Familiar feeling to Central Catholic’s semifinal win against Seneca Valley

Friday, November 12, 2021 | 11:56 PM

Central Catholic’s playoff rematch with Seneca Valley left both teams with a feeling of deja vu.

The Vikings capitalized on turnovers and powered out to a 21-point first-quarter lead on the way to defeating the Raiders, 42-21, and advancing to their eighth WPIAL final in nine seasons with a win in the Class 6A semifinals Friday night at Baldwin.

Not only are the second-seeded Vikings (9-2) back in the championship game, they did it in a way that mirrored their regular-season triumph over the third-seeded Raiders (7-4). Central Catholic cruised to a 35-0 win in that Oct. 1 game by producing takeaways and scoring 28 points in the first quarter.

“Yeah, it kind of unfolded that way, but they hung in there for a while, give them credit,” Central Catholic coach Terry Totten said. “But we were a lot more active on defense tonight than we’ve been lately.”

A 12-play opening drive that ended with a 12-yard touchdown catch by Vernon Settles put the Vikings ahead 7-0, and they were just getting started.

JD Younger began a huge two-way game with a fumble recovery that set up quarterback Payton Wehner for a 1-yard scoring run. Xavier Thomas then intercepted the Raiders’ first passing attempt of the game, which set up an apparent Central Catholic field goal attempt.

The Vikings faked the 50-yard field goal attempt, and Wehner completed a deep pass to Josh Altsman near the corner pylon. Altsman was hit and fumbled into the end zone, but teammate Donovan Hinish dove on the loose ball before it rolled out of bounds for a touchdown and a 21-0 lead.

“It was kind of deja vu from the way the first game started. … Believe it or not, we worked on turnovers — on hanging on to the football — for two weeks, but we dropped the ball a couple times in the first quarter,” Seneca Valley coach Ron Butschle said. “Tonight’s a tough night. It’s always hard when it’s over.”

Seneca Valley got on the board with a 9-yard scoring run by Nolan Dworek in the second quarter, but the Vikings made it 28-7 at halftime after Wehner, who finished 11 of 14 for 132 yards and two touchdowns, connected with Altsman for a 17-yard score.

The Raiders opened the second half by cutting it to 28-14 with a 14-play, 91-yard drive. Seneca Valley converted on a fourth-and-7 play to get to the 5-yard line, and on the next play, the Raiders got a little clever by lining offensive lineman Devin Webb in an eligible position and slipping him into the left flat for a touchdown catch from Sean O’Shea.

“Going for it (on fourth down), that was an easy decision. It’s the semifinals, and nobody in God’s green earth picked us to win this game,” Butschle said. “Our coaches do a great job, and we wanted to empty the tank and see where it took us.”

But Younger was responsible for the Vikings pulling away for good on the next two drives.

The defensive back and used less-frequently as running back took a starring role on offense, scoring on runs of 9 and 61 yards — the latter coming as he ran over and through multiple tacklers — on the way to a game-high 93 yards on just six carries.

Younger was filling in for Gannon Carothers, who had 72 yards on 12 carries in the first half before sitting out the second half. Totten said after the game Carothers was “a little dinged up, but he’ll be all right.”

For the Raiders, O’Shea finished with 140 yards on 18 of 28 passing and added late 9-yard touchdown run. Brandon Ross led the team with eight receptions for 54 yards.

As for the Vikings, attention turns now to next week’s championship game, where they will get another shot at top-seeded Mt. Lebanon (11-0), which beat Central Catholic in the regular season, 35-14. But even though being back in the final seems like an every-year feat for the defending-champion Vikings, Totten praised this year’s relatively inexperienced group for repeating that accomplishment.

“I’m getting old, but you can see they’re excited. It’s still new for them, but yeah, we’re excited,” Totten said. “We have to keep getting better.”

Watch an archived broadcast of this game on Trib HSSN.

Matt Grubba is a contributing writer.

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