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Penn Hills Outlasts Pine-Richland in LeDonne’s Return

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Images by Jared Todhunter

PENN HILLS, Pa. — After Jon LeDonne brought the winning culture back to Penn Hills, all eyes were on how the team would respond to playing his new team, the Pine-Richland Rams, just three games into both new coaches’ tenures.

While Pine-Richland is often the team known for dominating the trenches with a fierce offensive line, it was Penn Hills that pushed things up front and showed LeDonne that his former school has his number for now with a 33-28 win.

The game started with Penn Hills (2-1) coming out and wanting to establish a run game. They immediately used their star quarterback Julian Dugger in this area, calling a quarterback draw on the first two snaps of the game.

Dugger picked up 28 quick yards on the rushes, then Amir Key was off to the races for a 45-yard rushing touchdown that opened the scoring.

Pine-Richland (1-2) looked poised to get back to their ways of relying on the ground game but failed to get 10 yards rushing on four rush attempts, causing a turnover on 4th down with just two yards to go.

Penn Hills stuffed PR on the fourth down stop, then immediately got back to the ground game on offense. The team had an eight-play drive, all rushes, on their way to the endzone for back-to-back touchdowns.

Dugger had 28 yards rushing on the drive, sophomore Naytel Mitchell added 22 yards, while Key had 6 yards and the drive-sealing touchdown to go up 14-0.

Pine-Richland is clearly a run-first team, and down 14-0, it was tough for them to get any rhythm on the ground. The Rams were able to hold Penn Hills after the first two drives, but the Indians made things really hard for PR late into the first half.

Pine-Richland was looking to score in the two-minute drill, but on fourth down with four yards to go Kanan Huffman saw his pass tipped at the line of scrimmage by rusher Keith Pelmon. Pelmon tipped it in the air, caught the ball, broke on tackle down the sideline, and found himself scoring a 67-yard touchdown that gave Penn Hills a 21-0 lead heading into the half.

Pine-Richland needed to get anything going in the second half to find some life and did just that. Ryan Palmieri took the opening kick 90-yards all the way to the endzone to make the score 21-7.

The Rams’ defense held up to keep their team in the game. That is when their offense decided to switch things up and look to air. Andrew Melis made two big catches, and it set up a 19-yard touchdown reception by Vasilos Balouris to cut the lead to 21-14.

Nikolas Andrews picked off Julian Dugger on the ensuing drive and the second-half comeback was on. Ryan Palmieri capped off the drive with a 12-yard rush and the score was 21-21 in the fourth quarter.

That is when we saw the most complete drive of the game from the Indians. Julian Dugger completed a big pass to D’Andre Cochran, who added yards after the catch. Then, Amir Key had two big runs, and Naytel Mitchell capped off the drive with a 26-yard sprint from the backfield. Penn Hills regained the lead 27-21.

Pine-Richland used a big return to set up their comeback drive. They got inside their opponents’ 30, but failed to convert on fourth down. Penn Hills thought they closed the door on a comeback the very next play when Key burst for 71-yards a touchdown that gave them a 33-21 lead.

Pine-Richland responded, and cut the lead to 33-28, then got a critical stop. After that, a strong return set them up with great field position, but the team failed to convert on fourth down, ending the game.

Penn Hills will head to Moon next week, while Pine Richland will be at Fox Chapel.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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