Long passes let No. 11 Peters Township upset North Hills in WPIAL playoffs

Saturday, November 6, 2021 | 12:37 AM

In many ways, Peters Township quarterback Sam Miller epitomizes his football team.

Like others on the Indians roster, Miller entered his senior season as a starter with limited experience, missed some time with an injury and wasn’t nearly the impact player in August that he is right now.

As he’s grown, so has his team.

“It’s taken me a while, but I’m finally understanding what I need to do,” said Miller, who passed for 235 yards and a touchdown, rushed for another score and led No. 11 seed Peters Township to a win over No. 6 North Hills, 33-28, Friday night in the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs.

Miller’s teammates seem to have figured out their jobs, too.

Peters Township (7-4) is listed as a double-digit seed on the WPIAL bracket, but the Indians certainly didn’t play like one in this first-round game. Jacob Macosko had 194 receiving yards and a touchdown on six catches, and Ethan Kirch added 109 rushing yards and scored twice.

Senior linebacker Luke Petrarca had three sacks.

“There’s no way we’re an 11 seed,” Miller said. “We had a rough patch (during the season) and looked like an 11 seed, but we hit our stride late.”

Peters Township advances to face No. 3 Pine-Richland next week in a rematch of last year’s WPIAL championship. Pine-Richland, which had a first-round bye, will host the quarterfinal.

The 6-foot, 180-pound Miller is committed to play Division I baseball at Columbia. He has thrown for nearly 1,900 yards this fall despite missing one game and most of another. His throws to Macosko weren’t bloops but rather bombs at Martorelli Stadium.

The tandem connected on completions of 44, 52 and 70 yards.

“Our quarterback is getting better and we’re getting better at knowing what he likes,” Peters Township coach T.J. Plack said. “He was hurt early in the year, and we really didn’t grow together. But these last four or five weeks, we’ve really put together what we can do and what we can’t do.”

The longest connection for Miller and Macosko — the 70-yarder — was a second-quarter touchdown, and the 52-yarder set up another score in the third.

“They threw the ball over our head pretty consistently throughout the game,” North Hills coach Pat Carey said. “We felt we’d made some adjustments later in the third quarter, but they came out of the half and did some damage quickly with those big plays. We preach all the time you can’t get it thrown over your head. Tonight we did.”

The teams combined for more than 800 yards from scrimmage and each quarterback threw a 70-yard touchdown pass in a game that had a little bit of everything. Along with eight touchdowns, there was a goal-line stand, three turnovers, a field goal, a safety and a key pass interference flag.

North Hills (7-4) trailed throughout the second half but had chances to win its first playoff game since 2010.

Quarterback John Green passed for 257 yards and a touchdown and also rushed for a score. His top target was Robert Dickerson, who made seven catches for 150 yards and a 70-yard touchdown. Chase Foskey and Liam Tracey added rushing touchdowns.

North Hills led 7-0 and 14-7 in the first half.

But Peters Township broke open a 14-14 halftime tie by scoring on its first two possessions in the third quarter. Kirch scored both on runs of 34 and nine yards to lead 28-14.

A 1-yard touchdown run by Green cut the lead to eight points late in the third quarter before Peters Township extended its advantage to 11 with a 36-yard field goal by Andrew Massucci early in the fourth.

But with about eight minutes left, Peters Township’s lead was down to three. A 21-yard touchdown run by Tracey and a two-point catch by Dickerson narrowed the margin to 31-28.

Yet, a few late plays proved costly for North Hills.

One came with less than four minutes left and North Hills pinned against its own goal line. An errant snap zipped through the end zone for a safety, giving Peters Township a 33-28 lead and possession of the ball.

With about three minutes left, North Hills seemed to have life when Cooper Thompson intercepted a throw by Miller near midfield, but North Hills was flagged for pass interference, negating the turnover.

Carey disagreed with the flag.

“Even though at times we looked a bit disheveled out there, our kids played hard all night long,” he said. “That is the part that is discouraging. At some point in the game it comes down to a flag that’s thrown. In my opinion, I just think you let the kids decide the game, so I’m not pleased with that.”

North Hills’ last chance ran out with 49 seconds left when Peters Township’s Marcos Recker intercepted a pass in North Hills territory.

Peters Township reached the finals a year ago and finished as WPIAL runner-up. However, much of last year’s lineup has graduated or moved to new positions.

Miller played only defense as a junior but became the team’s starting quarterback this summer. He’s developed a good chemistry with Macosko, a senior wideout who ranks among the WPIAL leaders with 48 catches.

“I was kind of annoyed that I kept under-throwing him,” Miller said, “but he just went up and made plays.”

Miller took a hard hit on a fourth-quarter run that left him wobbly and briefly forced him to the sideline. He missed only one play and finished the game behind center.

“I was trying to get the next quarterback (ready),” Plack said. “… When I saw him run on the field, I’m like, thank goodness.”

Peters Township’s offense had relied more on screen passes than deep throws in recent weeks, Plack said. But they expected to take some downfield chances against North Hills.

“We saw on film that we’d be able to take shots,” Miller said, “but I didn’t think we’d be able to take as many. As the game went on, I saw ‘2’ and I just threw it up, knowing he’d make a play for me.”

Listen to an archived broadcast of this game on Trib HSSN.

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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