No. 1 Pine-Richland holds off Mt. Lebanon in offensive shootout

Saturday, September 2, 2017 | 12:45 AM

A good, old-fashioned shootout took place at Pine-Richland Stadium on Friday night, with a pair of gunslingers stepping forward to lead their offenses.

Rams quarterback Phil Jurkovec and Mt. Lebanon's Seth Morgan put on an aerial display, including a state record 25 receptions and 337 yards for Blue Devils senior wide receiver Aidan Cain.

There were gaudy stats, deep passes delivered downfield and plenty of touchdowns but, in the end, it was Jurkovec and top-ranked Pine-Richland (2-0) that secured a 53-29 victory over Mt. Lebanon (1-1) in a WPIAL Class 6A nonconference showdown.

It wasn't an easy win, as the Rams trailed early on in the first half but, according to coach Eric Kasperowicz, the hard fight made the victory all the more rewarding.

“I think it's an extremely important win. We come off of a convincing win in Week 1, and I think it's human nature to ride a little bit high after something like that. I think our kids were doing that,” he said.

“We faced a really good Mt. Lebanon team there, and they gave us some scares. They battled the whole time, and we had to fight them for four quarters. It was a good game, and it's a good kind of game to get in early in the season.”

Jurkovec, a Notre Dame recruit, racked up 435 yards passing and three touchdowns to go along with 61 yards rushing and another three scores on the ground. Jurkovec powered Pine-Richland to the win by scoring quickly and efficiently on offense, whereas No. 4 Mt. Lebanon was more procedural and had to chip away to force the Rams defense to relent.

The Rams produced three 100-yard receivers, including Raymond Falcone (6-138 yards, 2 TDs), Jason DeFrancisis (9-103 yards) and Ben Jochem (3-146 yards).

“That's Phil's job. He can take over a game by himself, but I tell him all the time that he has all these athletes around him so distribute the football and let them make plays,” Kasperowicz said.

“But it goes without saying that none of that offense happens tonight if the offensive line can't protect like they did. I think they only allowed one sack. It was a very good performance by them.”

Mt. Lebanon's quarterback almost matched Jurkovec step-for-step. Morgan, starting in place of the injured James Stocker, totaled 454 yards on 56 passing attempts. The junior never threw an interception and connected with Cain on two touchdowns.

Cain's 25 catches broke the Pennsylvania high school record of King of Prussia Upper Merion's Bob Thomas (22 in 1972).

“Seth's a competitor. He's worked hard during the offseason and during the winter. He was our starter all summer during seven-on-sevens. Seth kept battling the whole night so I was really proud of him. I love what he's done so far,” Mt. Lebanon coach Mike Melnyk said.

“And I've had a couple of good wide receivers. Troy Apke was great, and I've had others at my previous school, but Aiden ranks right up there with those guys. He's fast, he's got great ball skills and he's difficult to cover.”

For Melnyk and Mt. Lebanon, however, there is a silver lining to the loss. It doesn't affect their playoff status in Class 6A's Southeastern Conference, and there are some positives to take away from the defeat.

“It might be cliché, but Pine-Richland is supposed to be the top team in the WPIAL and all that stuff, so it's an early-season measuring stick of where we are. Obviously, we're not where we want to be, but we saw that we can play with them when we're doing what we're supposed to do,” Melnyk said.

“We just need to continue to improve, and hopefully we'll get another shot at them later.”

Kevin Lohman is a freelance writer.

ljanga is a Tribune-Review freelancer. You can contact ljanga at [email protected].

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