Mt. Lebanon rolls into PIAA semifinals behind 3 TDs from Eli Heidenreich

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Friday, November 26, 2021 | 10:04 PM


Mt. Lebanon wide receiver/defensive back Eli Heidenreich didn’t see McDowell junior Christian Santiago’s 27-yard touchdown run as a sign of a potential WPIAL Class 6A championship hangover.

But the Trojans’ quarterback scoring on a fourth-and-3 gallop on their first possession let the Blue Devils know they weren’t going to sleepwalk to a PIAA quarterfinal victory Friday night at home.

Mt. Lebanon shrugged off the early score, rallied behind the brilliance of Heidenreich and collected the program’s first win in the state playoffs with a 47-14 victory over the District 10 champion Trojans. Heidenreich finished with 165 rushing yards, 110 receiving yards and three touchdowns.

“They are a talented team, and maybe we took them a little lightly coming into this game,” Heidenreich said. “They came out and smacked us right in the mouth. I looked to my guys to the left and to the right and looked them in the eyes and knew we had to come back and play hard and fix the mistakes we made early.”

The Blue Devils’ previous PIAA appearance ended with a semifinal loss to Cathedral Prep in 2000. Mt. Lebanon (13-0) will play the winner of District 3 champion Harrisburg and District 6 champion State College in next weekend’s semifinals at a site and time to be determined. Harrisburg and State College are playing Saturday in Harrisburg.

One of Heidenreich’s biggest plays came after halftime.

The Trojans (9-3) marched their first possession after the break to the Mt. Lebanon 10-yard line, trailing 21-7.

The Blue Devils forced a fumble on third-and-short recovered on their 20.

Heidenreich went 80 yards for a touchdown to stretch their lead to three scores.

Mt. Lebanon forced five turnovers, including four interceptions.

“A couple of bad snaps got us behind schedule,” Trojans coach Bo Orlando said. “It ended up causing one of those picks. When you get to second- and third-and-15, you can’t do what you want to do offensively.”

The Blue Devils, who had a field goal blocked in the first quarter, didn’t put points on the board until the second quarter.

A 26-yard punt by McDowell set up Mt. Lebanon at the Trojan 44. Four plays later, Heidenreich tied the game with a 27-yard run 11:04 before halftime.

“They had us confused for a bit and rightfully so,” Blue Devils coach Bob Palko said. “You know, they are physical and they did some things that we needed to make adjustments to. They did so much, and they are hard to prepare for.”

Another short punt allowed the Blue Devils to go ahead for good. McDowell’s punt late in the first quarter only traveled 20 yards and set Mt. Lebanon up at its own 42.

Heidenreich scored on a 13-yard run five plays later to put the Blue Devils ahead 14-7. Mt. Lebanon senior Matthew Wertz opened the next possession by intercepting Trojans quarterback Ben Moore.

Alex Tecza, who rushed for 105 yards, converted that McDowell miscue with a 9-yard touchdown run to send Mt. Lebanon into halftime with a 14-point lead.

The Blue Devils never let go and are now two steps away from their first PIAA crown.

“When you come out to these games, you feel the entire school and community surrounding you and cheering you on,” Heidenreich said. “It’s a special feeling knowing we aren’t just making our coaches and parents proud, but our entire community proud. It’s a special feeling.”

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