‘Super Gritty’ Pine-Richland slows down Seneca Valley en route to stunning WPIAL Championship win
With 10 minutes remaining in Saturday night’s WPIAL Boys Class 4A Championship game at Highmark Stadium, Pine-Richland head coach Jordan Wiegand stood all alone in the top corner of the coaches box.
Wiegand found himself in one of the loneliest and most trying places for a coach.
As the minutes ticked away, Wiegand stood there, and he couldn’t help but stare straight ahead at the giant Highmark Stadium scoreboard that displayed a countdown clock used exclusively in high school football.
When the game reached 10 minutes remaining, Wiegand watched it for about 10 seconds.
“I kept looking at the clock, the game and the clock,” Wiegand said, pointing to the scoreboard.
“After 10 seconds down, I said, I better focus on the team. It was the slowest moment you could imagine.
Moments earlier, the No. 6 Wiegand Rams took the lead, stunning Seneca Valley, the defending champions, the highest-ranked team in the state and the No. 1 seed in the WPIAL Tournament, with a opportunistic goal emanating from a long free-kick from just inside the halfway line.
It was one of the three team captains, the eldest Ben Rishel, who scored the goal.
Rishel began his journey with the Pine-Richland men’s soccer program in the summer of 2019 when Wiegand also began his tenure.
For four years, Rishel and his fellow seniors held on with the program, despite missing the playoffs in their first three seasons.
In 2022, they finally entered.
Playing well into the playoffs, especially on the defensive end, the Rams have allowed just five goals in their last seven games. Pine-Richland reached the final beating Norwin 3-0 in the quarter-finals and then another section rival, Butler, 1-0 in the semi-finals.
When the opportunity presented itself, Rishel used his chance in the 60th minute of a scoreless league game to put his side in position to take an unlikely lead.
A long free kick was awarded to the Rams following a gross foul on one of their fiery substitutes from the bench, Finn Kichi.
Tyler Fritz took the forehand to the center of the box.
A handful of Rams and Raiders converged on the ball, and it bounced to the right inside the penalty area just outside the six.
Rishel was there to jump on it.
Goal by Ben Rishel. 🥶🥶🥶 pic.twitter.com/aWC9E37OhH
— PR RAMS BOYS SOCCER (@PR_Rams_Soccer) November 6, 2022
After scoring, Rishel headed for the touchline where he was mobbed by teammates and coaches in a jubilant celebration.
“It’s the only way to score goals,” Rishel said after the game.
“It’s my fifth goal this year, and they were all inside the six (yards) from set pieces, bouncing randomly towards me. It was a whirlwind. I did not see the ball. I just ran straight into the six and hoped it popped into my head and it did. I didn’t have time to think. All I could do was hit it home.
At that point, there were just under 20 minutes left to play.
Seneca Valley scored 84 regular season goals. Eight of those came against Pine-Richland, as they beat the Rams 3-2, 5-0 in the 2022 season, and had won convincingly six straight against their section rival.
Yet the third time against Seneca Valley, the Wiegand Rams were ahead because they confidently executed their adjusted game plan, were tied with Seneca Valley, and grew in the game.
As expected, the Raiders maintained a decisive advantage in possession (59/41) and shooting (10-2).
But the Rams were well organized, able to make Seneca Valley work harder on every shot attempt, intercepting passes, clearing balls and, most importantly, earning plenty of second serves.
After scoring the goal, the Rams didn’t allow Seneca Valley to gain momentum, and even under pressure they were prepared and confident to put the Raiders back.
What Pine-Richland did well, was stalled in midfield, forcing the Raiders to be patient and build up possession to create chances. But time and time again, Pine-Richland thwarted and snuffed out advances by obstructing passing lanes, blocking shots and clearing balls.
The Raiders were learning in the midst of their bid to win an unprecedented (in the modern era) third consecutive WPIAL Men’s Football Championship at the highest ranking, that it was not going to be easy to beat a team three times in a season, especially one who knew them very well.
“We expected exactly what they threw there,” Seneca Valley coach George Williams said.
Before the game, Wiegand said the advantage he thought his team had was that they were facing a familiar opponent.
Wiegand knew that at the start of the game he needed to make additional tactical adjustments so that his Rams could stay with the Raiders, who regularly look to play at a breakneck pace and try to wear down their opponents using a large number of substitutions, can control midfield and own the ball with two all-state midfielders Beaux Lizewski and Connor Oros.
“They actually have three outstanding midfielders,” Rishel explained. “We focused on man marking and then I sat underneath. If one of them was beaten, I was there to support them.
Additionally, while Williams often uses his team’s depth to his advantage, bringing players in and out in droves, Wiegand matched Williams seemingly player for player, relying on the use of a regular rotation that included the use of five players off the bench for a total of 136 precious minutes.
Pine-Richland’s tactic worked, as Seneca Valley didn’t pass the ball to their fast wingers as much as they usually did and couldn’t create too many crisp and clear chances.
“We’re a team that if we get a zero you don’t score on us,” Rishel boasted.
As solid as Pine-Richland has been on defense as a unit, they faced 18 total shots and needed goaltender Caden Bennett to make 10 saves.
None were bigger than in the final moments of the game, when Bennett made a few clutch saves.
First, in the 73rd minute, following a well-placed corner kick, Lizewski put himself in perfect position to bust a header with great pace just under the crossbar, but Bennett reacted in no time. time to keep the white sheet intact.
Then, in the 77th minute, Bennett put himself in an excellent position to stop Will Bruno’s shot, after the Seneca Valley winger broke through the last PR defender on the left side.
“Caden has been fantastic all year, he’s an incredible goaltender,” Rishel said.
“He was fantastic today. Storms weathered. Even in the previous round Butler was front and center in the second half and he did great for us.
As minutes turned to seconds, Wiegand could finally pull away from his lonely corner, breathing a huge sigh of relief after Seneca Valley’s final free kick behind the halfway line was cleared back close to his goal line. touch, where his team could begin to celebrate a monumental victory.
“All the respect in the world in Seneca Valley. They are recognized champions there,” said Wiegand, who previously led two other schools, Deer Lakes and North Catholic, to the WPIAL finals but never won a title.
“It was a stand-up performance and we knew we needed it. We knew it could come down to decor, and it’s nice to see it come to life. We had to weather the storm. We’ve done enough on both sides of the ball, and that’s exactly what we did.
“We knew they were going to try to slow us down,” added Williams.
“At the end of the day, we didn’t accelerate enough and we didn’t score when we had our chances, so they won the game.”
Pine-Richland took advantage of his best chance, on a free kick no less.
“We’re a super brave team,” exclaimed Rishel.
“We had to work more on things like that, and that hard work has come to fruition for us.”
For three seasons, Pine-Richland missed the playoffs, suffered six straight losses to neighbors Butler County to the north, as they watched them lift the WPIAL trophy twice.
Rishel and his teammates could hardly imagine that they could be in this position as well. However, when they had the opportunity to end a three-round bid, Pine-Richland pulled out all the stops to pull off one of the biggest upsets (if not the biggest) in championship history. WPIAL football.
“Missing the playoffs every year, you could never really imagine that happening,” Rishel said.
“We have trained more than any other team. We went to four sessions a week during the summer. We grind. They were the perfect group to do it under pressure.
Against all odds, in the 2022 WPIAL playoffs, it was time for Pine-Richland to shine.
“We knew at some point someone had to beat them,” Weigand said.
“We have all the respect in the world for them. They are proven champions, and we knew it was going to take performance. We discussed it and thought maybe it would take something away from a setting, and it was nice to see that come to fruition.
ED THOMPSON PHOTO GALLERY
Pine-Richland’s Jordan Wiegand, who led three different men’s soccer programs to the WPIAL Finals, finally wins a District Championship, pulling off the unlikely upset against Section rival Seneca Valley.
Ben Rishel, a defensive midfielder, has scored five goals this season so isn’t always the top scorer, but he was there at the end of a long free kick to put the Rams ahead in the 60th minute.