Mt. Lebanon shows grit, rallies to beat Central Catholic

Saturday, October 10, 2020 | 12:05 AM

The night might not have started the way Mt. Lebanon wanted, but it sure did finish the way they liked, as the Blue Devils rallied from a 17-point first-half deficit to beat Central Catholic, 37-30, on Friday night in a Class 6A game at Graham Field in Wilkinsburg.

“These are games you look back on when you’re trying to build a culture and a reputation and trying to get these kids to believe,” Mt. Lebanon coach Bob Palko said. “Games like this hopefully keep teaching the message to don’t give up. We had ample opportunities to quit like we may have in the past, but we didn’t. I tip my hat to these kids.”

No. 2 Central Catholic (3-2, 3-2) wasted little time getting off to a fast start as junior Brandon Jackson returned the opening kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown. It was the fourth time in five games Jackson returned a kick for a score.

Mt. Lebanon (2-2, 2-2) didn’t wait long to answer. Just six plays after the Jackson touchdown, Alex Tecza scored his first of three touchdowns on a 1-yard run. Casey Sorsdal’s extra point tied the score 7-7 with only 2 minutes, 9 seconds elapsed.

The Blue Devils took their first lead with :18 left in the first quarter when Sorsdal’s 24-yard field goal capped a 14-play drive that started when Tecza recovered an Anderson Cynkar fumble.

Again, the answer came quickly.

Central Catholic’s Eddy Tillman scored from 13-yards out on the second play of the ensuing possession to put the Vikings back on top. Matthew Schearer missed the extra-point, and the score was 13-10. Tillman led the Vikings with 147 yards rushing.

Tillman’s run was the first of three consecutive touchdowns for Central Catholic, the next one coming via special teams.

With Sorsdal back to punt, the ball was snapped over his head. He picked it up and tried to punt from his own 20-yard line, but his kick was blocked. Devin Barren picked up the loose ball and scampered 18 yards into the endzone for a 20-10 Central Catholic lead.

The big plays kept coming fot the Vikings.

Midway through the second quarter and with the Vikings backed up at their own 10-tard line, it took two plays for Central Catholic to score again. Senior wide receiver Matt Schmitt hauled in an Adam Obrin pass in the left flat and raced 90 yards down the near sideline to give Central Catholic a 27-10 lead.

It was mostly Mt. Lebanon after that.

Tecza caught a screen pass from Joey Daniels in stride in the right flat and raced 45 yards to pull Mt. Lebanon to within 10 points.

After Schearer’s 37-yard field goal gave Central Catholic a 30-17 lead, Daniels helped engineer the comeback.

Just over a minute after the Schearer field goal, Daniels found Eli Heidenreich open and the junior wide receiver did the rest, breaking several tackles on his way to a 78-yard catch-and-run touchdown to make the score 30-23 after a failed extra point.

Daniels then connected with Matt Beiersdorf on a 17-yard touchdown to tie the score 30-30 early in the fourth quarter. It would be the Tecza and Daniels combination that put Mt. Lebanon in the lead with 3:40 left.

Tecza’s catch and run from 13-yards out and Sorsdal’s extra point gave Mt. Lebanon a 37-30 lead. Tecza would stop Tillman on fourth-and 1-with just over a minute remaining to give the Blue Devils the ball back.

“Alex is a very talented young man,” Palko said. “We’re trying to work on other aspects of his game and get him to focus in, but from a pure talent standpoint, the ceiling is really high for him.”

But as Tecza was fighting for a first down, he was stripped of the football, which was recovered by Central Catholic freshman linebacker Anthony Speca.

Obrin, who finished the game 9 of 23 passing for 205 yards, would complete several passes and the Vikings moved to a second-and-goal at the 10-yard line after a spike. But three incompletions later the Blue Devils were celebrating a come-from-behind victory on the road.

Daniels completed 16 of 20 passes for 343-yards and four touchdowns. Heidenreich had 4 receptions for 147 yards and a score, and Tecza finished with four catches for 88 yards and two touchdowns.

Palko was pleased with the continued growth of his quarterback.

“He’s such a gritty kid,” Palko said. “We need grit, and that young man is about as gritty as can be and that is why he was named one of our captains, for games like this and for times like this. That’s what true leaders do.”

Palko said he dedicated the game to a longtime friend and mentor Joe Franjione, who died on Wednesday. “I told the kids about him. He was one of my best friends. I just hope he’s looking down and he’s proud of what I am accomplishing with these young men, like he accomplished with me.”

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

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