PITTSBURGH — Cole Spencer may be listed as a sophomore on Pine-Richland’s roster, but he certainly did not play like one Saturday night.
The Rams’ quarterback had a hand in his team’s first four touchdowns, including all three scores in the third quarter, as Pine-Richland claimed the WPIAL Class 6A football championship with a 34-7 victory against Seneca Valley at Heinz Field.
Spencer completed just three passes for 23 yards in an October meeting with the Raiders, but the Rams won 21-7 while rushing for 369 yards, 210 of them from junior running back Luke Meckler.
But when the Raiders (9-4) bottled up Meckler early on in Saturday’s game, the focus turned to Spencer.
And he responded with resounding success, passing for 151 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 96 yards and two more scores.
“We came in trying to stop the run,” said SV senior linebacker Jake Stebbins. “We were pretty bad at that the first time. We made them one-dimensional for a while tonight, but unfortunately, it didn’t work in our favor.”
“We were a bit surprised at how well he (Spencer) passed, but if they were going to beat us throwing the ball, then so be it,” said SV coach Ron Butschle.
After punting on their first two drives of the game and missing a 33-yard field goal on the third, the Rams took over at SV’s 29 when defensive back Chance Boyd recovered a Jake Mineweaser fumble.
On the very next play, Spencer found Luke Miller for a 29-yard scoring toss on a flea-flicker and the Rams had earned the first lead of the game.
“Cole took his lumps early on this season, we put him into the fire right away,” said Rams’ coach Eric Kasperowicz. “But this is game 12 and his performance tonight came as no surprise to us.
“He competed at a high level as a freshman wrestler last year,” he added. “I know that’s a different sport, but there were no worries at all that he could make big plays for us.”
The Raiders were down by just one score at the break, prompting SV coach Ron Butschle to say after the game, “We still felt pretty good about our chances.”
But Spencer engineered a 10-play, 76-yard drive to open the third quarter, capped by his 16-yard scoring run. A 14-yard pass to Anthony Cerminara on a 3rd-and-7 moved the chains after three plays.
“A team drives for a touchdown like that to start the second half, it definitely sets the tone,” said Butschle.
The Rams’ lead swelled to 21-0 when Spencer scored on a 3-yard run later in the third. Meckler broke free for a 51-yard run to set up that score. Spencer followed with a 50-yard touchdown strike to Shane Cafardi with 29 seconds left in the period and the lead was a commanding one at 27-0.
Meanwhile, SV’s offense struggled hanging onto the ball all night long. Mineweaser fumbled for a second time following a short reception late in the first half.
Quarterback Gabe Lawson was picked off three times, once by Meckler early in the second quarter. Cerminara tallied a theft late in the third quarter and Caden Schweiger returned an interception 55 yards for a score after the Raiders’ Nic Cook recovered an onside kick early in the fourth quarter. That sequence came after Lawson hit Luke Smith for a 7-yard touchdown, SV’s lone score of the game with 9:09 remaining.
The Rams (10-2) forced five turnovers while giving up just one.
“We tried to claw our way back, but when you lose the turnover battle, it makes it really tough,” said Butschle. “We usually won it this year, but were on the other end of it tonight. We just did not execute well.”
The Raiders threatened to score a touchdown early in the third period. Trailing 14-0, Lawson connected with wideout Josh McLean for 15 yards and the senior avoided a defender before racing to the Rams’ 12 for a 50-yard gain.
PR’s defense tightened up, however, and forced a turnover-on-downs at its own 6.
“In our playoff wins over Central Catholic and North Allegheny, we were able to make big plays to keep drives alive,” said Smith, a senior wide receiver. “We weren’t able to do the same tonight.”
During a 31-14 semifinal win over NA, the Raiders’ offense exuded confidence. The team attempted to ride that wave to an opening score against Pine-Richland and it almost paid off. SV won the coin toss and elected to receive the opening kick. Lawson found tight end Stebbins for 15 yards on a 3rd-and-14 play early in the drive, which stalled at PR’s 20-yard line. Seth Winters was brought in to attempt a 37-yard field goal, but his kick was blocked.
“On any drive, we are looking to, at a minimum, bend but don’t break,” Kasperowicz said. “For us to hold them to a field goal attempt and then block it, that was a tremendous boost for us.”
Meckler led all rushers with 118 yards on 14 carries. Mineweaser was held to 37 yards on 16 carries. He caught three passes for 72 yards.
The Rams, who successfully defended their district title from last year, will now look to win a second straight state title.
“Seneca Valley is a good team,” said Kasperowicz. “They are physical and well-coached. Everything we got tonight, we earned.”
Seneca Valley 0 0 0 7 — 7
Pine-Richland 0 7 20 7 — 34
PR — Luke Miller 29 pass from Cole Spencer (Mason Pruhs kick), 5:22
PR — Spencer 16 run (Zach Waryanka kick), 8:38
PR — Spencer 3 run (Waryanka kick), 1:50
PR — Shane Cafardi 50 pass from Spencer (kick failed), :29
SV — Luke Smith 7 pass from Gabe Lawson (Seth Winters kick), 9:09
PR — Caden Schweiger 55 interception return (Waryanka kick), 8:32
Rushing:Seneca Valley, Matt Stanger 5-30, Jake Mineweaser 16-37, Gabe Lawson 8-(-18), Evan Smith 2-5, Matt Hughes 1-(-2). Pine-Richland, Cole Spencer 22-96, Luke Meckler 14-118, Anthony Cerminara 4-22, Connor McGregor 3-1.
Passing:Seneca Valley, Gabe Lawson 9-24-169-3. Pine-Richland, Cole Spencer 10-17-151-0.
Receiving:Seneca Valley, Jake Stebbins 3-39, Luke Smith 2-8, Jake Mineweaser 3-72, Josh McLean 1-50. Pine-Richland, Eli Jochem 3-17, Luke Miller 3-52, Shane Cafardi 2-58, Luke Meckler 1-10, Anthony Cerminara 1-14.