PITTSBURGH — The last time Penn-Trafford and Moon met on a football field, Neil Armstrong was less than 10 years from first stepping on the moon. Penn-Trafford channeled its inner Armstrong Saturday night at Heinz Field, taking just enough steps to clinch the WPIAL Class-5A championship with a 24-21 win.
Like he has all season, senior Cade Yacamelli led the way for Penn-Trafford, racking up nearly 200 yards of total offense as a runner and receiver, and the P-T defense didn’t allow Moon into the end zone for a game-winning score at the end of regulation.
The 24-21 win clinched the first ever WPIAL title for Penn-Trafford, ending an 0-3 stretch of falling in title games.
With 2:45, set up at its own 25-yard line, Moon had a long, long way to drive for a chance to win the game. A series of short yet steady gains moved Moon across midfield, but a blindside block knocked the Tigers back 15 yards from midfield with only 47 seconds left in the game. However, a defensive pass interference got all those yards right back.
With 45 seconds left, Moon set up at the Penn-Trafford 43-yard line. A quick throw underneath moved the chains, and a quick scramble from senior Tyler McGowan moved Moon within field goal range on the heels of his slide. With 19 seconds left, Moon needed 16 yards or a field goal.
Facing a 3rd-and-10 with 11 seconds left, McGowan threw a field goal and senior Jacob Wieland trotted onto the field. With a 34-yard kick into Heinz Field’s open end, Wieland’s kick sailed just wide.
In the cold, wintry swirl, Penn-Trafford’s senior duo of Carter Green and Cade Yacamelli established the run game early. The Warriors trudged down the field after a nice return from junior Daniel Tarabrella and were able to convert a 34-yard field goal, courtesy of senior Nathan Schlessinger’s leg.
A cold, snowy battle devolved into a battle between star athletes in Penn-Trafford’s Cade Yacamelli and Moon’s Ben Bladel.
It didn’t take Moon long to answer, converting a couple of key third down plays to set up a play-action screen to a wide open Bladel, who caught the screen from senior Tyler McGowan and raced 44 yards down the sideline untouched to the end zone to steal the early lead.
After Bladel capped another Moon drive with a touchdown, plowing through a Penn-Trafford defender with a strong shoulder, to go ahead 14-3 early in the second quarter, Yacamelli made his first impact on the game.
A short kickoff from Moon, perhaps trying to catch Penn-Trafford off guard, gave Yacamelli a short field. He caught a direct snap in the shotgun and drifted toward the right side of the offensive line before exploding through a gap, racing 53 yards to the end zone for a crucial score.
Moon managed to drive back down the field on the ensuing possession, helped by a nice connection between Tyler McGowan and Taite Beachy on a deep jump ball down the sideline. However, when facing a 4th-and-16 just outside the red zone, McGowan managed to evade the Penn-Trafford pressure and scramble for 15 yards — coming up just short.
And it didn’t take long for Yacamelli to make an impact again — with almost twice as long a play than his earlier touchdown.
Facing a 3rd-and-8 from their own eight-yard line, Green dropped back, spotted Yacamelli sneak behind the Moon secondary and fired a wobbly ball up through the swirling snow. The ball landed in Yacamelli’s arms, and he raced 92 yards down the sideline and into the end zone to retake the lead at 17-14.
An answering drive from Moon retook the lead just before the halftime break. With a key 3rd-and-14 from just inside midfield, McGown stood in the pocket and fired a ball toward senior Brandon Weaver. Despite being interfered with, Weaver leaped into the air and brought the ball down, setting Moon up inside the five-yard line. Three plays later, a direct snap to Bladel from a yard out was, of course, converted for the go-ahead touchdown.
In a back-and-forth contest between Moon and Penn-Trafford, the Tigers entered the half with a 21-17 lead — helped by five combined touchdowns from Bladel and Yacamelli.
With the surprising shootout figuring to continue on in the second half, a Moon miscue — a fumble from senior Jeremiah Dean inside his own territory — opened the door for Penn-Trafford to retake the lead. And it didn’t take long.
Despite facing a fourth down from just inside the 30-yard line, Green took off on a draw play, following his blockers across the line to gain and then some. A 29-yard touchdown regained the lead at 24-21 early in the third quarter.
Penn-Trafford earned a chance to apply some pressure to Moon after forcing a Moon punt, but on the ensuing drive, Yacamelli had the ball knocked free by a couple of defenders. Moon senior Dylan Sleva recovered the ball before it hit the ground and rumbled back across midfield. However, a turnover on downs from Moon as Bladel was chopped down a literal inch from the line to gain killed any chance of building momentum.
With just under eight minutes remaining in the contest, Penn-Trafford had the chance to grind out a long, long scoring drive and perhaps put the game away. And when it appeared that Yacamelli raced down the field for an 80-yard clincher, it was called back for a holding call.
However, Penn-Trafford went right back to work. The Warriors slowly worked down the field, running across midfield and into Moon territory on a Yacamelli play where it looked like he could have been tackled four or five times. But P-T wasn’t able to convert.
And in the end, the Penn-Trafford defense did just enough to clinch the historic WPIAL title.
Penn-Trafford’s quest for a state title continues on, with a PIAA Class-5A semifinal against Exeter Township next week – with Exeter fresh off a huge upset of defending state champion Governor Mifflin.