No. 1 Pine-Richland will provide stiff test for Penn-Trafford defense

Thursday, November 5, 2020 | 4:16 PM

Chase Vecchio plays a hybrid, outside linebacker-cornerback position for Penn-Trafford.

But the Warriors senior does not overstep his bounds when the opponent is driving. He covers his assigned area.

“Everyone does their job on our defense,” said Vecchio, who has 34 tackles and two interceptions. “Nobody tries to do too much.”

It’s that faith in one another that makes the P-T defensive unit tick — athletes making plays and trusting the player next to them will do the same.

The unit will have to play “above the line,” as Steelers coach Mike Tomlin likes to say, when fourth-seeded Penn-Trafford (6-1) visits No. 1 Pine-Richland (7-0) on Friday night in the WPIAL Class 5A semifinals.

The Warriors defense has been strong all season, giving up 86 points — 12.3 per game — while surrendering just 10 touchdowns.

“You have to get stops if you want to have a chance to win the game,” Penn-Trafford coach John Ruane said. “That’s easier said than done. Our defense has played really well, but it will have to be outstanding this week.”

The Warriors have six defenders with 34 or more tackles, and the team has 13 interceptions — five that were returned for touchdowns.

Takeaways could be paramount Friday night.

“We watch a lot of film of the other teams, and our coaches get us prepared to give us our best chance to stop those teams,” Warriors junior inside linebacker Jack Jollie said. “(Pine-Richland) has an aggressive line, and they’re good in space. They do a lot of RPO (run-pass option), and we haven’t seen a lot of that.”

Jollie has 41 tackles, and senior Thomas Wilkie has 40 stops and three sacks.

Senior Nate Frye has 48 tackles and a team-leading three picks.

“They are really flying to the ball and held a good Upper St. Clair team Friday night to only seven points,” Pine-Richland coach Eric Kasperowicz said of the Warriors.

Vaunted Pine-Richland has been the favorite since the preseason after the program dropped from Class 6A.

“The odds-on favorite. They do everything well,” Ruane said. “This is one of the biggest challenges we have ever had here.”

The Rams are no slouches on defense, either. They allow just 9.7 points, thanks in large part to their 31 sacks and 11 interceptions.

Lineman Miguel Jackson (6-foot-2, 265), a Liberty recruit, has 7.5 sacks, while inside linebacker Luke Miller, a Kent State recruit, has 42 tackles — nine for loss — and 4.5 sacks.

Lineman Harrison Hayes (6-3, 275) also is headed to Liberty.

While defense could be what decides who advances to the championship — 7 p.m. next Saturday at North Allegheny against the winner of Peters Township and Gateway — these offenses are fun to watch, too.

Pine-Richland is averaging 50.7 points, Penn-Trafford 45.4. The Rams gain 441.3 yards a game, and the Warriors put up 253.6 yards on the ground.

Rams quarterback Cole Spencer, a Penn wrestling recruit, is one of the most accurate passers in the state. He has thrown for 1,754 yards and 24 touchdowns.

Receiver Eli Jochem has 35 catches for 745 yards and 12 scores, and Alex Gochis has 22 receptions for 299 yards.

The Warriors set up the pass with the run. Quarterback Ethan Carr, a Villanova receiver recruit, has 877 yards passing and 15 touchdowns and has rushed for 616 yards and seven scores.

Cade Yacamelli leads the Warriors’ rushing attack with 657 yards and eight TDs.

The Rams won WPIAL 6A titles in 2017 and ’18 and finished as runner-up to Central Catholic last year.

Penn-Trafford, though, is in the semifinals for the sixth time in eight years for a reason.

“We have great respect for Penn-Trafford and their program,” Kasperowicz said. “They are playing very well right now. On offense, their quarterback is what makes them go and is the definition of a dual-threat guy.”

Like any good semifinal, defense and taking care of the football will be keys to extending the season.

“The key to winning this matchup is controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball,” Kasperowicz said. “We need to control the tempo and be the most physical team.”

Touchdowns allowed by the Penn-Trafford defense this season:

Connellsville 4

Latrobe 2

Peters Township 1

Woodland Hills 1

Franklin Regional 1

Upper St. Clair 1

Shaler 0

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at or via Twitter .

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