Pine-Richland stuns Imhotep Charter in PIAA Class 5A final on Ryan Palmieri’s big night

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Friday, December 9, 2022 | 10:04 PM


MECHANICSBURG — Pine-Richland quarterbacks sure have a knack for big performances in the biggest games, a history that includes Ben DiNucci, Phil Jurkovec and Cole Spencer.

Add another Rams QB to the list, even if he didn’t start the year playing that position.

Ryan Palmieri rushed for 184 yards and two touchdowns, threw for another and returned an interception to the end zone Friday night as Pine-Richland stunned Philadelphia’s Imhotep Charter, 28-14, in the PIAA Class 5A final at Cumberland Valley’s Chapman Field.

Wearing uniform No. 25, uncommon digits for a quarterback, the senior carried the ball 31 times without wearing down. The Rams controlled the line of scrimmage with a strong offensive line and ate away at the clock with long possessions.

“That’s been our thing all year,” Palmieri said. “Play physical football. Western Pa. football.”

Pine-Richland had two 14-play drives and another that lasted 10. The possessions didn’t all lead to touchdowns, but they let the Rams win time-of-possession by a 2-to-1 margin and kept Imhotep’s offense stuck on the sideline for long stretches.

“It was these dudes up front,” Palmieri said of his linemen. “Ryan Cory, Jake Beam, Brady Carrigan, Jon Smith, Isaiah Kerms moved the D-line, a really good D-line.”

The PIAA title was the third for Pine-Richland (13-3) and joins state trophies won by Jurkovec in 2017 and Spencer in 2020. DiNucci threw for four touchdowns when the Rams were runners-up in 2014.

Palmieri downplayed his role in this championship win, insisting it was a team effort. Rams coach Jon LeDonne credited Palmieri physical talents, but first praised his leadership skills.

“He’s one of the greatest individuals as a high school kid that I’ve ever met,” LeDonne said. “What he does for our program off the football field first is just significant. And then there’s who he is on the football field, what he does. Teams try to key him but they can’t stop him.

“I put him up there with some of the best in Western Pennsylvania.”

The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Palmieri scored on runs of 1 and 4 yards, threw a 40-yard touchdown to Luke Rudoph and returned a Pick-6 to the end zone against a powerhouse Philly program loaded with major-college recruits.

Imhotep’s starting running back is a sophomore committed to Georgia, defensive end Zahir Mathis also has a Bulldogs offer and multiple teammates also have Power 5 offers to consider. Yet for the second season in a row, the Panthers lost in the state finals to a WPIAL opponent. A year ago, Penn-Trafford defeated Imhotep in overtime.

This time, it wasn’t that close.

Pine-Richland led 28-7 with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter.

The state title was the second for LeDonne, who also won Class 5A as Penn Hills’ coach in 2018. This was his first season at Pine-Richland, where he became the football team’s third coach in three years.

“It’s just awesome … to bring this back to our community after the couple of years that we’ve had,” said LeDonne, who already lived in the school district before he was hired.

A few decisions made by his staff early in the season had a big impact now.

Palmieri was a 1,000-yard passer as a junior, but started this season as Pine-Richland’s top running back. When the Rams stumbled to a 1-3 start, coaches moved him back to quarterback in Week 5, and the team hasn’t lost since.

LeDonne said the offense started the year with a quarterback under center, a tight end and play-action passing, but an early-season injury and a few losses made his coaching staff reconsider.

“That’s when we said, ‘Let’s put Ryan back there, spread (the offense) back out again and create some space for him,’ ” LeDonne said. “People doubt his throwing ability, but you saw the last two weeks what he can do throwing the ball.”

Palmieri went 9 for 10 passing for 127 yards and a touchdown against Imhotep.

“The game plan was to contain him, take away the run and try to make him pass,” Imhotep coach Devon Johnson said. “He was very efficient in the pass game as well. He made the plays he needed to make.”

Pine-Richland took the opening kickoff and marched in 14 plays to Imhotep’s 1-yard line. A bad snap on fourth-and-goal kept the Rams from scoring on that drive, but that drive was a confidence boost.

“We knew we could move the ball,” Palmieri said. “That felt good.”

Imhotep led 7-0 after the first quarter, but Pine-Richland forced a tie midway through the second on a 4-yard touchdown run by Palmieri. His run capped a 14-play, 76-yard drive, fitting perfectly with Pine-Richland’s plans.

Tied 7-7 at half, Palmieri gave the Rams a lead less than 2 minutes into the second half when he intercepted a pass and returned it 40 yards to the end zone. Imhotep quarterback Mikal Davis completed 10 of 22 passes for 196 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

Sam Heckert had the Rams’ second interception.

Palmieri struck again later in the third, capping an eight-play, 79-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to lead 21-7.

“He’s just such a leader,” said Beam, a senior tackle. “He demands greatness. We give him greatness. Who wouldn’t want to block for a kid like him?”

Said Palmieri: “They do give me greatness.”

Midway through the fourth, Palmieri showed his passing skills. He’s dangerous as a running quarterback, but one of his nine completions was a 30-yard touchdown to Rudolph to complete an eight-play, 72-yard drive.

The Rams led 28-7.

“Even though we went into the half tied up, we thought that we did what we wanted to do, we just didn’t finish,” LeDonne said. “We challenged them at halftime, told the seniors you’ve got 24 minutes left in your high school career. They came out and answered the bell.”

Imhotep’s quarterback scored a rushing touchdown with 7 minutes left, but the game clock was already on Pine-Richland’s side. Imhotep’s other touchdown was a 21-yard pass from Davis to sophomore receiver Jabree Wallace-Coleman in the first quarter.

The loss dropped Imhotep to 1-6 all-time in PIAA championship games.

“It’s all hype,” Palmieri said. “We knew it.”

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.

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