Expect ground-and-pound showdown when Moon, Penn-Trafford clash in WPIAL finals

Friday, November 26, 2021 | 3:23 PM

Don’t be late for Saturday’s WPIAL Class 5A championship game between No. 1 Moon and No. 2 Penn-Trafford.

If you do, you may miss it.

It’s a game that could take you back in time as both teams mirror each other by playing sound defense and running the ball.

“I told my wife that whoever makes a play in the passing game will win,” Moon coach Ryan Linn said. “When I first started coaching, I loved to throw the ball. But we run it so well, so why deviate on what you do best?”

Moon (12-0) averages 29.3 points per game and allows 12.2. Penn-Trafford (10-2) averages 33.3 points per game and allows 12.2. Yes, both teams have allowed exactly 146 points.

The Tigers’ ground attack is led by what Linn calls a four-headed monster of senior Dylan Sleva (825 yards, 11 TDs), senior Jeremiah Dean (642, 10), senior Ian Foster (542, 8) and seniors Joe Cotton (239, 2). The four have rushed for 2,249 yards and scored 31 touchdowns.

It’s not that Moon doesn’t throw the ball. Senior quarterback Tyler McGowan has completed 105 of 163 passes for 1,248 yards and nine touchdowns. His main targets are senior Taite Beachy, 41 catches for 517 yards and five touchdowns, and senior tight end Ben Bladel, 18 catches for 230 yards and three touchdowns.

“We have some burners outside,” Linn said. “We’ll throw to keep teams honest, but we’ll stay true to who we are.”

Both teams feature huge offensive and defensive lines. Penn-Trafford coach John Ruane said Moon’s defensive line is very disruptive.

“They are very good,” Ruane said. “They have big, strong kids who get off the ball.”

But Penn-Trafford’s line, led by senior tackle Declan Ochendowski, junior center Joe Enick, sophomore tackle Zach Tomosovich and senior guard Garrett Moorhead, isn’t too shabby.

They’ve been opening up running lanes for senior running back Cade Yacamelli and senior quarterback Carter Green.

Yacamelli, a Wisconsin commit, has rushed for 1,498 yards and 19 touchdowns, and Green has gained 1,019 yards and scored 14 times.

Green has completed 69 of 117 passes for 1,024 yards and nine touchdowns.

“If I had a running back like Yacamelli, I’d run him a lot,” Linn said. “But our defensive has played lights out all season, and we’re looking forward to the challenge.

“Our defensive coaching staff is one of the best in the WPIAL, and we’ll be well prepared for anything they like to do. This is the best team I’ve ever coached.”

Moon has won one WPIAL title, and that was in 1998 when it defeated Blackhawk, 34-7, in the Class AAA finals. Linn was a senior wide receiver/free safety at South Side that season.

This is Penn-Trafford’s fourth trip to the WPIAL finals. The Warriors are looking for their first win.

All-time, Penn-Trafford leads the series 3-2-1. The teams were in the Keystone Conference from 1972-76. They met in a nonconference game in 1979.

“We have to treat this game like any other,” Ruane said. “We can’t get caught up in where we’re playing.

“The last two times we played there, we started slowly. We played a lot better in the second half. We have to avoid a slow start. Every team is different. It’s important to play well in all three phases.”

In last week’s semifinal win against Pine-Richland, the Warriors turned it on in the second half behind a three-touchdown, 208-yard performance by Yacamelli.

The Warriors stopped Pine-Richland four times inside the 20 including once at the goal line in a 24-6 victory.

Moon used touchdown runs of 7 yards from Sleva and 59 yards from Dean to hold off Penn Hills, 14-9.

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

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