Belle Vernon rushes back to WPIAL final with dominant win over East Allegheny

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Friday, November 17, 2023 | 11:00 PM


When it comes time to choose a ball carrier for each running play, Belle Vernon has options.

Penn State commit Quinton Martin and speedsters Jake Gedekoh and Kole Doppelheuer give the Leopards a nice interplay of gears.

“I can’t say enough about our skills guys,” coach Matt Humbert said. “It’s like a Magna Carta when you’re trying to decide which skill guys to run out there.”

Looking debonair up front and balanced in a rushing attack that produced 450 yards, Belle Vernon pushed East Allegheny down the field with multiple big-play threats to push their way back to Acrisure Stadium with a 49-8 victory in a WPIAL Class 3A semifinal Friday night at drippy Norwin Knights Stadium.

The defending WPIAL and PIAA champions advanced to their third straight WPIAL title game as Martin ran for 152 yards and scored two touchdowns and Jake Gedekoh added 129 rushing yards and a score for Belle Vernon, which was making its seventh straight appearance in the semifinals.

The top-seeded Leopards (10-1) have a rematch waiting with No. 2 Avonworth (12-0). The teams will meet for the title at 5 p.m. next Friday on the North Shore.

“I can’t do what I do without my line, all those guys, I love them,” Martin said. “They don’t get enough credit for what they do. The feeling we had last year winning our first championship was unbelievable. I know we have it in us to do it again.”

Kole Doppleheuer also shined for the Leopards, rushing for 70 yards and two touchdowns, while having two long kickoff return TDs called back by holds.

East Allegheny (9-3) was playing in the semifinals for the first time since 1992.

“I thought we played them tough,” Wildcats coach Dom Pecora said. “They’re flawless. Our kids played their butts off. The difference was size and numbers. That was a 3A team against a 5A team, and that adds up.

“We didn’t lose this game because of skill. It shows at the line of scrimmage.”

Humbert proclaimed earlier in the week that Wildcats quarterback Michael Cahill could not be allowed to “freelance” and create plays that weren’t there. He called the quarterback “slippery.”

The Leopards bottled him up most of the night and limited the 2,000-yard passer to 114 yards on 9-of-27 passing and one score.

“No. 5 was tough, and we had to make sure we put pressure on him,” Humbert said.

Receiver Brennen Rutledge caught seven passes for 112 yards and a late touchdown.

“Rutledge was the best athlete on the field tonight,” Pecora said. “They couldn’t cover him. From now until Christmas, they couldn’t cover him.”

The only thing slippery was the saturated turf, although it didn’t seem to bother Belle Vernon as the Leopards’ line surged from the start.

“Our line has not played its best game yet,” Humbert said “They need to keep improving if we want to get to where we want to get. It was nice to see that vertical push they were getting.”

The Leopards also defeated East Allegheny in last year’s quarterfinals, scoring 55 unanswered points in a 55-7 victory.

This time, the Leopards built a 27-0 by halftime and had the mercy rule in full effect with eight minutes to play in the third quarter.

Martin had 75 yards on the tone-setting opening drive in a steady downpour and capped it with a 4-yard touchdown run.

Playing with a nothing-to-lose mentality, East Allegheny went right at Martin early.

Cahill hit Rutledge for a 30-yard gain. But Belle Vernon’s pressure forced a turnover on downs.

Doppelheuer, who had an 89-yard touchdown return on the opening kickoff negated by penalty, finished the Leopards’ drive with a 4-yard touchdown to make it 13-0.

After a nice punt return by Doppelheuer and a 34-yard gain by Gedekoh, Braden Laux scored on a 2-yard run to push the lead to 20-0 late in the second quarter.

When a fake punt misfired for the Wildcats, who went for it on fourth down all night, Gedekoh took off for a 41-yard gain, then scored on a 12-yard rush for a 27-0 lead.

“Our kids never get too high or too low,” Humbert said. “There is a method to the way they’re handling things.”

Laux tossed a 15-yard scoring strike to Martin in the third, and Martin jogged in for the 2-pointer and the 35-point running clock.

Doppelheuer’s second touchdown late in the third made it 42-0.

Rutledge pulled in a 44-yard strike from Cahill early in the fourth.

Deaubre Lightfoot added a 17-yard score for the Leopards to cap the scoring, converting Chase Mertz’s interception into points.

Belle Vernon lost a fumble and was intercepted in the first half. Steve Yusko recovered the fumble, and Rutledge had the pick for the Wildcats.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.

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