Defense, back-up RB lift Woodland Hills football over Pine-Richland in playoff opener
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Pine-Richland owned the most-productive Class AAAA offense in the WPIAL this season.
But the Woodland Hills defense isn't bad, either.
Woodland Hills didn't allow a point until its offense had built a three-touchdown lead in Friday night's 35-14 first-round victory over Pine-Richland in the WPIAL playoffs at the Wolvarena.
The Wolverines held only a 6-0 lead at halftime, but their defense held strong long enough for the offense to break through.
“The defense was phenomenal in the first half,” Woodland Hills coach George Novak said. “It's a team defense — I don't think there are any stars. They all play hard together.”
Woodland Hills senior Trevon Mathis returned the second-half's opening kickoff 86 yards for a touchdown, and junior Art Thompkins added three rushing touchdowns.
The Wolverines were without their leading rusher, injured sophomore Miles Sanders. In his place, Thompkins rushed for 140 yards and three scores on 19 carries. His scoring runs covered 29, 16 and 33 yards.
Thompkins typically plays slot receiver and safety. When Sanders missed Week 8, Thompkins scored four times.
“They're both outstanding running backs,” Novak said.
No. 4 Woodland Hills (8-2), the WPIAL runner-up last season, will face No. 5 Seneca Valley (9-1) in next Friday's quarterfinals. Seneca Valley beat No. 12 Hempfield, 36-10.
It was a learning experience for No. 13 Pine-Richland (5-5), which started only three seniors.
“They were the better team tonight,” first-year Pine-Richland coach Eric Kasperowicz said. “I told the guys, that's what we want to be. We want to be like Woodland Hills and be respected around the WPIAL. ... It would have been a nice springboard to get this victory, but at least they got in the atmosphere and understand the intensity of the WPIAL playoffs.”
Pine-Richland junior Connor Slomka rushed for 48 yards and a pair of 2-yard touchdowns. But his first touchdown came with Woodland Hills leading 21-0.
Woodland Hills scored on its first possession. A 5-yard run by quarterback Harry Randall gave Woodland Hills a 6-0 lead with 3:14 left in the first quarter. Randall's run finished an 11-play, 65-yard drive.
Those were the only first-half points by either team.
Pine-Richland led Class AAAA this season in offensive yards, but its first-half possessions produced just two punts and a fumble.
Trailing 6-0, Pine-Richland had a first down at Woodland Hills' 19-yard line with two minutes left before halftime. But Wolverines junior Akira McClean sacked Ben DiNucci on consecutive snaps to force a punt.
Chris Harlan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.
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