Harrisburg rallies past Pine-Richland in coach Steve Campos’ debut

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Saturday, August 28, 2021 | 10:03 PM


For four quarters, on a suffocatingly humid night, the new era at Pine-Richland sure looked pretty similar to the old.

But there was one major difference: finishing.

The Rams (0-1) showed their characteristic speed and flash, but turned the ball over four times in enemy territory and stalled on two more drives on the opposing side of the field. In the end, District 3 power Harrisburg (1-0) edged Pine-Richland, 26-21, at the Western PA vs Everyone Showcase at the Wolvarena in Turtle Creek.

While ex-head coach Eric Kasperowicz watched from the stands, new coach Steve Campos led his team onto the field for the first time since the controversial dismissal of Kasperowicz — whose son is a freshman on Pine-Richland’s team — and subsequent community backlash in April.

Campos, who was hired in June, addressed the elephant in the room after the game. How important was it to win this game after everything that has gone on in Pine-Richland’s school district in the past several months?

“I’m tired of hearing all that ‘new coach’ and all that crap,” Campos said begrudgingly. “These kids want to play, and they’re playing hard. That’s what it is. I don’t want to hear about this coach crap.”

The Rams — a Class 5A program — did play hard. Harrisburg is a Class 6A team that has had great success at the PIAA level and produced such talents as current Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons.

And the Rams came out swinging.

After senior quarterback Cole Boyd fumbled away the ball at Harrisburg’s 12-yard line on the game’s opening drive, the Rams got the ball back at the Cougars’ 20 after a botched fake punt attempt.

Boyd led the Rams down the field, hitting Andrew Mellis for a 3-yard score. Two Pine-Richland drives later, it was a 14-0 game, as the Boyd-to-Mellis connection worked again, this time for 32 yards.

But then the Rams’ offense went cold, and Harrisburg freshman quarterback Shawn Lee found Kyle Williams for a 38-yard touchdown to make it 14-6 at halftime.

That’s when the Cougars’ physical offensive identity revved into gear.

“We just had to settle down and relax,” said Harrisburg coach Calvin Everett. “In the first half, we hurt ourselves and we beat ourselves. We just had to settle down, and we did.”

Harrisburg turned to the ground game, scoring on its first three series of the second half and racking up 178 rushing yards after the break. Mahkai Hopkins, who ran it once in the first half, used his 6-foot-1, 235-pound frame to punish Pine-Richland defenders to the tune of 75 second-half yards. His classmate, Williams, finished with 113 rushing yards and 74 receiving yards and scored three times.

“They just started mauling the ball,” Campos said. “They just wedge blocked and pushed out guys. They had a big line, and we started cramping up.

“They made an adjustment and went toe-toe-toe. They drove us off the ball.”

Williams scored on a 31-yard jaunt to cut Pine-Richland’s lead to 14-12. Boyd was intercepted twice inside of the Harrisburg 10-yard line in the third, and that score held until the final quarter, when the game finally opened up.

Lee dumped off a pass to Williams who, on fourth down, weaved up the right sideline, through Rams defenders for a spectacular 32-yard touchdown, giving the Cougars their first lead, at 18-14, with 11:45 to go.

But Boyd, making his first career start, hooked up with Alex Gochis for a 27-yard score. Right back came Harrisburg, as Lee capped off an eight-play drive with a 7-yard quarterback draw. A successful 2-point conversion extended the Cougars lead to 26-21.

Pine-Richland had two opportunities to take the lead late, but Ryan Palmieri fumbled at Harrisburg’s 33-yard line and Boyd, on the Rams’ final offensive series, slung a pass short of the first down marker to Brooks Eastburn, who could not keep his feet to continue the drive.

Gochis caught eight passes for 130 yards. Boyd was 18 of 33 for 239 yards and three touchdowns. But he was intercepted twice and fumbled another possession away.

“Cole’s our man. There’s no doubt about it,” said Campos, whose team ran for just 51 yards. “But we had a chance to put it away, and we didn’t early on. And then sometimes you try too hard, and you force the ball in.”

Lee ended up with 105 passing yards and two touchdowns for Harrisburg.

“He was a little big-eyed at the beginning, but once he settled down, he was good,” said Everett, who got to take a happy drive back across the state.

“Just to be able to come out to Pittsburgh, and play against a team like Pine-Richland, with their tradition, and be able to get the the win, it’s huge for our program.”

Campos is confident that the Rams will quickly rebound, as Pine-Richland travels to Seneca Valley on Friday.

“There’s no shame at all. It was a great game,” he said. “We slugged it out, offensively and defensively. We should’ve put it away in the first half. We had field position. We just couldn’t put it in.

“Every game is important. This is Week Zero. Next week is Week 1, and that’s when we’re going to start rolling. These guys have got a chip on their shoulder and that’s what they need.”

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