Belle Vernon bounces back with 50-point win over Laurel Highlands

Friday, September 13, 2019 | 11:19 PM

Last week’s 27-point loss to Thomas Jefferson didn’t exactly sit well with players and coaches at Belle Vernon.

And it was certainly on their minds all week leading up to Friday night’s matchup with Laurel Highlands.

“Everyone was (ticked) off,” BVA coach Matt Humbert said. “Last week is all about whatever narrative you want. It can be, ‘If they would’ve played the way they did (the whole game), it would have been a possible mercy-rule,’ or you can look at it like, ‘It was Christmas in September for them in a sense because we gave everything.’

“We knew we had to reset our focus. We had the motivation, and that motivation needs to continue and carry us through the next six games.”

The Leopards evidently were refocused and full of motivation as they shrugged off last week’s defeat by rolling past Laurel Highlands, 63-13, in Big Eight Conference play at James Weir Stadium.

BVA quarterback Jared Hartman was nearly flawless under center, completing 13 of 15 passes for 134 yards and four touchdowns, including first-quarter strikes of 31 and 13 yards to Larry Callaway and Ian Maloney, respectively.

He also added scoring passes of 6 yards to Dane Anden and 18 yards to Nolan Labuda in the second quarter as the Leopards (2-1, 1-1) held a commanding 43-6 edge by halftime.

“Last week, Jared was sacked about six times and probably two or three of them might have been on him holding the ball a little too long, and he knows that,” Humbert said. “This week we made a conscious effort to make sure we had blitz checks in everything, and he read it perfectly. We were trying to attack deep, and we were trying to attack on the perimeter, passing-wise.”

The Leopards kickstarted the scoring early in the first half as its defensive unit forced a three-and-out on LH’s opening drive.

Labuda returned the ensuing punt 49 yards down to the Mustangs’ 1-yard line before Devin Whitlock, who ran for 73 yards on six carries, punched it in for a short score to make it 6-0 after a failed 2-point conversion.

“Over the past two weeks, we felt like we were very close to breaking one in the kick game,” Humbert said. “It was good for (Nolan) to be able to do that, and it was just gratifying to see the special teams unit kind of sync up a little bit.”

Hartman threw touchdown passes on three of BVA’s next four drives before Callaway added a touchdown runs of 5 yards.

Callaway was a threat in more ways than one against the Mustangs, finishing with seven carries for 56 yards and three catches for 57 yards. He also returned the second-half kickoff 75 yards for a touchdown.

Hartman found Labuda in the corner of the end zone for the final touchdown of the first half with just more than five and a half minutes remaining.

LH (0-4, 0-1) showed some promise on its fourth drive of the game after punting on its opening two and throwing an interception on its third.

Tyler Christopher dropped back and found Rodney Gallagher for an 80-yard touchdown that cut LH’s deficit to 20-6 in the first quarter.

Gallagher provided the Mustangs’ only other touchdown on a 79-yard run in the final minute of the fourth quarter.

Christopher completed 7 of 24 passes for 168 yards. He also was picked off twice, once by Labuda and once by Andrew Pacak.

“We’re trying to get better. We have a quarterback who was a receiver last year and a tackle two years ago, so there are a lot of growing pains with that,” Laurel Highlands coach Richard Kolesar said. “That is a very good football team, and we didn’t execute what we needed to.”

In addition to Callaway’s kickoff return, BVA added two more touchdowns in the second half, one on a 12-yard run by Jack Bryer and another on a fumble recovery by Craig Dongilli in the end zone.

Belle Vernon finished with 380 total yards, and LH collected 286.

“We cannot give everybody gifts, and we gave a lot of gifts (against TJ),” Humbert said. “You can’t prophesize what is going to happen seven weeks from now, but I think the kids now have the mindset that you can’t take anything for granted, and I think they have the mindset that they were a little more humbled than they were prior to last week. Hopefully that mindset stays the course and it leads us to a successful six games.”

BVA resumes play next week when it hosts Indiana. Laurel Highlands is at home against Greensburg Salem.

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