Explosive offense carries Pine-Richland into finals |

Explosive offense carries Pine-Richland into finals

Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Pine Richland's Mike Merhaut avoids North Allegheny's Riley Treman Friday, Sept. 5, 2014, at Newman Stadium.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pine-Richland receiver Michael Merhaut scores past Seneca Valley's Brad Hensler during the first quarter of their Quad North game Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013, in Pine.
Lou Raggiunti I For Trib Total Media
Pine-Richland's Ben DiNucci practices earlier this summer.

When No. 1 Pine-Richland defeated No. 3 Central Catholic, 48-28, in Week 8, the Rams celebrated at Highmark Stadium on the South Side.

Pine-Richland coach Eric Kasperowicz hopes his team can celebrate again across the river Friday at Heinz Field. This time, however, the stakes are much higher — the WPIAL Class AAAA title and a berth in the PIAA playoffs goes to the winner of the contest, which kicks off at 2 p.m.

“It’s a new game,” Kasperowicz said. “The first win was big, but they are still the reigning champions. We have to beat them to get the crown.”

Pine-Richland has dominated everyone it has faced in 2014, especially in playoff wins over Connellsville (63-3), Altoona (49-7) and McKeesport (42-7), all from the Quad East.

Kasperowicz said quarterback Ben DiNucci has been unbelievable.

“He completed 82 percent of his passes or something insane like that,” Kasperowicz said. “Ben is playing really well and so has the offense and defense.”

In the first meeting between the teams, DiNucci completed 20 of 29 passes for 291 yards and two touchdowns.

Running back Connor Slomka rushed for 131 yards and three scores.

Senior wide receivers Michael Merhaut (8 catches, 131 yards, 1 touchdown) and D’Ondre Gastion (7-134-1) also had huge games.

“I don’t know if you can stop them; you hope to slow them down,” Central Catholic coach Terry Totten said. “The quarterback is very good. They are very good at what they do. It’s no easy task.”

After an impressive defensive performance in the quarterfinals, a 28-0 shutout of Woodland Hills, Central Catholic allowed a lot of points in a 52-34 victory last week over Penn-Trafford.

Central Catholic was missing a couple players last week, notably running back Grant Foster, and the Vikings suffered some injuries the first time they played Pine-Richland.

Totten said he hopes to get some of his walking wounded back this week.

Foster would be a big loss if he’s unable to play. He rushed for 156 yards and three touchdowns in the first meeting.

Central Catholic has been decimated in the backfield.

The WPIAL ruled Riley Redman ineligible prior to the season, Ron George injured his leg in a scrimmage against McKeesport, another player transferred and Foster has been out.

Last week against Penn-Trafford, Totten inserted wide receiver John Petrishen into the wildcat, and the senior responded by rushing for 211 yards. Vinny Emanuele also had a big game against Penn-Trafford, rushing for 117 yards.

“I’m proud of this team,” Totten said. “We had a couple players step up. It’s been tough, but we keep finding someone.”

Paul Schofield is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @Schofield_Trib.

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