Peters Township defense stands tall, sends Indians to PIAA Class 5A title game

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Friday, December 1, 2023 | 11:24 PM


ALTOONA — From the moment the ball was kicked in Friday night’s PIAA Class 5A football semifinal between Peters Township and Cocalico, both defenses smothered much of the hope that both sides had for moving the ball.

It would come down to the final two plays where the Eagles had two plays in mind.

The first was a run that the Indians would stuff at the 2-yard line. The next the Eagles tried to run down the Indians sideline before reversing back to their own.

The Indians defense put the hammer down and stuffed the Eagles last gasp after a loss of 1 and hung on to punch their ticket for the first time to the state championship 14-9 at Altoona’s Mansion Park.

“We didn’t want to call a timeout,” Peters Township coach TJ Plack said. “I know they had two plays ready. Our defense felt comfortable with it, and I thought our kids played well.

“(Cocalico’s Dane Bolinger) made a helluva play getting out of it. It was in to the last second. They did a great job. That’s a pretty good team over there.”

Eagles coach Bryan Strohl was impressed with how the Indians defense made life difficult for his team all night.

“There’s no weakness on that defense,” he said. “You try to run up the middle, they’re tough up there. You try hit the perimeter; they got speed out there. (They) certainly made us work offensively to try and find things we can do to move the ball. They’re the complete package.”

Peters Township held Cocalico to 103 rushing yards on 50 carries and 173 yards of total offense.

Each side found most, if not, all of their success offensively in the second quarter as the Eagles stretched their last drive of the first quarter for over eight minutes before a Todd Becker field goal from 24 yards out put them on the board.

“We’ve seen bits and pieces of that (Eagles offense) all year,” Plack said. “They do a fantastic job with that. We play an aggressive style of defense where our reads are everything. We play close to the line of scrimmage, our defensive backs can cover you, and they play like linebackers as well. We’re used to playing that disciplined defense, so that helps out.”

Peters Township, though, went to work and struck quickly on the ensuing drive with a pass from Nolan DiLucia to Carter Shanafelt for a diving catch from 24 yards to make it 7-3.

The Indians forced a three-and-out on the next drive and two plays later gave themselves cushion as DiLucia found Thomas Aspinall for a diving catch on the near sideline for a 14-3 advantage at the break.

Dilucia went 13 for 22 for 155 yards and two scores.

Penalties proved challenging as both teams were called for a combined 19 fouls for 210 yards. The Indians were called for 10 for 110 while the Eagles were hit with nine for 100.

“It’s hard to stay on schedule, second-and-25, things like that,” Plack said of the penalties. “That does not help at all.”

“Penalties are killers for us,” Strohl said. “If we’re second-and-25, that’s not a great situation to be in. Some of the penalties were drive killers, and we benefited from a couple, too. That certainly puts us in a tough situation.”

The Indians’ reward is a trip to Cumberland Valley’s Chapman Field where they will meet Imhotep Charter of District 12 for the state title at 7 p.m. next Friday. Imhotep is coming off a 42-14 triumph over Strath Haven.

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