Belle Vernon preps for South Fayette with ‘laser focus’

Thursday, November 7, 2019 | 9:32 PM

Belle Vernon coach Matt Humbert had a message for his football team after last week’s quarterfinal win over New Castle.

“Don’t you dare enjoy this one,” he said.

“We’ve worked our butts off for a year to get back to where we are right now. We have more work to do.”

Humbert wanted “laser focus” as the third-seeded Leopards (9-1) prepare for a WPIAL 4A semifinal rematch with No. 2 South Fayette tonight at Peters Township. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

“Honestly, that’s exactly what it’s been this week,” Humbert said of his team’s preparation. “We’re locked in. To me, and I may eat my words for this (Friday) night, but the key is going to be to make sure we’re familiar with everything they do.”

Last season, the Lions were 28-10 winners at Ringgold before going on to beat Thomas Jefferson in the WPIAL championship the following week.

While the personnel is different, Humbert is confident not much has changed.

“I think they’re very consistent in what they do,” Humbert said. “I think they’re very simplistic in their pass offense, but they execute everything with precision.

“We have to make sure we’re sound with all the motions and in the formations we have. We can’t be predictable.”

Humbert is aware no matter what the Leopards throw at the Lions, South Fayette will be prepared.

“There isn’t a formation (head coach Joe) Rossi hasn’t seen,” Humbert added. “He’s seen every look you can throw at him.”

Defensively, the Leopards will have to shut down the prolific passing offense of the Lions.

Quarterback Naman Alameda leads the WPIAL with 2,761 passing yards and 31 touchdown passes. His favorite targets are Joey Audia (50 receptions, 731 yards, 8 TDs) and Charley Rossi (50-720-7). Ryan McGuire has 30 catches for 645 yards and eight scores.

The BVA secondary, led by cornerback Nolan Labuda and safety Hunter Ruokonen, has been a focus in this week’s preparation.

“I’d say about 90% of the defensive plan involved the secondary,” Humbert said. “They’re going to pass to set up the run, so a considerable amount of energy is going towards their pass schemes. You have to be balanced and can’t be all in on any one thing.

“The thing is, we’re not going to show them something unique. We have to go out, perform and execute. We can’t go out looking to do something crazy. We have to stick to the script.”

The South Fayette rushing attack is led by Andrew Franklin, who has 114 carries for 739 yards and 14 touchdowns.

While the Lions prefer passing, the Leopards will continue to feature a balanced attack.

Unlike last season’s matchup, Jared Hartman will be in the lineup.

Hartman missed last season’s matchup with a knee injury. Having him back is a win for the Leopards.

“It’s nice playing this game with a full squad. To try to equalize the field in a semifinal, you have to be healthy. This year, we are,” Humbert said. “It’s tough when the guy under center isn’t there. Nothing against those guys that filled in last year, they did a great job. But we were more one dimensional.

“This year, we have to be able to run the football and take the matchups we get in the passing game.”

Hartman has a plethora of offensive weapons at his disposal, led by running back Larry Callaway. The senior back has rushed for 939 yards this season. Dane Anden has emerged as another option at tailback.

Hartman, the most prolific passer in BVA history in terms of yardage and touchdowns, has completed 103 of 136 passes for 1,530 yards this season. He has 27 touchdowns compared to only five interceptions.

“We need production out of everyone,” Humbert said. “Larry has to run the ball, Hunter (Ruokonen) and Nolan (Labuda) have to do their things on the outside. Devin (Whitlock) needs to be that spark plug for us when he gets the ball in his hands.

“For Jared, he’s just kept it at status quo. He’s been probably more tunnel-visioned than he has in the past. He’ll be ready for this game.”

Labuda has 37 receptions for 465 yards.

Line play will dictate each team’s success. And Belle Vernon’s defensive unit will need to make Alameda uncomfortable. He’s thrown 10 interceptions this year.

“Without a doubt, they’ve been practicing pass protection all week, so our line has to be ready for all the looks we give and what they show us,” Humbert said. “They’ve been doing it the last six or seven years. Again, we need production out of everyone. Our kids have to know the ins and outs, and we have to execute our base defense.

“This is what we’ve worked for over the past year, to get to this point. It’s all led up to this and this game. We’re not satisfied, and we want to go further.”

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