butschle said. “None of them should hang their heads. That was a fight.”

Central Catholic led 3-0 at halftime after a 42-yard field goal by Johnathan Opalko early in the second quarter. The two teams combined for five punts, one interception and one failed fourth-down conversion before halftime.

“We see a lot of people’s best game and they were ready to play,” Central Catholic coach Terry Totten said.

Seneca Valley remained scoreless until the first play of the fourth, a 12-yard touchdown run by Matt Stanger.

Otherwise, this was often a field-position game.

Leading 7-3 with 8 minutes left, Seneca Valley had a decision to make. The Raiders could try to convert fourth-and-15 at Central Catholic’s 30 or punt. They chose to pin Central deep.

“That wasn’t really that tough (of a decision),” Butschle said. “In a game like this, making them go (85 yards), I’ll take my chances on that. Unfortunately, we let up a couple of big runs.”

With Dontre Jones and Eddy Tillman both hurting, Central Catholic turned to sophomore running back Antonio Pitts for the game-winning drive. Pitts gained 45 yards on five carries before Jones returned to the backfield.

Facing first-and-goal at the 7, Pieto gained three yards and Jones added consecutive 1-yard runs on second and third. On fourth and 2, Pieto scored easily on the bootleg.

Central Catholic’s passing game had managed just 30 yards and two interceptions on eight attempts, so the Vikings stuck to the ground. The Vikings totalled 136 rushing yards on 40 carries.

“Stay on your guy, let’s grind, let’s make simple things and do it right,” Totten said, sharing what offensive coordinator Steve Bezila told the team in the fourth quarter. “We’ve been working this running game a long time. We will get good at it.”

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

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