North Hills inches toward postseason home game with pivotal victory over Pine-Richland, 7-0
October 19, 2013 12:15 PM
North Hills' Kevin Koch breaks up a pass intended for Pine-Richland's Anthony Battaglia in the second quarter Friday at North Hills.
By Craig Meyer Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Though the play lasted only a handful of seconds, Kindhal Taylor's pass seemed to hang in the air for much longer.
There wasn't much suspense, as it was only the third play of the game, but with a North Hills teammate and a Pine-Richland defender awaiting the pass near midfield, it had the makings of an important play.
The safety jumped toward the ball a split-second too early, and about 50 yards later Brandon Wagner was in the end zone with an 80-yard touchdown reception.
North Hills 7, Pine-Richland 0
Pine-Richland takes on North Hills in Friday night football. (Video by John Heller; 10/18/2013)
Unbeknownst to the players at the time, a 10-second play decided a 48-minute game not even two minutes into regulation.
With an unrelenting defense holding firm after Wagner's touchdown grab -- the only play of more than 35 yards in the entire game -- served as the sole source of offense, North Hills picked up a 7-0 victory against visiting Pine-Richland Friday night at Martorelli Stadium.
The win gave the Indians (5-3, 4-2) a crucial leg up over the Rams (4-4, 3-4) in the Class AAAA Northern Eight Conference, one that could be the difference between hosting a first-round playoff game and having to go on the road.
"That was huge and that's what we talked to our seniors about -- all the seniors want to do is play at home in front of their home crowd, in front of a great student body, our band and all of our people," North Hills coach Pat Carey said. "It was huge for us and we still have another step to get there and we have a big test next week to get to where we want to go."
Wagner's 80-yard touchdown catch accounted for more than half of Taylor's passing total, as he completed 9 of 17 for 146 yards.
On a North Hills team that typically overpowers opponents on the ground, no player rushed for more than 30 yards.
Whatever offensive shortcomings hampered the Indians were made up for by a strong defensive effort, one that held a Rams team averaging nearly 38 points per game scoreless for the first time in three years.
"Basically it came down to our kids tackling their athletes in space and most of the time, we were able to do that," Carey said. "Not all the time, but I give our kids a lot of credit."
The Indians and Rams combined to gain more than 300 yards of total offense in the first half, but the touchdown pass to Wagner was the only scoring play.
Both teams marched up the field with regularity, only to see their once-promising drives deteriorate once they got within 40 yards of the end zone.
It was best epitomized by Pine-Richland's final possession, as it got to the North Hills 33 with less than two minutes remaining. But quarterback Ben DiNucci was sacked twice, bringing up a third-and-32 and later a fourth-and-20, neither of which the Rams were able to convert.
Entering the game as the fifth-leading passer in the WPIAL, DiNucci completed 20 of 33 passes for 191 yards but was sacked seven times as his team fell to the Indians for the sixth consecutive time since Pine-Richland joined Class AAAA in 2008.
"We had lots of opportunities, but we just didn't finish plays," said first-year Pine-Richland coach Eric Kasperowicz, a North Hills graduate and former standout quarterback there. "We just had a tough time functioning as an offense."
Wide receiver D'ondre Gastion had 13 catches for 88 yards for the Rams.
Winning a mid-October regular-season game is never the ultimate goal for any WPIAL team, but the victory was able to get the Indians much closer to where they want to go.
"Our kids rose to the challenge," Carey said. "When you get North Hills at home, I think our kids do step up and play tough, gritty football. That's what we did again tonight."