SHALER TWP., Pa. — Pine-Richland and Shaler Area began the season on two contrasting streaks. It’s safe to say those streaks probably weren’t what many would have predicted before the season, but Friday’s night game was a little more of what was expected for both teams before the season.
P-R dropped a close contest to a good Harrisburg squad to open the season, followed by dropping two consecutive games against WPIAL teams before righting the ship over the last three weeks. Shaler opened the season with two victories of its own before four straight losses left the Titans reeling.
It didn’t take Pine-Richland very long on Friday night at Titans Stadium that these Rams are a completely different squad that lost three straight games to begin the season. An opening kickoff return from senior quarterback/running back Ryan Palmieri may not have led to a score, but it set the tone for a long night of Rams’ domination.
A 35-0 drubbing by the Rams, led by a two touchdown performance from both Palmieri and senior wide receiver Alex Gochis, along with strong special teams and defensive play from the Rams, finally brought P-R back above .500 for the first time since last season.
After allowing 28 unanswered points to P-R in the first half, on Shaler’s first play of the second half, the Rams’ defense shot through the Titans’ offensive line and stuffed the back in the backfield.
It was a decent snapshot of how the night went for the Titans.
Although P-R wasn’t able to cash in on a nice return from Palmieri to begin the game, a penalty negating a touchdown toss that ended with a turnover on downs, the Rams’ defense was game in suffocating Shaler quarterback Keegan Smetanka. A P-R drive from deep in Titans’ territory ended with a three-yard touchdown run from Palmieri to make it a 6-0 game.
A Titans’ turnover on downs forced by the Rams’ defense gave way to a long Rams’ drive that ended with an interception from P-R senior quarterback Cole Boyd in the red zone. With a sloppy game already underway, Shaler was unable to get any offensive momentum on the ensuing drive, and a Titans’ punt from the end zone was blocked and caught by P-R senior defensive tackle Jacob Domer in the end zone for a touchdown.
Another Smetanka interception on Shaler’s next drive was completed with a nice bit of footwork and agility from P-R senior wide receiver Cameron Wells on a 25-yard touchdown catch — with most of it coming after the catch.
A few drives later, following a third Smetanka interception, Gochis showed off his skill on a dominant drive, a beautiful diving catch on a throw from Palmieri to get into Titans’ territory and a touchdown catch, over the shoulder, in stride on another nice pass from Palmieri from nearly 30 yards out. A blocked punt point after attempt made it a 20-0 game midway through the second quarter.
With a 28-0 lead at the half, Shaler hadn’t shown enough juice on offense to put much confidence in a potential comeback, and P-R’s all-around dominant performance, with the exception of a few turnovers on downs and a fluky interception, didn’t allow the Titans back in the contest.
A long punt return from P-R junior wide receiver/cornerback Andrew Mellis set the Rams up inside the five-yard line late in the third quarter, and Palmieri took it in himself on the next play to stretch P-R’s lead to five scores.
A lightning strike at the end of the third quarter forced a halt in the game, and with a 35-0 lead at the end of three quarters, the game was called earlier than expected — although the game could’ve been called at the half with the same result.
Palmieri and Gochis led the way for P-R, with the help of three interceptions forced by the defense and a special teams touchdown off a blocked punt. Smetanka, unfortunately for the Titans, was unable to get any momentum rolling against a swarming Rams’ defense, and the rest of the offense offered little help.
With the win, Pine-Richland improves to 4-3 while Shaler’s five-game losing streak drops the Titans to 2-5 on the season.
Both teams will continue a run of conference WPIAL Class 5-A contests games next week. P-R will take on North Hills on the road while Shaler will host Kiski Area, with both kickoffs scheduled for 7 p.m.