Defense won Peters Township (12-1) a second straight conference championship.
It earned the Indians a spot Friday night in their first ever WPIAL final.
After forcing five turnovers and defeating Penn-Trafford, 28-10, at West Mifflin High School stadium, Peters Township advances to play in the Class 5A championship contest set for 6 p.m. Nov. 23 at Norwin. The Indians will face Gateway, a 14-7 winner against McKeesport in the other semifinal game.
“They have a fast defense and it’s been the strength of their team,” said Warriors head coach John Ruane.
The Indians are so speedy and skilled that they play a defense featuring five defensive backs. In fact, it’s a similar set-up as 2018 when Peters Township reached the semifinals on the coattails of a defense that allowed 16.1 points per game only to fall to Penn Hills, 22-14.
This season, the Indians have tweaked the unit. Coming into this year’s semifinal, Peters Township surrendered just 8.3 points per game.
“We were that good last year,” Peters coach T.J. Plack said. “What makes us good? We have five defensive backs that can all cover and all tackle. We are very versatile. These guys are ball hawks. They are tremendous football players.”
Ryan Magiske and Aidan McCall certainly were two of those players that made a big difference in this year’s outcome. Each scored twice on each side of the ball.
Magiske turned a 3-0 halftime deficit into a 14-3 advantage before the end of the third quarter. The senior tailback capped a 7-play, 61-yard scoring drive to open the second half. He bolted three yards into the end zone with 9:42 left in the third quarter.
Not long afterward, Donovan McMillon, who had an interception in the first half, stripped the ball and Magiske picked it up and rambled 43 yards for PT’s second score with 1:17 left in the third quarter.
McCall picked off two passes including one he returned for a 31-yard score with 4:37 remaining in the game. Nearly five minutes earlier, McCall hauled in a 29-yard touchdown pass from Logan Pfeuffer, who completed 10 of 17 passes for 110 yards.
Nico Pate had a fourth interception for the Indians to seal the Warriors’ fate.
Penn-Trafford (11-2) was trying to return to the finals, where it lost to Gateway last year. The Warriors had been in three previous finals, but have never won a WPIAL championship.
The Warriors, who also boasted a stellar defense that had permitted 11.2 points per game, held the edge in the first half. They held the Indians to 41 total yards on 19 plays while forging a 3-0 advantage on a 32-yard field goal by Nathan Schlessinger with 7:37 left in the first quarter. Penn-Trafford, however, missed a 34-yard attempt as time expired in the first half.
Penn-Trafford’s duo of Gabe Dulap and Ethan Carr teamed up for a 13-yard touchdown to trim the Indians’ lead. Dunlap, who had rushed and passed for more than 1,000 yards this season, finished with 11 completions on 24 attempts for 161 yards. Carr caught nine of those passes for 124 yards.
“These are two good defenses and it was a feeling out process,” Plack said of the first half. “We kicked ourselves in the butt a couple of times, but in the second half, we came out and we were able to move the ball and our defense made some great plays.”
According to McCall, the defensive backs had incentive. The group, which also includes Josh Casilli, a Penn recruit, are all seniors except for McMillon, a junior.
“We didn’t want this to be our last game,” he said. “This is all we ever wanted. We wanted to play for a WPIAL title. It feels absolutely breathtaking.”