Pine-Richland tops defending champ Central Catholic to capture WPIAL title
No one will know if an inadvertent whistle cost Central Catholic a shot at a second consecutive WPIAL Class AAAA title.
But during a one-touchdown game late in the third quarter, it sure was a difference maker.
No. 1 Pine-Richland, which benefitted from the call, defeated No. 3 Central Catholic, 21-13, Friday at Heinz Field to win its first title since claiming the Class AAA trophy in 2003.
Pine-Richland (13-0) will play the winner of Saturday’s PIAA District 6-10 game between State College (5-6) and Erie McDowell (8-4). That game will be in the district of the winning team at a time, date and site to be determined.
Ahead 7-0, the Rams were on the verge of extending their lead, driving to the Central Catholic 12. Ernest Williams took a pitch from quarterback Ben DiNucci, but when he reached the 6, he fumbled and Central Catholic recovered.
However, after the officials got together, they determined that a whistle occurred during action, which by rule canceled the play.
Central Catholic coach Terry Totten said he never knew that rule existed and said he didn’t hear a whistle.
Pine-Richland coach Eric Kasperowicz and DiNucci said they heard the whistle, which came from near the Central sideline.
Referee Steve Hall declined comment on the play and referred all questions to Bill Sinning, the WPIAL’s PIAA male officials representative.
“There was obviously a fumble, and it was obviously recovered by Central Catholic,” Sinning said. “While the ball was loose on the field, there was a whistle blown by one of the deep officials. Because it was blown during a loose ball, the referee was correct: The play is dead, and the ball goes back the team that had possession (to start) the play.
“While the inadvertent whistle is unfortunate and something we try not to have ever, it happened. There’s nothing in the rules that permits us to fix it.”
Sinning said he doesn’t think the official saw the fumble, so he assumed the player was down by contact.
Sensing a sudden change in momentum, Kasperowicz went to his bag of tricks and called for “The Fire Alarm.” The play worked to perfection to give the Rams a 14-0 lead.
With DiNucci walking to his right seemingly calling an audible, the snap went to running back Connor Slomka, who started to his left and pitched to wide receiver D’Ondre Gastion, who lofted a 12-yard score to DiNucci, who had slipped out of the backfield. It was DiNucci’s first receiving TD and Gastion’s first touchdown throw.
“It’s a play we’ve worked on in practice all season,” Kasperowicz said. “We were waiting for the right time to call it.”
Central Catholic responded on its next possession to cut the deficit to 14-7 when John Petrishen, running the wildcat for the second consecutive week, scored on a 5-yard run with 7:54 left. Petrishen rushed for 170 yards on 34 carries.
Late in the game, after Central Catholic failed to convert a fake punt deep in its territory, DiNucci clinched the win when he scored on a 6-yard run to push the lead to 21-7 with 1:11 left.
DiNucci, who completed 16 of 29 passes for 174 yards, capped the first drive of the second half by hitting Michael Merhaut with a 6-yard shovel pass for a score.
When these teams met in Week 7, they combined for 76 points, 52 in the first half as Pine-Richland pulled out a 48-28 victory. Friday’s game was much different; it was a scoreless first half.
“They did a few things different that we were familiar with,” Kasperowicz said. “Once we saw what they were doing, we adjusted.”
Totten said he was proud of how his defense limited Pine-Richland’s offense, but he said the story was Pine-Richland’s defense.
“When we played them the first time, we felt we could score 42 points on them,” Totten said. “They certainly tightened things down. Obviously, their offense gets the headlines, but their defense played well.”