Pine-Richland easily handles North Allegheny on way to WPIAL final

Friday, November 8, 2019 | 11:30 PM

As Pine-Richland coach Eric Kasperowicz was giving his postgame speech with his players surrounding him on a knee, the assistant coaches started tossing Heinz ketchup packets into the huddle.

The ketchup-themed celebration has become semifinal tradition as of late for the Rams, and after a career night from junior quarterback Cole Spencer and four takeaways, Pine-Richland once again is headed back to Heinz Field.

Spencer threw a career-high six touchdowns for the second-seeded Rams in a 49-14 victory over No. 3 North Allegheny in the WPIAL Class 6A semifinals.

The Rams (10-1) will go for a three-peat 8 p.m. next Saturday when they face top-seeded Central Catholic. Central Catholic won the regular-season meeting, 29-7, on Sept. 27. North Allegheny finished the season 10-2.

“This is what it’s all about,” Kasperowicz said. “We have another opportunity to go down there and represent the school district on the biggest stage.”

Spencer didn’t know until after the game he had thrown six touchdown passes. He was 21 of 27 passing for 361 yards.

“I think I threw five against (North Allegheny) two weeks ago, so to get six is pretty cool,” Spencer said. “Last year, I felt like I was just riding the wave of our guys up front and didn’t carry the weight as much. Now I’m throwing for six touchdowns, and I love the guys I’m doing it with. They’re kids I’ve grown up with since I was 10 years old, and it’s going to be a great feeling to go back to (Heinz Field) again.”

Spencer threw four of his six touchdown passes in the second half, including one on a screen pass to Seth Bolin that turned into a 44-yard score on the opening possession of the second half, giving Pine-Richland a 28-7 lead.

In the fourth he hit Luke Miller on a 7-yard pass over the middle for a score. After a fumble recovery on North Allegheny’s next possession, he found a wide-open D’avay Johnson for a 49-yard touchdown that invoked the mercy rule at 42-7.

The Rams won the regular-season game 42-14 two weeks ago, and part of the reason was forcing turnovers . That applied Friday, as well.

North Allegheny took the opening possession of the game deep into Pine-Richland territory, but Ben Petschke fumbled fighting for extra yardage and the Rams recovered inside their 10-yard line.

Seven plays later the Rams turned the fumble into points when Cole Spencer hit Johnson on a 21-yard touchdown pass.

Later in the first, North Allegheny fumbled again, this time on a bad hand-off exchange, and the Rams recovered at the Tigers 41. On the next play Luke Meckler broke free and went untouched for a 41-yard score, putting Pine-Richland up 14-0 in the final minute of the first quarter.

North Allegheny also was bitten by injuries, losing Percise Colon for most of the first half because of an injury suffered on a tackle that drew a facemask penalty by the Rams. Brady Hoke went down with a leg injury after a catch late in the first half, and Brayden Prekop suffered an injury in the second quarter.

“We came into it with five guys out, and to lose three guys that are key players in the first half led to a domino effect,” North Allegheny coach Art Walker said. “That’s part of football, and those are things you have to go through. I wish we could’ve put one in on that first (drive), because maybe things could’ve been different.”

Meckler showed his quick-strike ability again on the second play of the second quarter, taking a short pass from Spencer and weaving his way through the defense for a 75-yard touchdown.

Meckler finished with 210 total yards of offense and rushed 12 times for 134 yards. Coming into the game, he knew he was going to be a big part of the gameplan after the Rams showed a pass-heavy attack in the first meeting.

“We were really strong throwing the ball the first time, but we had time to study them for two more weeks and we knew we had to put the run game in to get going,” Meckler said. “Our coaching staff did a great job coaching up the linemen and getting them ready to go. We were able to pound the ball.”

North Allegheny broke through in the final minute of the first half when Petschke hit Luke Colella with a 12-yard touchdown in the right corner of the end zone on a fourth-down pass. Meckler took the ensuing kickoff 95 yards into the end zone, but the touchdown was called back on a penalty.

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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