Belle Vernon ready to finish job in state championship vs. Northwestern Lehigh

By:
Thursday, December 7, 2023 | 5:39 PM


After Northwestern Lehigh rallied to defeat Wyomissing in the PIAA Class 3A semifinals, Tigers coach Josh Snyder told his team “Why not us.”

Northwestern Lehigh (15-0) is having a historic season and qualified for the state championship game for the first time in school history. They defeated Wyomissing, 33-24, after trailing 17-7 at halftime.

Waiting the Tigers at 1 p.m. Saturday at Cumberland Valley is returning PIAA champion Belle Vernon (12-1). The Leopards claimed their first state title in 2022 by edging Neumann-Goretti, 9-8.

The Leopards graduated four seniors from that squad, and other than a hiccup against rival Thomas Jefferson in a nonconference game, they have run roughshod against the other teams on their schedule.

They defeated Avonworth, 26-0, in the WPIAL championship game and ran over District 10 champion Hickory, 42-16, in the PIAA semifinals.

“Our job isn’t complete,” Belle Vernon coach Matt Humbert said. “I think our process is good on how we handled things. We didn’t over-stimulate the players with that.

“In our locker room, there are posters to remind you what our goals are. We try to experience the process and take it one game at a time. We don’t try to look ahead too much. It’s been an enjoyable process.”

The Leopards have a variety of players who contribute. They are capable of running the ball down teams’ throats or passing. And while the offense is explosive, the defense has stood tall when needed.

Inside linebacker Tanner Moody and Colton Lee have been outstanding, according to Humbert.

“We get contributions from everyone,” Humbert said. “It’s no secret that we’re trying to line up Quinton (Martin) in different spots to see where we can get a mismatch.”

The Leopards nearly rushed for 400 yards against Hickory. Senior Jake Gedekoh ran for for 110 yards in the first half before getting injured and missing the second half.

He turned things over to junior Kole Doppelheuer (84 yards and a touchdown), Martin (65 yards and a touchdown) and senior quarterback Braden Laux (82 yards and two scores). Laux (Eastern Michigan commit) also threw touchdown passes to Gedekoh and Martin (Penn State commit).

“It’s neat to see when you set a goal a year in advance, to watch the players and coaches work toward it and get it,” Humbert said. “Ironically, the goal isn’t fully achieved. We’ve gotten there. We got the breathing room, and we can take a deep breath. Now we have to go after it.”

Northwestern Lehigh used a strong defensive effort in the second half last week to advance.

“Coach Snyder told us to go out and make something happen,” Tigers safety Eli Zimmerman said. “We had nothing to lose. The defense was awesome.”

The Tigers’ offensive numbers are similar to Hickory’s.

Sophomore quarterback Shane Leh has thrown for 1,699 yards and 23 touchdowns, adding 411 rushing yards and nine scores on the ground. Senior running back Dalton Clymer has rushed for 1,801 yards and 31 touchdowns. Senior Devon Hildebrand has 47 catches for 629 yards and seven touchdowns. They have two other receivers who have more than 20 catches.

The Tigers average 44.2 points per game and allow 10.4. Meanwhile, Belle Vernon averages 40.7 points and allows 9.4.

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 pschofield@triblive.com.

Tags:

More Football

8 WPIAL all-stars selected for 67th annual Big 33 Football Classic
Burrell football coach Shawn Liotta named general manager for USA Football U20 team
WPIAL reveals Aliquippa’s 5A conference, but football coach says ‘it’s not settled’
WPIAL says Butler football must take conference schedule, reviving years-long dispute
Drive to improve, helpful mentors lead Franklin Regional grad to Division I football