Christian Zilli, Mario Perkins help Hempfield past Norwin

Friday, September 11, 2020 | 10:44 PM

Christian Zilli made himself known Friday in his return to football at Hempfield after taking two seasons off.

The senior basketball and baseball player threw for one touchdown and ran for another to help Hempfield defeat rival Norwin, 28-14, in the WPIAL Class 6A opener for both squads.

The season was delayed by three weeks because of the coronavirus, and a limited amount of fans were allowed inside the stadium. Many fans brought chairs and sat out the stadium to watch the game.

Only 29 members of the Norwin band and 12 cheerleaders were allowed to attend.

What the sparse crowd witnessed was a hard-fought battle, and it was Hempfield that made fewer mistakes and pulled out the victory by getting two Mario Perkins touchdown runs in the final six minutes.

Zilli rushed for a team-high 71 yards and completed 11 of 19 passes for 135 yards. Perkins rushed for 63 yards.

The turning point in the game came early the fourth quarter. Norwin drove to the Hempfield 14. Nick Fleming connected with tight end Tanner Krevokuch for a touchdown, but the Knights were flagged for an illegal formation.

On the next play, Hempfield senior defensive tackle Sean Knight recovered a fumble to end the threat.

Hempfield then drove 76 yards for a score. During the drive, Zilli connected on a 10-yard pass to Roman Pellis, a 13-yard strike to Daniel Sierk and a 12-yard swing pass to Perkins. Zilli also had runs of 12 and 16 yards to set up Perkins’ 6-yard score.

“We had a lot of guys step up,” Perkins said. “Penn-Trafford punched us in the mouth at last week’s scrimmage and woke us up. We were ready and prepared this week.”

Perkins added a second touchdown with a minute left to ice the game.

“That fumble recovery turned the tide,” Hempfield coach Rich Bowen said.

“Then we went on that big drive and punched it in and then do it again. I’m proud of the kids.”

Bowen said he heard rumors in the spring Zilli was thinking about playing. He played as a freshman.

“We talked, and I told him we’d welcome him back,” Bowen said.

Zilli said he just wanted finish his high school career with his friends.

Pellis made a one-handed catch of a 32-yard score in the third quarter to give Hempfield a 14-7 lead.

“Roman has done that all his life,” Zilli said. “He does it in practice all the time.”

“It drives me crazy when he does that in practice,” Bowen said. “I’m just glad he caught it.”

Hempfield’s defense applied a lot of pressure on Norwin’s offense.

They sacked the quarterback six times, three each by Demetrius Murphy and Sierk. Murphy moved to middle linebacker this week because of an injury and performed well.

Norwin, which struggled to run the ball in 2019, did a much better job in the opener. Dom Barca rushed for 100 yards and scored on runs of 1 and 46 yards. His long run tied the score in the third quarter at 14-14.

“We didn’t respond well,” Norwin coach Dave Brozeski said. “We played two teams (Friday), Hempfield and ourselves. It’s too tough of a game to play one team.”

Norwin turned the ball over twice, lost the ball on downs and committed seven costly penalties.

“I take responsibility for not having our players prepared for the little details,” Brozeski said. “We talk about it all the time. There are four or five plays that can determine the outcome of a game. I have to do a better job.”

Both teams have tough home games next week. Hempfield hosts Seneca Valley, and Norwin gets No. 1 Central Catholic.

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at or via Twitter .

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