Peters Township routs defending 5A champ Pine-Richland for 1st WPIAL football title

Saturday, November 18, 2023 | 3:25 PM

Peters Township would not be denied this time.

After falling in the WPIAL Class 5A championship game to Gateway in 2019 and Pine-Richland in 2020, the top-seeded Indians put together a dominating performance Saturday and rolled over Pine-Richland, 43-17, at Norwin Knights Stadium.

It was the program’s first WPIAL football title.

Peters Township (13-0) will now face Erie’s Cathedral Prep in the PIAA quarterfinals at a site and date to be determined.

“It’s amazing that we’re the first team to win a WPIAL championship at the school,” senior Justin Tornatore said. “This is so special.”

Sophomore quarterback Nolan DiLucia tossed three touchdown passes in the second quarter as the Indians scored 21 points to erase a 3-2 deficit after one quarter.

“You need guys who can make plays,” Peters Township coach T.J. Plack said. “You need guys who can win, and Nolan is just one of them. He’s dynamic with the ball, and he makes plays if the play breaks down. “

DiLucia, who also rushed for 81 yards and a score, completed 14 of 25 passes for 184 yards.

Vinny Sarcone and Preston Blair each rushed for 94 yards and a touchdown.

“The defense was phenomenal,” Plack said. “But I feel all three phases of the game were tremendous. Once we saw what they were doing on defense, I thought the offense played exceptionally well. Everyone helped each other out.”

Tornatore added: “We have the best coaching staff in the WPIAL. We have a great group and we roll. We tried to make them one dimensional. We might not have the size, but we are the most emotional team you’ll face all year.”

Pine-Richland had one first down and 21 total yards in offense in the first half. And even though the Rams forced three turnovers, the Peters Township defense shut them down.

“They fly around and tackle the ball,” Pine-Richland coach Jon LeDonne said. “We couldn’t get anything going on offense. Hats off to their defense. We created three turnovers in the first half, and we didn’t do anything with them.”

Said Indians defensive lineman Jake Velgich: “We executed our game plan well. We stopped their run.”

Tanner Cunningham picked off DiLucia twice in the first half.

DiLucia and the running game started to pick apart the Pine-Richland defense in the second quarter. He hit Mickey Vaccarello (13 yards), Ethan Wertman (32 yards) and Carter Shanafelt (13 yards) for scores in the second quarter.

The Shanafelt touchdown came after Peters Township recovered a kickoff.

“They had a great game plan on offense,” LeDonne said. “They are tough to prepare for because they are so balanced. Those late scores were killers. They got us chasing points in the second half.”

Peters Township pushed the lead to 36-3 in the third quarter as Sarcone raced 33 yards for a touchdown and Preston Blair went 63 yards.

Lucia’s 39-yard touchdown run was sandwiched by two touchdown passes from Pine-Richland senior Kanan Huffman. He came into the game after starting quarterback Aaron Strader was sacked late in the second quarter.

Huffman completed 11 of 26 passes for 138 yards. The touchdowns went to Vasilios Balouris (48 yards) and Bryce O’Brien (30 yards).

Grant Argiro booted a 48-yard field goal to give Pine-Richland (9-4) the early lead.

Plack said Peters Township will celebrate the win and then prepare for Cathedral Prep.

“We have work to do,” Plack said. “I’ll call a couple friends and see how they prepared.”

Peters Township outgained Pine-Richland, 482-151. The Indians rushed for 298 yards.

“We had a great practice all week,” Shanafelt said. “We were locked in. We executed like we practiced.”

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

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