Pine-Richland defeats rival North Allegheny, creates 3-way tie for conference title
Friday, October 25, 2019 | 10:53 PM
Pine-Richland quarterback Cole Spencer scanned across North Allegheny’s defense, spotted a safety out of position and turned that mistake into a 79-yard touchdown pass.
A few minutes later, the junior noticed a one-on-one matchup he liked and used it to throw a 78-yarder. Those are decisions Spencer might not have made a year ago or even a couple of months ago, he said Friday night, but his confidence right now has never been higher
That’s also true for Pine-Richland as a team.
“We’re way more confident with ourselves, especially after this game,” said Spencer, who threw five touchdowns and set a career-high with 396 passing yards in a 42-14 victory over rival North Allegheny. The win earned the Rams a share of the conference title and a first-round bye in the WPIAL Class 6A playoffs.
“This definitely is going to boost us up,” said Spencer, who’s already anticipating a rematch in two weeks.
Spencer threw three touchdowns to junior Eli Jochem, who scored on catches of 79, 8 and 28 yards. Jochem finished with 11 receptions for 220 yards, both career highs. Another junior, DaeDae Johnson, also set career highs in yards (155) and receptions (eight) with a 78-yard touchdown catch among them.
Their long touchdown catches let Spencer top 300 yards passing for the third week in a row. It also was the third time in four weeks that he’d thrown for at least four touchdowns, giving him 29 this season.
“I couldn’t be more proud of Cole and the way he’s improved from last year to now,” Pine-Richland coach Eric Kasperowicz said, “and how week by week by week by week he’s peaking at the right time.”
The night ended with a three-way tie atop the conference.
Using the WPIAL tiebreaker rules, Central Catholic (9-1, 7-1) will receive the No. 1 seed, Pine-Richland (9-1, 7-1) is second and North Allegheny (9-1, 7-1) is third. Central Catholic and Pine-Richland also receive first-round byes.
“We played our heart out in this game,” said Rams lineman Miguel Jackson, whose defense forced three turnovers. “I’m proud of our guys.”
North Allegheny could have clinched the conference title outright with a win. Instead, the Tigers will host sixth-seeded Canon-McMillan (3-7, 3-5) next Friday. If North Allegheny wins, the Tigers will rematch the Rams on Oct. 8 in a WPIAL semifinal at Pine-Richland.
“It’s the first adversity that we’ve went through this year, so let’s find out what we’re made of,” North Allegheny coach Art Walker said. “We’ve got to regroup. It’s a brand new season. We’re a 9-1 football team. A lot of teams would really like to be in that spot.”
North Allegheny trailed 21-14 at halftime but two turnovers and some costly penalties led to a dismal second half. Starting guard Austin Huebner was ejected after drawing two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on the same play, making him ineligible to play next week.
“When we were down one score coming into the second half it was a game,” Walker said. “We let it fall out of reach.”
Pine-Richland had almost twice as many yards as North Allegheny (431 to 223) and nearly all of them came through the air. As a team, the Rams rushed for only 35 yards.
That put a lot of responsibility on Spencer, a second-year starter at quarterback. He completed 22 of 31 attempts and made throws to four different receivers against mostly zone defenses. Central Catholic defeated Pine-Richland in Week 5 with a zone defense but the Rams learned from that loss, Spencer said.
Three receivers caught touchdowns Friday. Joining Jochem and Johnson was junior Luke Miller, who caught a 7-yarder in the third quarter to lead 28-14.
“I’m going to steal this from (Washington State coach) Mike Leach, but balance isn’t run-pass,” Kasperowicz said. “Balance, if we’re a throwing team, it’s spreading out to numerous receivers. That’s balance to us.”
Spencer passed for 250 yards and three touchdowns in the first half as Pine-Richland took a 21-14 lead it never lost.
The 5-foot-10, 175-pound passer started red hot. Spencer completed his first three throws for 161 yards and two touchdowns as the Rams took a 14-0 lead in the first 4 minutes.
He led the Rams on a pair of two-play scoring drives, the first ending with a 79-yard touchdown pass to Jochem and the second a 78-yard pass to Johnson.
North Allegheny answered with touchdowns by Luke Colella and Percise Colon on consecutive possessions to force a 14-14 tie.
Colella took a screen pass from Ben Petschke and weaved 52 yards for a touchdown late in the first quarter. Colon ran 43 yards for a touchdown early in the second. He carried the football five times on a five-play, 53-yard drive.
Tied at 14, Spencer threw an 8-yard touchdown to Jochem late in the second quarter to retake the lead 21-14. He completed 13 of 18 attempts in the first half with one interception.
Pine-Richland extended its lead in the third with a 7-yard touchdown pass from Spencer to Miller. In the fourth, Spencer and Jochem connected again for a 28-yard touchdown to lead 35-14.
Luke Meckler added an 8-yard touchdown run.
Two fourth-quarter interceptions kept North Allegheny from rallying.
“We probably put the ball on the ground and turned it over more tonight than we have all year,” Walker said. “You can’t beat good football teams that way. We’ve got a lot to learn from this.”
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .