QB Cole Spencer passes Pine-Richland past Hempfield

Saturday, August 31, 2019 | 12:40 AM

Pine-Richland is picking up this year where the Rams left off a year ago in claiming another WPIAL Class 6A football championship, their second in a row and third in five seasons.

Cole Spencer has been a big reason for Pine-Richland’s continued success.

The junior quarterback’s play has been nothing short of spectacular in his first two games so far, a shutout of defending WPIAL and PIAA Class 5A champion Penn Hills in the opener and again on Friday night at Hempfield in the Class 6A Conference opener.

The 5-foot-10, 175-pound Spencer threw five touchdown passes, including three to Luke Miller in the first half, and No. 1 Pine-Richland routed the homestanding Spartans, 42-14.

“He started 12 games for us last year — 12 wins last year — and he’s only a junior now,” Pine-Richland coach Eric Kasperowicz said. “He’s starting to come into his own a little bit. He’s starting to feel comfortable in the pocket. He can hurt you with his feet, but he can also throw the ball down field pretty well.”

Spencer certainly showed Hempfield what he’s capable of doing.

“We’re going to do some great things this year,” he said.

The Rams (2-0, 1-0) already have, torching Penn Hills, 21-0, in their first game before pulling away from an early 7-7 tie by rattling off five unanswered touchdowns and coasting to the lopsided victory against Hempfield (1-1, 0-1).

Spencer completed 19 of 26 attempts for 276 yards before being lifted along with most of the other Rams starters midway through the third quarter after Pine-Richland built a 35-point lead to trigger a running clock.

“It was a good test for us,” Spencer said. “Obviously, up front, Hempfield had huge guys. But we’re so skilled that we had them with that. I took some shots from them, but both of the ones that I really remember, I was able to get rid of the ball and we ended up with touchdowns. They came at me and we exposed them, and it was good.”

Spencer threw touchdown passes of 8, 48 and 23 yards to Miller and also connected with D’Avay Johnson on a 6-yard scoring strike and Eli Jochem on a 56-yarder with just 14 seconds left in the first half to give Pine-Richland a 35-7 halftime advantage.

Luke Meckler’s 23-yard touchdown run with 4:58 remaining in the third quarter put Pine-Richland ahead, 42-7.

Hempfield, which was coming off a 40-3 victory over Class 4A Greensburg Salem in its opener a week ago, tied Pine-Richland, 7-7, in the first quarter on Blake Remaley’s 21-yard touchdown pass to Nathan Roby.

“We came out and played well, played hard and gave them some trouble,” Hempfield coach Rich Bowen said. “We put a nice drive together and scored a touchdown, and we played great defense. We forced them to punt more than they’re used to, but then, the injury bug hit us and we lost a couple of guys in the secondary. The kids who went in played hard, played well, at times. We just have to regroup.”

Hempfield added its final touchdown in the fourth quarter on a Remaley 1-yard run.

“That’s not the same Hempfield. They’re much improved, and they were a gritty bunch last year,” Kasperowicz said. “We knew it was going to be a battle. They had an impressive game last week. They’re big and physical. They were giant up front and gave us some issues for awhile. Our kids battled, though. They faced a little adversity, but we ended up making some corrections and making some plays when we needed to.”

Jochem, who had five receptions for Pine-Richland, led all receivers with 113 yards, 56 coming on the late touchdown catch just before halftime.

“It was 14-7,” Bowen said. “We’re moving the ball, then we give up three scores in a 6-8 minute span. If we could just take it back and delete that, we’re right there. Pine-Richland is so hard to defend because they can hit you wide, they can hit you up the middle, and their (line is good). We made so many little mistakes, and they capitalized.”

Bowen and his staff will be challenged to prepare this week for the Spartans’ next game Friday at Norwin and its talented quarterback, Jack Salopek, a Western Michigan commit.

“We are a good football team,” Bowen said. “We are a very good football team. It doesn’t look like it when it’s a 42-14 score, but we’re taking a lot of positives out of this. We’ll be ready for the rest of the season. Nobody’s down here.”

Bowen said he’s hoping his players will learn from Pine-Richland’s performance, calling the Rams “a championship football team.”

“They will take advantage of any mistake you make,” he said. “They always have for years. Anything you do, they take advantage of, and that’s what we would like to become.”

Remaley, a 6-2, 208-pound senior, led Hempfield with 126 yards passing on 12 of 21 completions.

Pine-Richland next plays host to Class 5A Moon on Friday.

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