Pine-Richland headed to Hershey after wild win over Governor Mifflin

Saturday, November 21, 2020 | 5:07 PM

HOLLIDAYSBURG — “It was over” when Pine-Richland stumbled off the bus and let Governor Mifflin score the first three touchdowns.

“It was over” when the Rams threw three interceptions, lost a fumble and misplayed a punt.

“It was over” when the team from Berks County held a daunting 22-point lead in the third quarter and was battering the Rams with its run game.

“We were down three or four scores. It was over,” Pine-Richland coach Eric Kasperowicz told his players after Saturday’s state semifinal in Hollidaysburg.

“And you guys refused to quit.”

Undeterred, Pine-Richland erased a three-touchdown deficit in the second half and rallied back to defeat Governor Mifflin, 48-44, in a wild Class 5A semifinal win. The Rams advance to face Erie’s Cathedral Prep in the PIAA Class 5A championship Friday in Hershey.

Pine-Richland had trailed 41-19 with six minutes left in the third quarter.

“We never thought we were out of it,” said quarterback Cole Spencer, who scored the winning touchdown on a 54-yard run with about two minutes left in the fourth, giving the WPIAL champions their first lead of the entire afternoon.

The Rams defense, bruised at times by Governor Mifflin’s ground game, then made one final stand. Defensive lineman Miguel Jackson tackled Governor Mifflin star tailback Nick Singleton for a loss on fourth-and-3, giving the football back to the Pine-Richland for the final 89 seconds.

From the middle of the third quarter on, Pine-Richland outscored Governor Mifflin, 29-3.

“First, we were just getting pounded, but we found a way,” Jackson said. “It was an emotional rollercoaster out there.”

District 4 champion Governor Mifflin rushed for more than 200 yards and six touchdowns. But fullback Brandon Strausser did the most damage, not Singleton, who’s a major-college recruit in the 2022 class.

Still, both topped 100 yards.

Strausser rushed for 118 yards and four touchdowns on 25 carries. He scored on runs of 1, 1, 11 and 3 yards. Singleton had 105 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries.

Governor Mifflin (8-1) was trying to reach the state finals for the first time in team history.

“This is one of the best teams in the state,” Mifflin coach Jeff Lang said of Pine-Richland. “Probably the best team in the state, and we were ahead of them the whole game.”

Kasperowicz called the win “one of the most incredible games.” The only memory close was the 2014 state final, when the Rams rallied against St. Joseph’s Prep but ultimately lost.

This time Pine-Richland celebrated, even though Governor Mifflin had led 21-0 after the first quarter, 28-19 at half and 41-33 after three.

“These seniors, they refused to let this be the last football game of their career,” Kasperowicz said. “They’ve worked too hard for these moments. To be down and come back and finish and win the game is incredible.”

This will be their fourth appearance in the state finals. The Rams won in 2017 and were PIAA runners-up in 2003 and ’14.

“Finish” has been the team’s rallying cry all season.

Spencer shook off three interceptions — including a pick on the first play of the game — to pass for 252 yards and four touchdowns.

The senior threw second-quarter touchdowns to Luke Miller (8 yards) and Charlie Mill (40 yards), and teammate Brooks Eastburn rushed for an 8-yard score before half.

Spencer completed 19 of 30 passes.

In the third, Spencer threw a pair of touchdowns to receiver Eli Jochem about 3 minutes apart, swinging momentum to the Rams. The first covered 29 yards and the second was a 48-yarder, cutting Governor Mifflin’s lead to 41-33.

Jochem had six catches for 127 yards.

Pine-Richland tied the score early in the fourth on a 12-yard touchdown run by Caden Schweiger and a toe-tap catch by Jeremiah Hasley for the 2-point conversion in the back corner of the end zone.

With 11:43 left, the score was 41-41.

Governor Mifflin answered with a long, time-consuming drive. The Mustangs moved 48 yards in 15 plays, eating almost 9 minutes from the fourth-quarter clock. They reached Pine-Richland’s 17, and settled for a tie-breaking 34-yard field goal.

Pine-Richland trailed 44-41 with 3 minutes left, but Governor Mifflin’s lead lasted only seconds.

On second down, Spencer sprinted around left end with a wave of blockers ahead of him and raced 54 yards along the sideline for the winning touchdown.

It was the first time Spencer had ever run that play — in a game or practice.

“I’ve been telling coach since sophomore year, ‘Let me run outside zone,’” Spencer said. “He was like, ‘No, no, no.’ He calls it, and I was like, ‘Where the heck did that come from?’ I took it to the house.

“That was crazy.”

The winning touchdown drive was two plays, 62 yards and 43 seconds.

“Everything we put into this year came down to that final drive,” said Miller, who was one of Spencer’s lead blockers on the touchdown. “We put everything into it. We came out, smacked them in the mouth and won that game.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at or via Twitter .


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