Pine-Richland’s stout run defense faces star tailback in PIAA 5A semifinals

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Saturday, November 21, 2020 | 4:30 AM


Here’s what makes Pine-Richland’s semifinal opponent dangerous:

“They’ve got one of the top junior tailbacks in the country,” Rams coach Eric Kasperowicz said. “If that doesn’t get your attention, I don’t know what does.”

Pine-Richland will get a close look at Governor Mifflin’s Nicholas Singleton at 1 p.m. Saturday when the teams meet in Hollidaysburg for a PIAA Class 5A semifinal.

Rivals ranks Singleton as the sixth best running back prospect in the 2022 class. The 6-foot, 205-pound uncommitted junior has 30 college offers with Notre Dame, Ohio State, Florida, Wisconsin and USC among them.

But he’s not merely a college prospect. Singleton has led Governor Mifflin (9-0) to its first District 3 title in team history and now is trying to get the Berks County school to Hershey for the first time.

WPIAL champion Pine-Richland (9-0) is trying to reach the state finals for the third time in seven years. To get there, they’ll need to slow down Singleton.

The running back has rushed for 1,203 yards and scored 23 touchdowns. He’s averaging 171.9 yards per game, 14.7 yards per carry and has scored multiple touchdowns in every game.

“He looks like a video game,” Kasperowicz said. “It looks like you could give him the ball and he runs for 60 yards. He’s got everything, a combination of size, speed and power. He’s faster than anybody on the field and he runs people over.”

That doesn’t mean Pine-Richland has no answer for him. Fortunately for the Rams, their run-stopping ability has been stellar all season. They’re allowing only 30 rushing yards per week and have a trio of Division I recruits in linemen Miguel Jackson and Harrison Hayes, and linebacker Luke Miller.

In the WPIAL finals, they held Peters Township to 10 rushing yards.

“(Singleton) is a really good player, but I think our kids take pride in that,” Kasperowicz said, “and want to try to slow him down.”

Governor Mifflin has outscored teams 392-69 this season. They’re coming off a 68-14 victory over Mechanicsburg on Nov. 6. A week later, the Mustangs won the District 3 title by forfeit over Warwick.

“They’re like a machine,” Kasperowicz said. “They’ve been untested. If you thought we’d been winning by a lot of points, they’re beating us in the points margin.”

Pine-Richland outscored its first nine opponents 439-82.

Kasperowicz said watching Singleton carry the football earns him comparisons to D’Andre Swift, a superstar running back Pine-Richland faced in 2014. Swift, who played for St. Joseph’s Prep, later starred at Georgia and now plays for the Detroit Lions.

“Without a doubt he’s a similar type kid,” Kasperowicz said. “This kid might be a little thicker but the same type of talent.”

Governor Mifflin runs a veer-option offense with Singleton as the team’s primary ball carrier. Singleton had 14 carries for 207 yards and four touchdowns in his team’s most recent game.

The key to defending the option is discipline, Kasperowicz said.

“It’s assignment football,” he said. “You’ve got to do your job. It’s like playing a McKeesport. It’s very similar. Do your job.”

Governor Mifflin has averaged 354.4 rushing yards per game and Singleton has run for at least 100 yards in every game. His season-high was 250 yards on Oct. 9 against Exeter Township.

But the Mustangs rely on the run. They average only 82 passing yards per week and senior quarterback Connor Maryniak has thrown only 20 completions.

“The good news is they’re one dimensional,” Kasperowicz said. “So if you can stop that, you should be in good shape. But if they can run the ball and make yards, we could be in for a long day.”

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

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