North Allegheny, Pine-Richland Win WPIAL Football Championships at Norwin

Monday, November 21, 2022

North Huntingdon, Pa. – The Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League (WPIAL) hosted its football championship games in the 5A and 6A classifications this past Saturday at Norwin Knights Stadium. In 6A, North Allegheny prevailed for the first time since 2012, and in 5A, second-seeded Pine-Richland claimed its fifth title in nine years.

North Allegheny’s 6A crown is its fifth overall WPIAL title, as it previously won in 1990, 2010, 2011, and 2012. Pine-Richland’s title in 5A is its eighth in school history, tacking the 2022 trophy alongside 1969, 1970, 2003, 2014, 2017, 2018, and 2020.

Both North Allegheny and Pine-Richland have qualified for the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) Football Championships, as they enter the quarterfinal round on Friday, November 25. The championship games are set for December 8-10 at Cumberland Valley High School.

6A RECAP [Box Score]
North Allegheny and Central Catholic combined for 777 offensive yards and 29 first downs, but the Tigers outlasted the Vikings thanks to a 14-0 second-half blanking, winning the 6A championship by a score of 35-21 on Saturday, November 19.

Top-seeded North Allegheny (11-1) averaged 8.8 yards per play and had 267 of its 397 offensive yards on the ground. Third-seeded Central Catholic (7-5) did most of its damage through the air with 257 passing yards, also converting 11 of its 19 first downs with the quarterback’s arm.

While both offenses told the story of the title tilt, the first score came courtesy of the defense. The Tigers struck first with 3:43 left in the first quarter when junior defensive lineman Daniel Sellers picked up a fumble and rumbled 15 yards to paydirt. Just 2:41 later, North Allegheny made it 13-0 when junior quarterback Logan Kushner found classmate Khiryn Boyd for a 51-yard touchdown.

The Vikings answered with a nine-play, 78-yard drive that carried into the second quarter. Sophomore runningback Elijah Faulkner had carries of 10 and 19 yards, and junior quarterback Payton Wehner connected with classmates Cole Sullivan and Peter Gonzalez for 19 and 16 yards, respectively. Gonzalez’s catch set up Central Catholic at the 16-yard line, and junior wide receiver Vernon Settles found daylight on a sweep to make it 13-7.

Settles followed that up with an interception of Kushner on the next drive, and after a Wehner 43-yard rush kept the ensuing drive alive, the quarterback found Settles from 19 yards out for another touchdown to give the Vikings a 14-13 advantage. That edge was short-lived however, as Kushner hooked up with Boyd once again – this time for a 68-yard touchdown that made it 21-14 following a Kushner two-point rush.

Central Catholic answered once more with a nine-play, 82-yard trek. Wehner went 4-for-6 passing on the drive with completions to Settles, Gonzalez, Sullivan, and sophomore wide receiver Bradley Gompers. The junior quarterback then called his number near the goal line, punching it in from two yards out to tie it at 21-21 heading into halftime.

The Tigers withstood an early fumble in the third quarter, forcing a three-and-out right after. That led to a six-play, 80-yard drive with all plays on the ground, finishing with a Kushner 45-yard touchdown run to give North Allegheny a 28-21 lead.

Central Catholic stayed within a score despite two three-and-outs, thanks to a blocked field goal attempt on the Tigers’ next drive. However, North Allegheny made it a two-score game and set the final early in the fourth quarter, when senior runningback Andrew Gavlik raced into the endzone from 18 yards out.

For North Allegheny, Kushner finished with three total touchdowns (2 pass, 1 rush), 184 rushing yards on 15 carries, and 130 passing yards on 3-of-8 attempts. Gavlik added 75 yards on the ground, while Boyd’s two touchdown catches totaled 119 yards. Junior defensive back Evan Lyon had a team-high eight tackles defensively, and Sellers and senior defensive back Nate Spak both netted sacks.

Wehner compiled 257 yards on 18-of-30 passing and added 75 yards rushing on 12 carries for Central Catholic. Gonzalez led the Vikings with seven receptions for 105 yards, while Settles totaled 71 yards (57 receiving, 14 rushing), two touchdowns, and an interception. Faulkner paced all players with nine tackles defensively.

North Allegheny will travel to District VI champion State College in the PIAA Championships quarterfinal round.

5A RECAP [Box Score]
Pine-Richland used a stellar defensive effort to win the 5A championship, holding Upper St. Clair to a total of 120 offensive yards in a 34-3 victory on Saturday, November 19.

Including seven sacks, second-seeded Pine-Richland (10-3) held Upper St. Clair (10-3) to negative-26 rushing yards and a total of seven first downs. The fifth-seeded Panthers held a 146-85 edge in passing yards, but the Rams rushed for 188 yards on 40 carries (4.7 avg.) to control the game on both sides.

After forcing a punt on Upper St. Clair’s opening drive, Pine-Richland used a nine-play, 49-yard trek to reach paydirt first as senior quarterback Ryan Palmieri punched it in from four yards out. The ensuing extra point was successful, and that 7-0 score carried through the rest of the quarter. The Panthers responded in the second frame with an eight-play drive ending in a 33-yard field goal from junior kicker Bennett Henderson to make it 7-3.

Both teams traded three-and-outs, then Pine-Richland broke through with a six-play, 48-yard drive to push its lead to 13-3. Junior runningback Ethan Pillar carried the ball four times, Palmieri added a 10-yard rush, and then the senior signal-caller connected with junior wide receiver Vasilios Balouris for a 20-yard touchdown with 1:05 remaining in the half.

Upper St. Clair strung together an extended 10-play march to begin the second half, thanks in part to freshman quarterback Ethan Hellman finding senior runningback Ty Lagoni for 15 yards and senior wide receiver Aidan Besselman for 22 yards. However, the drive was cut down on fourth down from the Rams’ 36-yard line when senior linebacker John Rottinghaus broke through to sack Hellman.

Filled with momentum after the fourth-down sack, the Rams engineered an 11-play, 57-yard drive that finished with a three-yard touchdown plunge by Pillar to make it 20-3. Another turnover on downs from the Panthers led to another rush-heavy drive by Pine-Richland, with it ending in a Palmieri one-yard score with 5:56 remaining. The Rams added the cherry on top with 55 seconds left as senior wide receiver Luke Rudolph reversed field for an 18-yard score.

For Pine-Richland, Palmieri finished with two total touchdowns (1 pass, 1 rush), 85 yards passing, and 73 yards rushing. Pillar added 65 rushing yards on 17 carries, and Rudolph netted 50 on six touches. Rottinghaus and senior linebacker Joseph Perry tallied three sacks each defensively, with Perry’s nine tackles sharing high honors with junior defensive back Evan Johnson.

Upper St. Clair’s Hellman compiled 146 yards on 10-of-14 passing, with eight of his completions going to Besselman (4 catches, 74 yards) and Lagoni (4 catches, 61 yards). Sophomore defensive lineman Nathaniel Stohl tallied nine tackles, and classmate Van Hellmann collected eight.

Pine-Richland will host District X champion Cathedral Prep in the PIAA Championships quarterfinal round.

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