Baldwin topples Hempfield in coach’s return to Westmoreland County

Friday, October 8, 2021 | 11:14 PM

Baldwin football coach Tim Sweeney has spent a lot of time in Westmoreland County winning games while at Derry, his alma mater. He took the Trojans to four consecutive WPIAL playoff appearances in six seasons.

“Yeah, I’ve been following Derry,” he said. “I mean, I’m a Derry grad, so the second thing I do after our game is try to find out what the Derry score was. I care about Derry. I love Derry. I admire (current coach Vince Skillings) and his staff there. … Everybody in the administration was great to me.”

On Friday night, Sweeney returned to coach a game in Westmoreland County for the first time this season and the second since taking over at Baldwin. He came away with another victory, his first in the county since leaving Derry before the start of last season.

Andrew Sharp rushed for 158 yards, including a clinching 72-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, to lead Sweeney and Baldwin to a 28-0 WPIAL Class 6A victory at Hempfield, the Highlanders’ second in a row after five losses to start the season.

Keith Mincin scored twice for Baldwin (2-5, 2-2), once on a recovery in the end zone of blocked punt by Logan Murphy following Hempfield’s first possession and again in the fourth quarter on a 25-yard touchdown run.

“We like to put ourselves in a hole, it seems, especially in the first two quarters,” said Mike Brown, Hempfield’s first-year coach who replaced Rich Bowen after Bowen resigned following nine seasons with the Spartans.

“We seem to get on a drive and take two steps forward, and then we take seven steps backwards. The turnovers. The mistakes. Right now, we’re not a disciplined team. We’re not doing the little things right that we’re harping on.”

Following Baldwin’s first touchdown, Nicholas Petrilli intercepted a pass by Hempfield’s Jacob Phillips and the Highlanders capitalized again. Quarterback John Kozar’s 13-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Isaiah King gave Baldwin a 14-0 lead just 4 minutes into the game.

“Any time you can pitch a shutout on the road, it’s a testament to the kids,” Sweeney said.

And it’s a surefire way to ignite a season that began so badly for Baldwin, which was mercy-ruled in all five of its losses before rallying to beat Norwin at home and Hempfield in back-to-back weeks.

Both victories were keyed by Baldwin’s defense, which forced two turnovers that led to touchdowns in both games.

“Of course, that excites me. I’m a defensive guy,” Sweeney said.

After attending Derry, Sweeney played linebacker at Penn State from 1985-88 and was a member of the Nittany Lions’ 1986 national championship team.

At Baldwin, he’s trying to mimic his time at Derry, where he took a perennial losing program and turned it into a playoff contender. Sweeney spent six seasons as coach of the Trojans, leading them to a combined record of 49-18 with four WPIAL playoff appearances, including a trip to the 2018 Class 3A championship game.

Hempfield (2-5, 0-4) lost its fourth consecutive game and second by shutout. The Spartans have been outscored during that time against Class 6A schools, 170-41.

“It’s going to take a lot more than this to get discouraged,” Brown said. “Any loss is devastating, and that’s one thing we’re changing here. We expect to win any game that we play. It’s going to take a lot more than this for us to quit. I know the kids are going to come back (Saturday) and compete, practice hard and lift hard. This is just a step back, but we’re going to try to take two steps forward next week.”

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