Defensive stands, Yacamelli’s runs lead Penn-Trafford past Pine-Richland in Class 5A semifinal

Friday, November 19, 2021 | 10:41 PM

When Cade Yacamelli fumbled on the first play of the game, the Penn-Trafford senior said some unflattering words to himself.

But he sure made up for it later.

Yacamelli rushed for 207 yards on 19 carries and scored three second-half touchdowns to help lead Penn-Trafford to a dominating 24-6 victory against Pine-Richland on Friday in a WPIAL Class 5A semifinal at Gateway’s Pete Antimarino Stadium.

The win puts the Warriors in the finals for the fourth time in school history on Nov. 27 against Moon at Heinz Field. Moon defeated Penn Hills, 14-9. Pine-Richland was the reigning WPIAL and PIAA champion.

“I don’t want to say the words that went through my mind because I want to keep it PG,” Yacamelli said. “I was definitely upset with myself. You have flush your head and hit the reset button.”

But the turnover didn’t hurt the Warriors, as the defense came up big throughout the first half, stopping Pine-Richland four times in Warriors’ territory.

The first drive was stopped on downs at the Penn-Trafford 6. The Rams second trip ended at the Penn-Trafford 1 when the Warriors’ defense stuffed quarterback Ryan Palmieri’s sneak on fourth down.

“I feel our defense is the best in the WPIAL,” Yacamelli said. “When you talk about toughness and communication, it’s what you want as a defense. For us to come out and play the Penn-Trafford way it’s going to be hard to stop us.”

After Penn-Trafford (10-2) finally put together a scoring drive, which was capped by a 30-yard field goal by Nathan Schlessinger in the second quarter , Pine-Richland was in Penn-Trafford territory two more times before halftime.

One drive ended on downs at the Penn-Trafford 17. Declan Ochendowski’s sack of Palmieri was key in that drive, and Yacamelli, following a Carter Green fumble, intercepted a Palmieri pass in the end zone.

“Our defense was the difference in the game,” Penn-Trafford coach John Ruane said. “I mean, inside the 10 and the goal-line stand, we gave our offense bad position all night and we kept making it work.

“Credit the players and credit the defensive staff. It was just an all-around fantastic defensive effort.”

Ochendowski said the goal-line stand was the biggest play of his life.

“We swarmed to the ball,” Ochendowski said. “We expected a run and guessed right on where they were going.”

The second half couldn’t have played out any better for the Warriors as Yacamelli and his offensive line took over.

Penn-Trafford’s defense forced a three-and-out on Pine-Richland’s first possession of the half, and then the Warriors drove 56 yards to make it 10-0 on Yacamelli’s 33-yard dash.

Yacamelli rushed for 161 of his 207 yards in the second half and scored on runs of 33, 1 and 17 yards. He has rushed for 1,497 yards and scored 19 touchdowns this season. Green rushed for 95 yards.

“You know a kid is big time when he takes over a football game,” Ruane said of Yacamelli. “It wasn’t certainly by himself. He had great blocking and guys coming off the football.

“You could tell he had something in him that he said I’m not getting stopped in the second half. As the game went on, he got better and that’s the type of player he is. We want the ball in his hands at all times.”

Penn-Trafford outrushed Pine-Richland, 302-148.

The Rams (7-5) got on the scoreboard after falling behind 17-0 when Palmieri connected on a 52-yard touchdown pass to Alex Mellis with 5 minutes, 6 seconds left. Palmieri, who replaced the injured Cole Boyd after the fifth game, completed 20 of 31 passes for 168 yards.

But Penn-Trafford put the game away after recovering the onsides kick. Yacamelli capped the 52-yard drive with a 17-yard score with 2:34 left.

Pine-Richland coach Steve Campos said missed opportunities in the first half proved costly. He also felt the Penn-Trafford’s offensive line was wearing down his defense in the second half.

“We were missing the key players on the line,” Campos said. “There are second-team players for a reason and some of our reserves were getting tired.

“The first time we got in scoring position, we wanted to be aggressive. The goal-line stand was them making a play and we didn’t. We just didn’t capitalize on our opportunities.”

Ruane said there weren’t many adjustments made at halftime. He just told the team we have to play better.

And they did.

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

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