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Pine-Richland’s 42-14 rout of conference rival North Allegheny may have been the most balanced offensive output this season.
The Rams gained 431 yards on offense, 35 of which were on the ground.
That’s right, the Rams ran the ball 25 times for 35 yards, and the team was thrilled with the balanced attack.
Most think of offensive balance as running and passing the ball almost equally, but not Mike Leach, from whom Pine-Richland coach Eric Kasperowicz affectionately stole his offensive philosophy.
“Balanced isn’t equal run, pass distribution,” said Pine-Richland coach Eric Kasperowicz. “We’re a throwing team, so balance to us is spreading it out to six, seven, eight receivers, and you really don’t know who’s going to get it.”
The Rams spread offense has been effective all season – Pine-Richland is in the top 10 in scoring offense at 39.9 points per game – but Friday’s game was different.
What stood out was two Pine-Richland receivers turned in massive games.
Junior Eli Jochem caught 11 passes for 220 yards and three touchdowns while fellow junior D’avay Johnson caught eight passes for 155 yards and a touchdown.
Pine-Richland scored on their first two offensive possessions of the game when quarterback Cole Spencer hooked up with Jochem for 79 yards on the first possession and with Johnson for 78 yards on the next.
Johnson’s healthy 19-yard per-catch average was done mostly through short passes. The North Allegheny secondary was giving him a big cushion, and the Rams were content with seven-yard curl routes on the sideline.
Jochem did most of his damage in the middle of the field, catching slant routes and turning them into big plays. Jochem caught a 27-yard pass in the middle of the field to convert a fourth down and turned a five-yard slant route into a 39-yard gouge, leading to another Pine-Richland touchdown.
“We were just trying to be physical, and use the short passes,” said Johnson. “But they gave us opportunities to throw deep passes, and we just made plays.”
“They both stepped up huge in the big game, and they had to,” said quarterback Cole Spencer. “For us to get it done, we knew they had to (play well), and they did, so we’re proud of them.”
Kasperowicz had a smile on his face as he tried to recount the prior big games for his junior receivers, saying “I think last week Eli had a big game, Daedae had a big one against Mt. Lebanon, I’m not sure if Eli did,” but it showed that this season the two have almost taken turns being the guy in the offensive attack.
Jochem entered the game with 745 yards on 44 receptions and 10 touchdowns while Johnson had 356 yards on 27 catches and four touchdowns.
“On our side, on defense, we have certain guys we can key on, one or two guys. For us, it’s tough when four or five guys can hurt you,” said Kasperowicz.
The one guy who has been hurting opposing defenses all season is quarterback Cole Spencer. The junior was a game manager as a sophomore last year, but was given the keys to the offense this year and has rewarded the coaching staff with 2,486 passing yards and 29 touchdowns – both are in the top five in the WPIAL.
The impressive thing about Spencer is he’s learning the nuances of the position, and learning how and when to take advantage of matchups.
The first touchdown pass was thanks to Spencer seeing a blown coverage and the second he threw a perfect pass to Johnson down the sideline in a one-on-one matchup.
Even the slant routes to Jochem were through different looks, but nothing he hasn’t seen before.
“There’s holes in every defense,” said Spencer. “They made adjustments, though. On one of Eli’s slant routes, I hit him right away, but then they kind of changed, and instead of blitzing everyone, they zoned off, so I had to wait, wait and he comes open later, then hit him.
“It’s just me and their connection, knowing when they’re open, where they should go, when to throw it and where to throw it.”
“(Cole) is playing really well right now. He’s probably at his best right now,” said Johnson. “He keeps us up. I think we can go to WPIAL’s again and win it again.”
NOTES FROM THE PRESS BOX
• Friday’s senior night festivities were a little more special than most for this group.
The winningest group of seniors in Pine-Richland history won WPIAL Championships in 2017 and 2018, and appear in the driver’s seat to claim a third this season (the only other time a team has won three consecutive titles at the WPIAL’s highest level was North Allegheny from 2010-2012).
The group of 16 seniors has 42 wins and a PIAA Championship in 2017.
“This is for our seniors. We still have games to play, but this game was for them,” said Pine-Richland coach Eric Kasperowicz.
• If there was a turning point in Friday night’s game it was late in the third quarter with Pine-Richland leading 21-14. Percise Colon rushed up the middle and was tackled hard by Luke Miller right at the line of scrimmage.
Pushing and shoving ensued, and two personal fouls were called against senior right guard Austin Huebner, and he was ejected from the game.
The penalties pushed the Tigers inside their own 15 yard line and the ensuing punt gave the Rams great field position.
After a long pass from Cole Spencer to Eli Jochem, Pine-Richland was set up first and goal from the 10. The next play, a roughing the passer penalty pushed the Rams even closer, and they scored a few plays later, making the score 28-14.
Three penalties were accepted in the first half, and the three in two drives for North Allegheny pushed the tide.
“Those things didn’t go our way, it is what it is,” said North Allegheny coach Art Walker. “You need to play well enough so those things can’t have an impact on what you’re doing.”
Walker gave a vote of confidence for Huebner and said the penalties were out of character, and will review the tape before talking it over with Huebner.
By rule, the senior will miss the next game.
• North Allegheny quarterback Ben Petschke’s 16 pass attempts were the second most for him the season, following a 29-attempt night against Central Catholic.
The North Allegheny offense prides itself on running the ball and if they’re passing it usually means things aren’t going that well.
That’s not to say, however, the passing game wasn’t effective, at least in stretches for the senior.
Petschke threw a touchdown pass to Luke Colella for 52 yards in the second quarter to tie the game at 14, and the screen game appeared to neutralize an aggressive Pine-Richland defensive front.
Colella finished with 63 receiving yards, but Petsche completed just 5 of 16 passes.
“We have (incorporated it), sometimes we just haven’t needed it. He’s a senior quarterback, he’ll take the responsibility and put it on his shoulders,” said North Allegheny coach Art Walker. “When we protect, can’t have drops, other times when guys are wide open, we can’t have a breakdown up front, and when it’s his turn, he can’t miss kids that are open.”
Walker said the team is prepared to use the passing game when the opportunities present itself.