Thank you to Dunkin’ Pittsburgh, the official sponsor of WPIAL high school football coverage on Pittsburgh Sports Now.
PITTSBURGH — On Saturday night, nearly Sunday morning, the Central Catholic Vikings were led to another WPIAL championship by their defense. They caused five Pine-Richland turnovers in the game. But you won’t remember the 2019 6A championship game without the clinching 40-yard field goal from Central Catholic kicker John Opalko.
“We are confident in him,” Head coach Terry Totten said about Opalko’s kick to give his team a 10-7 victory. “He does that all of the time in practice.”
The play that set up Opalko’s winning field-goal was when Pine-Richland quarterback Cole Spencer had his offense driving into Central Catholic territory but was then intercepted on the left sideline by Chase Horne who returned it 55-yards.
“We always kid (Horne) him about dropping them in practice. … But he didn’t drop it tonight,” Totten said with a grin.
The Rams’ Spencer had only thrown five interceptions all season up to that point. Not to mention his 35 touchdown passes.
“We needed something to change the momentum,” Horne said. “
Pine-Richland came into Saturday’s 2019 6A championship averaging 44.1 points per game in their ten games against teams not named Pittsburgh Central Catholic. In their two games against the Vikings, Pine-Richland averaged 7 points per game. Those numbers aren’t a fluke.
“To hold that (offensive group) to (14) points in 8 quarters is something special.” Central Catholic defensive coordinator Dave Fleming said. “I’m just so proud. The effort was unbelievable.”
Central Catholic’s defense let Pine-Richland convert only four of their 17 third downs. The offense was hard to come by for the Vikings, and the defense was going to have to cause havoc on the other side of the ball. But doing that against an offensive juggernaut like Pine-Richland is never an easy task. Fleming and his defense were up for the challenge, though.
“We consider that Central Catholic football,” Fleming said about his unit’s rugged defensive performance. “We’re just going to keep grinding it out in our run game. We have receivers that can make plays but hats off to (Pine-Richland’s defense). They shut our run game down tonight. But I think that’s a mark of a good team. If we have to rely on our defense (we can do just that).”
Central is led up front by 4-star defensive tackle Elliot Donald. But the other three guys that line up next to him are all division one products as well.
“Knowing that the (opposing) quarterback only has about three seconds in the pocket, makes my job easy,” Horne said about his defensive linemen.
The Vikings defense has given up an average of only nine points per game in their 12 games this season. The most points that they have allowed in a game have been 14.
“Our defense, in my opinion, is the best in the state,” Horne said. “Best defensive line, best defensive backs, and corners. I’m just proud of us and the way that we worked to get (to this point).”