Potent Pine-Richland offense, star-studded Peters Township secondary meet in Class 5A finals

Thursday, November 12, 2020 | 4:46 PM

A prolific passing game.

A dynamic defensive secondary.

Put them together and you have Pine-Richland vs. Peters Township in the WPIAL Class 5A football championship.

The teams’ strengths will be tested when they clash at 7 p.m. Saturday at North Allegheny.

It’s no secret that the top-seeded Rams (8-0) love to throw it around, while the No. 3 Indians (8-0) always seem to be in position to cover the deep ball.

With star power on both sides, the district final is expected to be loaded with big plays. But neither defense gives up much: Pine-Richland has allowed 82 points (10.3 ppg) and Peters Township 87 (10.9).

The Rams will do what they do best: spread the field with multiple receivers and let quarterback Cole Spencer pick his spots. The Indians will try to do something nobody has been able to do this season: stop them.

“We’ve been very successful thus far on offense, in particular the passing game,” Pine-Richland coach Eric Kasperowicz said. “And for us to win Saturday night, we are going to have to be able to throw the ball effectively.”

The Rams, who play hyper-fast, running plays every 10-15 seconds, will try to win their fifth WPIAL title and third in four years.

They won back-to-back 6A titles in 2017 and ‘18.

Spencer, a senior who is second in school history in total yards, has thrown for 2,066 yards and 27 TDs. He is about as accurate a passer as you’ll find in the WPIAL. He has completed 74% of his passes.

His top target, senior Eli Jochem, has 42 receptions for 910 yards and 14 touchdowns. He has 149 career catches, tying a school record.

Peters Township, seeking its first WPIAL title in football, is led in the secondary by seniors Donovan McMillon and Breylen Carrington. McMillon is a Florida recruit. Carrington has five interceptions.

Both not only are terrific in coverage, but they also are pass-catching threats on offense.

“(Pine-Richland) is definitely a perennial team that wins a lot and is always in the big games,” McMillon said. “But what needs to be noted is that the past few years, we have been too. We’re coming off a trifecta of conference titles, and now back-to-back WPIAL finals appearances. But this year, we want to finish.”

The Indians can move the ball, but they are known more for their defensive exploits. They have 54 sacks and 15 interceptions and have scored seven defensive touchdowns.

Senior inside linebacker Corban Hondru has 41 solo tackles and eight sacks. Junior outside linebacker Luke Petrarca (6-3, 210) is another key pass-rusher.

The Indians needed a late rally to get past No. 2 Gateway last week, 20-19. Hondru, a fullback and linebacker who is headed to Miami of Ohio, had the tying touchdown catch with 4.7 seconds left, and junior Andrew Massucci kicked the extra point to put the Indians ahead.

“Peters is loaded with top-end talent,” Kasperowicz said. “Beginning with Donovan McMillan and Corban Hondru.

“They seem to be playing very inspiring football right now and pose a great challenge for our football team.”

Spencer and McMillan know each other well. They are both standout wrestlers who have made deep postseason runs in that sport, too.

“We have always talked about what it would be like to meet in football,” Spencer said. “We run into each other in wrestling all the time. It’ll be cool to go against each other.”

Pine-Richland has pinned most of its opponents on the gridiron.

The Rams, down from 6A this year and just as dominant in most respects, are averaging over 50 points a game.

“We’ve been close boys for years now,” McMillon said of Spencer, “pushing each other to the limits as practice partners at our club (Quest).

“We’ve just talked smack the past few years on who would actually would win that ‘imaginary’ PT vs. P-R game. We see Pine as just another step on this mountain we’re climbing, and we’re more than ready for the challenge.”

Pine-Richland flattened a good Penn-Trafford team last week, 49-14, after the Warriors scored on the opening drive.

“We will need to be physical at the line of scrimmage, establish some type of run game to stay in manageable third-down situations,” Peters Township coach T.J. Plack said. “Move the sticks and help our defense.”

Plack said his team’s motivation to win Saturday is not altogether rooted in last year’s 21-20 loss to Gateway in the WPIAL final at Norwin.

“Each time you get in this situation, it is met with new challenges,” Plack said. “If we decide to use a loss last year as a means to beat Pine-Richland, it will be a long night. Our players are focused on the task at hand. At this time, Pine-Richland is the only team on our schedule.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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