Belle Vernon beats Penn-Trafford in battle of champions

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Friday, September 15, 2023 | 11:13 PM


Belle Vernon and Penn-Trafford have won WPIAL and PIAA championships the past two seasons — Belle Vernon in 2022 and Penn-Trafford in 2021.

But Belle Vernon, which plays in Class 3A, looks like it’s in great position to go back-to-back.

Penn-Trafford, which plays in Class 5A, has some work to do before it can think about making another run at a title.

The Leopards dominated this nonconference clash of champions Friday at Warrior Stadium in Harrison City, winning 21-0. The Leopards lead the series 2-1.

Penn State commit Quinton Martin rushed for 104 yards and a touchdown, and the Leopards defense pitched a shutout and got a defensive score from Jake Gedekoh that gave the Leopards some breathing room. Martin also had an interception.

“When you play Penn-Trafford, you have to be prepared for anything,” Belle Vernon coach Matt Humbert said. “They run fake kicks, do a lot of motion and have different formations. They have multiple players running the ball.

“It’s a long prep week. They are always tough and to get a win on the road is nice, but the reward is we get to continue our undefeated record and we set the stage for a very big game next week at ‘The Beach.’ ”

The Leopards, 3-0, host rival Thomas Jefferson, which stayed undefeated at 3-0 by defeating Latrobe, 41-14, in a Class 4A Big Seven Conference opener.

Penn-Trafford opened the game with an onside kick Belle Vernon recovered. The Leopards proceeded to march 58 yards in 12 plays to grab a 7-0 lead. It ended with a quarterback sneak by Braden Laux from the 1 with 5 minutes, 14 seconds left in the quarter.

Belle Vernon recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, but Laux’s throw in the end zone for Martin was picked off by Penn-Trafford safety Carmen Metcalfe.

“We have a lot to learn,” Penn-Trafford coach John Ruane said. “This loss is on me for it being a lack of discipline — way too many penalties, too many missed alignments, turnovers and sloppy play across the board.

“Our defense held them to two scores, and one was late. We just did some stupid stuff, and that falls back on me.”

Penn-Trafford turned the ball over four times and was penalized 10 times for 74 yards. Belle Vernon was flagged eight times for 60 yards and had two touchdowns — a 20-yard touchdown pass to Colton Lee and a 70-yard run by Anthony Crews — called back.

Belle Vernon had a couple scoring opportunities in the second quarter, but Willie Schwerha missed a 40-yard field goal and Laux had to fall on a bad snap on fourth down.

“I was proud of the way our offense responded,” Humbert said. “It was pretty good. We just haven’t maximized our abilities. We left something out there in the first half.”

Belle Vernon outrushed Penn-Trafford, 187-77.

Gedekoh’s interception came midway through the third quarter to make it 13-0. It came a series after Penn-Trafford pulled off a fake punt for a 20-yard gain only to have Nick Laskey fumble it away at the Belle Vernon 36.

“It was huge getting the shutout,” Belle Vernon defensive back Adam LaCarte said. “We played tough defense, and our offense was good enough. We needed to get this shutout.”

Martin was finally able to get loose for a touchdown late in the third quarter, scoring on a 12-yard run.

“Belle Vernon’s got some quickness on defense,” Ruane said. “They are going to do well in their division. We just have to clean things up and get ready for the start of conference play. What’s done is done.”

Penn-Trafford, which has been shut out at home in two games, will host Hempfield on Sept. 22 to open conference play.

Paul Schofield is a TribLive reporter covering high school and college sports and local golf. He joined the Trib in 1995 after spending 15 years at the Daily Courier in Connellsville, where he served as sports editor for 14 years. He can be reached at pschofield@triblive.com.

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