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Little Lions lose on late field goal

WEXFORD — For State College, make that 0-7 against WPIAL champions in the PIAA football playoffs since 2010.

It didn’t come easy for Pittsburgh Central Catholic on Friday night, but the Vikings are moving on to the Class 6A semifinals following their 24-21 victory over State College in a quarterfinals-round game at North Allegheny High School.

For the second week in a row, Johnathan Opalko kicked the game-deciding field goal, this time a 37-yarder with 1 minute, 13 seconds left in the game.

Pittsburgh Central Catholic will face St. Joseph’s Prep, a 45-24 winner over Nazareth, on Friday at a location to be determined.

Opalko kicked a 40-yard field goal in the previous week to lift Pittsburgh Central Catholic to a 10-7 victory over Pine-Richland in the WPIAL championship game.

Play of the game: Central Catholic QB Dom Pieto’s 37-yard completion to Gannon Carothers with 1:47 left kept the Vikings’ final drive alive and set up the winning kick.

Player of the game: In a tough choice, Carothers gets the nod over Opalko and Pieto after producing touchdown receptions of 65 and 26 yards to go with the clutch, 37-yard, third-down catch in the closing minutes with the score tied, 21-21.

Unsung heroes: Though he didn’t socre, Central Catholic RB Ed Tillman gained 168 yards rushing on 33 carries. … State College got off to a fast start, thanks to running back Lokey Howell, who had a big game for the Little Lions, returning the opening kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown. He also scored their final TD to tie the score early in the fourth quarter on a 21-yard pass play from Brady Dorner.

Most vital statistic: The zeroes put up in the second and third quarter by the Central Catholic defense after State College jumped to a 14-0 lead in the first four minutes of the game.

State College coach Matt Lintal: “I’m so proud of this group of kids. They’re special. (Central Catholic’s) defensive line is phenomenal. Their linebackers are really, really exceptional. They’re a talented group. Our kids matched their physicality and really brought it to them. We didn’t back down one lick. We were there. We got more points on the board on them than anybody else did all season.”

Central Catholic coach Terry Totten: “Tonight was a tough one. I credit State College. They came in with a good plan. They had tough kids. They battled. We weren’t at our best early. Maybe a little bit of a hangover from the WPIAL (championship game), but we fought back out of it. Credit our guys.”

Notable: The two teams last squared off in the 2015 quarterfinals, where Central Catholic prevailed, 19-3, on its way to claiming the PIAA Class 4A title.

Records: State College (11-2); Central Catholic (12-1)

SCORE BY QUARTERS

State College 14 0 0 7–21

Pittsburgh CC 7 7 7 3–24

First Quarter

SC–L. Howell 94 kickoff return (Spitler kick), 11:45

SC–Green 6 run (Spitler kick), 8:42

PCC–Carothers 65 pass from Pieto (Opalko kick), 7:40

Second Quarter

PCC–Carothers 26 pass from Pieto (Opalko kick), 2:52

Third Quarter

PCC–Younger 44 run (Opalko kick), 0:37

Fourth Quarter

SC–L. Howell 21 pass from Dorner (Spitler kick), 10:22

PCC–Opalka 37 field goal, 1:13

TEAM STATISTICS SC PCC

First downs 11 17

Total yards 256 397

Rushes-yards 28-166 43-245

Yards passing 90 152

Passing (comp.-att.-int.) 7-17-0 8-21-1

Punts-avg. 5-36.5 4-30.5

Fumbles-lost 2-1 0-0

Penalties 5-55 11-100

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING–State College, Green 22-74, Dorner 11-66, Edwards 1-11, Moore 1-6, L. Howell 1-5, Knipe 1-3, N. Howell 1-1; Pittsburgh Central Catholic, Tillman 33-168, Younger 1-44, Pieto 5-30, Jackson 3-12, Carothers 1-(-9)

PASSING–State College, Dorner 7-14-0-90, Edwards 0-1-0-0, Green 0-1-0-0, Moore 0-1-0-0; Pittsburgh Central Catholic, Pieto 8-21-1-152

RECEIVING–State College, L. Howell 4-52, Edwards 2-36, Lusk 1-2; Pittsburgh Central Catholic, Carothers 3-128, Lindsey 1-10, Cynkar 2-7, Henderson 2-7

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