Coach Clair Altemus has been to Heinz Field and Hershey for championship games with his Pine-Richland football team. Those games were special, but the look in his eye Thursday night after the Rams upset fourth-ranked North Allegheny, 24-20, was something else.
Pine-Richland, the smallest school in Class AAAA in terms of enrollment, scored with 17 seconds left to beat North Allegheny, the biggest. If you’ve ever been to the massive campus on Route 19 in Wexford, you’d know why it’s affectionately known as the University of North Allegheny.
Altemus did it the hard way, calling a running play from the 1 with 21 seconds and no timeouts remaining. Mitch Elliot scored easily, but if he hadn’t, the clock might have expired and Pine-Richland would have lost another close one in the Quad North. Pine-Richland lost to North Hills, 22-21, or it would be on a four-game winning streak.
Altemus, the former Seneca Valley art teacher, is proud of what he has accomplished as coach and athletic director at Pine-Richland, one of the most successful football factories in the WPIAL. He is 33-9 in his past four seasons.
One more number: Pine-Richland is undefeated on FSN’s Thursday night telecasts (4-0).
Remember the name: Hennessey
The game was full of big-time players, but the one who stood out slightly above the rest was Pine-Richland’s Ian Hennessey, whose pancake of NA sophomore Alex Papson forced the fumble and recovery that led to the winning touchdown drive. Hennessey also scored on a 51-yard screen pass from quarterback Eric Kordenbrock, who threw for two scores and 156 yards as the long-term sub for injured Vinny Nattoli.
Papson, by the way, was outstanding, running for 117 yards on 24 heavy-duty carries.
None of this: He’s good for a 165-pound sophomore (which he is). He’s good, period.
Papson hits the hole quicker than most backs in Western Pennsylvania and is more effective and productive than many backs who are much bigger. Through seven games, he has 833 yards and 11 touchdowns on 127 carries.
Everyone knows the Pine-Richland/North Allegheny game marked the first time that these two northern Allegheny County powers met in football.
That much is true. But the Trib was reminded this week that Pine-Richland High School was born Richland High School, which expanded its name to include Pine Township in 1993 when the new high school opened. Before that, however, Richland — not Pine-Richland — did play four games against North Allegheny.
Many thanks to these three people, who were among those writing and/or calling about the historical footnote.
• Former North Allegheny High School faculty member Don Vandergrift, who currently is the familiar voice of the North Allegheny Sports Network webcasts.
• Reader and 1967 Richland graduate Marty Lewicke.
• Mars assistant coach Terry Dillner, a 1969 Richland graduate.
Vandergrift, who used to be the public address announcer for all NA home games, said the series lasted four years from 1963-1966 and NA won each time. In order, the scores were 33-0, 39-0, 13-6 and 34-7.
A little trivia: North Hills coach Jack McCurry, a Richland graduate, played in the three most recent games.
Lewicke said North Allegheny gave Richland its only loss of the season in 1965. Sadly, the Rams were forced to forfeit each victory because the WPIAL ruled that they had used an ineligible player, whose family had moved back to the U.S. after living in South America for several years.
Wrote Lewicke: “We tried to make light of the situation by saying since we lost to NA, and a minus times a minus equals a plus, we ended up beating NA.”
Vandergrift got a history lesson of his own last week when he announced during the North Allegheny/Shaler webcast that Shaler had won the first nine games of the series.
Not true, said a listener, who remembers a North Allegheny team winning the first game, in 1955, 7-6.
Vandergrift has a friend who was on that first NA team and said it consisted exclusively of sophomores and juniors and played a junior varsity schedule.
Keystone Oaks and Sto-Rox are the only undefeated teams playing each other next Friday, and they almost didn’t make it through Week 7 unscathed.
Sto-Rox needed a touchdown pass from Paul Jones to Nico DiMichele with no time left on the clock to put away a stubborn South Park team, 20-17. South Park’s Tarran Senay has to figure he gave it all he had — intercepting two of Jones’ passes and scoring two touchdowns in a losing effort.
Keystone Oaks needed two overtimes to beat Quaker Valley, 14-7, when Dan Amman caught a 10-yard pass from Corey Bellovich.
The teams share the lead in the Class AA Century Conference.
And try this one …
If your taste runs more to Quad-A football, the Quad West championship is on the line next Friday at Bethel Park (7-0, 3-0) when Canon-McMillan (5-2, 3-0) comes to town.
Canon-McMillan, which was shut out by Butler (3-4, 0-3) last month, trailed Mt. Lebanon (1-5, 1-1) by two touchdowns at halftime Friday before winning, 35-28.
In a rush
Watch this battle over the next several weeks: Beaver running back Jake Nardone vs. East Allegheny’s Monte Ashby. Nardone leads the WPIAL in rushing with 1,196 yards, but Ashby, who went for 225 Friday against Waynesburg, has 1,164.