Spencer leads Pine-Richland past Seneca Valley to capture WPIAL Class 6A title

Sunday, November 18, 2018 | 12:03 AM

Ben DiNucci, Phil Jurkovec and now Cole Spencer.

Pine-Richland quarterbacks seem to have a knack for championship games.

Spencer threw for two touchdowns and rushed for two more Saturday night as No. 2 seed Pine-Richland defeated No. 5 Seneca Valley, 34-7, in the WPIAL Class 6A final.

The title was Pine-Richland’s third in five years, each with a different starting quarterback who starred under the bright North Shore lights. In 2014, DiNucci threw, caught and ran for a touchdown. A season ago, Jurkovec threw three touchdowns and ran for another.

This year, Spencer had touchdown throws of 29 and 50 yards and scored on runs of 16 and 3 yards as the Rams built a 27-0 lead. That was plenty for a relentless Pine-Richland defense that forced five turnovers, allowed only 48 rushing yards on 31 carries and held Seneca Valley scoreless into the fourth quarter.

“Fearless,” was the word Pine-Richland coach Eric Kasperowicz chose to connect DiNucci, Jurkovec and Spencer.

“They’re not afraid to go out there and make a play,” Kasperowicz said. “DiNucci was a gunslinger. Phil was just Phil. And you see Cole out there, just out there making plays. He’s not afraid to step in and run the ball and make throws and do all that.

“And he’s only a sophomore,” Kasperowicz added. “To do that under those lights, he didn’t look scared one time out there — just fearless.”

Kasperowicz credited Spencer’s wrestling background. The 5-foot-10, 180-pounder placed at the PIAA championship meet as a freshman.

“The first couple snaps were a little rough,” Spencer said of his Heinz Field debut, “but get that first drive over with and keep rolling from there.”

The WPIAL title was Pine-Richland’s fourth overall.

Anthony Cerminara, Luke Meckler and Caden Schweiger all intercepted Seneca Valley passes, and Schweiger returned his 56 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown.

Meckler led the Rams with 115 rushing yards on 13 carries.

Seneca Valley’s “redemption” tour fell one playoff win short. The Raiders had avenged regular-season losses to Central Catholic and North Allegheny the past two weeks, but they couldn’t solve Pine-Richland. Seneca Valley also lost to Pine, 21-7, in Week 8.

Pine-Richland ran for nearly 400 yards in the first matchup and passed for only 23, so Seneca Valley’s game plan Saturday was to focus on Meckler, force the Rams to throw and hope the sophomore stumbled. But Spencer completed 11 of 18 attempts for 158 yards and rushed for 95 yards on 22 carries.

Most importantly, Spencer had no turnovers.

“Our game was they’re going to beat us throwing the ball,” Seneca Valley coach Ron Butchle said. “We wanted to stop the run. They played really well. We made a lot of mistakes and they didn’t.”

Seneca Valley scored its only points on a 7-yard touchdown pass from Gabe Lawson to Luke Smith. Lawson completed 9 of 24 passes for 162 yards and three interceptions.

Jake Mineweaser led the Raiders with 38 yards on 15 carries but fumbled twice.

Pine-Richland won in consecutive years, but this team was much different than the last. The Rams returned only six players who started last year’s championship: Meckler, Cerminara, linebacker Tyler King and linemen Andrew Kristofic, Michael Katic and Michael Dorundo.

“Our young guys stepped up huge,” Kristofic said. “Sometimes you think maybe the moment will be a little too big for them, but it was the complete opposite.”

Pine-Richland scored its first touchdown immediately after a Seneca Valley fumble in the second quarter. The Rams called for a flea-flicker — a trick play they’d installed this week — and Spencer connected with Luke Miller for a 29-yard touchdown to break a scoreless tie.

Pine-Richland held a 7-0 halftime lead before scoring three times in the third quarter to pull away. Spencer had touchdown runs of 16 and 3 yards, and connected with wideout Shane Carfardi for a 50-yard score in the closing seconds of the third.

The Rams started the second half with a 10-play, 76-yard touchdown drive.

“That first drive in the second half, they set the tone and just continued to do what kind of beat us the last time,” Butchle said. “(Meckler) and (Spencer) running the ball were a good combination for them.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.

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