Mt. Lebanon head coach Bob Palko could easily have been speaking for Upper St. Clair and Bethel Park.
After the Blue Devils defeated Seneca Valley 35-14 Friday night, Palko turned his attention to Mt. Lebanon’s (7-4) next opponent, Central Catholic (9-1), in the WPIAL 6A semifinals set for Nov. 8 at Fox Chapel.
The Vikings, whom the Blue Devils lost to 45-7 in conference action Oct. 25, are the top seed in the tournament and the second-ranked team in the state.
“Pray a lot. Prepare a lot. Get lucky,” said Palko about the Blue Devils’ upcoming clash with Central Catholic.
Like Lebo, the Panthers and Black Hawks will follow up first-round playoff victories with games against the two top-ranked teams in the Class 5A bracket this Friday.
USC defeated North Hills 34-16 in the first round Friday and Bethel Park knocked off Kiski Area, 45-16. The Panthers will move on to face No. 1 Penn-Trafford (9-1), while the Black Hawks will face Gateway (9-2) at sites to be determined. The Warriors and the Gators are ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the state, respectively.
Lebo did in fact get a little lucky in reaching the final four. The Blue Devils overcame their own gaffes and took advantage of their opponents miscues against Seneca Valley.
“We had some blunders and things like that you can’t continue to do. We better not do that against a team like Central Catholic,” Palko said. “Fortunately, though, we were able to create some other turnovers and steal some possessions.”
After the Raiders took advantage of a fumble and penalty to forge its only lead, 14-7, on a five-yard dive into the end zone by Matt Stanger, Lebo overcame another interception and then began to wage a comeback.
Evan Jones ignited the rally with the equalizer – a nine-yard touchdown run with 4:13 left to play in the third quarter. After Matt Wertz recovered a SV fumble on the ensuing kickoff, Jones rambled for a 28-yard score. With 3:48 still to play in the quarter, Lebo had turned its deficit into a 21-14 advantage.
Two more touchdown runs from Jones capped the scoring in the fourth quarter. Jones, who finished with five touchdowns, led all rushers with 196 yards on 21 carries. The senior captain also passed for 19 yards and had two catches for 11 yards.
“Evan’s a leader,” Palko said. “He had a nice game, but he didn’t do it all alone.”
Defense certainly pulled through for Lebo. In addition to Wertz’s fumble recovery, Jack Sullivan and Erich Heidenreich had interceptions. Sam Rolfsen, Alex Tecza, Drew Vaughn, J.B. Nelson and Everett Lefever led the defense, which recorded two sacks and four tackles for losses.
“Turnovers kill you and that was exactly what happened to us,” Palko said. “We were fortunate because we created other turnovers. That doesn’t always happen that way. We were fortunate.”
USC was particularly fortunate against North Hills as the Panthers were forced to play the second half without their starting quarterback Ethan Dahlem. The junior entered the contest as the No. 7 passer in the WPIAL with 2,077 yards and 16 touchdown. He also is USC’s leading rusher.
Dahlem took an illegal hit after scoring his third touchdown of the first half in USC’s win at North Hills. Dahlem, who tossed a scoring strike to Mateo Cepullio in the first quarter, rushed for two one-yard touchdowns and a 15-yard score. The third touchdown occurred on the last play of the first half and Dahlem stayed on the ground for a few minutes before walking back to the locker room.
USC head coach Mike Junko anticipates Dahlem will be in the lineup when the Panthers challenge Penn-Trafford. Dahlem rushed for 85 yards on 15 carries and completed 6 of 9 passes for 74 yards against the Indians.
“I think he will be OK,” Junko said after the game. “Hopefully, we’ll have him back.”
Heath Erdos filled in nicely for Dahlem. In the second half, he capped USC’s opening drive with a 14-yard touchdown that opened up a 34-7 advantage.
Defensively, Danny Harkleroad led with seven solo and three assisted tackles, a sack and two tackles for a loss. Brandon Shearer followed with 7 1/2 tackles and a sack. David Pantelis and Brandon Coe has six tackles each while Ethan Hiester and Jaden Keating followed with five each. Ben Lund has the lone interception and it sealed the victory for the Panthers, who improved to 7-4 overall.
Junko was delighted with the victory, his first playoff win.
“To come on the road and into this storied venue against a strong team is a great win for the program,” he said. “It’s great for the kids and it means we have another week. Our kids are fired up.”
BP beats Kiski
Bethel Park moved on to see another week as the Black Hawks dispatched Kiski Area, 45-16.
Anthony Chiccitt led the offensive attack. The senior signal caller completed 5 of 7 passes for 195 yards and two touchdowns. He tossed scoring strikes of 62 yards to Sean McGowan and 14 yards to Cooper Shoemaker. McGowan finished with 103 receiving yards and Shoemaker added 92.
McGowan spearheaded the ground game. He rushed for touchdowns of 10 and 30 yards. He finished with 98 yards rushing.
Jehvonn Lewis raced 53 yards for a touchdown for the Black Hawks, who improved to 7-3. Jack Evans tacked on a two-yard score and John Gummo booted a 37-yard field goal. He converted four extra points and Azalynn Coblantz supplied two extra points to complete BP’s scoring.
Defensively, Jason Muench had an interception and William Patrizio recovered a fumble. On special teams, Patrizio recovered a fumble as did Zachary Haddox. Ben Opie had an interception.
Thanks to a 47-6 victory against Mars, Peters Township (10-1) gets the opportunity to avenge its lone loss of the season. The Indians will play Moon (9-2) in the second round of the Class 5A playoffs.
The teams shared the Allegheny Eight Conference championship. On Oct. 4, the Tigers edged Peters Township, 21-13.
Peters Township clicked on all cylinders against the Planets. Logan Pfeuffer passed for 294 yards. He completed 16 of 22 passes for two scores.
Ryan Magiske rushed for 115 yards. He scored three times on runs of seven, 15 and two yards. Josh Casilli gathered up 118 yards on five passes. He hauled 62- and five-yard touchdown passes.
Adrian Williams and Sam Miller racked up touchdowns on 13- and 12-yard runs. Andrew Massucci kicked seven extra points.
South Fayette (10-1) dispatched West Mifflin, 52-0, and will take on Belle Vernon (9-1) in the semifinals of the Class 4A playoffs.
In the win against the Titans, Drew Franklin rushed for 138 yards and three scores of 16, 10 and one yards. Zach Blank and Henry Lex also ran for short scores for the Lions.
Naman Alemanda completed 9 of 13 passes for 170 yards and scoring strikes of 25 and 47 yards to Ryan McGuire and Joey Audia. Charlie Rossi was the top target with four catches for 35 yards.
Justin Caputo completed the scoring, converting the extra points as well as a 20-yard field goal.