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In it to win it

A Mt. Lebanon football player scores a touchdown.
Photo by Harrison Lilley

Mt. Lebanon Wins First Conference Title Since 2010, Playoffs Ahead

Mt. Lebanon completed its first undefeated regular season since 2010, finishing with a perfect 10-0 record. The 2010 campaign was also the last time the Blue Devils won a conference title. Until now. Mt. Lebanon finished the regular season as the highest-scoring team in 6A (averaging 38.4 points per game) and with the stingiest defense (allowing just 8.9 points per game). This is the eighth consecutive playoff appearance for the Blue Devils, who have lost in the semifinals each of the last three seasons. Now they embark as the top seed in the Class 6A playoffs in the hopes of winning their first WPIAL title since 2000.

Offensively, the trio of Alex Tecza, Eli Heidenreich and Joey Daniels, along with a strong offensive line, have been the key to the Blue Devils’ success. Running back Alex Tecza (1,426 yards, 16 TDs) was the only 1,000-yard rusher in 6A this season. Wide receiver Eli Heidenreich (766 yards, 13 TDs) led 6A in receiving and finished in the Top Five in the entire WPIAL. Quarterback Joey Daniels was 6A’s second-leading passer with 1,285 yards and 19 TDs.

The Blue Devils started the season with non-conference wins over South Hills neighbors Bethel Park (28-0), rivals Upper St Clair (36-13) and Peters Township (31-0). After solidifying themselves as the best team in the South Hills, conference play began in mid-September. The Blue Devils avenged last year’s loss by beating Canon-McMillan by a decisive 37-7 margin. After a 48-14 bombardment of Hempfield (who finished last in 6A), the true tests were ahead. As the calendar flipped to October, Mt. Lebanon had consecutive games against North Allegheny and Central Catholic—the two teams that played for last year’s WPIAL title.

North Allegheny was coming off a loss to Central Catholic and had won 11 straight games over the Blue Devils, dating back to 2005. During that losing streak, North Allegheny had outscored Mt. Lebanon 358-118, but the Blue Devils came out fired up and took out a decade-and-a-half of frustrations on the Tigers in a 51-20 victory. The game had its tight moments as North Allegheny scored a long touchdown just after halftime to cut the lead to 21-14, but Tecza scored two second-half touchdowns to put the game away. That same weekend, three-time defending state champions St. Joseph’s Prep, out of the Philadelphia Catholic League in District 12, lost their opening game of conference play to La Salle College High School, showing that the race for the 6A state title was wide open.

The following week against two-time defending WPIAL champions Central Catholic, Mt. Lebanon showed its toughness and tenacity. Central Catholic started the game by returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown, but the Blue Devils were not deterred and Tecza scored twice as Mt. Lebanon built a 21-7 lead. Then in the third quarter a lightning storm rolled through and delayed play until Saturday morning. The teams came back at 10 a.m. and Mt. Lebanon picked up right where it left off with Daniels connecting with Heidenreich for a score. Mt. Lebanon would extend the lead to 35-7 on a touchdown pass to Grayson Dee, putting Central Catholic on the brink of the 35-point mercy rule.  Central would score a late touchdown to make the final 35-14, which would be Mt. Lebanon’s narrowest margin of victory on the season. Statewide, La Salle lost its following game, which opened up the debate about whether Mt. Lebanon, North Penn, or Central York should be the No. 1 team in the state rankings.

After two hard-fought emotional victories, Mt. Lebanon got off to a slow start against Norwin, but turned things around in the second half to close out a 35-7 victory. With the conference title on the line the following week, the Blue Devils shut down Seneca Valley’s potent passing attack en route to a 38-7 win. Mt. Lebanon closed out the season with a 35-7 win over Baldwin, a team that needed a victory to get into the playoffs. The biggest news from the final week of the season was Seneca Valley edging North Allegheny 17-12, which dropped North Allegheny into fourth place in the conference.

Five teams in 6A qualified for the WPIAL playoffs. Mt. Lebanon, as the undefeated conference champions, got the top overall seed and a bye to the semifinals. This will be their fourth straight semifinal appearance and they will get to host a home playoff game on Friday, November 12. In that semifinal, Mt. Lebanon will face the winner of the first-round game between North Allegheny and Canon-McMillan. Canon-McMillan has lost four games in a row after starting conference play with dominant wins over Baldwin and Hempfield. The Big Macs earned the final playoff spot by winning a tiebreaker over Baldwin and Norwin. North Allegheny fell into this first round game by losing to Seneca Valley, their first loss since falling to Mt. Lebanon in week 5. North Allegheny will likely cruise past Canon-McMillan after defeating them 36-14 earlier this season. The scenario would set up a rematch between the Tigers and Blue Devils with a trip to the WPIAL finals on the line. This year’s 6A championship game will be at Norwin High School on Saturday, November 20. If Mt. Lebanon wins the semifinal game, they would face either second-place Central Catholic or third-place Seneca Valley in the title game.

This will be the 42nd WPIAL playoff appearance in school history. Mt. Lebanon has won seven WPIAL titles and has a 40-33 record in the postseason. Their prior championships came in 1966, 1970, 1980, 1981, 1983, 1984, and 2000. In 2000, the Blue Devils season carried on to the state playoffs where they fell to Erie Cathedral Prep in the PIAA semifinals. If the Blue Devils are successful in claiming WPIAL gold, they will enter this year’s state tournament at the quarterfinals and face either Pittsburgh City League Champion Taylor Allderdice or the District 10 Champion, which will be either Butler or Erie McDowell. Mt. Lebanon is currently ranked as the No. 2 6A team in the state by the PennLive Rankings behind North Penn from District 1 near Philadelphia. All told, this has been a historically successful season so far for Mt. Lebanon who won their first conference title in over a decade and gained statewide recognition for their accomplishments. But the task is not done yet. This senior class is out to leave their legacy on the program and are two wins away from delivering the first WPIAL championship to Mt. Lebanon in two decades.

It is not just the high school team that has found success this year. Mt. Lebanon’s youth football programs have begun building the future. The JV youth team, which is made up of third- and fourth-graders, has gone undefeated this season and will be playing in the South Hills Youth Football League Championship against South Fayette. The game will take place at noon on Saturday, November 6 at Thomas Jefferson High School. Mt. Lebanon’s two varsity youth teams (fifth and sixth graders) in the South Hills Youth Football League also had successful seasons, reaching the semifinals.