With Heinz Field rematch possible, might Pine-Richland, North Allegheny hold back in regular-season finale?
By: Chris Harlan
Friday, October 26, 2018 | 4:27 AM
It’s possible that Pine-Richland and North Allegheny will play one another twice in the span of a few weeks.
The two top-ranked rivals are favorites to rematch in the WPIAL Class 6A final, so might that affect how NA coach Art Walker and Pine’s Eric Kasperowicz approach Friday’s matchup in the regular-season finale?
Regardless of who wins this week, they’ll each be seeded first or second in the playoff bracket and both will receive a first-round bye.
Might they hide their playbooks for later?
“Not at all,” Kasperowicz said. “You play the game. Whatever happens, happens. And then if you’re fortunate to play them again at Heinz Field, then you start at square one and figure out what you need to beat them the second time.”
“You don’t want to hold onto things that may give you the opportunity to win the (conference title) and finish with an undefeated mark in 6A,” Walker said. “I think both schools will have the mentality.”
No. 1 ranked Pine-Richland (8-1, 7-0) visits No. 2 North Allegheny (9-0, 7-0) at 7 p.m. Friday at Newman Stadium.
North Allegheny wants to win its first conference title since 2015, when it shared honors with Pine-Richland and Central Catholic. Pine-Richland won the title outright last year.
The two rivals met twice last season and Pine-Richland won both. But the Rams won each in a different way, Kasperowicz noted. Pine-Richland won 48-28 in Week 9 and 49-25 in the WPIAL semifinals.
“We beat them in the regular season and rushed for 600 yards,” Kasperowicz said, “and I think the second time we played them we threw for a lot of yards and didn’t rush for any. You kind of do what you’ve got to do.”
If Pine-Richland and North Allegheny meet again this season that would occur Nov. 17 at Heinz Field.
“You go back to the drawing board, tweak a few things and get ready to go,” Walker said. “That’s a good problem to have if we’re in that situation where you’ve got to come up with a couple of things here and there on both sides of the ball and special teams. That’s a good problem because then we’re playing in the championship.”
Statistically, the two teams are very close.
Pine-Richland’s offense has averaged 42.7 points against conference opponents while North Allegheny averages 39.4. Defensively, NA allows 11 points per game and Pine allows 9.4.
North Allegheny’s strength is its running game. Senior running back Ben Maenza leads with 894 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns on 114 carries. Maenza had a four-yard touchdown run and Precise Colon had a 46-yarder in last week’s 26-20 victory over West Allegheny.
Pine-Richland is more run-focused than a year ago while relying on a strong offensive line that includes two Division 1 commits.
Senior running back Luke Meckler has 897 yards on 102 carries and 16 touchdowns. Sophomore quarterback Cole Spencer, a 1,000-yard passer, has rushed for 497 yards and nine touchdowns.
Meckler had a 92-yard touchdown run and Spencer had two short scores in last week’s 21-7 victory over Seneca Valley.
Seneca Valley, which played both North Allegheny and Pine-Richland tough, likely will earn the fourth seed in Class 6A. If so, that means whichever team wins Friday could draw Seneca Valley in the semifinals.
But both coaches insisted their teams aren’t focused on anything beyond Friday night.
“Now that we’re here, are we looking ahead or treating this like a bye since we already have (a first-round bye) locked up?” Kasperowicz said. “Heck no. We play the games to win the game.”
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at [email protected] or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .