Penn-Trafford High School is about a 30 minute drive from downtown Pittsburgh, maybe a bit longer with Saturday afternoon traffic.
However, the Penn-Trafford football team likely won’t mind hopping on the bus and cruising down I-376 to Heinz Field for the WPIAL 5-A championship game against the winner of Moon/Penn Hills next Saturday after a 24-6 win over Pine-Richland at Gateway’s Antimarino Field Friday night.
With an 11 point lead, just about five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Penn-Trafford turned to star senior Cade Yacamelli when it mattered most. And he delivered — like he has all season long. With three runs, Yacamelli carried P-T from midfield into the end zone for his third touchdown of the night and essentially salted the game away.
Penn-Trafford and Pine-Richland had only met twice before Friday, meeting in WPIAL semifinals matchup in 2015 and 2020 — with P-T winning in 2015 and P-R winning in 2020 — but P-T’s win avenged a tough loss last season and provided a launchpad into Saturday’s WPIAL 5-A championship.
Despite Yacamelli’s incredible two-way performance against Pine-Richland, his first play of the game actually ended in a fumble.
While Penn-Trafford saw its opening possession immediately disrupted by Pine-Richland senior Connor Lenz, who stripped the ball from Yacamelli and recovered the fumble himself, P-R was unable to capitalize on a short field.
Pine-Richland’s ensuing drive started off on the right foot — and left foot — of P-R senior Brooks Eastburn, who also converted a short third down a few plays later, but the Penn-Trafford defense managed to shut the door in the red zone. Which would turn into a pivotal theme of the first half. Yacamelli knocked away a potential touchdown toss from Pine-Richland’s Ryan Palmieri to Jeremiah Hasley, and the defensive line surged forward to stuff a fourth down conversion inside the five-yard line.
Penn-Trafford’s duo of Carter Green and Yacamelli connected on a deep strike across the middle of the field to escape the shadow of the goal post, and another Yacamelli direct snap draw up the middle of the field moved the Warriors across midfield. However, a couple of penalties pushed the ball back, and a once-promising drive ended with a punt.
The defensive slugfest continued into the second quarter, with P-T and P-R trading punts, but Palmieri’s legs kept the Rams from falling behind. A steady dose of quarterback keepers from Palmieri, helped along by a bruising run from sophomore Ethan Pillar, moved the Rams back inside the five-yard line. Palmieri carried a third down play inside the two-yard line, and the P-T defense once again stuffed him at the goal line to force a turnover on downs.
With the ball inside the two-yard line, Green took a snap in his own end zone and cut through a gap in the offensive line, made a few defenders miss in the secondary and dashed all the way across the 40-yard line to completely flip the field on Pine-Richland.
Yacamelli once again took over for Penn-Trafford, carrying the Warriors down into the red zone. However, the Pine-Richland defense forced a fourth a long, and a 30-yard field goal broke open a scoreless tie.
With Green and Yacamelli controlling play on the offensive side of the ball for Penn-Trafford, Palmieri carried the load for Pine-Richland. Palmieri used his legs to pick up a key third down conversion, evading a would-be tackler with a nice spin move, inside his own territory, and he flashed an improving arm with a nice throw to junior Cam Mellis to move P-R back into Warriors’ territory.
Yet, facing a fourth and long deep into Penn-Trafford territory, the P-T defense forced the third turnover on downs of the half to continue a half of true bend, don’t break defense.
A Green fumble, the second fumble of the night for Penn-Trafford, gave Pine-Richland new life with under a minute to go, set up on the P-T 41-yard line, but a Palmieri Hail Mary type of throw with 13 seconds left was picked off by Yacamelli in the end zone — completing a half of dominance from the Wisconsin commit.
And the halftime break didn’t cool off Yacamelli’s hot start either. After an opening Pine-Richland three and out, Penn-Trafford’s drive began near midfield. Green bounced back from a Lenz sack to throw a strike to junior Kalkstein, and after a P-R encroachment, Yacamelli did the rest. With a first and five from the 33-yard line, he took a direct snap, allowed the play to develop ahead of him and raced through the Rams’ defense for the game’s opening touchdown.
With a 10-0 deficit, Pine-Richland needed a stop from its defense, and Lenz and Hasley came through again. The senior stars each racked up sacks, forcing a fourth and very, very long punt from Penn-Trafford at its own two-yard.
With a huge field position swing, Pine-Richland faced a short field and managed to drive down inside the 15-yard line. Facing a fourth and six, P-R lined up to go for it, took a timeout and came out with the field goal unit. Junior Joey Perry’s first field goal attempt of the season was blocked by P-T junior Daniel Tarabrella, and P-R’s drive ended with nothing.
With Pine-Richland’s drive coming up empty, Penn-Trafford wasted no time in unleashing Yacamelli once again. He took a direct snap from inside his own 15-yard line back toward midfield, set up P-T inside the 25-yard line with a slashing run and carried defenders on his back inside the five-yard line before slicing into the end zone from a couple yards out to make it a 17-0 game with just 6:31 left in the contest.
But Pine-Richland wasn’t quite done yet. Palmieri, who flashed an improving arm all game long, dropped back in the pocket and unleashed a rocket from his own 40-yard line, hitting a wide-open Mellis for an easy walk-in touchdown to cut Penn Trafford’s lead to just 11 points — after a botched snap on the extra point led to nothing.
Unfortunately for Pine-Richland, Yacamelli was on the other side of the field, and he did more than enough to carry Penn-Trafford to the win — and to Heinz Field next week for the WPIAL 5-A title game.