When Alex Tecza crossed the goal line on his third touchdown of the evening against St. Joseph’s Prep towards the end of the fourth quarter, he extended Mt. Lebanon’s lead to 17 points. With teammates shooting at him on the sideline and telling him the game was over, Tecza made sure it wasn’t true.
St. Joe’s, a regional strength center in the northeast, had won three back-to-back state championships, and if a team could make a comeback in a few minutes, Tecza said, it would be St. Joe’s.
So Mt. Lebo kept playing, kept hitting hard, and kept fighting to knock out St. Joe’s, 35-17, Saturday night at Hersheypark Stadium in the PIAA Class 6A championship game. With the will to win, Tecza said the Blue Devils had won the first state title in team history.
“I feel great,” said Tecza. âI feel great for everyone on this team, the coaches and the community. This is of course the first, but since we started working in January we knew that someday we would get here – somehow, somehow. But this season was really magical. “
Mt. Lebo swept through the WPIAL 6A schedule, beating North Allegheny and Central Catholic twice before embarking on a possible state championship run. With great victories over McDowell and State College in the run-up to Hershey, the Blue Devils rolled into Hershey Park as serious underdogs against one of the largest preparatory schools in the country. And that did not go unnoticed in the locker room.
“It was motivating,” said Joey Daniels of the expected win at St. Joe’s. âThat was the motivation I needed to go into this game. I love it when people think we can’t do something and you know we went out here and proved we can. At the end of the day you have to give it to this team because they gave us a great fight, but we stuck to it and we got through. “
St. Joe’s, led by top recruit Josiah Trotter, opened the title game on a grand scale, crowning an opening possession drive with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Trotter after a roll-out by Samaj Jones. The touchdown was the result of possession where the Hawks effectively burned the clock and converted key games while rolling six points at the same time.
While St. Joe’s celebrated an opening touchdown, Daniels tempered his determination on the Mt. Lebo sideline. He knew the Blue Devils needed a score to keep up with an offensive with talented playmakers. Mt. Lebo trotted into the field and Daniels took the snap. He got into his pocket and fired a quick oblique shot at Mike Biersdorf 15 yards below the field, which was caught and dragged down the field.
Biersdorf shook off a would-be tacker and passed a streaking trotter into the end zone for an 86-yard touchdown at Mt. Lebo’s first offensive snap of the game – the first offensive snap after St. Joe’s touchdown. And Daniels knew the Devils could do it.
“When I (Biersdorf) saw this ball, it was an incredible feeling and I knew that we would be in this game,” said Daniels. “We had to fight our way through all four quarters.”
Mt. Lebo certainly fought. The Hawks’ next possession, Tommy Boehner St. Joe’s, tore the ball out of Blaine Bunch’s arms and Jack Smith jumped on the ball. A few games later, Eli Heidenreich stormed 13 yards into the end zone, giving the Blue Devils an early lead. If the Mt. Lebo believers had been loud for Biersdorf’s touchdown, it was indescribable for the Heidenreich followers.
Mt. Lebo and St. Joe’s exchanged punts in front of a 45-yard rainbow toss from Daniels to a wide-open Smith streaking downline.After St. Joe’s opening score, Daniels rolled out and hit Tecza on the plane for an easy touchdown, to expand the Mt. Lebo tour to 14 points earlier.
St. Joe’s would score again, a 5-yard run from Jones to get the Hawks on point, but at the end of the first half a chip-shot field goal sailed straight into the swirling wind. With a 21:14 lead at halftime, victory was within reach.
In three of the first four possession of the ball from half-time, however, there were ball losses. Trotter forced a Mt. Lebo turnover in the Blue Devils’ first possession in the second half. But on the next two offensive St. Joe holdings, Matt Wertz picked up Jones’ passports.
The Mt. Lebo defense disrupted St. Joe’s offensive schedule throughout the game, but according to a key member of the stifling defensive effort, that was just part of playing good football.
“We just played solid football, just played gap responsibility, played physically, that’s basically it,” said William Harvey.
Harvey started quickly for Mt. Lebo and collected a couple of sacks and a tackle for the loss on the Blue Devils’ first defensive drive. But that only determined the defensive mentality for Mt. Lebo and limited a strong offensive from St. Joe to just 17 points – with 17 points marking a season low.
St. Joe’s scored a field goal in the third quarter to narrow the lead to just four points, and Daniels threw an interception in the Hawks’ end zone in fourth place. With a potential opening for St. Joe’s slowing Mt. Lebo’s defense, Heidenreich punt down over the Hawks’ 30 and aa Tecza first down conversion within the set of 10, his second touchdown run of the night. With a lead of 11 points, Mt. Lebo began to feel it.
“I think everyone on this team knew we were going to win,” said Tecza. âWe were the underdogs for everyone else, but for us we came in very confidently because we knew we would win this game. We had known that since January. This team is special, we did so well this year, but I’m sure no one here – not even in our community – thought we were going to take this victory. We knew that we made it all the way. “
And Tecza’s third evening put the game away, won both the state title and the resulting euphoria that was felt across the state.
“I can’t even put it into words,” said Daniels. âI mean, I feel like I’m on a mountain. That’s incredible. Our entire township stood up for it, and our entire team remained loyal throughout the game. That was the whole effort of Mt. Lebanon, and we did what we had to do to win this. “
The roar of Mt. Lebo fans in the crowd and the sheer cheers on the sidelines show how much the win meant for everyone in the Blue Devil community – the entire team, the coaches, the community, as Tecza said.
“(That victory meant) everything,” said Daniels. âI mean, since I was a little kid, I’ve just wanted to be a Blue Devil. And this program gave me everything. “
“It means everything,” said Harvey. âI love Mt. Lebanon football. It will always be in my heart. “
While this is only the first PIAA title for Mt. Lebo, Tecza is confident about the future of Blue Devils football under head coach Bob Palko – even if he will no longer be the key player.
“I think this will be the new norm,” said Tecza. âI think it has to be. After a season like this, I know what coach Palko will do. He will only take us to the next level with the coming classes. This is the new norm. This should be the new normal for Mt. Lebanon football. “