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WPIAL

Back on Top: Pine-Richland Reclaims WPIAL Title after Tumultuous 2021

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NORTH HUNTINGDON, Pa. — After the 2020 season that ended with WPIAL and PIAA titles, the Pine-Richland Rams endured a serious change when they fired then-head coach Eric Kasperowicz and his entire staff. A year later, with a new coaching staff, the team performed below expectations finishing 7-5 that included a disappointing playoff loss. Fast forward to 2022 and the Rams have reclaimed their former glory with a WPIAL 5A championship victory over Upper Saint Clair 34-3.

Pine-Richland fired Kasperowicz after to allegations of misconduct within the football program. The allegations against the program included bullying, hazing, and intimidation among other serious claims. Kasperowicz denied all of the claims and sued the school district, citing defamation of character. The community largely backed the popular Kasperowicz, despite the allegations.

Months later, Kasperowicz dropped drop the lawsuit in hopes of regaining his job after his replacement stepped down after one season. Kasperowicz is now the head coach of Mars. The Rams began the season with their third head coach in as many years after they hired ex-Penn Hills head coach Jon LeDonne. LeDonne won the 2018 WPIAL and PIAA titles at Penn Hills and had the championship pedigree that the Rams needed to get back to their former ways.

“It was a real tough decision to leave Penn Hills knowing what we had there, but I know what we got in this community,” LeDonne said. “These guys are competitors and lay it all on the line. I am excited to bring this back home for the whole community.”

The start of LeDonne’s tenure at Pine-Richland went poorly as the Rams stumbled out of the gate going 1-3 in their first four games. The Rams then decided to make a switch at quarterback, promoting last year’s starter Ryan Palmieri and the difference it made for the offense was night and day. Palmeri was a 1,000-yard passer for the Rams last season but began this season as a running back.

Prior to the switch, the Rams only averaged around 16 points per game and posted games with zero and three points respectively. The Rams then started on a nine-game winning streak in which they averaged 37.7 points per game and included games of 61, 47, and 42 points.

In Saturday’s title game, Palmieri propelled the offense with three touchdowns that included two on the ground and one through the air.

“Even when he was at running back, all five of us (linemen) would block for him [any day of the week,]” Rams offensive lineman Jacob Beam said. “He is just a leader and we all just follow him while he leads the way.”

“It’s definitely been a lot of fun,” Palmieri said, reciprocating the love. “I mean the [offensive line] has been great all year. … There really has not been a defensive line that was able to stop them.”

The defense of the Rams stood stout in the championship game as they did for the whole year. The left side of the defensive line helped dominate Upper Saint Clair’s line all afternoon as the defense posted seven sacks and 11 tackles-for-loss. The left is made up of seniors Joseph Perry and John Rottinghaus who had three sacks each in the championship game.

“Those guys up front, they have been playing well all year and they really played well today,” Palmieri said. Beam added that he was not surprised by the lopsided score because “our defense has been crazy all year, so I expected [them to not allow any] touchdowns today.”

This is the Rams’ sixth WPIAL title. For head coach Jon LeDonne, this is his second WPIAL title, managing to win it in his first year at Pine-Richland. He joins Bob Palko and Art Walker as the only other coaches to win a WPIAL title at multiple schools.

“Hopefully I can just continue on and one day be mentioned alongside those guys,” LeDonne said.

The Rams will host Cathedral Prep in the state quarterfinals next weekend as they continue their climb back to the top. Pine-Richland beat Cathedral Prep 48-7 in their last meeting which happened to be the 2020 5A PIAA state title game.

“I can’t wait to keep playing,” Perry said. “This is my last season; I am not ready to be done yet.”

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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