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Mt. Lebanon Runs Away From St. Joseph’s Late to Win First Ever PIAA Class-6A Title, 35-17

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HERSHEY, Pa. — St. Joseph’s Prep brings in players from across the northeast, often sending top talent to the blue bloods of college football, while Mt. Lebanon brings in the kids from the south hills of Pittsburgh.

St. Joe’s had won 21 all-time in the PIAA playoffs, coming off three consecutive Class 6-A titles, while Mt. Lebo picked up its first two PIAA playoff wins this season.

Even in a “down” year for St. Joe’s, the Hawks are the class of 6A football in Pennsylvania. Or at least, was the class of PIAA until Mt. Lebanon came to Hershey, Pa. It’s officially the year of Mt. Lebanon’s PIAA Class-6A dominance.

Mt. Lebanon won the PIAA Class-6A championship game, 35-17, against St. Joseph’s Prep Saturday night at Hersheypark Stadium to clinch the first state title in school history and a perfect season.

With a quick 14 point swing in the first quarter fueling a halftime lead, Mt. Lebo did enough to run away from St. Joe’s and win head coach Bob Palko’s first state title since 2001 when he was with West Allegheny.

If Mt. Lebo was put-off by an early St. Joe’s touchdown drive, it didn’t show. After St. Joe’s Samaj Jones capped an opening drive with a 3-yard touchdown to Josiah Trotter, rolling out of the pocket on fourth-and-goal and finding Trotter wide in the flat, Mt. Lebo turned it up a notch.

One Mt. Lebo’s first offensive snap, Joey Daniels stepped up in the pocket and fired a quick slant to Mike Biersdorf, about 15 yards down the field, and Biersdorf snagged the ball and took off up the field. Trotter gave pursuit, racing down the field after Biersdorf shrugged off a would-be tackler, but he couldn’t stop the 86-yard touchdown.

And on St. Joe’s next offensive snap, Mt. Lebo’s Thomas Boehner stripped the Hawks’ Blaine Bunch and Jack Smith recovered for the Blue Devils. Eli Heidenreich powered into the end zone from 13 yards out to extend Lebo’s lead a couple of plays later.

It went from 7-0 St. Joe’s at 7:12 of the first quarter to 14-7 Mt. Lebo by 6:11. And the Blue Devils weren’t done.

After a quick three and out at the beginning of the second quarter, Mt. Lebo was back in action. With a third-and-six from just beyond midfield, Daniels stood in the pocket with pressure in his face and delivered a rainbow throw up to a wide-open Smith streaking down the sideline for a 45-yard gain. Daniels capped the drive off with a 6-yard throw out to Alex Tecza in the flat for a touchdown — a play similar to St. Joe’s opening touchdown — to push the lead to 14 points.

St. Joe’s didn’t let Mt. Lebo’s lead keep climbing though. With a drive starting at Mt. Lebo’s 35, the Blue Devils forced the Hawks into a third-and-14, but Jones found David Washington on a nice curl that converted the first down after some nice footwork from Washington.

Kahseim Phillips rumbled for a 26-yard gain on a third-and-one later in the drive, pushing the Hawks into the red zone, and Jones bounced a run outside and into the end zone to cut the deficit to one score.

However, with the chance to execute a two minute drill at the end of the first half, St. Joe’s squandered a chance to score some much-needed points. The Hawks drove the length of the field, setting up with a first-and-goal at the 2-yard line with 30 seconds left. Jones was stuffed on first down, spiked the second down play and was forced into an errant throw on third down.

St. Joe’s head coach Tim Roken trotted out the field goal unit on fourth down, and Antonio Chadha’s 20 yarder sailed wide in the swirling wind to end the half still trailing by a touchdown.

With the wind gusting at the start of the second half, completely shifting directions over the halftime break, the weather already factored into the play on the field.

Mt. Lebo and St. Joe’s traded turnovers. Trotter ripped the ball free of Heidenreich’s grasp, with the Hawks jumping on the ball, but Jones threw a ball that was deflected a couple of times before Lebo’s Matt Wertz pulled the ball in. While neither of those drives ended with points, Wertz jumped another Jones route, stealing a ball intended for a Hawk, but that drive also ended without any consequence.

With the wind at their backs, St. Joe’s took the field right at midfield and marched down inside the 5-yard line courtesy of Jones’ legs. But with the drive stalling out to a fourth-and-goal again, Chadha’s 26-yard field goal soared through the uprights to make it a 21-17 game.

Mt. Lebo killed enough time with a late third quarter possession to move into the fourth quarter with the ball — and the wind at their backs. The Blue Devils managed to drive down just outside the red zone, helped by a 27-yard screen to Heidenreich, but with a fourth-and-seven from the 22, Daniels threw an interception to Omillio Agard in the end zone.

The ensuing St. Joe’s drive ended with a punt, but Heidereich’s 26-yard return all the way down to the Hawks’ 25 set up the Blue Devils with a big chance. And a 2-yard keeper from Tecza on third-and-goal capitalized on the great return and extended Mt. Lebo’s lead to 11 points.

With 4:46 left in the game, St. Joe’s needed a score, and then another. But the Mt. Lebo defense had other ideas. The Blue Devils sent Jones on the run on first down before dragging him down in the backfield on second down. A third-and-26 pass fell incomplete, and the Hawks’ season hinged on a fourth and very, very long. And Jones right into Smith for a sack.

With a drive starting on the 12-yard line, Tecza carried a 4-yard rush into the end zone to ice the game for Mt. Lebo and all but clinch the first state title in team history.

One trip to the PIAA title game down, one PIAA title in the bag for Mt. Lebanon football. Palko’s impact on the Blue Devils, and the star-studded senior class made its mark on Mt. Lebo football history.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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