Pine-Richland reloads in quest to defend WPIAL, PIAA titles

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Tuesday, August 14, 2018 | 9:46 PM


For a team that graduated its leading passer, its top three rushers and its top five pass-catchers from last year, it would be reasonable to expect this year’s Pine-Richland football team to look completely different from the group that won WPIAL and PIAA Class 6A championships last year.

To a certain extent, that may be the case, as the Rams break in new starters at every offensive skill position. However, coach Eric Kasperowicz’s team still returns three Division I prospects on its offensive line, and will bring back the majority of its defensive unit. In short, experience and leadership will not be lacking with this year’s roster.

“We actually have the exact same amount of seniors; we had 24 last year and we have 24 this year. From that standpoint, it’s great—we have a lot of continuity, a lot of kids that played a lot of football last year. We lost great players to graduation, but we have a lot of guys that are itching to step up as seniors,” Kasperowicz said.

“It’s their opportunity. That’s what the program is all about; you wait your turn and once it’s your turn, you take advantage of it.”

The Rams look to be strongest up front, with Notre Dame commit Andrew Kristofic at tackle, Indiana commit Michael Katic at guard and center Michael Dorundo returning to pave the way. The three were all-conference selections last year and have combined for 81 starts in their careers. Joining them will be fellow seniors Brian Bails and Tyler Rudduck.

Strong offensive line play will be a key to Pine-Richland’s season as the team breaks in a new starting quarterback in sophomore Cole Spencer. Already an accomplished wrestler, he displayed fearlessness in competing against upperclassmen as a freshman when he finished second in the WPIAL and eighth in the state in the 152-pound weight class. On the football field, his coach describes him as savvy and confident.

“From an experience standpoint, he knows how to compete, and he’s extremely athletic. He’s going to make some sophomore mistakes, I’m sure, but we’re not going to ask him to win games for us; he just can’t lose them,” Kasperowicz said.

“We have a lot of guys around him that are pretty good, so he’s just got to go out there and make the plays when he’s asked to.”

Spencer is poised to be throwing to seniors Shane Cafardi and Vinny Tierno, as well as junior Dylan Stenson and sophomore D’Avay Johnson, who measures in at 6-2, 180 pounds.

One potential offensive weapon on the rise is junior Luke Meckler. Kasperowicz pegs Meckler as the replacement for the role that Jordan Crawford filled as a speedy pass-catcher out of the backfield. As a sophomore, Meckler finished sixth in the 100-meter dash and in fourth in the 300 hurdles at the WPIAL Class AAA track and field championships.

On the defensive side of the ball, Pine-Richland returns seven starters from a group that allowed the fewest points (58) in the Class 6A regular season last year. In fact, only six teams in the entire WPIAL allowed fewer points.

Meckler returns as a playmaking safety, but the strongest aspect of the team’s defense appears to be the front seven. Kristofic, Katic and Dorundo will join senior Brendan Eckenrode, junior Trent Miller and sophomore Miguel Jackson in forming a deep rotation of big defensive linemen.

Behind the line, the Rams linebacking core will be led by its dynamic duo of Navy commit and all-state honoree Tyler King and all-conference performer Anthony Cerminara.

“Tyler and Anthony are studs; they make a great pair, they feed off each other. They just make it tough for offenses to do what they want to do,” Kasperowicz said.

“These two are so smart, they’re so good at anticipating plays. By playing so much football, they almost know what’s coming before it actually happens. We need them to lead our defense, for sure, if we’re going to get to where we want to be as a team.”

While last season was a storybook ending to the high school football careers of the players who graduated, King said he and his fellow 23 seniors have no desire to see Pine-Richland’s stretch of excellence end on their watch.

“It makes me want it that much more, it being my last year, me being a senior. I think we had the best defense in 6A last year, and I want to make sure we’ll have the best defense in 6A again this year. I’ll remember last year forever, but this is the year that I’ll remember as me and my seniors’ year.” King said.

“I want that ring again.”

Schedule

Coach: Eric Kasperowicz

2017 record: 16-0, 6-0

All-time record: 345-274-13

Date, Opponent, Time

8.24, IMG Academy, Fla., 7:30 p.m.

9.1, Hempfield*, 1 p.m.

9.7, at Moon, 7 p.m.

9.14, Butler*, 7:30 p.m.

9.21, at Norwin*, 7 p.m.

9.28, Central Catholic*, 7 p.m.

10.5, at Canon-McMillan*, 7 p.m.

10.12, Mt. Lebanon*, 7:30 p.m.

10.19, Seneca Valley*, 7:30 p.m.

10.26, at North Allegheny*, 7:30 p.m.

*Class 6A Conference game

Statistical leaders

Passing: Phil Jurkovec*

243-334, 3,969 yards, 39 TDs

Rushing: Jordan Crawford*

143-1,289 yards, 30 TDs

Receiving: Jason DeFrancisis*

72-1,039 yards, 10 TDs

*Graduated

Kevin Lohman is a freelance writer.

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