Trib HSSN football team of the week for 2023 Week 6

Monday, October 9, 2023 | 7:11 PM

Coming off a 35-point loss to North Allegheny the previous week, there were not many people outside of the Pine-Richland locker room that gave them a chance in Week 6 against the No. 2 Class 6A team in the state, undefeated Central Catholic.

Proof again of why they line up and play the game was on display at Pine-Richland Stadium as the Rams stunned the Vikings, 26-19.

“You try to go into each game thinking it’s going to be a fight ‘til the end,” Pine-Richland coach Jon LeDonne said. “But with where we’ve been this year and where Central Catholic has been, they were the favorite going in. We talked to our team all week about executing our game plan and they did exactly that.”

The Vikings scored early on a pick-six by Jacob Sassic and later in the opening quarter, scored on a Sassic reception from Payton Wehner.

However that was it, as Central Catholic, which was averaging 50 points a game, managed only two field goals in the final three quarters.

“We talked to our defensive backs especially. We’ve been getting receivers behind us the last couple of weeks, so we moved them back a little bit and we were talking about technique,” LeDonne said. “Our six and seven guys up front in the box took ownership of dominating the line of scrimmage, and that was on both sides of the ball. We talked all week about trying to keep their explosive offense off the field. We just wanted to be in position to make plays and our guys did that.”

Pine-Richland relied on a senior running back who turned out to be a Pillar of strength for the offense.

Ethan Pillar carried the ball a mind-numbing 56 times, gained 300 yards and scored three touchdowns for the Rams.

“He’s a one-way player for us and we consider him an old-style running back,” LeDonne said. “There were some carries that didn’t show up on the stat sheet because of penalties too. He was out there for every offensive snap. I think he only came off the field one time when we had the ball on offense, but every time he was hit, he was falling forward. I think he only had two negative carries the whole game.”

What made Pillar’s performance even more amazing was the Rams were missing their starting quarterback. Kanan Huffman was out with an injury, so Aaron Strader took over for Pine-Richland.

“He’s a freshman quarterback in the game of that magnitude. It was a nonconference game, but we needed to get the train rolling here,” LeDonne said. “He came in and completed some hitches early on to move the sticks and get some first downs, but he also still managed the offense. “

The unexpected win improves Pine-Richland to 4-3 overall and 1-1 in the 5A Northeast Conference.

The Rams had the exact same record a year ago after Week 6 and won their final three conference games, three district playoff games and two state postseason contests to win WPIAL and PIAA gold.

Does LeDonne see similarities?

“We try not to compare the two too much,” he said. “We tell these guys this is a new team, new year. It’s a great group of kids with new stars, new role players and a lot of first-year players that are still learning along the way. We hope the improvement continues and we get rolling now and we start ripping (wins) off. Three more games and then the rest is on us to dictate how many more games we play.”

Week 6 honorable mention

Bethel Park Black Hawks

It’s been an interesting first season for Bethel Park coach Phil Peckich. The Black Hawks won their season opener, lost three straight games, won their 5A Allegheny 6 Conference opener, then lost to 5A power Penn Hills on the road heading into their second conference game against rival Upper St. Clair. The Hawks may be 0-4 outside of the conference, but they are 2-0 in the Allegheny 6 after junior Ryan Petras rushed for 186 yards and a touchdown and BP beat USC, 22-10.

Montour Spartans

The day after the passing of former Montour “head coach” Dick Butkus, the Spartans showed why they may indeed be bound for glory. Spartans senior quarterback Jake Wolfe connected on 13 of his 18 passes for 225 yards and a touchdown pass to Andrew Alston, plus he rushed for 92 yards and two scores, including what was the game-winning TD in the fourth quarter, as Montour edged Central Valley, 21-20, to force a three-way tie for second place in the 4A Parkway Conference with the Warriors and West Allegheny behind Aliquippa.

Jefferson-Morgan Rockets

A year ago, Jefferson-Morgan missed the postseason, finishing with only two conference win and an overall record of 4-6. The Rockets are bursting with pride and victories this fall with their latest coming in Week 6 at Mapletown. Junior quarterback Houston Guseman was 4 of 6 passing for 108 yards and two touchdowns, plus he rushed for 122 yards and a touchdown as Jefferson-Morgan rolled to a 50-21 win over the Maples. The Rockets are tied for second place in the Class A Tri-County South Conference with a 3-1 record, one game behind front-running California.

2023 Trib HSSN teams of the week

Week 5 – Moon Tigers

Week 4 – Thomas Jefferson Jaguars

Week 3 – Knoch Knights

Week 2 – Waynesburg Central Raiders

Week 1 – Aliquippa Quips

Week Zero – Mt. Lebanon Blue Devils


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