Ryan Cory had been waiting for this.

Despite winning WPIAL and PIAA Class 5A championships a season ago, the Pine-Richland offensive lineman was looking forward to a reunion of sorts this fall.

It’s a perfectly reasonable inclination considering he is one of five seniors starting along the Rams offensive line this season.

“I think it’s part of how good our friendships are,” said Cory, a Wisconsin recruit, of the Rams’ offensive line. “We’ve been together since we’ve been 8 years old. We’re finally all on the line again together. We’re big dudes. We want it bad.

“We want it more than the defense,” he added. “That’s what it’s going to come down to every game, who wants it more.”

Arguably the most experienced and successful offensive line in the WPIAL did it again Friday night.

With running back Ethan Pillar operating Pine-Richland’s wildcat offense, the Rams offensive line paved the way for their classmate to carry the ball 34 times for 141 yards and 2 touchdowns in Pine-Richland’s 28-0 victory against host Woodland Hills at the Wolvarena in Turtle Creek.

Pine-Richland’s Aaron Strader passes the ball for a touchdown against Woodland Hills Friday night at Woodland Hills’ Wolvarena in Turtle Creek. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

The dominant showing in the trenches for Pine-Richland (6-3, 3-1) against Class 5A Northeast Conference foe Woodland Hills (6-3, 3-1) was its second in three weeks.

“They were ranked above us,” Cory said of the Wolverines. “We needed to win this game to get into the playoffs. We’ve still got to win next week, but I would consider it a statement game. They scored zero points.”

The Rams upended previously undefeated Class 6A power Central Catholic, 26-19, in another statement game Oct. 6 with Pillar carrying the ball a WPIAL-record 56 times for 287 yards and 3 touchdowns.

“We like to come out physical,” Pillar said. “We try and do as good or just excel past what our defense does, because when they get those third-down stops, we know we have to come out and work just as hard as they do.”

The Rams held the Wolverines to just 114 yards of total offense, 76 on the ground, 38 through the air, and just one first down in the first half. Woodland Hills running back Zykir Moore racked up 53 yards on 17 carries.

“Just dominant both sides,” second-year Pine-Richland coach Jon LeDonne said. “Offensive line, we kind of owned the line of scrimmage, but the defensive line really established the line of scrimmage and didn’t let them get going downhill.”

Pillar had no trouble getting going Friday night.

The 5-foot-11, 205-pound running back carried the ball 15 times on Pine-Richland’s first 16 plays and scored touchdowns on runs of 27 and 2 yards to hand the Rams a 14-0 advantage early in the second quarter.

“I think we all came together,” Rams offensive lineman James Cardinali said. “The chemistry was perfect. He ran the ball. We blocked for him. That’s all we can say, really, we came together as a team.”

Pine-Richland freshman quarterback Aaron Strader later found receiver Tanner Cunningham for a 10-yard touchdown pass with nine seconds left in the first half and the Rams took a commanding 21-0 advantage into the break.

“We wanted it more than them I feel like,” Cory said. “We had more heart. We played really good defense. We controlled the clock. That’s what gave us the win tonight.”

Cory, at 6 feet 4 and 285 pounds, certainly played his role against the Wolverines — and all season long.

“Ryan Cory is just a special player,” LeDonne said. “He plays with an edge, like he’s [aggressive], like he still needs to prove something. He goes in there, and I just tell him, ‘Go out there and have fun. Go out and have fun playing football, love the game and you enjoy it.’”

Size is certainly an advantage for Pine-Richland upfront.

In addition to Cory, the Rams offensive line includes Cardinali (6-6, 270), Jonathan Smith (6-1, 275), Connor Drips (5-10, 260) and Nathan Brown (6-4, 260).

“Just the physical nature that they play with,” LeDonne said. “They want to finish guys. They’re getting their hand placement, running their feet and just finishing to the whistle.”

And running the wildcat offense also obviously has been a perfect fit for Pine-Richland’s offensive line.

“It’s quick,” Cardinali said. “We hit the ball. We run it down their throats and they can’t stop it.”

Cory said the Rams went back to the wildcat prominently after quarterback Kanan Huffman suffered a concussion, forcing Strader into the starting lineup. He added that because Pine-Richland ran the offense “eight or nine games” last season the transition to using the wildcat more exclusively wasn’t too difficult.

“We’re very familiar with it,” Cory said. “We went back to it and there’s no reason to go away from it now.”

Cardinali said his team’s offense will only continue to get stronger.

“Continuing to watch film, making sure we make corrections from this game,” he said.  “Our next game, same goal, run it down their throats.”

That sounds fine to Pillar, who now has 1,189 yards on 212 carries. He said his team now has one goal as a priority.

“State championship,” Pillar said. “We want to repeat, and I think we have the team to do it, especially now that we’re rolling.”

John is a copy editor and page designer at the Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at jsanta@unionprogress.com.

John Santa

John is a copy editor and page designer at the Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at jsanta@unionprogress.com.