Belle Vernon faces Hickory with a trip to the PIAA Class 3A championship game on the line

Wednesday, November 29, 2023 | 9:24 PM


(10-1) HICKORY Hornets (11-2) v. (7-1) BELLE VERNON AREA Leopards (10-1)

7 P.M. FRIDAY North Allegheny’s Newman Stadium, Wexford

The Boy Scouts of America’s motto is “Be prepared.”

That’s the concept Belle Vernon football coach Matt Humbert is following in advance of the PIAA Western Region final against District 10 champion Hickory at 7 p.m. Friday at North Allegheny’s Newman Stadium.

“We have to be prepared for anything,” Humbert said. “Hickory is a good football team. They mix their defenses well, and they have one of the better groups of receivers we’ll face.

“Their quarterback does a good job throwing the ball and running it. We’ve faced a lot of dual-threat quarterbacks, so we should be ready.”

Hickory (11-2) is playing in this game for the fourth time. It was PIAA champion in 1989.

The Hornets advanced last week was an impressive 26-13 victory against Central (Martinsburg). Hickory rushed for 298 yards and forced three turnovers.

Junior quarterback Zander Telesz ran for 101 yards and a touchdown and completed 5 of 8 passes for 95 yards and a score. Sean Kennedy rushed for 99 yards. Freshman defensive back Jadon Phillips had three interceptions.

Hickory coach Bill Dungee said the team set seven goals every year, and goal No. 6 was to get hotel room keys and represent western Pennsylvania in the state championship.

Humbert said his team, the reigning PIAA Class 3A champion, has not looked past any opponent all season, and he doesn’t expect that to start on Friday against Hickory.

Both teams are riding eight-game winning streaks. Hickory’s last loss was to Farrell, 26-7, and Belle Vernon’s loss was to Thomas Jefferson, 24-19.

The Leopards (10-1) posted a shutout in their WPIAL final, blanking Avonworth, 26-0. It was a game that the Leopards didn’t utilize Penn State commit Quinton Martin as much.

But the Leopards have a strong running game with Martin, Jake Gedekoh and Kole Doppelheuer combining for 2,086 yards and 31 touchdowns. Quarterback Braden Laux has completed 98 of 155 pass for 1,477 yards and 17 scores.

Martin has 44 catches for 649 yards and 10 scores, Anthony Crews has 25 catches for 363 yards and four touchdowns and Colton Lee has 18 catches for 250 yards and two TDs.

Freshman Kelvin Morrison leads Hickory’s ground attack. He has rushed for 783 yards and nine touchdowns. Kennedy has gained 529 yards and eight touchdowns, and Telesz has rushed for 526 yards and nine scores.

Telesz has completed 86 of 156 passes for 1,334 yards and 16 touchdowns. His top target is Tylon Cousin Jr., who has 31 catches for 516 yards and six touchdowns.

“We’ve seen a lot of different things from our opponents,” Humbert said. “They know what it takes. Playing teams like Penn-Trafford forces you to prepare for a lot of things.

“Hickory has used different defensive fronts. We just have to recognize what they are trying to do. If we want to play for another state title, we have to continue to play well. If we do that, key cards will be waiting.”

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


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