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From 1-3 to State Champions: How Pine-Richland Turned Their Season Around

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The Pine-Richland Rams weren’t supposed to win the 2022 5A PIAA State Championship over the Imhotep Charter Panthers. They weren’t supposed to be in the playoffs to begin with.

The program was on their third head coach in as many seasons: the Pine-Richland school board elected not to renew Eric Kasperowicz’s contract following their 2020 State Championship win. Steve Campos took over for 2021 but resigned after a 7-5 season for health reasons. 

Jon LeDonne—who coached Penn Hills to the 2018 5A State Championship—stepped in for 2022, but after Pine-Richland managed just one win in their first four games, it looked like another lost season for the Rams. An injury to starting quarterback Kanan Huffman didn’t help, as it forced senior running back Ryan Palmieri to step in as signal caller.

Palmieri said that despite the coaching upheaval the Rams faced, buying in to LeDonne’s leadership sparked their turnaround.

“We had a rough start to the season—brand new coaching staff,” Palmieri said. “We just had to buy in to what they were telling us, buy in to what they were saying, and here we are now.”

The Rams didn’t look back, reeling off 12 straight wins to claim their third state championship in five years. 

Palmieri spoke to the power of perseverance as Pine-Richland resurrected their season. 

“It sounds cliche but never give up, because it’s never over. I mean, we were 1-3,” Palmieri said. “Playoffs weren’t in the picture, honestly, let alone a state championship, but we never gave up, came in to work every day.”

Three Yards and a Cloud of Dust

The matchup with Imhotep was a collision of contrasting styles of play: Pine-Richland’s slow-burning rushing attack against a hard charging defensive line anchored by 2024 four-star Jahsear Whittington, a Pitt commit and one of the best defensive tackles in the country. 

Pine-Richland ran the ball at will, and Palmieri had a hand in all four of the Rams’ touchdowns. He scored twice on the ground, cashed in on defense with a 40-yard pick-six, and put the game on ice with a fourth quarter passing touchdown. 

He barely gave himself an ounce of credit. 

“We knew we were gonna be able to run the football with Ethan Pillar and me, a couple great fullbacks blocking too, so it was just kinda grind the football,” Palmieri said. “The boys up front did a great job all year…Ryan Cory, Jake Beam, Brady Carrigan, Jon Smith, Isaiah Kerms moved the D-line, a really good D-line.”

In an age of high-flying passing attacks, the Rams embrace the idea of winning ugly. 

“The key was just trying to get those four, five yard runs and eventually break a couple, then it opens up the pass game,” Palmieri said. “That’s just kind of the mentality we had all year…just try to get as much as we could.”

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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