Photos by Mike Longo Jr.
Dylan Sleva reacts from the turf of Heinz Field after being defeated in the WPIAL Class 5A Championship game by Penn Trafford on Nov. 28.
By Mike Longo Jr
The WPIAL Class 5A championship game lived up to its billing as perhaps the best matchup of any of the six title contests. The formerly undefeated Moon Area Tigers fought a grueling contest against the Warriors from Penn Trafford, while a blustery wind drove streaks of snow and sleet across Heinz Field Nov. 28.
After four quarters of evenly-matched play, the Tigers’ perfect season came to a cruel and dramatic end, as a last-minute game-tying field goal opportunity sailed wide off the toe of Moon kicker Jacob Wieland. The loss proved to be the only blemish on Moon's otherwise perfect season. And it happened on the biggest stage of the year, the turf at Heinz Field with a title at stake.
Penn Trafford opened up the scoring with a 34-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead midway in the first quarter. Four minutes later, the Tigers responded with a 44-yard yard pass from quarterback Tyler McGowan to versatile runningback Ben Bladel, bagging a 7-3 lead. With 10:44 remaining in the half, Bladel added his second touchdown, punching it in from two yards out.
Moon’s 11-point cushion was punctured just a scant 10 seconds later, when Penn Trafford's Cade Yacamelli scored on a 53-yard dash to the end zone bringing the scoreline to 14-10. Before the intermission, Yacamelli struck again, rambling 92 yards to paydirt on the back of a short hitch pass.
Moon responded quickly with an impressive sustained drive that Bladel carried over the line through a 1-yard plunge, with seconds left on the clock. That touchdown gave the Tigers a 21-17 lead at intermission as Bladel was responsible for all three Tiger scores.
Solid defensive displays on both sides of the pigskin shaped the course of the second half. However, with 9:39 left in the third quarter, the warriors broke through, landing the final score of the contest. Quarterback Carter Green had found a gap and broke free for a 29-yard jaunt to the end zone.
Shutout for the entire second half, Moon made one last gasp while they held Penn Trafford to a goose egg in the final stanza. Moon mounted an impressive 80-yard drive with key play after key play setting the stage for an attempt at tying up the contest through a field goal and forcing overtime. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.
While they couldn’t ultimately grasp the title, the Tigers can hold onto the many successes of their 2021 season.
Even the losing game was studded with bright spots for Moon. Standout quarterback Tyler McGowan passed for 165 yards, going 10 of 16 with one touchdown while rushing for 70 yards on 12 carries. Jeremiah Dean led in rushing with 81 yards on 13 touches. Star runningback Ben Bladel scored all three Moon touchdowns.