Pine-Richland uses fast start to defeat Penn Hills in clash of champions

Friday, August 23, 2019 | 9:38 PM

Pine-Richland didn’t ease into this new football season.

Junior quarterback Cole Spencer threw two touchdowns in the first 2½ minutes as host Pine-Richland defeated Penn Hills, 21-0, in a Week Zero contest that matched the defending WPIAL Class 6A and 5A champions.

The Rams scored on their first two possessions with an onside kick in between. They found the end zone twice before Penn Hills’ offense found the field.

“With a new team, a whole new line, a lot of new defensive guys, we wanted to come out and be aggressive,” said Spencer, who passed for more than 200 yards and rushed for more than 100. “Putting those two touchdowns on the board right off the bat was great for us.”

Spencer connected with Luke Meckler for a 45-yard touchdown on the opening drive, a fourth-and-2 completion that gave Pine-Richland a 7-0 lead. The Rams scored again 63 seconds later when Eli Jochem caught a 37-yarder.

Those opening minutes were electric, but the final 3½ quarters were a reminder that it’s still only Week Zero.

Pine-Richland (1-0) is the defending WPIAL Class 6A champion. Penn Hills (0-1) won WPIAL and PIAA Class 5A titles. They were two of the WPIAL’s highest-scoring offenses last season, but the only other points scored Friday were on a 15-yard touchdown run by Meckler in the third quarter.

Meckler had 113 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns on 15 touches.

“They played kind of like seniors on those first two drives and then just kind of sputtered out a little bit,” Pine-Richland coach Eric Kasperowicz said. “But it was a great team win. The offense was really good at times. The defense gave up some bad passes at times. The special teams wasn’t great most of the night. But we persevered.

“Like in golf, we kind of ham-and-egged them a little bit. When one was bad, the other one picked it up. That’s team football.”

Spencer completed 17 of 27 passes for 203 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Meckler was his top receiver with six catches and 79 yards.

The junior rushed for 105 yards on 21 carries.

The quick two-touchdown deficit was a shock for a Penn Hills team that went undefeated last season. Graduation removed the majority of that championship lineup, so for many, this was their first start.

The Indians also played without coach Jon LeDonne, who was serving a WPIAL-mandated one-game suspension.

“With a young team like we have, those two early touchdowns we gave up kind of made them pout a little bit,” said Penn Hills assistant Brian Tarrant, who filled in for LeDonne. “We had to love them up a little bit and coach them up, but Pine’s always efficient. … You know Week 1, they’re going to be ready.”

Penn Hills quarterback Eddie McKissick completed 13 of 22 attempts for 152 yards and an interception.

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

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