Mt. Lebanon trounces State College, earns 1st trip to Hershey for state football finals

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Saturday, December 4, 2021 | 4:55 PM


ALTOONA — Mt. Lebanon already proved itself as the best team in the WPIAL. Last week they added the title of best team in all of Western Pennsylvania.

Now, the Blue Devils are thinking bigger.

“We want to show we’re the best team in the state,” said senior Eli Heidenreich, who had 341 yards from scrimmage and scored five touchdowns Saturday in a 49-28 victory over State College in a PIAA Class 6A semifinal at Mansion Park Stadium. “That’s the goal right now. Everything west of Harrisburg, we kind of own that. It’s pretty much just east vs. west right now, so we’ve got to show we’re the best.”

Mt. Lebanon is headed to Hershey for the first time in team history. For Blue Devils coach Bob Palko, this will be his fourth trip but his first since winning gold in 2001 with West Allegheny.

The Class 6A state final is 6 p.m. next Saturday at Hersheypark Stadium.

“First time in school history that we have the opportunity to play at Hershey, and it’s special, to say the least,” Heidenreich said. “It’s a two-hour drive (from Mt. Lebanon to Altoona) and those stands over there were packed. This whole community is behind us.”

Waiting for Mt. Lebanon (14-0) will be three-time defending champion St. Joseph’s Prep. The Philadelphia Catholic League power defeated District 1 champion Garnet Valley, 49-13, in Saturday’s other semifinal.

Mt. Lebanon reached the state semifinals once before but lost in 2000. This time, Lebo took control of Saturday’s semifinal with three first-quarter touchdowns.

Against a State College offense known to hold the ball, Mt. Lebanon wanted an early lead. The Blue Devils won the coin toss, uncharacteristically elected to receive and scored touchdowns on their first seven possessions.

Mt. Lebanon led 21-7 after one quarter and 42-14 at half.

“We were glad we won the toss,” Palko said. “We thought if we got up on them, it would be hard for them to come back just because of the style they play. They take the air out of the ball.”

State College (8-6) was the District 6 champion.

Mt. Lebanon quarterback Joey Daniels completed 12 of 15 passes for 292 yards and six touchdowns. Running back Alex Tecza added 102 rushing yards and scored Mt. Lebanon’s third and fourth touchdowns.

Heidenreich caused State College the most trouble.

The Navy commit finished with nine catches for 278 yards and five touchdowns while adding 63 yards on six carries. His touchdown catches covered 68, 67, 15, 13 and 48 yards.

“He’s a special player,” State College coach Matt Lintal said. “Obviously, you’ve got to know where he is, but then trying to stop him is difficult. They do a nice job of coaching to make sure they put him in some different spots. They try to make sure you can’t lock him down.

“He just made plays. He made a lot of plays.”

This was the second eye-catching stat line in a row for Heidenreich. A week ago, he rolled up 284 yards from scrimmage and scored three times against McDowell in a PIAA quarterfinal win that cemented Mt. Lebanon’s dominance in Western Pennsylvania.

“I feel so good for him because he’s just playing,” Palko said. “I guess Navy is going to get a good player, and I guess some people (at BCS schools) are going to miss out.”

State College quarterback Owen Yerka led the Little Lions with 210 passing yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Running back Brady Bendik added 96 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries.

Mt. Lebanon held leads of 14-0, 35-7 and 49-14, enacting the 35-point mercy rule with 3 minutes left in the third quarter. State College tacked on a couple of late touchdowns against Mt. Lebanon’s second string, but the outcome was never in doubt after halftime.

“I don’t think they’ve seen a passing offense like us before,” Daniels said. “They struggled with Eli because of his speed and his route-running ability. I don’t think they were prepared for it.”

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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