High school football notebook: Official’s decision impacts WPIAL Class AAAA title game
For the third time in four years, the WPIAL Class AAAA final included a key call by an official.
An inadvertent whistle in the third quarter Friday negated a Pine-Richland fumble in a 21-13 victory over Central Catholic. The Rams kept possession and scored a touchdown on the next play.
“(The officials) are taking it very hard,” said Bill Sinning, who oversees male-sport officials for the WPIAL. “The referee, who was not involved in the play other than knowing the rule, was really upset. The official who (blew the whistle) came up to me and said, ‘It’s on me. I did it.’ ”
A year earlier, officials faced an unusual play and called it correctly. Central Catholic scored a crazy touchdown when a Vikings punt didn’t reach the line of scrimmage. Graham Adomitis picked it up and ran 66 yards for a touchdown.
In 2011 against Upper St. Clair, North Allegheny’s overtime victory included a touchdown catch by Brendan Coniker that shouldn’t have been. On the grab just before halftime, replays showed Coniker’s foot was out of bounds.
Sinning’s advice to officials was the same then and now.
“I told the guys it’s unfortunate it happened, but it’s important you get over it,” he said. “Those things happen. It’s high school teams playing high school football, officiated by high school officials.”
What started as wild chatter in study hall Monday at Pine-Richland High School became a full-blown adventure for senior Andrew Lancia by the end of the week.
Lancia, a lively member of Pine-Richland’s student section, led the effort to acquire a live ram and bring it to the WPIAL Class AAAA championship’s pregame tailgate at Heinz Field Friday.
“I take everything way too far,” said Lancia, who wore faux ram horns on his head during the game.
Lancia and classmate Donovan Harris accomplished the first half of the plan. But “Neil,” a 3-year-old ram, foiled the second part, Lancia said.
Using Harris’ family’s SUV, the duo drove to Newcomerstown, Ohio — more than 100 miles away — and purchased the animal for $170, said Lancia, who added that students pooled money to pay. Their decision to buy a ram came after Lancia’s research on Craigslist suggested the students likely couldn’t rent one.
Lancia and Harris chased the ram through a pasture and corralled it in a barn Thursday night.
“Neil,” named after Pirates second baseman and Pine-Richland alum Neil Walker, ended up at a farm in Saxonburg, where Lancia’s friend agreed to watch the ram for the night.
A few hours before Pine-Richland’s 11 a.m. tailgate began, Lancia and Harris arrived at the farm to collect the animal, but the ram charged its way past them and raced out into an open field. They pursued but eventually lost track of “Neil.”
“I didn’t know how to break it to them,” Lancia said, referring to the leaders of Pine-Richland’s student section, seniors Joe Knapp, Scott McAnney and John Bamonte.
The leadership trio still considered their tailgate — complete with a generator — a success, as almost 900 students participated. Bamonte said around 500 students attended more of Pine-Richland’s games.
As far as the whereabouts of “Neil,” Lancia said: “My friend is waiting for it to come home.”
Rams run stopper
Pine-Richland linebacker Joe Lieberman had an outstanding defensive effort against Central Catholic.
The 6-foot, 205-pound senior had 16 tackles, including five for losses against the Vikings. Lieberman made two huge stops for 5-yard losses to stymie Central Catholic drives.
“We had a few adjustments at halftime, and they worked,” Lieberman said. “They hurt us a couple times in the first half.”
The Rams had a huge pair of chain cutters in their locker room, symbolic of breaking Central Catholic’s chain-gang defense. A Vikings defender making the biggest contribution on defense gets to wear the chain around their necks after the game.
“Our goal was to break the chain,” Lieberman said. “We talked about that all week.”
Clairton’s 2-way star
For one of the best running backs in the league, sophomore Lamont Wade makes a pretty good defensive player.
Wade had four interceptions in Friday’s 46-14 win over Avonworth in the WPIAL Class A championship game and has six this season.
“I would like to refer to myself as a defense guy because I like to hit. I like interceptions> I like breaking on balls,” he said. “I see the ball in the air, I’m trying to go and get it.”
On the offensive side of the ball, Wade has amassed 35 rushing touchdowns and 2,216 yards this season, most in the WPIAL.
McGinnis an X-factor
No member of Aliquippa’s starting lineup sparked the team’s offense in its WPIAL Class AA finals loss more than its late-season addition.
Senior wide receiver/defensive back Stephon McGinnis, who transferred from Ambridge and waited until Oct. 13 for the WPIAL to deem him eligible, scored both second-half touchdowns for the Quips and recovered his own onside kick late in the fourth quarter to keep comeback hopes alive.
He finished with four carries for 19 yards and four receptions for a team-high 85 yards. McGinnis pulled in a 58-yard touchdown pass with 34 seconds left in the third quarter, and then had a 2-yard touchdown run with 3:59 left in the fourth.
Even when South Fayette made a rare mistake Friday, the Lions quickly recovered en route to a 31-22 win over Aliquippa in the Class AA title game.
Early in the fourth quarter, South Fayette was called for a seldom-seen offensive facemask penalty. The infraction took the ball from the Aliquippa 15 to the 30. But SF quarterback Brett Brumbaugh fired an 11-yard pass to Ryan Schmider, setting up a 36-yard field goal by Dan Trimbur. That was a key kick because it put the Quips behind by three scores.
To stop a powerful team such as Aliquippa, a strong defense is a must. J.J. Walker and Jeremy Carter led South Fayette with eight tackles each.
Senior linebacker Brett Beltz had an interception and a 5-yard sack of quarterback Darrien Fields at the Lions 34 when Aliquippa was making a late push with less than three minutes to go.
“Our defense sets very big expectations for ourselves,” Walker said. “We held them, drove them and gave them everything we’ve got.”
WPIAL executive director Tim O’Malley estimated Friday’s four-game attendance was 15,500 at Heinz Field, which was down from the past two years.
Last year’s event drew 17,500 fans and there were 18,601 in 2012.
J-M coach resigns
Jefferson-Morgan football coach Liam Ryan resigned last week after three seasons and a record of 15-13.
The Rockets went 4-5 this season.