Pine-Richland comes from behind to defeat Wilson, advances to PIAA AAAA title game
“We don’t come from behind because we’re usually not behind. Our guys have guts and showed it today,” said Eric Kasperowicz. Trailing 17-7 with only ten minutes remaining in the game, Ben DiNucci led his team to a monumental comeback win throwing for three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to lead his team to a 28-17 win over a very tough Wilson Bulldog team.
The Rams will go on to face St. Joseph’s prep in the AAAA state title game next Saturday night in Hershey. “I just can’t believe it, winning the WPIAL was special for us but man, WE’RE going to HERSHEY!” said the senior quarterback. “I still can’t believe it!” DiNucci passed for 173 yards, four touchdowns and an interception completing 21 of 39 throws.
Wilson finished their season as the District 3 champions with a 14-1 record. “They made the plays they needed and we failed to capitalize a couple of times when we should have. Hats off to them. They’re a real good team”, said Bulldogs head coach Doug Dahms.
The Rams struck first on a 16-yard touchdown reception from DiNucci to Luke Everett on the game’s second series. Everett would be the first of four different receivers to catch scoring passes for the Rams.
Wilson struggled to move the ball most of the first half and didn’t have a first down until late in the first quarter. But when the Bulldogs stopped Pine-Richland and held them to a missed field goal attempt, the momentum changed. Wilson drove directly down field with only a few minutes remaining in the half. At the 47 second mark, quarterback Jake Templin hit Jake Gehman with a 24-yard TD pass. Gehman made a beautiful catch in the end zone on the play.
Coming out in the second half tied at seven, Wilson took the ball and marched straight to the end zone. Running back Shane Dantzler had been fairly quiet in the first half, but on this drive he found his groove, only it was through the air. Following a 39-yard run straight up the middle to the 41 by Templin, Dantzler found himself all alone on the left side of the line. A simple toss from his quarterback gave him a 25-yard touchdown reception. That drive seemed to fuel the Wilson defense that was already playing a stout game.
The Bulldogs forced PR to a three and out and Jake Klein blocked the punt by Matt Reder. Tim Whitmoyer recovered for the Bulldogs at the Rams’ nine-yard line but the drive stalled and Nick Hart’s field goal attempt went wide. The defense again rose to the occasion forcing another punt but Ben DiNucci fumbled the snap and kicked the ball out of bounds, drawing a penalty. This gave the ball again to the Bulldogs deep in Rams territory. The Rams defense was also ready and held. Nick Hart made the kick to make it 17-7 with two minutes left in the third quarter.
“I knew it was my time to step up. I wasn’t playing my game the first three quarters, but I knew I needed help so we turned to Connor (Slomka). “That’s 225 lbs of power there,” said Kasperowicz. “You keep sending him at the line all game, it’s going to wear them down and that’s our thing. We kept pounding until it started to work.” Slomka started gashing through the Wilson line for big chunks of yardage on the PR next drive. D’ondre Gastion hauled in DiNucci’s second touchdown pass from seven yards out and you could feel the momentum start to swing.
Ram defender John Kohly got a big tackle for loss to force a long fourth down for Wilson. The Rams took over with 5:50 remaining in their season, at their own 39. With a heavy dose of Slomka and DiNucci, PR drove to the Wilson 20. DiNucci found Antonio Battaglia for the go ahead score with 2:24 remaining.
PR would score one more time on a Mike Merhaut touchdown reception with only a minute left.
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