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Central Catholic downs Penn Hills to return to WPIAL Class 6A final

Michael Love
| Friday, Nov. 10, 2017, 11:51 p.m.

Central Catholic is headed back to Heinz Field.

For the fifth straight season and second time in the new 6A classification, the Vikings will play for a WPIAL football championship after Friday's 17-8 semifinal victory over Northern Seven Conference foe Penn Hills at Fox Chapel High School.

“This feeling is wonderful,” Vikings assistant coach Dave Fleming said. “It never gets old, because the kids are always changing, and you have new experiences every year. This group, from the youngest players to the seniors, has held it together, and my hat's off to them.”

Central Catholic, the No. 2 seed, improved to 10-2 on the season and will get another crack at Pine-Richland. The No. 1 Rams (12-0) punched their ticket to Heinz with a 49-25 victory over North Allegheny in the other semifinal.

The time for next Saturday's WPIAL Class 6A final has yet to be announced.

The Vikings will be searching for their third straight WPIAL crown, their fourth since 2013 and their seventh overall.

Pine-Richland, which defeated Central Catholic, 47-17, on Sept. 29, will attempt to win its first WPIAL title since 2014 when it topped the Vikings for the then Quad-A championship.

Sixth-seeded Penn Hills (8-4) attempted to reach the WPIAL final for the first time since 2008.

The Central Catholic defense shut out the Indians when the teams met two weeks ago, and it was at it again Friday.

The Vikings limited the potent Penn Hills offense to 173 yards on 48 plays, an average of 3.6 yards. Of the 173 yards, 60 came on the Indians' lone scoring drive of the game, a 14-play march that ended with a Hollis Mathis-to-Rick Martin 13-yard TD hookup with 1 minute, 32 seconds left until halftime.

In all, Central Catholic forced three Penn Hills turnovers and five punts. The Indians also turned the ball over on downs twice.

“The defensive effort was tremendous tonight, especially coming back out after playing them just two weeks ago,” Fleming said.

“It was the big-time effort we needed to get to where we wanted to go, which is Heinz Field. We have some kids in the secondary we rely on to make plays, and over the last several weeks, our front seven has been really getting after it. We made some small adjustments for this game, and it worked out so well.”

The Vikings headed to the fourth quarter with the nine-point advantage thanks to passing touchdowns of 75 and 66 yards from Troy Fisher to Corey Thomas and Gavin Thomson, respectively. Johnathan Opalko added a 37-yard field goal.

Penn Hills' best threat in the second half came late in the third quarter. After Thomson's TD reception made it 17-8 at the 5:11 mark, the Indians tried to respond.

They took over at their own 46 and quickly moved into Central Catholic territory. Penn Hills set up with a first down at the Vikings' 30, but three plays netted just seven yards and set up a fourth and 3.

Defensive pressure then forced Mathis to scramble on the fourth-down play, and he threw the ball high and long out of the back of the end zone.

“Any time you leave opportunities on the field in big games like this against a great team with a great coaching staff, it hurts,” first-year Penn Hills coach Jon LeDonne said.

“Central Catholic has a great defense that doesn't give you many opportunities to score points. We had to take advantage of them, but we just weren't able to.”

The Vikings also were not without miscues on offense as they lost three fumbles, and Fisher threw one interception.

But Central Catholic racked up 309 yards of total offense in a balanced attack. Fisher threw for 144 yards, and the ground game, despite missing injured running back Khalil Weathers, added 165 yards.

Fisher, at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, carried the ball 18 times for 94 yards, and sophomore Dontre Jones gained 70 grinding yards on 25 attempts.

Mathis led Penn Hills with 107 yards on 14 of 26 passing.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter @Mlove_Trib.

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