Eddy Tillman strikes again as Central Catholic runs past Mt. Lebanon

Friday, November 8, 2019 | 11:20 PM

In Week 9, the Pittsburgh Central Catholic Vikings beat Mt. Lebanon handily, scoring 35 unanswered points to earn the top seed in the Class 6A playoffs, in large part due to the rushing attack of junior Eddy Tillman.

In Friday’s 6A semifinal at Fox Chapel, the Vikings earned a spot in the WPIAL championship game in large part due to the efforts of Tillman again, as Central Catholic used his 22 carries for 154 yards and three scores to topple Mt. Lebanon, 31-14.

Tillman has now tallied 100 yards or more in nine consecutive outings, including 206 yards and four touchdowns in the regular season meeting with Mt. Lebanon.

“He’s running really well,” said Terry Totten, the Vikings’ head coach. “He’s breaking that first tackle a lot, so that helps.”

Bob Palko, who completed his first season with Mt. Lebanon with the loss, said Tillman was excellent.

“You can’t find him. He’s amongst the trees,” Palko said. “And he’s fast. That son of a gun can run. It’s not like they don’t run a simple scheme, but it’s hard to defend when you’re overmatched size wise, and we were. Honestly, it’s cool to see.”

Tillman didn’t break open the scoring. That honor belonged to Anderson Cynkar. On the first play from scrimmage, Dom Pieto ran a play-action fake and dialed a 70-yard pass to Cynkar, who ran a double move on the outside. The touchdown gave the Vikings a 7-0 lead just 16 seconds into the game.

It was the only completion of an eight-attempt day for Pieto.

“Our offensive guys thought that would hit all week. They talked about it. They sold it to the kids,” Totten said. “We max protected and got the double move on the outside.”

The Vikings added two Tillman touchdown runs in the first quarter, one of 13 yards and one of 34 yards, to open the lead to 21-0.

“In order for us to be successful against a team of their talent level, we can’t give up 21 points in the first quarter and then decide to play,” Palko said. “We’ve got nothing to be ashamed of. That’s a talented team.”

On the first play of the second quarter, Evan Jones hit Sam LaSota for a 41-yard touchdown pass to bring the deficit back to two scores, but it wouldn’t last long.

Johnathan Opalko connected on a 46-yard field goal with 3 minutes, 47 seconds left in the half to make the score 24-7 at the break.

Tillman added a 16-yard touchdown in the third, and Mt. Lebanon got the final score when Joey Daniels connected with Jones for a 13-yard score late in the fourth.

The Blue Devils’ season comes to an end at 7-5, a year Palko said he is proud of.

“We are trying to change the culture and develop a championship program like we saw tonight,” Palko said. “We’ve got to learn from it, and that’s the thing. There’s all these learning moments that are so important. These kids have to learn how to deal with adversity. We have nothing to be ashamed of.”

Jones finished with a receiving touchdown as well as a passing touchdown. Daniels was 10 for 15 for 103 yards and a score for the Blue Devils, whose leading rusher was Jones. He tallied 48 yards on 16 carries, mostly read-option plays.

The Vikings will do battle with Pine-Richland next Saturday at Heinz Field. Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. in the Class 6A title game. The Vikings will seek their seventh title and first since 2016.

“Judging after the game, the kids are excited. We’ll have the week to get healthy and be prepared and then we’ll try to go get ‘em,” Totten said. “Their quarterback is on fire and they’re putting up points. It’ll be a good game.”

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