Pine-Richland aerial attack too much for Penn-Trafford in Class 5A semifinals

Friday, November 6, 2020 | 10:27 PM

Pine-Richland may have dropped in classification this season, but the Rams still seem to be in a class by themselves.

The top-ranked team in the state in Class 5A, Pine-Richland used its go-to pass combination of quarterback Cole Spencer and Eli Jochem and its big-play offense to brush aside visiting Penn-Trafford, 49-14, on Friday night in a WPIAL semifinal in Gibsonia.

The top-seeded Rams (8-0) are headed for the WPIAL finals for the fourth straight season. They won WPIAL Class 6A titles in 2017 and ‘18 and were the runners-up last season to Central Catholic.

This was their seventh consecutive semifinal appearance.

They will take on No. 3 Peters Township (8-0) for the title at 7 p.m. next Saturday at North Allegheny. The winner advances to the PIAA semifinals Nov. 20 or 21 in WPIAL territory.

The fourth-seeded Warriors (6-2) could not have asked for a better start. But the Rams were quickly on their way to a usual finish — and another runaway victory.

Penn-Trafford’s defense had allowed 10 touchdowns all season but gave up seven to the high-powered Rams.

“They are outstanding,” Warriors coach John Ruane said. “You can’t turn the ball over and give them opportunities. They smell blood in the water. They throw it around, and they catch everything.”

Spencer and Jochem form one of the top pitch-and-catch combos in school history, and they were on their game again.

Spencer completed 18-of-23 passes for 374 yards and three scores, two to Jochem, who had eight catches for 176 yards.

The Rams put up 450 total yards.

“We knew they could not play four quarters with us,” said Spencer, a Penn wrestling commit. “They have nine or 10 guys playing both ways. We have a lot of good guys, a lot who only play one way. We ran them into the dirt. We’re tough to stop once we get going.”

Jochem moved past Neil Walker for second place on the Rams’ all-time receptions list and is now tied for first with Mike Merhaut with 149 catches.

His biggest play came early in the third when he took a swing pass and hit the speed button for a 46-yard touchdown to push the advantage to 35-7.

“I couldn’t believe he did that,” Spencer said.

Penn-Trafford, in the semis for the sixth time in eight years, was looking to advance to the WPIAL finals for the third time in six years.

The Warriors rolled up 324 rushing last week in a 35-7 quarterfinal win over Upper St. Clair but could neither establish the run nor slow down the Rams, who scored 35 unanswered points after Penn-Trafford’s surprise drive to open the game.

The Rams came in averaging 50.7 points with a winning margin of victory of 41 points.

“We wanted to control the tempo and force them to throw the ball,” Pine-Richland coach Eric Kasperowicz said. “We throw the ball. It’s what we do.”

Penn-Trafford cut the lead to 35-14 on a 7-yard scoring throw from Ethan Carr to Chase Vecchio late in the third. The Warriors recovered an onside kick after the touchdown but gave it back on downs.

The Warriors played without two starting linemen who were down with injuries in Rob Bartram and Garrett Moorhead.

An aggressive game plan saw two trick plays on the Warriors’ opening drive. Cade Yacamelli took a snap and handed off to quarterback Ethan Carr for a big gain. That set up more gadgetry as Vecchio took an end around, stopped and delivered a 7-yard strike to Carr, a wide receiver recruit for Villanova.

Pine-Richland also reached deep into its playbook and completed a flea-flicker on its first play. Spencer threw a 44-yard pass to Jochem.

“We weren’t surprised at all with what (Penn-Trafford) did,” Kasperowicz said. “John isn’t afraid to make calls like that. I wish I would have called a blitz (on the touchdown) and maybe we would have stopped it.”

Early in the second quarter, the Rams tied it after a 12-play, 95-yard drive balanced with runs and passes. Spencer delivered a 10-yard scoring pass to Jochem.

“Our sophomore year, we started throwing to each other,” Spencer said. “We didn’t play defense, so we would just work on throwing on one end of the field in practice. Me, him and our QB coach.”

Said Kasperowicz: “Pound for pound, Eli Jochem is one of the best athletes I have ever coached.”

The game’s only turnover proved costly. Penn-Trafford tried an option pitch but fumbled, and the Rams’ Zach Waryanka recovered.

Another long drive was capped by a 1-yard plunge by Spencer to make it 14-7. This time, the Rams went 72 yards in 13 plays.

Spencer added another short touchdown on the next possession. Spencer found Yochem for a 20-yard gain to set up the score that made it 21-7 at the half.

Caden Schweiger had 63 yards rushing and a touchdown for the Rams.

Jordan Burns also had a touchdown run for the Rams early in the fourth, and Charlie Mill caught a 50-yard bomb, making a circus catch for a late touchdown.

Carr threw for 119 yards and rushed for 64, while Vecchio had arguably his best game of the season with five catches for 48 yards and a touchdown, and the passing score.

“Chase left his heart on the field tonight,” Ruane said.

Cole Darragh had four catches for 64 yards for the Warriors.

Spencer is now second all-time in total yards in the program with 8,154. He trails Phil Jurkovec (11,144 yards), who starts for Boston College. He moved past Ben DiNucci (7,822), who started last week for the Dallas Cowboys.

Watch an archived broadcast of this game on Trib HSSN.

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

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