Injury woes changed course of Pine-Richland football season

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Sunday, November 28, 2021 | 11:01 AM


Coaches never want to use injuries as an excuse, and Pine-Richland football coach Steve Campos is no different in that regard.

But what the Rams went through in terms of key players going down this season was something that Campos had never experienced in his long coaching career.

The Rams lost three two-way lineman — Jalen Klemm, Isaiah Kern and Sam Greene — to season-ending injuries as well as starting quarterback Cole Boyd.

In total, six Rams had season-ending surgery, but even with a laundry list on injured reserve, they continued to battle.

After dropping their first three nonconference games, the Rams rebounded to win a share of the Class 5A Northeast Conference title and reached the WPIAL semifinals, finishing one game short of reaching their ultimate goal of defending their district title. They finished 7-5.

“I know everyone says ‘next man up’ or something like that, but for us, that’s pretty much what it was,” Campos said. “These kids didn’t blink an eye. We kept selling that tradition never graduates and it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish and they bought into that. We started 0-3, but I knew we would turn the corner eventually, and we did turn the corner. We were on a roll and then here came the injuries.”

Klemm is the son of Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line coach Adrian Klemm and is a Division I prospect with 15 Division I offers, including Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Kansas State, Kentucky, Nebraska, North Carolina State, Vanderbilt and Washington State.

Kern was an all-state center last year as a sophomore. Greene had been a starter on the offensive line all year and had become a two-way starter in the absence of Klemm and Kern prior to getting injured in the Rams’ first playoff game against Peters Township, a 20-14 win.

Baron Graham replaced Kern at center and Brady Kerrigan became a two-way starter, moving onto the defensive line after the aforementioned linemen went down.

“Even with all those injuries, we still had a decent offensive line. It’s just some of those guys didn’t have the game reps that the other guys had,” Campos said. “Defensively, we still had a good defense. You don’t want to blame it all on injuries, because everyone that filled in contributed well, but it was a huge factor.

“Our goal was to win the conference and we did that, and our next goal was to win the WPIAL and we fell one game short of getting to compete for that. My hat’s off to those guys that stepped in because no one skipped a beat.”

Boyd was lost for the season after an injury in Week 6 against Shaler. He threw for 1,159 yards and a dozen touchdowns prior to the injury. Ryan Palmeri, who was a running back, took over at quarterback and passed for 1,066 yards and seven touchdowns.

“Ryan stepped in and did a hell of a job,” Campos said. “He’s a little different than Cole. Cole is a pure quarterback. Ryan is a runner who can throw a nice deep ball.”

Pine-Richland fell 24-6 to Penn-Trafford in the semifinals. The Rams had some chances to get on the board early but failed to capitalize on an early turnover.

“We had a turnover and we had four chances to score from the 10-yard line and sputtered offensively,” Campos said. “The defense did their job and got the turnover. We were hoping for turnovers because we thought we could strip the ball going in. We worked on strip drills all week in practice and then we go out and strip the ball on the first play. That was an opportunity that passed us by.

“Later on, we had the ball on the half-yard line and couldn’t get it in. Then we missed a field goal. Then they wore us out running to their right side in the second half. They were smart. They found out where our weakness was.”

Campos took over this season after the controversial dismissal of former coach Eric Kasperowicz, and he was proud of how his players responded to adversity all season.

“This year was a journey,” Campos said. “We had excitement and we had our ups and downs. I told them that you’re going to be at the top and at the bottom throughout life, so you just have to continue to work hard and that’s what they did. They bought into what we were doing. Once they let go of the past and started looking toward the future, we were fine.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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