“Everyone on the team is like this,” he said, pausing for a brief second, as he raised a hand the size of a catcher’s mitt and crossed his taped-up index and middle fingers over one another. “We’re all super close.”
Central Catholic senior defensive lineman Donovan Hinish shook his hand slightly, emphasizing the bond between himself and his Vikings’ teammates. That camaraderie was on full display Friday night at Newman Stadium in Wexford, Pennsylvania as Central beat North Allegheny 24-7 in a rematch of the last WPIAL 6-A title game.
The brotherhood runs deep for Central Catholic, and it isn’t just applicable for the boys on the team. It’s for anyone and everyone who rides with the Vikings — past and present, players and coaches, everyone.
“We’re brothers,” Hinish told PSN after the game. “I don’t know if you guys noticed or not, but some offensive series when we really needed it, I’d go out there and say, ‘Ride for your brothers, ride for everyone.’ One thing we say on the defensive is, ‘Ride for the guys who can’t ride.’ And that means anyone who’s been in the gang … we just ride for the guys and ride for our brothers.”
The offense and defense rode together, complementing the other well against the Tigers, forcing timely stops on fourth down and scoring timely touchdowns to extend a lead and finally put the game out of reach. Without each other, the victory wouldn’t have been possible.
“That’s the culture you’re trying to fully achieve, you know? You want them to have fun, but you want them to like coming to practice,” Central Catholic head coach Terry Totten told PSN. “They’ve worked hard, and I’ve gotten good senior leadership.”
On Central Catholic’s first offensive possession, a quick three and out gave North Allegheny the ball with a chance to take an early lead. A defensive stand allowed Central to get the ball back, drive down the field and senior running back Gannon Carothers rumbled into the end zone to open the scoring. After a face mask personal foul called on Hinish extended a Tigers’ drive, with Tigers senior running back Kolin Dinkins racing past the Vikings’ defense on the following play for a 62-yard score to halve a 14-0 lead, the defense locked in. From the 7:20 mark of the second quarter, NA didn’t score again. It was a case of give and take for the Vikings.
And Hinish won’t forget that face mask penalty any time soon either.
Oh… yeah,” Hinish smiled wanly, reflecting upon the drive-extending play that should have ended with another big play for Hinish in a game where he wreaked havoc upon the North Allegheny offensive line, leaving Tigers quarterbacks Tanner Potts and Logan Kushner scrambling all game.
“[Defensive coordinator] David Fleming came over and he reamed me out,” Hinish said. “I mean, I got screamed at. I know for a fact every time he yells at me, it’s out of the love of his heart, and he’s doing it because he loves us. Coach Byron [Dovales], our offensive line coach, said, ‘Be great. Choose to be great or choose to be average.’ And I really took that to heart because I thought I needed to step my play up.”
Even before the face mask call, Hinish was in the North Allegheny backfield often. Afterward? Hinish and the Central Catholic defense locked up the entire NA offense outside of Dinkins’ 62-yard scamper. Sometimes, it’s riding for your brothers, and sometimes it’s accepting the tough love from your teachers.
“It was a great effort,” Totten said. “[The defense] really kind of buckled down in the second half, took away their inside running game and we thought if we could do that, that would be it.”
With the North Allegheny offense effectively neutralized, it allowed Central Catholic sophomore quarterback Payton Wehner and Carothers to lead a Vikings’ offense that scored early to build a lead and late to finally put the game out of reach for the Tigers.
“At Central, they always talk about the defense, and our defense is awesome,” Wehner told PSN. “I think our offense is coming along really well, and we’re trying to get it to that perfect level. We’re not there yet, but we’re trying to get there each and every game.”
Carothers was a bell cow for Central Catholic, toting the ball 33 times for 164 yards and scoring two touchdowns — the opener and the closer. Totten noted Carothers’ explosiveness — his nearly five yards per carry wearing down a good North Allegheny defensive — and lauded his star running back’s work ethic. And of course, Carothers’ rushing threat on the ground helped Wehner in the air.
“[Carothers] opens up all the passing, it opens up so much more stuff when he runs the ball,” Wehner said. “They think he’s running the ball, we throw a pass and it catches them all off-guard.”
Wehner was an efficient 14-for-26 through the air, throwing for 142 yards and rushing for a touchdown to help orchestrate an effective day against a good North Allegheny defense — especially in a raucous atmosphere like NA’s Newman Stadium.
“In practice, we knew it was gonna be like [a hostile environment],” Wehner said. “A great outcome with all the fans, but we just kept our cool, kept going drive by even when it wasn’t working we still kept it going. We just went drive by drive, play by play.”
Sitting at 4-1 on the season, rebounding well after a 12-6 season-opening loss to Philadelphia powerhouse Imhotep Charter on the road, Central Catholic is firmly locked into the driver’s seat in WPIAL Class 6-A play. However, North Allegheny is just the beginning of a tough stretch for the Vikings.
Central Catholic will host a surging Seneca Valley team that’s turning heads in the conference before traveling to currently unbeaten Mt. Lebanon in two weeks in what could decide playoff seeding this year. For Wehner, he’s just focused on keeping the offense doing what they do. Hinish compared the Vikings to a train; it’s started, and it’s not stopping now.
Unsurprisingly, Totten wasn’t as bullish as his young stars. He’s just focused on what’s to come in the weeks ahead for Central Catholic.
“I wish I could tell you [what will happen],” Totten said frankly, “but we got a big one next week and a big one the week after that.”