Will Pine-Richland vs. Central Catholic predict WPIAL champion once again?

Thursday, September 26, 2019 | 10:47 PM

Central Catholic and Pine-Richland have a shared history that few recent rivalries can match.

In each of the past six seasons, the team that won their regular-season matchup went on to win the WPIAL title. It’s served as a midseason championship barometer for the WPIAL’s largest classification.

Pine-Richland won the regular-season matchup in 2018, ’17 and ’14 before also adding the WPIAL title each time. Central Catholic did the same in 2016, ’15 and ’13.

“It’s a rivalry,” Pine-Richland coach Eric Kasperowicz said. “It’s probably the two best programs in recent years in the biggest classification, at least on our side of the state.”

That adds a little intensity to 7:30 p.m. Friday when No. 1 Pine-Richland (5-0, 3-0) faces No. 3 Central Catholic (4-1, 2-1) at Carnegie Mellon. Of course, there are seven other teams in Class 6A ready to write their own history, so the WPIAL trophy won’t be awarded quite yet.

But for six years, either Pine-Richland or Central Catholic has had a strong grip it.

“It has been a good series these last six years,” Central Catholic coach Terry Totten said.

Pine-Richland has won two in a row over Central Catholic including 42-21 last season behind running back Luke Meckler, who rushed for 280 yards and four touchdowns. Then a junior, Meckler scored four times in the first quarter, capitalizing on Central Catholic turnovers.

The Rams held an advantage upfront that night behind a strong, all-senior offensive line with two Division I talents. But those big-bodied seniors have graduated, and now Pine-Richland runs less and throws more.

Junior quarterback Cole Spencer threw for 253 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s 46-0 victory over Norwin. Meckler rushed for 78 yards and two touchdowns.

“We’re drastically different,” Kasperowicz said. “Last year we had the big boys up front to run behind. … This year we’re kind of the exact opposite.”

Now it’s Central Catholic that has college recruits on the line.

Senior defensive end/tight end A.J. Beatty is committed to North Carolina and junior defensive tackle/guard Elliot Donald has Notre Dame and Ohio State among his offers. Senior center Thomas Hartnett is committed to Dartmouth, and twin brothers A’meer and A’maar Allen both hold Division I offers.

Central Catholic struggled to score in Weeks 1 and 2, but seems to have found its offense. The Vikings scored 76 points combined in wins over Hempfield and Bethel Park. That outburst comes after scoring 20 points total against Seneca Valley and North Allegheny.

Quarterback Dom Pieto threw for 161 yards and three touchdowns in last week’s 45-14 victory over Bethel Park. Eddy Tillman added 148 yards rushing and two touchdowns.

“We’re getting better,” Totten said. “A lot of hard work has been put in on the offense. It’s kind of a little bit new. We’ve been working at it in the spring and in the summer, and we are starting to see the results.”

Pine-Richland’s offense averages 42.2 points and Central Catholic’s averages 27.6. Defensively, neither team has let an opponent score more than 14 points.

In the past six years, the winning team in this series has averaged 44 points.

“They’re capable of putting up points and we think we are too,” Totten said. “But I think our defense is a little different than some that are around. We’re excited for this challenge. We know exactly what it is and what it’s going to take.”

Catch this game on live video stream on the TribLive High School Sports Network.

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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