Penn Hills’ Cephas shines on biggest stage in WPIAL title game
It took a team effort for Penn Hills to capture its first WPIAL football championship in 23 years.
However, senior wide receiver Dante Cephas was one key player who made one clutch play after another during the Indians’ WPIAL title run.
Cephas (6-foot-1, 195 pounds) caught three passes for 144 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Indians (14-0) to a 28-18 win over West Allegheny in the WPIAL Class 5A championship game Nov. 23 at Norwin.
Former Penn Hills and Pitt great and current Los Angeles Rams defense lineman Aaron Donald was in attendance to root on his alma mater.
“The plays that he has been making down the stretch has been unbelievable,” coach Jon LeDonne said of Cephas.
“He has just elevated his game to the next level, which we knew he could do. It seems like the last five or six games, he has just taken over
After being down 10-0 in the second quarter, Cephas caught a 56-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Hollis Mathis to narrow the deficit to 10-6 at halftime.
“I was just telling the team we were going to keep scoring. I just kept making the plays. I told Hollis to throw it up there, leave it out there and I’ll go get the ball,” Cephas said.
Cephas has 739 receiving yards on 31 catches with 14 touchdowns entering a PIAA semifinal matchup with Archbishop Wood, which was contested after deadline for this edition. Cephas took a screen pass from Mathis for a 65-yard score to extend the Indians lead to 22-10 early in the fourth quarter.
“It’s just realizing the last four or five weeks that you need to be 1-0 if you want to continue to play next week and get to the ultimate goal of a state championship,” LeDonne said.
“He’s trying to put our offense on his back at times and making some of the plays that he has made.”
It wasn’t only Cephas’ skills in the passing game that helped the Indians in the win over West Allegheny. Cephas contributed on special teams when he came off the edge on a West Allegheny field goal attempt and blocked the attempt in the third quarter.
“It was a game changer. We took the momentum away from West A after that play,” Cephas said.
Four plays later, the Indians scored on senior running back Terry “Tank” Smith’s 15-yard run.
“To see the community come out and support the boys there was a pivotal point in the game. When we blocked that kick, the crowd was behind the team and the boys fed off of that energy,” LeDonne said. “They just wanted to go out and win one, not just for themselves, but the whole Penn Hills community.”
In the semifinal contest against Peters Township, Cephas led the Indians back from an early 14-0 deficit by catching two touchdown passes — one before the half just like the championship game and another touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
“We just practice hard. I told the other wide receivers, if I’m not having a good game, you have a game for me. You watch my back and I got yours,” Cephas said.
The WPIAL title was the Indians’ first since 1995. Penn Hills won titles in 1976, 1977, 1978 and 1979. Penn Hills lost to Upper St. Clair, 18-12, in 2006 in the WPIAL championship. The ‘79 title, however, was vacated by the WPIAL after Penn Hills was found to have used ineligble players during the season.
“Penn Hills has had some good teams over the years and good athletes,” LeDonne said. “It was just getting the complete buy-in and getting them to play together and caring about each other more than they cared about themselves.”
Andrew John is a freelance writer.