Charleroi uses big plays to defeat Riverside in opening round of playoffs
Charleroi forced two clutch turnovers and scored 21 unanswered points to upend No. 13 seed Riverside, 35-21, in a WPIAL Class 2A first-round game at Myron Pottios Stadium.
“Our mindset all week was ‘Not another Avonworth,’” quarterback Geno Pellegrini said. “When the clock hit zero, I felt like I could cry. I was so proud of my team. To look up in the crowd and see everyone cheering, it was so special.”
It was Pellegrini’s favorite receiver doing the damage defensively with the turning point of the game just two plays into the fourth quarter.
Riverside’s Nic Ottaviani ran right and was stripped by Charleroi’s Hunter Perry. Dakota Romantino was Johnny on the spot and scooped up the fumble and rolled 90 yards for a touchdown to give the Cougars their first lead of the game, 28-21.
“I have to give Hunter all the credit for that one,” Romantino said. “I picked it up and I saw one guy. I knew I could outrun him. My eyes were huge and my heart was pumping so hard when I hit that pylon.”
Still down a score, the Panthers (6-4) continued their dominance running the ball.
But on a second-and-3 from their own 44, the Panthers went to the air. Charleroi’s Legend Davis undercut intended receiver Nathan Sciarro and picked up his second interception of the game.
Five plays later, Perry raced off left tackle for a 38-yard run to give Charleroi a 35-21 lead.
“We worked all game to keep their offense off the field,” Riverside coach Ron Sciarro said. “They didn’t really stop us, we stopped ourselves.
“You have to give them credit, they’re a really good football team and their quarterback is a special player. They have a lot of talent on the offensive side of the ball.”
Pellegrini finished the night 14 of 23 for 252 yards. He threw a pair of touchdowns and had one interception.
For the second game in a row, the Cougars had a sluggish start, spotting the Panthers a 14-0 lead into the second quarter.
After Pellegrini was intercepted by Nathan Sciarro on the Cougars’ second possession of the game, the Panthers embarked on an 11-play, 80-yard drive. It was capped off when Ottaviani recovered a Ben Hughes fumble on a quarterback sneak in the end zone.
After a bad punt, the Panthers cashed in again. Hughes hit Sciarro on a 13-yard touchdown pass to make it 14-0.
Pellegrini capped off a seven-play drive with a touchdown strike to Romantino from 18 yards out.
The Cougars forced a Panthers’ punt on the next drive and cashed in on a Pellegrini 2-yard run to tie the game at 14-14 with 30 seconds to go in the half.
After holding the Cougars on a fourth-down on the opening drive of the second half, the Panthers’ LeMarcus Cleckley, who ran for a game-high 148 yards on 21 carries, scored from 1 yard out to give the Panthers the lead back at 21-14.
“We’ve challenged these kids from day one. They battled through adversity all season,” Charleroi coach Lance Getsy said. “It’s playoff football. We have a lot of faith in those guys.”
The Cougars went on a nine-play drive that covered 80 yards. Pellegrini hit Romantino from 33 yards out to convert a third-and-7 to keep the drive going. He hauled in five balls in the game for 103 yards.
Faced with a fourth-and-7 from the Panthers’ 25, Pellegrini found Davis on a nice double-move pattern in the back of the end zone to tie the game at 21.
“Everything in our offense is set up,” Pellegrini said. “Legend came up huge for us tonight. I just had to put it up there for him to get.”
Davis finished with six catches for 110 yards.
“We hit them on the out routes a lot tonight,” Getsy said of the play call. “Eventually, as a defense, you have to start playing up hard on those. Legend made a great move to get open.”
The Panthers started their next drive from the Cougars’ 35. Hughes hit Sciarro with a 23-yard pass to convert a third-and-3.
Ottaviani ran for 9 yards down to the Charleroi 26 and Cleckley add a 2-yard run. Ottaviani had the big fumble on the next play.
“I’m proud of the way our kids played,” Ron Sciarro said. “Things haven’t changed. We’re a blue-collar team and we came down here and played that way. Hats off to them. They’re a good football team.”
The Cougars advance to play No. 5 Mohawk, a 48-0 winner over Seton LaSalle, at a site and time to be determined.
“They’re a lot like us,” Getsy said. “We have a lot of work to do this week, but we’ll come out ready to play.”
Linebacker Dom Pellegrini led the Cougars’ defense with 18 tackles. John Vargo finished with 11.