Trib HSSN Football Team of the Week for Nov. 22, 2021

Monday, November 22, 2021 | 9:24 PM

Bob Palko knows a thing to two about winning championships.

Coming into Saturday’s WPIAL Class 6A football title game against Central Catholic, Palko had led teams to eight district crowns, one shy of the leader, Bill Cherpak of Thomas Jefferson.

So when he didn’t like what he saw from his team in its first practice for the 6A finals, he threw the entire team off the field.

“I threw them off the field Monday because it needed to be done,” Palko said. “They came back and responded and we dialed it in the rest of the week.”

The message was heard loud and clear as the Blue Devils captured gridiron gold for the first time since 2000 when they cruised to a 47-7 victory over the Vikings.

“We were slacking a little bit, you could say,” Mt. Lebanon senior running back Alex Tecza said about the Monday practice. “We were all busted up and tired from the week before. It was a big week. We had to stay focused. We had to show grit all week and practice hard. He really set us straight and we had a great week of practice. I think this was the best week of practice we ever had.”

It showed for Tecza, who gained 193 yards on 16 carries and scored four touchdowns. He found the end zone on runs of 2, 59 and 25 yards and also caught a 23-yard scoring pass from senior quarterback Joey Daniels.

“We were coming in thinking it was going to be a dogfight,” Tecza said. “They’re a great team, a well-coached team. They’re a top contender every year. We thought it was going to be a fourth-quarter game. We played really hard and wanted it more. It’s been a long time.”

Twenty-one years to be exact.

Central Catholic was used to that golden feeling, having won the last two district 6A championships. In fact, the Vikings scored on their first possession to grab an early lead, 7-0.

The first Tecza touchdown tied the game on the Blue Devils’ initial possession, and it seemed like a barnburner was in the works after one quarter at Norwin.

Mt. Lebanon took control from there, scoring 40 unanswered points in the second and third quarter to kick in the mercy rule.

“We did not expect that many points up, but hey, we’ll take it,” Mt. Lebanon senior tight end and defensive back Eli Heidenreich said.

Heidenreich had 95 yards rushing on only six carries and had five catches for 70 yards. He scored on a 67-yard run and caught a 28-yard pass from Daniels.

“It starts up front,” Heidenreich said. “In my opinion, our line is the best line in the state. It starts there, and we have players who can hurt you everywhere. We have a fantastic quarterback, a great running back and fantastic receivers. It’s all-around a very balanced offense.”

The win puts Palko back at the top with Cherpak with nine WPIAL football championships. He won eight as the coach at West Allegheny, and this is his first in his third year at Mt. Lebanon.

“One guy can’t do it, so I had to get a bunch of people that have the same philosophy,” Palko said. “That doesn’t mean my philosophy is the best. It’s just that that’s my philosophy. And then it becomes our philosophy. I think there are certain ways to do things. Before the kids will lay down for you, they’ve got to trust you and they’ve got to know you love them. We coach them really hard and we expect a lot out of them. And we’re not bashful about letting them know that.”

As is the case every year, there’s not a lot of time to celebrate for the district champions as the PIAA playoffs await the winners in each of the six classes.

In Class 6A, Mt. Lebanon opens up the Road to Hershey on Friday with home game against District 10 champion McDowell in the quarterfinals. Palko knows they have to refocus for a run at state gold.

“We’ll continue to just enjoy this one for a day or two,” he said, “and then we’ve got to try to keep this train rolling.”

2021 HSSN Team of the Week

Week 11 – Penn Hills Indians

Week 10 – Laurel Highlands Mustangs

Week 9 – South Allegheny Gladiators

Week 8 – Leechburg Blue Devils

Week 7 – Beaver Bobcats

Week 6 – Seneca Valley Raiders

Week 5 – Upper St. Clair Panthers

Week 4 – Mohawk Warriors

Week 3 – Union Scotties

Week 2 – McKeesport Tigers

Week 1 – Shaler Titans

Week Zero – Northgate Flames


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Redbank Valley steals momentum, stops Bishop Canevin short of state finals
Central Valley makes key defensive stop, keeps state title repeat hopes alive
5 things to watch: How many WPIAL teams will reach PIAA football finals?

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