Central Catholic’s Johnathan Opalko makes another game-winning kick to down State College

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Friday, November 22, 2019 | 10:54 PM


Whether it’s on a soccer pitch or a football field, when the game is on the line, Central Catholic’s Johnathan Opalko wants the ball on his foot.

For the second straight week, Opalko drilled a game-winning field goal. Last week, it was a 40-yard kick at Heinz Field to capture the WPIAL Class 6A Championship.

On Friday, the 5-foot-10 senior made a 37-yard field goal with 1 minute, 13 seconds remaining in Central Catholic’s PIAA Class 6A quarterfinal matchup with District 6 champion State College to push the Vikings to a 24-21 victory and secure a spot in the PIAA semifinals.

“Growing up with soccer, when it came down to it, I always wanted the ball at my foot because I figured if it comes down to me, I know what I can do,” Opalko said. “So, it’s just kinda normal. The pressure doesn’t get to me much.”

Central Catholic (12-1) now looks toward a semifinal matchup with District 12 champion St. Joseph’s Prep (10-2) next Friday or Saturday.

In the early going of Friday night’s contest at North Allegheny, the Vikings found themselves in a very early hole.

After State College’s Lokey Howell took the opening kickoff back 94 yards for a touchdown, it took the Little Lions just over three minutes to score again.

The Vikings went three-and-out before State College senior quarterback Brady Dorner marched his team 55 yards down the field on six plays and Dresyn Green scampered in from 6 yards out to make it 14-0.

Before Friday night, the Vikings had only given up 14 points three times all season long, but the WPIAL Class 6A champs never flinched.

“We knew we could run it back up. We could do it,” Gannon Carothers said. “Our defense could hold them and our offense could run down the field and score.”

The Vikings did just that as quarterback Dom Pieto found Carothers for a 65-yard strike that got their team right back into the game.

After that, the game slowed down as the two defenses held their own and took over the game.

With just under three minutes remaining in the first half and facing and fourth-and-4 situation, the Vikings went for it. Pieto found Carothers on a 26-yard pass to tie up the game.

“In practice, we feel like we have a great connection. It just never works in a game,” Carothers said. “He just looked at me and I looked at him. We knew what was going on and we just did it.”

That wasn’t the only time that the Vikings would turn a fourth-down situation into a touchdown.

For their go-ahead score, the Vikings faced a fourth-and-6, and sophomore JD Younger took a fake punt 44 yards to the house to put the Vikings ahead by a score.

“We try to come up with one of those every week. That was our latest,” Vikings coach Terry Totten said.

The Little Lions tied up the game with a 21-yard pass from Dorner to Howell at the beginning of the fourth quarter, but the Vikings ultimately would control the clock from the seven-minute mark until Opalko’s field goal to secure the victory.

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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