JACKSON TWP — Pine-Richland's offense lives and dies with the pass.
The Rams were living large Friday night.
Junior quarterback Cole Spencer threw for 327 yards and two touchdowns, including an 81-yard strike to Eli Jochem in the third quarter of a 35-21 victory over Seneca Valley at NexTier Stadium.
The aerial show negated a fine showing from SV's offense. Gabe Lawson threw for 214 yards and connected with three different receivers on touchdown passes.
“We made some big plays, but gave up too many to win the game,” said Raiders' coach Ron Butschle. “We were down three scores (35-14) in the second half and got away from our ground game. We had to try some different things to get back in it.”
Despite the loss, the Raiders (3-6, 3-4) qualified for the WPIAL playoffs thanks to Canon-McMillan's loss to Central Catholic.
SV managed a 12-play, 93-yard drive that was capped by Matt Stanger's 3-yard touchdown catch late in the first half. It cut Pine-Richland's lead to 21-14, but the Rams' passing game set out to dash the Raiders' hopes in the third quarter.
On the third play of the second half, Spencer connected with Jochem on the duo's first score from 35 yards out.
“We were only up by seven at halftime, and we talked about putting the ball in the end zone on that first drive,” said P-R coach Eric Kasperowicz. “It was a great pass from Cole and Eli ran an awesome route.”
Cole Mrkonja intercepted Spencer on the Rams' next drive, but before the quarter was done, Spencer and Jochem combined for their 81-yard effort.
Jochem paced all receivers with nine catches for 169 yards.
“He's our leading receiver, but we have five guys who can attack you on any given play,” said Kasperowicz.
Lawson's 5-yard scoring pass to Connor Lyczek came midway through the fourth quarter and Stanger later recovered a Rams' fumble, but the Raiders drew no closer.
Butschle saw a much better effort than the previous week when his team lost a 36-7 decision at Woodland Hills.
“I'm never going to feel good about a loss, but I feel good about our kids,” he said.
Spencer added two short scoring runs, the first came from four yards out early in the first quarter. The Raiders responded with their first splash play of the game when Lawson hit Nic Cook, who caught the ball in a crowd, then raced for a 62-yard touchdown.
The 7-7 tie lasted just 17 seconds thanks to Luke Meckler's 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that gave the Rams (8-1, 6-1) a lead they never surrendered.
“That long touchdown pass (to Cook) caught us off-guard,” said Kasperowicz, “but Luke's return was huge. He's a leader and an electric playmaker.”
SV's Ethan West, the team's leading rusher and receiver, left with an injury early in the third quarter and did not return.
The Raiders close the regular season Friday at home against Norwin.