Mt. Lebanon shows ‘toughness’ in lightning-delayed win over No. 1 Central Catholic

Saturday, October 9, 2021 | 3:59 PM

Mt. Lebanon quarterback Joey Daniels dislocated a finger on his left hand Friday night while catching a trick-play touchdown, but he was back behind center Saturday morning to finish the lightning-delayed game.

Opponents in years past used to test this team’s grit, yet these Blue Devils pride themselves on their toughness. In fact, No. 2-ranked Mt. Lebanon often appeared more physical than No. 1 Central Catholic in a 35-14 win that was stretched over two days.

Teams can’t usually say that.

“We showed a lot of toughness,” said Daniels, who also threw for a touchdown. “You’ve got to give credit to Central Catholic. They’re a big, strong, physical team. They’re going to hit you in the mouth over and over.”

Yet, Mt. Lebanon hit back.

Running back Alex Tecza rushed for 259 yards on 31 carries and scored two touchdowns as the Blue Devils sustained long drives against Central Catholic’s defense. Their first four touchdown drives covered 84, 66, 68 and 72 yards.

The victory puts Mt. Lebanon (7-0, 4-0) alone in first place in WPIAL Class 6A.

It also was a confidence boost for the senior-heavy Blue Devils, who haven’t won a WPIAL title or reached the finals since 2000.

“We have a different mentality this year,” said Tecza, who scored Friday on runs of 3 and 43 yards. “We have experience. We have confidence. We have grit. We have swag.”

Having a 6-foot, 200-pound running back/safety with Tecza’s ability certainly helps too. He had 12 carries for 145 yards on Friday night and added 19 carries more on Saturday.

“We don’t usually run one back and one guy,” Mt. Lebanon coach Bob Palko said. “We mix it up and try to spread the work, but he was in the zone.”

Mt. Lebanon led 21-7 in the third quarter when lightning interrupted the game Friday night. After an hour-long delay, the game was postponed until 10 a.m. Saturday.

The delay didn’t slow the Blue Devils.

Mt. Lebanon started Saturday with a 12-play, 72-yard touchdown drive capped by an 8-yard pass from Daniels to receiver Eli Heidenreich late in the third quarter. The two players had combined for a 20-yard touchdown on Friday night, but that time Heidenreich was throwing to Daniels.

A 7-yard TD pass from wildcat quarterback Jack Smith to receiver Grayson Dee extended the Blue Devils’ lead to 35-7 in the fourth.

“It was definitely hard feeling that soreness and that pain,” Tecza said of returning Saturday morning, “… but we knew what had to get done.”

Central Catholic (5-2, 3-1) is a two-time defending WPIAL champion with a reputation for gritty, hard-nose football. But even Vikings coach Terry Totten agreed that Mt. Lebanon was likely the more-physical team.

“I would say so,” Totten said. “I would say in every aspect they were better than us. They might be better than us. I don’t know, but it looks like they are.”

Instilling grit was an early goal for Palko, who’s now in his third season. Players can’t wake up and decide to be tough, he said Saturday, but must learn it over time.

“It’s interesting to see the dynamics of it and see it coming,” Palko said. “But it’s week, what, six? Before we start anointing or patting ourselves on the back, it’s Week 6.”

The game grew heated in the fourth quarter with players and coaches pushing one another near the Mt. Lebanon sideline after a play. A Mt. Lebanon volunteer assistant coach was ejected.

Central Catholic had led 7-0 on Friday when senior Gannon Carothers returned the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown. But the Vikings didn’t score again until the fourth quarter Saturday when quarterback Payton Wehner connected with receiver Peter Gonzalez for a 28-yard touchdown.

Wehner completed 11 of 23 passes for 131 yards and one touchdown. Wehner and Gonzalez are both sophomores, as is top tackler Anthony Speca, the team’s star middle linebacker.

“We’ve got a lot of young guys out there but I’m not going to make any excuses,” Totten said. “(Mt. Lebanon) came in to play and it’s a good football team.”

Central Catholic could find comfort in recent history. A year ago, Central Catholic lost to Mt. Lebanon in the regular season before winning the rematch, 35-0, in the WPIAL semifinals.

For now, Totten shrugged off that comparison.

“They’re a lot better than last year,” he said, “and I’ve got to find where we’re at.”

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

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