WPIAL 5A Championship Preview: Penn-Trafford vs. Moon

Warriors attempting to capture their first WPIAL title on Saturday night at Heinz Field

Sat Nov 27, 2021 - 12:11AM

Sean Meyers Sean Meyers

Last Updated: Sat Nov 27, 2021 - 1:11AM

WPIAL Class 5A Football Championship: #2 Penn-Trafford Warriors (10-2, 5-0 Big East Conference) vs #1 Moon Area Tigers (12-0, 5-0 Allegheny Six Conference)

Saturday, 6 p.m. at Heinz Field

Penn-Trafford has played in the WPIAL football championship three times previously, and on all three occasions, the Warriors came up short by a touchdown or less. For the Warriors to change their fate on Saturday, they’ll have to unseat one of just five undefeated teams remaining in the WPIAL.

Moon Area missed the playoffs a year ago, but the Tigers have been unblemished this season. As the top seed in the bracket, the Tigers earned a first-round bye, and notched narrow victories against Woodland Hills and Penn Hills to reach the title game.

“You can tell that they are a very tight-knit team. They play very hard together,” Penn-Trafford head coach John Ruane said of Moon.

The Warriors, meanwhile, entered the postseason on a six-game winning streak, and they have continued that momentum through the playoffs. In the quarterfinals, PT smashed Fox Chapel Area 42-14, and followed up with a 24-6 win against defending champion Pine-Richland last Friday.

Despite the seemingly comfortable margin of victory, the Warriors held just a 3-0 lead at the half, propelled by a pair of defensive stands deep in their own territory.

“It was just the backs against the wall mentality. We were able to make two big stops on fourth down…and ultimately, I think that really swung the game in our favor,” explained Ruane.

In the second half, senior running back Cade Yacamelli accounted for the scoring, as he provided three touchdown runs. A Wisconsin commit, Yacamelli rushed 19 times for 208 yards and three scores, while adding two receptions for 26 yards. Quarterback Carter Green and the PT passing attack, which has been dormant at times this season, provided just 41 yards. Green was effective on the ground, though, as he amassed 103 yards on 17 attempts.

For the season, Yacamelli has rushed 144 times for 1,498 yards, caught a team-leading 14 passes for 191 yards, and has recorded 22 total touchdowns. Additionally, Green is 69-of-117 passing for 1,024 yards, with nine touchdowns and five interceptions, although all of those picks came in the first four games of the season. As a rusher, he’s registered 1,019 yards, and has scored 14 total touchdowns. In addition to Yacamelli, the top pass catchers for PT include Tommy Kalkstein, who paces the team in receiving yards, as well as Liam Hileman and Jacob Otto.

Moon’s defense has been dominant at times, however, limiting opponents to just 12.2 points per contest. The Tigers have excelled in the third phase of the game, as well.

“They are terrific at generating turnovers. They have splash plays on defense and special teams that flip the game,” Ruane stated. “They are fantastic on special teams. So, this is a massive point of emphasis going into the championship.”

Penn-Trafford has talented specialists of its own, though. Kicker Nathan Schlessinger has booted seven field goals and 52 extra points, and also has sent 37 of his kickoffs for touchbacks. Meanwhile, punter Josh Huffman has averaged nearly 38 yards per punt.

When Moon is on offense, the Tigers have an array of threats. Head coach Ryan Linn’s squad includes five players with more than 240 yards rushing, with Dylan Sleva leading the way with 147 attempts for 772 yards. Jeremiah Dean has added 542 yards on the ground, and paces the Tigers with nine touchdowns, while Ian Foster and Joseph Cotton are also key contributors in the rushing attack.

In the semifinals win against Penn Hills, Dean rushed eight times for 101 yards and a score, while Sleva posted 62 yards rushing and a touchdown.

The Tigers have been effective through the air too this season, as QB Tyler McGowan is 99-of-154 passing for 1,213 yards, eight scores and four interceptions. His top options have been Taite Beachy, who has posted 483 yards receiving, and Ben Bladel, who has 226 yards receiving.

“You gotta get them off the field,” Ruane explained. “They love possessing the football and kind of grinding you down, so we gotta be really good on first down.”

Daniel Tarabrella leads the Warriors with 69 tackles, while Jack Jollie, Huffman, and Conlan Greene each have surpassed 50 stops for the season. Greene also paces the team with 5.5 sacks. Ironically, Penn-Trafford is tied with Moon for the top scoring defense in 5A.

Moon won its only WPIAL crown in 1998, while the Warriors last played for district gold in 2017, a 21-16 loss to Gateway.

Penn-Trafford leads the head-to-head series 3-2-1, although the squads have not squared off since 1979, which was a 3-0 Tigers’ victory.