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Central Catholic uses ‘mean, nasty football’ to break Cathedral Prep’s 28-game win streak

September 16, 2018
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Pittsburgh Central Catholic’s Gavin Thomson picks off a pass from Erie Cathedral Prep when Pittsburgh Central Catholic faced Erie Cathedral Prep at the Wolvarena in Turtle Creek, Friday, August 24, 2018.

Central Catholic’s offense ran the football 28 times in the second half Friday, mostly between the tackles, and its defense held strong on a crucial fourth-and-one.

“Mean, nasty football,” is how junior linebacker Gus Sunseri described the second half, “right under the jaw.”

In other words, it was old-school Vikings football.

Central Catholic took the lead with two touchdown passes from junior quarterback Dom Pieto and then stuck to the ground to defeat Erie’s Cathedral Prep, 24-21, in a Week Zero matchup at the Wolvarena. The victory avenged a lopsided season-opening loss from last year and snapped Prep’s 28-game winning streak -- which was the longest active streak in the state.

“We felt like last year wasn’t our best foot forward,” defensive coordinator Dave Fleming said. “They gave it to us a little bit. We felt like we had to come back with a Central Catholic-type of football game, and we felt like we got that tonight.

“We stick to our running game and play solid defense,” Fleming added. “We see who wants to play tough football in the fourth quarter.”

With a slim 14-13 lead after three quarters, the Vikings ran the football 16 consecutive times in the fourth and didn’t attempt a single pass. A 1-yard touchdown run by sophomore Visawn Pennix pushed Central’s lead to eight points with 8:50 left, and kicker John Opalko’s 25-yard field goal made it 24-13 with 1:52 left.

Combined, the two drives consumed more than nine minutes.

“I like the way we’re playing football,” coach Terry Totten said. “It seems like we’re back to being us a little bit.”

Seven different players carried the football for Central Catholic, which rushed for 140 yards on 42 attempts. Twice Pieto converted fourth-and-ones in the second half.

Pieto, making his first start, completed 6 of 12 passes for 122 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. The junior threw a 55-yard touchdown to Gavin Thomson and a seven-yarder to A.J. Beatty, erasing Cathedral Prep’s 10-0 lead.

A year ago, Central lost to Prep, 40-7.

“This win means everything to us,” said Thomson, who finished with 99 yards on three catches, and also made a key interception in the third quarter. “This is a great start to our season.”

The loss was Cathedral Prep’s first since the state finals in 2015. The Ramblers are two-time defending PIAA Class 4A champions and had won 42 of their past 43 games before Friday.

Two third-quarter possessions led to their loss.

One drive stalled at Central Catholic’s 34-yard line when Prep running back Billy Lucas was stopped short on a fourth-and-1 carry. And later in the third, Thomson intercepted Prep quarterback Regan Schleicher, who was making his first start.

Central converted both turnovers into touchdown drives to lead 21-13. A Cathedral Prep touchdown with 34 seconds left narrowed the final score, but a last-gasp onside kick was corralled by Central.

“Like I told our kids, obviously we’re not use to losing many games,” Prep coach Mike Mischler said. “We had a huge opportunity on that fourth down and didn’t get the first down. The game seemed to flip at that point. They wore us down, especially our defense.”

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