OLSH defeats Rochester to capture 1st WPIAL Class A football championship
The WPIAL Class A championship game was a dichotomy of histories.
On one sideline was Rochester, one of the WPIAL’s more storied programs with its eight WPIAL championships and three state titles.
Across the field was Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, a team that has only been in existence since 2010 and was making its first appearance in a WPIAL title game.
But despite those differences, it was OLSH that played like the championship veteran.
Rochester fumbled on its first play of the game, had a pair of high snaps from center in punt formation — including one that resulted in a 21-yard loss to set up a TD — and was unable to cross midfield until well into the second quarter.
Meanwhile OLSH was hitting on all cylinders, particularly in the fourth quarter, as it claimed a 28-6 win over Rochester on Saturday at Heinz Field.
With the win, OLSH improved to 12-1 and won the first football title in school history. The Chargers will get a bye week before beginning the PIAA playoffs. Rochester had its season come to a close at 11-2.
OLSH was led by quarterback Tyler Bradley, who accounted for four touchdowns — three passing and one rushing. The 6-foot-2, 205 pound senior, who entered the game with more than 8,000 career passing yards, threw for 169 yards on Saturday. OLSH’s turnaround from an 0-9 season in 2015 to a championship this season coincided with Bradley’s arrival three seasons ago when his father, Dan, took over as the Chargers’ head coach.
“Year 1, we had to change the culture,” Tyler Bradley said. “Year 2, we expected to win after changing the culture and we had to build upon that. This year reflects the hard work we’ve been through the last three years.”
For Dan Bradley, his first title as a head coach was made even more special with his son behind center.
“It does,” Dan Bradley said. “We’ll reflect on that in a little while. It was nice to be there with this team, see them grow and take dramatic strides, and to be able to do that with my son is a special thing. We’ll be able to reflect on that more once it’s over.”
After a scoreless first quarter, OLSH got on the board first when Tyler Bradley faked a handoff and then walked into the end zone from a yard to give the Chargers a 7-0 lead. On Rochester’s ensuing possession, punter Tyreek Sherod was forced to chase down an errant snap from center, giving OLSH the ball at the Rams’ 31-yard line.
OLSH’s Noah Campalong then took a hit on the Chargers’ first play and was bent backwards, forcing him to be taken from the field in a cart. One play after the lengthy delay, Bradley found Andrew Schnarre in stride for a touchdown to extend the Chargers’ lead to 14-0.
At that point in the game, Rochester had only crossed midfield once.
“Field position was critical in the first half,” Rochester coach Gene Matsook said. “We lost the field position in the first half. We shortened the field.”
Rochester appeared to get back into the game when it opened the second half with a dominant 14-play, 70-yard drive, capped by a 6-yard TD run by Noah Whiteleather to cut its deficit to 14-6. But OLSH answered early in the fourth quarter when Bradley found Sig Saftner on a crossing pattern for a 15-yard TD pass and a 21-6 lead. He later added a 33-yard TD pass to Richard Banks.
“We all know we’re not going to shut every team out,” Tyler Bradley said. “We had more of a sense of urgency to go out there and score (after Rochester’s TD). After we threw that touchdown pass, I feel like we just turned the course of the game around. I felt like that was definitely the turning point of the game.”
“I’m glad you felt that way because I didn’t feel that way for a while,” Dan Bradley said.
While disappointed with the loss, Matsook had no regrets about the season, one in which the Rams, despite their history, surpassed expectations.
“People always think the teams that are special are the ones that win championships,” Matsook said. “That’s not true. I’ve had teams that went to the quarterfinals that were special. This team, no one talked about, no one gave them a chance. This team dared to be great.”
Jim Equels Jr. is a freelance writer.