Penn-Trafford wins 1st WPIAL championship in Class 5A title game thriller with Moon

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Saturday, November 27, 2021 | 9:21 PM


Somewhere Kevin Topper is smiling. He also probably is feeling sympathy for Moon kicker Jacob Wieland.

Wieland’s would-be tying 33-yard field goal sailed wide right, and Penn-Trafford survived a frantic ending to capture its first WPIAL football title by defeating Moon, 24-21, on Saturday at Heinz Field.

The Warriors (11-2) rallied in the second half by getting an early score, playing solid defense and getting key stops in the WPIAL Class 5A thriller.

Penn-Trafford quarterback Carter Green scored the deciding touchdown on a 29-yard run early in the third quarter after the Warriors recovered a Moon fumble.

“It was the game-changer,” Penn-Trafford coach John Ruane said. “It was a great hit and we were able to get the ball. And I was really happy we were able to capitalize.”

It was the Warriors’ fourth trip to the WPIAL finals and third time to Heinz Field in seven years.

Moon, which won a Class 3A title in 1998, was denied the title.

Topper, who missed a tying extra point in 1997 for Penn-Trafford in a 28-27 loss to Upper St. Clair, said he grew as a person from the miss.

Penn-Trafford now will play District 3 champions Exeter Township, which shocked No. 1-ranked Governor Mifflin, in the PIAA semifinals at 7 p.m. Friday at Bald Eagle Area.

“It was a tale of two halves,” Ruane said. “We didn’t hold the ball the first half, and they did. Thank goodness we had two big explosive plays to keep us in it.

“In the second half, I thought we beared down, defense especially. We started to move on our possessions on offense. We scored, and a bad holding call or we might have had a little more success. It doesn’t really matter how it got done. It got done.”

Penn-Trafford running back Cade Yacamelli, who had an 80-yard touchdown called back because of a penalty in the fourth quarter, rushed for 136 yards and scored on a 53-yard run and a 92-yard pass.

“This amazing. It’s everything I could imagine,” Penn-Trafford senior tackle Declan Ochendowski said. “It hasn’t hit me yet. It’s an unreal feeling, and we did it.”

Penn-Trafford’s defense came up with a huge play early in the third quarter when Seth Dunlap’s hit caused Jeremiah Dean to fumble, and Daniel Tarabrella recovered at the Moon 38.

Four plays later, on fourth-and-1, Green broke a tackle along the line of scrimmage and raced 29 yards for a touchdown to give the Warriors a 24-21 lead.

“Everything is this game was so important,” Green said. “From the field goal at the beginning of the game and every single play.

“Right now we’re at the top of the world. We’re going to celebrate as much as we can and Sunday focus our minds on the next game.”

Moon got the ball back with 2:45 left and quarterback Tyler McGowan led the Tigers on a drive with his left arm and legs that ended at the Penn-Trafford 16 to set up the potential game-tying field goal.

“It’s not on (Wieland),” Moon coach Ryan Linn said. “In the grand scheme of things, it looks like it’s on Jake because he missed the kick, but realistically, there were too many plays that we didn’t make on offense and too many plays we gave up on defense. We put ourselves in that position. It’s a tough spot to put a 17-year-old kid in.”

McGowan completed 10 of 18 passes for 166 yards and he rushed for 70 yards.

Those expecting to see a defensive struggle got the shock of their life in the first half. The fans were treated to a shootout.

Penn-Trafford struck first in the see-saw first half by getting a 34-yard field goal from Nate Schlessinger to complete its seven-play opening drive.

Moon didn’t flinch as it let Penn-Trafford know it was going to mix in the passing game.

After McGowan opened Moon’s first possession with a 5-yard pass to Taite Beachy, the Tigers ran on six consecutive plays before McGowan connected with tight end/fullback Ben Bladel for a 44-yard touchdown on a swing pass.

“I’m really proud of these kids in the locker room,” Ruane said. “They deserve it, and we’ve had a lot of teams come through here and they deserved it. For whatever reason we didn’t get it done.”

The Tigers upped their lead to 14-3 after driving 52 yards in nine plays, all on the ground, with Bladel scoring on a 1-yard run.

Penn-Trafford answered quickly as Yacamelli, a Wisconsin recruit, raced 53 yards to make to 14-10 on its first play after the kickoff.

Moon drove into Penn-Trafford territory on its next possession only to be stopped a yard short of a first down on Penn-Trafford’s 6.

Three plays later, Green found Yacamelli on a wheel route for a 92-yard touchdown and a 17-14 Warriors lead.

Moon, behind a 35-yard run by Dean and a 38-yard pass from McGowan to Brandon Weaver, reclaimed the lead when Bladel scored his third touchdown of the game on his second 1-yard run.

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at pschofield@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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