Last Updated: Tue Nov 30, 2021 - 6:15PM
The Penn-Trafford football team previously had been so close to winning the WPIAL championship, but came up just short several times. In their previous three title game appearances, the Warriors lost by a touchdown or less on each occasion.
In 1997, the first championship appearance for the Warriors, PT lost 28-27 to Upper Saint Clair on a missed extra point in the waning seconds.
It was only fitting that a missed kick in the final moments sealed the WPIAL Class 5A Championship for Penn-Trafford on Saturday, as the Warriors edged No. 1 seed Moon Area 24-21 at Heinz Field. Tigers’ kicker Jacob Wieland missed wide right on a 33-yard field goal attempt with two seconds left.
Second-seeded Penn-Trafford (11-2) won its ninth-straight contest after dropping consecutive games in the first month of the season. Moon (12-1), meanwhile, tasted defeat for the only time this campaign.
“Everything they’ve done, they accomplished it through hard work. I couldn’t be prouder of the kids,” Penn-Trafford head coach John Ruane said of his squad.
While the game ended with a missed field goal, the Warriors opened the contest with a 34-yard field goal by Nathan Schlessinger to cap an eight-play drive.
Moon Area responded with a touchdown on its initial possession, though, as the Tigers spanned 76 yards, with Ben Bladel scoring on a 44-yard pass from Tyler McGowan.
Bladel added another touchdown early in the second quarter, as he powered his way in on a 2-yard run to put Moon ahead 14-3.
That margin lasted just 10 seconds, however, as the Warriors first secured a line-drive kickoff by the Tigers, and then senior running back Cade Yacamelli exploded for a 53-yard touchdown run on the first play of the drive.
With less than four minutes remaining in the half, the Warriors faced third down deep in their own territory. Quarterback Carter Green tossed a wobbly pass that connected with Yacamelli on a wheel route down the left sideline, and the Wisconsin commit took it the distance for a 92-yard touchdown to put PT back in front.
Moon regained the upper hand with just 18 seconds left before halftime, though, as Bladel notched his third touchdown on a 1-yard run that capped off a 71-yard drive.
After allowing 279 yards of offense in the opening half, the PT defense clamped down in the second half, holding Moon scoreless. Perhaps more importantly, the Warriors forced a turnover on the first possession of the third quarter, as Seth Dunlap caused a fumble by Jeremiah Dean, and Daniel Tarabrella recovered at the Tigers’ 38.
With the Warriors facing a fourth-and-one, Green surged beyond the first-down marker and into the end zone on a 29-yard run that put PT back in the lead and accounted for the final points of the night.
Although the Warriors also lost a fumble in the quarter, the PT defense forced a pair of punts and a turnover on downs in the second half.
“The kids just did a better job of fundamentals. They got off blocks a lot better,” Ruane said of the Warriors’ renewed defensive effort after the intermission.
Moon’s final drive of the contest was the defining sequence, however. Trailing by three points, the Tigers took over at their 20-yard line with 2:45 left in regulation. Methodically, the Tigers marched down the field, and reached the red zone, but were halted at the PT 16-yard line, setting the stage for the last-second field goal attempt.
All throughout the week, Ruane emphasized the significance of the third phase of the game against a talented Moon special teams unit.
“We stressed the heck out of “don’t get a field goal blocked; don’t get an extra point blocked; don’t get a punt blocked,”’ he noted.
Yacamelli compiled 17 rushes for 136 yards and one reception for 92 yards, while Green was 2-of-6 passing for 101 yards, while rushing 17 times for 87 yards.
Dean paced Moon Area with 13 attempts for 80 yards, while Dylan Sleva contributed 46 yards rushing. McGowan connected on 10-of-18 throws for 166 yards, while adding 70 yards on the ground. Taite Beachy contributed six receptions for 75 yards.
In the 50th year of the team’s existence, Penn-Trafford finally has a football title. And for Ruane, his third title appearance with the Warriors was the charm after finishing with silver in 2015 and 2017.
“To see the whole community here and excited beyond belief was as good as the trophy,” he said. “It means a lot. There were a lot of people before this week and for years that I coached at Penn-Trafford that are really happy for us and for me. A lot of kids from Gateway have reached out that I coached over the years over there. It makes you feel like you made an impact somewhere. I couldn’t be happier.”
Penn-Trafford begins PIAA play next week with the 5A semifinals matchup against District 3 Champion Exeter Township, which will be played on Friday at Bald Eagle Area High School.
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