PIAA championship ‘final chapter’ for record-setting Pine-Richland seniors

Thursday, November 26, 2020 | 9:57 AM

Cole Spencer has won more games than any quarterback in Pine-Richland history, and Eli Jochem owns all-time receiving records for catches and yards.

A week ago, Luke Miller set a single-game Rams record with 23 tackles in one afternoon. Miguel Jackson owns the team’s all-time sacks record with 36.

Pine-Richland’s seniors have already added their names to the record book, but this team’s legacy hasn’t been written, they say.

“We’ve definitely got to finish it,” said Spencer.

Pine-Richland’s Class of 2021 has always dreamt about a state championship. Their chance comes at 8 p.m. Friday when Pine-Richland (10-0) plays District 10 champion Cathedral Prep (7-2) in the PIAA Class 5A final in Hershey.

“Since freshman year, we knew this senior class was special,” said Spencer, whose 31 victories puts him one ahead of Phil Jurkovec, who quarterbacked the school’s 2017 state championship team.

In a way, that team four years ago inspired this year’s success, Spencer said.

“They were a special class and we kind of got compared to them, saying you’re going to be them senior year,” he said. “We’ve had that goal. We want to be like them. We want to be state champs.”

This is Pine-Richland’s fourth trip to the PIAA finals. The Rams are 1-2 at Hersheypark Stadium.

The 2014 team was state runner-up with current Dallas Cowboys quarterback Ben DiNucci behind center, and the 2003 team finished second with future major leaguer Neil Walker on the roster.

Where does this year’s team rank among those others?

“We’re in our final chapter right now,” Rams coach Eric Kasperowicz said. “That chapter is going to be finished on Friday night. If we finish that chapter off right and win the whole thing, then without a doubt you’ve got to mention them in there. We can talk about all that in a week or two.”

Their opponent Friday also is familiar with winning state titles. Cathedral Prep owns five PIAA championships, including three consecutive from 2016-18 in Class 4A.

The Ramblers were forced to 5A this season under the PIAA’s competitive-balance rule. This is the first time in state history that a WPIAL football team met an opponent from District 10 in the PIAA finals.

“They’re a storied program,” Kasperowicz said. “They’re one of the most successful programs in Pennsylvania history. … Once it all kind of shook out, we knew they were going to be the likely opponent. They’re always there in the end.”

Prep coach Mike Mischler said he’s not surprised to see Pine-Richland either. He’d had his eyes on the Rams as a likely WPIAL champion and was impressed with what he’s seen on film.

“The kids all know what they’re doing,” Mischler said. “You can tell they spent a lot time in the film room. I just feel like they’re more advanced than most teams we’ve seen on film anywhere all year.”

The WPIAL champions are coming off a 48-44 victory over Governor Mifflin in the semifinals. The Rams trailed in the third quarter by three touchdowns but rallied back to win behind Spencer, who threw for four scores and rushed for another.

“What’s scary is you have a team that was down 22 points in the second half and still found a way to come back and win,” Mischler said. “That’s something that’s pretty amazing. It’s so easy for people to throw their hands up and quit today.”

Cathedral Prep hasn’t played a game in since Nov. 6 after its last two would-be opponents forfeited. The team was scheduled to play District 2 champion Wyoming Valley West in the state quarterfinals and District 1 champion Upper Dublin in the semifinals.

The Ramblers have a strong running game with junior Michael Parks and senior Jaheim Williams, a Duquesne recruit who was injured for part of the season.

Parks has 856 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. Williams has 194 yards on 23 carries and four touchdowns.

Dual-threat quarterback Tamar Sample has passed for 585 yards and six touchdowns, and he’s rushed for 435 yards and eight more scores. He threw for two touchdowns in Cathedral Prep’s most recent game, a 33-7 win over Hollidaysburg.

“They’re more of a spread offense but they want to run the football,” Kasperowicz said. “Their quarterback is talented throwing it, but they’ll run him quite a bit as well.”

On the other sideline, Spencer has thrown for 2,448 yards and 32 touchdowns. His leading receiver is Jochem, who has 57 receptions for 1,109 yards and 17 scores.

The teammates for years have thought about winning a state title.

Said Spencer: “We’re one game away from that goal.”

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.


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