Belle Vernon opens conference play with dominant win over South Allegheny

Friday, September 30, 2022 | 11:58 PM

Belle Vernon football coach Matt Humbert wanted his team to be battled tested when Class 3A Interstate Conference play began Friday night.

The Leopards showed they’re going to be a dominant force and among the favorites in the classification.

Six players scored first-half touchdowns for Belle Vernon as the Leopards flattened South Allegheny on “The Beach” at James Weir Stadium, 56-0.

Quinton Martin carried seven times for 144 yards and three touchdowns in the first half, including a 79-yard score.

“This week of practice was very much a business-like approach, and I really liked where the team was from a mental standpoint. Practice was a bit heavier than we’re used to and the kids responded well,” Humbert said. “We needed to come out here and take care of business, and we did that.”

The Leopards (3-2, 1-0) put up 35 points in the opening quarter, with three touchdowns coming on a short field thanks to South Allegheny turnovers.

Chase Ruokonen opened the scoring for the Leopards, catching a 41-yard pass from Braden Laux on a fourth-down play to make it 7-0.

On the Gladiators’ first play on the ensuing drive, Adam Lacarte returned a Ryan Cortes interception 35 yards to make it 14-0.

SA starting quarterback Eric Wehrer was out with an injury.

“I was so happy to see Lacarte get that interception and run it back,” Humbert said. “That kid has done so much for us defensively. He’s sacrificed his body and has been really great against the run.”

On the next Gladiators drive, a Cortes pass was tipped by Michael Michalski right into the hands of Alonzo Wade for another interception. Martin cashed in his second touchdown of the night with a 3-yard run to make it 21-0.

The Gladiators (1-5, 0-1) couldn’t move the ball against a staunch Leopards’ defense.

SA finished with minus-14 yards of total offense and didn’t earn a first down until there were seven minutes remaining in the third quarter.

“We were able to take advantage when we had the turnovers. It’s a reversal of the way things went in other games this season,” Humbert said.

After Martin’s 79-yard run made it 28-0, Jake Gedekoh recovered a Gladiators’ fumble and returned it to the SA 2. On the next play, he lined up in the wildcat and took it the rest of the way.

In the second quarter, Tanner Steeber and Anthony Crews each had a 1-yard touchdown run and Martin ran 16 yards for another score to make it 56-0 at the half.

“We knew what to expect coming in here,” South Allegheny head coach Darwin Manges said. “We gave them the ball deep in our territory and they put us in a big hole.

“We wanted to come in here and do some good things, which I think we did at times. But it’s hard to come in and play a program like that with only 22 kids dressed.”

Anthony Crews finished with 12 carries for 77 yards in a back-up role for the Leopards.

“I think Crews showed tonight that we’re going to have to look at other ways to get him involved in what we do in terms of a non-backup role,” Humbert said. “We’re going to find ways to get him the ball.”

Laux finished 4 of 5 for 71 yards.

The Gladiators ended the game with 41 yards of total offense

Next week, the Leopards travel to Greensburg Salem, and South Allegheny hosts Southmoreland at Gladiators Stadium.

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