Heading into Friday's WPIAL Class AAA first-round playoff game between Trinity and Mt. Pleasant, the buzz was all about Hillers linebackers Mike Yancich, Brandon Weaver and Andrew Sweat. But it was big offensive gains by both Yancich and Weaver that helped Trinity secure the 43-16 win.
Yancich rushed for 125 yards, and Weaver tallied 117.
The Vikings got good yardage from a couple of players as well, with Jake Hoffer churning out 84 yards on the ground and quarterback Mike Sawlsville passing for 88 yards, but coach Mark Lyons wasn't placated by those statistics.
"Yardage means nothing when you turn the ball over," Lyons said.
Mt. Pleasant committed five turnovers in the game, four of those coming in the second half and four of the five resulting in points for Trinity.
"We were able to capitalize on their turnovers," Trinity coach Ed Dalton said. "Obviously, I think the momentum started our way on that safety snap."
That snap came on the Vikings' first possession of the game. Brad Fullman was in punt formation deep in Mt. Pleasant territory, and the snap sailed over his head and through the end zone to give the Hillers a 2-0 lead midway through the first quarter. Trinity made it 9-0 by the end of the period, as Preston Linck intercepted a Sawlsville pass and returned it all the way to the Vikings' 26-yard line. Two plays later, Yancich motored 24 yards for the score, and John Murphy booted the first of his four extra points.
Yancich broke another big play early in the second quarter, getting some excellent blocks and going to the left sideline for a 49-yard touchdown run. Murphy's kick put the Hillers in front, 16-0, but Mt. Pleasant managed to answer on its next drive. Hoffer took most of the carries on the 11-play possession, including the 11-yard scoring run. He also hauled in Sawlsville's conversion pass to cut Trinity's lead in half.
The Hillers weren't finished. Quarterback Ian Haley finished a quick drive with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Alex Frey to give Trinity a 23-8 lead at the half.
A fumble recovery late in the third quarter led to Haley's 1-yard TD run, and another interception gave the ball back to the Hillers on their own three early in the fourth quarter. Field position meant nothing to Weaver, who broke through three tackles for a 97-yard rushing touchdown.
Mt. Pleasant made it 37-16 by putting together a nice drive that culminated in a 16-yard pass from Sawlsville to Nathan Kopcho, and the Vikings recovered a fumble on Trinity's next possession. But just when it looked as though the Vikings would close the gap a bit, Linck picked off another pass, this time taking his interception 45 yards for the points. The extra point attempt was no good, but the Hillers already had locked up the victory.
Lyons said Mt. Pleasant hasn't often encountered a team of Trinity's caliber during its conference schedule.
"When you do it for eight weeks, you get used to this type (of team)," he said. "But you can't simulate it in practice. They're battle-tested."
Trinity will take on Montour in the second round.