Top-seeded Peters Township throttles Moon to reach WPIAL Class 5A title game

Friday, November 10, 2023 | 10:15 PM

An 11-minute, 20-second drive opened the scoring in Friday’s WPIAL Class 5A semifinal with No. 5 Moon taking a 3-0 lead on Hayden Boland’s 32-yard field goal.

The response of top-seeded Peters Township not only put the Indians ahead but allowed them to run away with a victory.

The Indians (12-0) took the lead 2:18 later and didn’t look back, winning 41-18 over Moon (6-6) to clinch a spot in next week’s Class 5A championship game.

Sophomore quarterback Nolan DiLucia converted a big third down on a keeper deep in Peters’ end to keep the response drive alive. Later in the drive, DiLucia found Carter Shanafelt for a 42-yard completion to the Moon 8-yard line. Preston Blair punched it in on the next play, giving the Indians the lead at 7-3 after Shanafelt’s point after.

“It was a feeling-out process in the first quarter, but it’s a four-quarter game,” Peters Township coach TJ Plack said. “When we got the ball we saw some things we liked, our kids made some plays and I thought they responded very well.”

The response didn’t stop there. On the ensuing Moon drive, Nazir Brookins fumbled after gaining 2 yards, and Peters Township senior Eliot Schratz recovered, giving the Indians a short field.

Peters Township converted, scoring on a 2-yard run by senior Vinny Sarcone with 4:36 left in the second quarter.

The Indians got the ball back before the end of the first half and, after taking over at the Moon 40, quickly marched down the field and scored with 27.1 seconds to go before the break. The touchdown was a great touch from left to right by DiLucia, who found Nick McCullough in the end zone from 7 yards out.

“They rattled us a little bit, but our kids played hard today,” Moon coach Ryan Linn said. “That’s a really good football team. I’m proud of the effort and the way we did things.”

Peters scored once in the third quarter on a 30-yard touchdown pass from DiLucia to Thomas Aspinall.

The third quarter came to an end with Moon on the doorstep. On the first play of the fourth, Josh Bladel found the endzone from 4 yards out, bringing his game total on the ground to 75 yards. That made it 28-10.

Peters eventually responded a few minutes later as DiLucia found Aspinall again, this time on a go route for a 41-yard strike and score, making it 35-10.

“As we say, ‘let it eat.’ We just keep running those plays; we’ve got some playmakers on the outside and two running backs that are getting better as the year has gone on,” Plack said. “Nolan’s legs were great. He’s a special talent and he’s grown exponentially each game. Once he sees it, it’s in there and he understands it.”

Moon brought out trickery to score its final touchdown with 4:00 left on a hook and ladder. After Andrew Cross completed a pass to Paul Bronaugh, Bronaugh pitched it to Braeden Stuart, who scored a 41-yard touchdown. Cross found Bladel for two points to make it 35-18.

DiLucia found Aspinall a few more times on the ensuing Indians drive to get his receiver over 100 yards for the night. Completions of 16 and 17 yards set up a Vinny Sarcone 22-yard touchdown run that, after an incompletion for two, made it 41-18.

DiLucia finished the day 13 for 23 for 196 yards and three touchdowns, two of which went to Aspinall, who hauled in four balls for 104 yards. Ethan Wertman also made four grabs while Carter Shanafelt caught two. Sarcone finished with 72 yards on 14 carries and two scores, while Preston Blair had 49 yards on nine carries and a touchdown.

The Tigers, after winning just one game in 2022 in a rebuilding year, now have some room to grow and nit-pick, though they’ll do it without leader and senior tailback Bladel, who carried the ball 28 times for 86 yards in what turned out to be his final high school football game. Bladel had three fourth-down conversions on the long scoring drive.

Moon has a total of 20 seniors on the roster, but most of the starters will be back.

“The kids started out 0-3 and finished 6-3. It’s a good way to end. The future is bright for us,” Linn said. “This is a good stepping stone for us in getting back to where we want to be.”

The Indians will be in search of their first WPIAL football championship when they play Pine-Richland at noon Nov. 18, at Norwin High School.

Peters Township also beat Moon on its way to the 2019 championship contest, a game in which the Indians lost to Gateway, 21-20, also at Norwin. Peters also lost in the 2020 title game, 35-0, to Pine-Richland.

Pine-Richland is the defending Class 5A champion.

“I just told the guys, it’s always back and forth, but if they want to separate themselves they’ve got to go take care of business against a really good Pine-Richland team next week,” Plack said. “If they can go 1-0 in the big game next week, that’s how they separate themselves from some of the other teams we’ve had in recent years.”

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