There's no formula for what it takes to reach the WPIAL championship, but Central Catholic did its best to put one together Friday.
Dominant defense plus superb special teams plus efficient offense equals a trip to Heinz Field.
Central Catholic was sharp in all three phases and advanced to the WPIAL Class AAAA title game after a 49-10 mercy-rule win against Penn-Trafford in a semifinal at West Mifflin.
"I would say we were on with all three of those [phases]," Central Catholic coach Terry Totten said. "We were fortunate to have it happen tonight and, hopefully, we can do it again."
Central Catholic (12-0), the No. 2 seed, reached the championship game for the first time since winning the title in 2007. The Vikings will meet No. 4 Woodland Hills (10-2).
Everything was clicking for Central Catholic against No. 6 Penn-Trafford (8-4), which played its first semifinal since 1997. Central Catholic limited Penn-Trafford to 76 yards -- including just 15 yards rushing -- began all its drives on the Warriors side of the field and scored touchdowns on each of its first five possessions.
Central Catholic rushed for 203 yards despite losing star running back Luigi Lista-Brinza to an ankle injury early in the second. Lista-Brinza re-aggravated an injury he suffered in the regular season and did not return. He had 41 yards and a touchdown. Riley Redman stepped up by rushing for 74 yards and two touchdowns. Grant Foster came in late and added 47 yards.
A defensive front led by senior linemen Zach DeLuca and Angelo Natter locked down the Penn-Trafford run game, this after the Warriors piled up more than 400 yards rushing in an upset win against McKeesport a week earlier. Penn-Trafford had 18 plays that resulted in negative yards -- 11 on rushes, six on sacks and one on a pass reception.
Penn-Trafford's Devin Austin and Tom Stinelli had both rushed for more than 100 yards against McKeesport. Against Central Catholic, Austin finished with 7 yards on 12 carries. Stinelli had 12 yards on 9 carries. Quarterback Brett Laffoon completed 6 of 16 passes for 61 yards.
"That's the hardest I've seen a team come off the ball in a long time," Penn-Trafford coach John Ruane said.
After Lista-Brinza scored on a 1-yard run midway through the first quarter to give Central Catholic a 7-0 lead, Penn-Trafford put together a 14-play drive that resulted in Jake Proskin's 30-yard field goal with nine seconds left in the quarter.
But Central Catholic's Ronnie Jones returned the ensuing kickoff 38 yards to the Penn-Trafford 36 and the Vikings found the end zone again on J.J. Cosentino's 1-yard run.-Jones' 31 yard punt return set up Central Catholic's next touchdown -- a Devin Faloon 9-yard run -- and John Petrishen's 24-yard punt return in the closing minutes of the half set the stage for Cosentino's 6-yard scoring pass to Faloon that put the Vikings ahead 28-3.
"We've got some guys back there who can make magic and we were setting up the blocks and the walls pretty well tonight," Totten said.
Central Catholic began its drives at the Penn-Trafford 24, 36, 31, 30, 47, 47, 8 and 49.
"It was ridiculous. I've never seen anything like it," Ruane said.
Redman scored the first of his two touchdowns to put Central Catholic ahead, 35-3, less than three minutes into the third. Penn-Trafford responded with its lone touchdown, a 96-yard kickoff return by Timmy Vecchio. Niko Thorpe later scored on a 13-yard return and Redman added an 8-yard run.
DeLuca and his senior teammates were freshmen and sophomores when the Vikings lost in the 2010 and 2011 semifinals.
"We've been going hard for so long," DeLuca said. "Coach said the third time's a charm, and he was right. Now we have to finish it."