Central Catholic Knocks Off two-time defending WPIAL Champion, Pine-Richland
Central Catholic may have been the top-seed entering the Class 6A WPIAL Championship Game Saturday Night at Heinz Field, but Pine-Richland was coming in as the two-time defending champions.
The Vikings (11-1) weren’t phasing, scoring the final 10 points of the game to pull out a 10-7 victory and winning their first WPIAL title since 2016.
Offensively, it was much harder this time around for Central Catholic, who defeated Pine-Richland (10-2) 29-7 back on Sept. 27. But it was yet another stellar performance for the Vikings defense, forcing five turnovers, including a game-changing interception by junior Chase Horne.
Tied at 7-7 midway through the fourth quarter, the Rams were driving deep into Vikings territory for the go-ahead score when Horne stepped in front and picked off Cole Spencer’s pass at the 15-yard line, returning it into Pine-Richland territory.
With just under four minutes left in the game, Central Catholic was forced to attempt a 40-yard field goal attempt by senior Johnathan Opalko. Arguably one of if not the best kicker in the WPIAL, the first-team all-conference pick snuck the ball inside the upright for the game-winning field goal.
Both teams struggled to get anything going at all in the first half, marred by turnovers and a plethora of punts on their way to a scoreless tie at the half.
After forcing a punt on the first possession of the second half, Pine-Richland finally got some offense going. Spencer completed a pass to Eli Jochem, who fought his way into the end zone for a 7-0 lead.
Central Catholic responded with a passing touchdown of their own, a 29-yard strike from senior Dom Pieto to junior Anderson Cynkar to tie the game. It was the first completed pass of the game for the Vikings. The drive started after a muffed punt by Pine-Richland recovered by Gannon Carothers.
In the game, Central Catholic only had eight first downs but were able to force five turnovers.
Junior Eddy Tillman, led the Vikings with 52 rushing yards, including a couple of key late first downs.
Central Catholic will represent the WPIAL in the PIAA playoffs and will face District 6 champion, State College in the quarterfinals.