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Pittsburgh Central Catholic picks up decisive road win at St. Ignatius

Pittsburgh Central Catholic scored 33 points in the first half

CLEVELAND, OHIO - The Pittsburgh Central Catholic Vikings made the nearly 2.5-hour trek to Cleveland Friday night and remained undefeated with a 47-6 win over St. Ignatius (Ohio).

Central Catholic, the No. 15 team in the latest SBLive Pennsylvania Power 25, led from its opening possession as the Vikings won the coin toss, elected to receive and then went right down the field to score on a 34-yard run by Elijah Faulker.

After the teams traded field goals, Central Catholic quarterback Payton Wehner threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to Penn State commit Peter Gonzalez.

And then on the ensuing kickoff, Central Catholic surprised St. Ignatius with an onside kick and recovered the ball at the St. Ignatius 47.

“I just thought it was an opportune time to try to get a possession,” Central Catholic head coach Ryan Lehmeier said. “We thought that if we could grab a possession we would. I thought that was the opportune time to do it. So you know, we went with it.”

The offense made the gamble pay off, as Wehner found Vernon Settles over the middle for a 16-yard touchdown pass to make it 26-3 with 8:01 left in the second quarter.

This all came after Wehner had completed just three of his first eight passes.

“I would say (our pass offense) started off a little slow,” Wehner said. “We knew what they were doing, the idea of it, and I think we executed pretty well to my

Sa'Nir Brooks then gave Central Catholic a 33-3 lead with 4:04 left in the second quarter when he went up the middle for a 24-yard touchdown run.

St. Ignatius, ranked No. 16 in the latest SBLive Ohio Power 25, kicked a field goal at the end of the second quarter to cut the deficit to 33-6 and guarantee the second half would not start with a running clock.

But Central Catholic's defense started the second half with a three-and-out and then the offense capitalized with a 4-yard touchdown run by Wehner to activate the running clock and Wehner capped off the scoring with an 81-yard touchdown pass to Jacob Sassic for to make it 47-6 late in the third quarter.

Wehner finished 11-of-17 for 244 yards and three touchdown passes in three quarters.

The Central Catholic defense was stout against the run all game long, allowing just 20 yards rushing. Nine of St. Ignatius’ 19 rush attempts went for zero or negative yards.

In total, St. Ignatius was able to muster just 160 yards of total offense to Central Catholic’s more than 400 yards of offense.

Pittsburgh Central Catholic quarterback Payton Wehner drops back for a pass in a 2022 game against Lakewood St. Edward (Ohio). Photo credit: Jeff Harwell

Pittsburgh Central Catholic quarterback Payton Wehner drops back for a pass in a 2022 game against Lakewood St. Edward (Ohio). Photo credit: Jeff Harwell

Four takeaways

1. Different schools, similar situations

St Ignatius head coach Ryan Franzinger and Central Catholic head coach Ryan Lehmeier both picked up their first career wins as head coaches last week when St. Ignatius defeated Mentor 16-14 and Central Catholic beat Woodland Hills 49-7.

But being first year head coaches, picking up their first win on the same night and sharing the same first name aren’t the only things these first-year head coaches have in common. They both also took over for legendary coaches who stepped down at the end of last season.

Franzinger replaced Chuck Kyle, who was the head coach at St. Ignatius for 40 years and brought the Wildcats 11 state championship while amassing a record of 377-108-1.

Lehmeier comes into the Central Catholic program to replace Terry Totten, who was the head coach for 18 seasons. In those 18 years, the Vikings won the WPIAL six times and hoisted the state championship trophy twice. Central Catholic was 188-40 in those 18 years.

While the two didn’t have a chance to talk during the week, Lehmeier feels like the pair are going through the same things as they learn the ropes of being a head coach.

“He's a first-year coach and so am I, and you are really busy leading up to game time,” Lehmeier said. “I know he was getting ready for us and we were doing the same.”

2. Wehner off to a hot start

After becoming the first Central Catholic quarterback to throw for more than 2,000 yards a season ago, Wehner is on pace to best last year’s performance of 2,505 yards passes this season through two games.

In the Vikings’ opening win against Woodland Hills, the senior passed for 300 yards and a career-high five touchdown passes. He followed that up with his 244-yard, three-touchdown performance on Friday night in the win over St. Ignatius.

The 6-foot, 175-pound quarterback was a finalist last season for the Willie Thrower Award, which is given annually to the top quarterback in the WPIAL and would seem to be on track for that again this year.

Part of the hot start this season for Wehner can be attributed to a new offensive style under Lehmeier. In four of his six seasons as the offensive coordinator at Pine-Richland (2017-20) and Seneca Valley (2021-22), Lehmeier’s offense had a quarterback throw for at least 2,000 yards and Phil Jurkovec threw for almost 4,000 in 2017.

“I would say it's been different,” Wehner said. “I really wasn't used to the up-tempo stuff. But I think we're developing good in practice, and I think when we do good stuff in practice, it just translates right over to the game.”

In two games this season in the new system, Wehner has thrown for 544 yards and eight touchdowns.

3. Winning outside of Pennsylvania

Friday night was a special win for many reasons, but one of those was that it was the first time Central Catholic had won outside of the state of Pennsylvania in 13 years. That included a loss to St. Edward last season at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio.

“That was that was a huge, huge win for our program,” Lehmeier said. “At the end of the day, this was a national game. This was a nationally notarized program and we wanted to come up and see what we got, and I'm glad that it worked out the way it did.”

The players also knew that the Vikings had not been victorious outside of their home state in 13 years.

“I think it means a lot not having won a game (outside Pennsylvania) in 13 years and we knew that coming in,” Whener said. “We thought it'd be a big exclamation point if we came in and won.”

4. The dynamic duo is at it again

Wehner and Gonzalez formed one of the best duos in the WPIAL, if not the entire state, last season and the two are back at it again this year.

Through two games, Wehner and Gonzalez have hooked up for three touchdown passes, including a 24-yarder on Friday night in the win over St. Ignatius.

But it wasn’t the touchdown that had fans – and media members – shaking their heads in disbelief. That happened in the first quarter when Wehner dropped back to pass and launched one down the right sideline. The ball looked destined to be overthrown and an incompletion, but the 6-foot-3 receiver reached out his right hand and made a one-handed grab before steadying himself and going down the sideline for a 62-yard gain.

“We've been practicing a little install this week and if he thought he had me, he would throw it and he thought he had me,” Gonzalez said. “He put it out pretty far and I might have been slacking a little bit on the run, but I just put my hand out it was a great ball and just stuck. I wish I could have picked my knees up a little bit more and gotten to the endzone.”

When asked if this was the best play he has seen Gonzalez make, a big smile came across the quarterback’s face.

“It’s gotta be up there,” Wehner said. “He had a one-hander last year that just blew me away. But I'm sure when I see the film, I’ll think the same thing on this one.”