Pine-Richland football clinches share of conference title

Friday, October 29, 2021 | 11:32 PM

Pine-Richland’s football program has been no stranger to headlines of all sorts this year, but Friday night, it earned one it would be happy to read.

The Rams clinched a share of the Northeast Conference championship by turning it on in the second half, turning a tie score at halftime into a 36-7 win at Fox Chapel.

Junior quarterback Ryan Palmieri led the Rams (6-4, 4-1) with 11-of-18 passing for 247 yards and three touchdowns, and senior running back Brooks Eastburn added 104 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries.

First-year Rams coach Steve Campos, who was hired in June, gave credit to his players for bouncing back from an 0-3 start to the season to win six of their last seven and a conference crown.

“The kids are resilient. Once the smoke cleared, and it took a while for it to clear, they got on track,” Campos said. “We had one hiccup, and that was North Hills. … That cost us a (outright) conference championship. But we had some faults today, too, and I challenged them in the second half. I told them there’s two quarters of football left, and it’s time we step it up and finish the game.”

The Rams did just that, leaning on their rushing attack and using it to set up the deep passing game.

Andrew Mellis caught just two passes for Pine-Richland, but they were both huge plays totaling a game-high 109 yards. His second, a 42-yarder, set up Eastburn for a 3-yard rushing touchdown to make it 13-7 with 3 minutes, 46 seconds left in the third quarter.

From there, it was all Pine-Richland. A blocked punt set up a 32-yard touchdown reception by Alex Gochis that made it 21-7 at the end of three quarters. Jeremiah Hasley caught a 19-yard touchdown, and Branden Ansell scored on a 25-yard interception return as the Rams scored 29 second-half points in a span of 7:28.

“Our gameplan was to run the ball and try to pound it down their throats, and we kind of got away from that. Sometimes old Pine-Richland likes to throw the ball,” Campos said with a laugh. “But when you’ve got a line like we’ve got, you don’t have to throw it all the time.”

For Fox Chapel (4-6, 2-3), which has also qualified for the WPIAL playoffs, the score wasn’t the biggest concern in the second half.

After playing a solid first half to keep the score 7-7, the Foxes lost quarterback Collin Dietz on the first drive of the third quarter to a knee injury. The offense dried up after that as the Foxes had just 144 total yards, with Dietz finishing 7-for-16 passing for 95 yards and adding 8 yards rushing.

“When we lost Dietz, we had to scramble a little bit. You go to second-team guys, and they don’t get the reps the first-team guy gets, but that’s the way football is,” Foxes coach Tom Loughran said. “Guys get hurt and you have to move on, and we didn’t do a good job of making adjustments.”

Khi’lee Patterson, who caught the Foxes’ only touchdown on a 35-yard pass from Dietz, filled in admirably at quarterback and led his team with 35 yards rushing, but they couldn’t match the Pine-Richland attack that churned out 415 yards of offense.

Pine-Richland’s Bradford Gelly added three catches for 73 yards, including a 37-yarder for the opening touchdown.

Listen to an archived broadcast of this game on Trib HSSN.

Matt Grubba is a contributing writer.

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