PIAA FOOTBALL NOTES: Coach laughs at haters, Flowers talks Penn State, lookahead to 2021
Coach Eric Kasperowicz has heard about the haters, and read the many critical comments on social media about his Pine-Richland football team winning a state championship in Class 5-A after playing in 6-A for the past four seasons.
Kasperowicz laughs at the critics, although he is somewhat miffed at them, too. But he's not about to apologize for his team playing in Class 5-A and dominating most of the competition on the way to a PIAA title.
Pine-Richland played Class 5-A this year because that's where the school's boys' enrollment placed the Rams. In Class 6-A the past four seasons, Pine-Richland won two WPIAL titles and one PIAA championship. Pine-Richland was one of the smaller schools (enrollment-wise) in Class 6-A, but new PIAA enrollment parameters for classifications placed Pine-Richland in Class 5-A for the next two seasons.
It should be pointed out that teams don't choose to play "down" in classification. They can only play "up" in classification.
Playing 5-A didn't cheapen the state title whatsoever to Pine-Richland.
"People that can't believe we played in 5-A, wow," Kasperowicz said. "We played 5-A because that's where we're at. The comments are just because you have success. Why didn't Thomas Jefferson play 5-A because they're always good? Why didn't Governor Mifflin (which lost to Pine-Richland in the PIAA semifinals, 48-44) play 6-A? You could say the same thing about Central Valley. Why didn't they play up because they knew they were going to be good?
"I'm pretty good at just ignoring things. We did what we had to do this year and we're blessed and fortunate. We were fortunate to even finish the season."
Pine-Richland could've chosen to play up in Class 6-A, but Kasperowicz said he and the school administration decided to play where the school's enrollment placed the Rams. And Kasperowicz scoffed at the suggestion that he was ducking St. Joseph's Prep, a strong Philadelphia team that easily won the PIAA Class 6-A title Saturday night with a 62-13 victory against Central York. Pine-Richland defeated Cathedral Prep, 48-7, for the 5-A championship Friday. What might have happened if Pine-Richland played St. Joseph's Prep?
"We would've had to play very well. They have a lot of pieces to the puzzle," Kasperowicz said. "But we played St. Joseph's twice before in state championships. We would've been willing to play them again, but we were put in Class 5-A. I don't know what people want us to say? Why should we have to stay in 6-A if that's not where we belong?
"We had Central Catholic on our schedule this year before schedules were changed. We were going to play Hoover (Alabama) at one time and then Venice (Florida) and both of those teams were in their state semifinals. We're not scared to play anybody."
Kasperowicz feels Pine-Richland could likely be in Class 6-A again in 2022.
Who's next? First, Ben DiNucci. Then Phil Jurkovec. Then Cole Spencer.
In Kasperowicz's eight years as Pine-Richland's coach, he has been blessed with a string of three of the best throwing quarterbacks in WPIAL history. Kasperowicz and his staff did an excellent job in developing the three QBs, who are all in the top nine in WPIAL history for passing yardage (Jurkovec is fifth, DiNucci sixth and Spencer ninth). Since Kasperowicz took over in 2013, his QBs have thrown for 21,692 yards.
But Spencer is a senior who has played his last football game. He will wrestle next year at Pennsylvania in the Ivy League. So a natural question is, "who got next" at Pine-Richland?
Kasperowicz said Cole Boyd, a 5-foot-11, 175-pound junior, is the frontrunner to take over next year, but junior Garrett Krieger and sophomore Ryan Palmieri will also be in the mix.
"There are some big shoes to fill. A precedent has been set," Kasperowicz said. " Cole Boyd would've started for a lot of teams this year. Talent-wise, he can throw the ball. But he hasn't played many games. What will he be like once he plays, we'll have to find out."
One of Pine-Richland's freshman quarterbacks next year will be a kid named Eric Kasperowicz. Yes, the coach's son.
"Maybe one day," said the coach with a laugh.
Flowers to PSU? Mehki Flowers is a standout receiver-defensive back who helped Steelton-Highspire win the PIAA Class 1-A championship with a victory against Jeannette. Flowers also is one of the top juniors in the state who already has a number of scholarship offers from major colleges. He is ranked a four-star prospect by Rivals.com.
There's a good chance Flowers could be coming Penn State's way.
"I don't have a timetable, but I'm looking to commit very soon," Flowers said. "Penn State is in a good spot, a very good spot right now."
With the return of Flowers and freshman quarterback Alex Erby, who threw for more than 2,000 yards this season, it's pretty easy to predict who will be the No. 1-ranked Class 1-A team in the state heading into next season.
Two a day next year: PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi said it is his hope to return to a three-day championship format next season, with two games each day. This season, the PIAA had three games Friday and Saturday.
Lombardi said the PIAA hoped to play two games on Friday, Saturday and Sunday this year, but Hersheypark informed the PIAA it couldn't stage games on Sunday because of staffing.
►Southern Columbia's victory against Wilmington in the Class 2-A championship stretched the Tigers' winning streak to 60 games. They seemingly have a good shot next season at Clairton's state record of 66 consecutive wins.
►Pine-Richland's 48-7 victory against Cathedral Prep tied for the second-biggest blowout for a WPIAL team since the PIAA playoffs started in 1988. Steel Valley beat Southern Columbia, 49-7, in 2016, and South Fayette beat Imhotep Charter, 41-0, in 2013.
►Pine-Richland receiver Eli Jochem had 162 receiving yards, which tied for the fifth-most in a state championship. Jochem also broke Neil Walker's school record for career receiving yardage with 2,655.
►The three WPIAL coaches that won state championships this season have a .776 winning percentage between them. Thomas Jefferson's Bill Cherpak, the fourth-winningest coach in WPIAL history, is 284-47, Central Valley's Mark Lyons 183-94 and Kasperowicz 85-18.