Belle Vernon, Penn-Trafford ready for clash of Westmoreland County heavyweights

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Wednesday, September 14, 2022 | 5:22 PM


Don’t tell players from the Penn-Trafford and Belle Vernon football teams that Friday’s nonconference game isn’t important.

It might not count in the conference standings, but when two Westmoreland County schools that rank among the top teams in the state get together, expect a hard-hitting and exciting game.

Penn-Trafford visits Belle Vernon at 7 p.m. Friday at James Weir Stadium in Rostraver. Belle Vernon is ranked No. 1 in Class 3A, and Penn-Trafford is ranked No. 3 in Class 5A.

“I asked the WPIAL to schedule us a tough nonconference schedule, and it did,” Belle Vernon coach Matt Humbert said. “When we dropped to Class 3A this year, I wanted to find tough opponents.”

Belle Vernon is playing in the Interstate Conference for at least the next two seasons. Its conference opponents are Elizabeth Forward, Greensburg Salem, Mt. Pleasant, South Allegheny and Southmoreland.

Belle Vernon (1-1) defeated Laurel Highlands in Week 1 and then dropped a hard-fought 14-7 decision to McKeesport in Week 2. After this week, the Leopards face rival Thomas Jefferson in Week 4 before starting conference play.

Penn-Trafford (2-1) has a similar schedule. The Warriors faced Canon-McMillan in Week Zero, lost to McKeesport, 19-7, in Week 1 and then bounced back to dump Woodland Hills, 48-14, in Week 2.

“It’s a big game for both teams,” Humbert said. “Two outstanding, state-ranked teams from Westmoreland County. You couldn’t ask for a better game.”

“I felt our defense was outstanding against McKeesport, but we lacked execution on offense. It left a bad taste in our mouth. We need to be better on offense.”

Penn-Trafford coach John Ruane said he liked how his team responded after losing to McKeesport.

“We made great strides (each week),” Ruane said.

“We got refocused, and that started in practice. We were sharp at practice. The players responded. They played with confidence.

“You want to get better every week, and, hopefully, that continues this week against a very good Belle Vernon team.”

The teams met in 2021, with Belle Vernon winning 27-7.

Both teams were WPIAL finalists last year. Penn-Trafford defeated Moon, 24-21, in the Class 5A game, and Belle Vernon fell to Aliquippa, 28-13, in the Class 4A game. Penn-Trafford went on to win its first PIAA title.

Both teams graduated numerous starters from those teams. But they also return numerous starters.

This game will highlight two of the biggest quarterbacks in the state in Penn-Trafford senior Conlan Greene, who stands 6-foot-4, 265 pounds, and Belle Vernon junior Braden Laux, who is 6-5, 215.

Both players are ends on defense.

“That’s something you don’t see every game,” Humbert said. “Both are excellent athletes. Conlan is a big, strong dude and not only can he run the ball, he can sling it.”

Ruane was equally complimentary of Laux.

“Braden is really good,” Ruane said. “He’ll be a load to stop when he gets started.”

What really impresses Ruane is how good Belle Vernon’s defense is.

“They run to the ball,” Ruane said. “They get after it. They have a physical front four. We’ll be tested.”

Belle Vernon also features one of the top players in the state in Quinton Martin. The 6-3, 200-pound junior lines up at running back, quarterback and wide receiver.

Martin has scored three touchdowns, rushed for 97 yards and caught two passes. Chase Ruokonen is the leading receiver with nine catches for 175 yards and a touchdown. Laux has completed 16 of 28 passes for 212 yards.

Greene has completed 43 of 78 passes for 569 yards and four touchdowns. He has rushed for 140 yards.

Daniel Tarabrella is the top receiver for Penn-Trafford with 17 catches for 302 yards. Jake Otto has 14 catches for 155 yards. Sophomore Tasso Whipple is the leading rusher with 146 yards.

“They are a tough matchup,” Humbert said of Penn-Trafford. “They give you a lot of different looks that forces you to prepare for.

“It’s a game that will help both teams. They are the reigning WPIAL and PIAA champions, and we’re a team ranked in the state.”

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at pschofield@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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