Mt. Lebanon football team easily handles Seneca Valley

Friday, October 22, 2021 | 11:54 PM

Mt. Lebanon just keeps on rolling its way through WPIAL Class 6A.

The top-ranked Blue Devils (9-0, 6-0) turned a comfortable halftime lead into a total runaway, blasting Seneca Valley, 38-7, on a rainy senior night at Mt. Lebanon Stadium.

With the win, Mt. Lebanon secured at least a share of a conference title for the first time since 2016.

“It’s refreshing to see a group of kids who have bought in,” Blue Devils coach Bob Palko said. “It’s like they’ve emptied their pockets, and they refuse to lose … It’s been awesome, and it’s a true team atmosphere. (Mt. Lebanon) is a destination to be at.”

The game didn’t start as glamorously as the Blue Devils’ season has gone, however.

Mt. Lebanon quarterback Joey Daniels was intercepted on a tipped pass at the Raiders’ 1-yard line in what appeared to be a early shot of momentum for Seneca Valley (6-3, 4-2).

That joy was short-lived.

Two plays later, Mt. Lebanon safety Eli Heidenreich intercepted Raiders quarterback Sean O’Shea, returning the ball to the Seneca Valley 16. Four plays after that, Alex Tecza scored the first of his three touchdowns, a 1-yard run.

After that, Mt. Lebanon started to roll.

Noah Bhuta kicked a 20-yard field goal to extend the lead to 10-0. On the ensuing kickoff, Raiders’ returner Kai West was unable to hold onto the wet football, and the Blue Devils recovered.

It then appeared Seneca Valley had forced a turnover on downs on a fourth-and-goal pass from the 4, but the Raiders were flagged for pass interference in the end zone. Tecza scored on a 3-yard run on the next play, pushing Mt. Lebanon’s lead to 17-0 at halftime.

“That pass interference at the end of the first half was killer,” Raiders coach Ron Butschle said. “If we go into halftime at 10-0, I’m not saying that’s going to win the game for us, but when it’s 17-0, it’s a three-score deficit against a team like that. That’s tough to overcome.”

After the break, it was all Blue Devils.

Tecza scored on a 60-yard run, and Heidenreich scored on a 70-yard jaunt and then caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Daniels.

Heidenreich, a Navy recruit, touched the ball seven times on offense but racked up 126 rushing yards, 61 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

“It’s crazy to me. He has done it against everybody,” Palko said. “We’re not playing against 3A or 4A competition. We’re going against men.”

Tecza, Class 6A’s leading rusher, ran 26 times for 179 yards, with 22 of those carries coming before halftime.

Mt. Lebanon outgained the Raiders, 419-123, with 343 of the Blue Devils’ yards coming on the ground.

“Yeah, we know what we have in (Tecza), and yeah, we know what we have in (Heidenreich),” said Palko, who complimented his team’s unselfish attitude this season. “But sometimes you’ve got to protect. That stuff starts with the offensive line. Alex will tell you: It’s the O-line.

“They just understand it. They’re intelligent kids, and they’re not full of themselves.”

Seneca Valley got a late score when Luke Lawson hauled in a 24-yard pass from O’Shea, who started his second straight game in place of starting quarterback Graham Hancox, out with a leg injury.

“We have to do a better job of taking care of Sean,” Butschle said. “He’s a sophomore who now has two games under his belt. In all three phases of the game, we have to do things to be successful.”

Next week, Seneca Valley hosts North Allegheny in a game that could decide third place and a quarterfinal bye in the WPIAL 6A playoffs.

Mt. Lebanon visits Baldwin to close out the regular season and, after outscoring Class 6A’s No. 2-, No. 3- and No. 4-ranked teams by a combined 124-41 over the last four weeks, the Blue Devils look like the definitive favorite to win their first title since 2000.

“This senior group is special,” Palko said. “The way they take coaching, the way they look out for each other. The way they approach their business as high schoolers. There’s so many things that just make you want to applaud them, to hug them.”

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

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