Belle Vernon shuts down Freeport in Class 3A to return to WPIAL championship game

Friday, November 18, 2022 | 10:38 PM

Belle Vernon is headed back to the WPIAL championship game looking to reverse a trend.

The top-ranked Leopards scored touchdowns on their first three possessions and rolled over No. 4 Freeport, 42-0, on Friday in the WPIAL Class 3A semifinals at Gateway’s Antimarino Stadium.

The Leopards (9-2) will face No. 2 Avonworth at 5 p.m. Nov. 25 for the Class 3A title at Acrisure Stadium. Avonworth defeated Shady Side Academy, 35-0.

Belle Vernon is making its sixth trip to the finals, where it has won only one title (1995). It was runner-up in 1996, 1999, 2019 and 2021.

“It’s still Heinz Field to us,” Belle Vernon coach Matt Humbert said of making his third trip as coach to the finals. “Avonworth is like the teams we met at the beginning of the season. They are big and physical, and they have two kids on the perimeter that they can throw the ball up to.”

Humbert was pleased with almost every part of his team’s performance against Freeport.

The offense took control early, and the defense was stout the entire game. The Leopards finished with four interceptions: two by Alonzo Wade and one each by Adam LaCarte and Quinton Martin.

“The offense bogged down a little, and I was disappointed we had to punt four times,” Humbert said. “We felt our front four could control the game, and that let our linebackers to roam free.”

The Freeport offense was limited to 55 yards rushing, and quarterback Gavin Croney completed only 3 of 16 passes for 71 yards.

“Our defense played great,” Belle Vernon senior Dom Sasko said. “We were able to get after them. Now we’re in the finals again.”

Junior Quinton Martin scored two touchdowns — a 45-yard reception and a 26-yard run — in the first half as Belle Vernon opened a 21-0 lead. Martin rushed for 94 yards and caught five passes for 86 yards.

Junior quarterback Braden Laux began the scoring on a 16-yard keeper to complete a nine-play, 80-yard opening possession.

The next time the Leopards touched the ball, Laux lofted a quick out to Martin, who avoided a couple of tackles and raced 45 yards to make it 14-0. Laux was 7 for 12 for 96 yards in the first half and finished 10 of 16 for 135 yards.

“It was good to come out and take advantage of some of the things we thought they’d give us,” Humbert said. “Then we hit a brick wall. They did a great job giving us multiple fronts, and we were just missing on a couple things like a few blocks.”

Freeport got a little tricky on its next possession, but a halfback pass by Ben Lane was intercepted by LaCarte at the Belle Vernon 42.

The Leopards turned that into points. After converting on a fourth-and-1 and a third-and-9, Martin raced 26 yards on third-and-6 to make it 21-0.

“We wavered a little bit, but we continued to fight,” Freeport coach John Gaillot said. “After they got their third score, we kind of settled in and started playing our style of defense.

“I’m very proud of the boys from the beginning of the year to now. It was a roller-coaster ride with all the injuries we had. If you would have told me we’d have a chance to get to Heinz Field after our first scrimmage when we lost (Jacksen Reiser), I would have eaten my hat.”

Belle Vernon’s defense was outstanding in the first half, limiting Freeport (10-2) to three first downs and 60 yards of offense.

The score stayed 21-0 into the fourth quarter when Belle Vernon sent the game into the mercy rule (a lead of 35 points or more) by scoring three times.

Jake Gedekoh, who rushed for 114 yards, scored on runs of 11 and 20 yards. And Laux squeezed in his second touchdown of the game on a 1-yard keeper. Laux finished with 60 yards on the ground as Belle Vernon rushed for 268 yards.

“We came out in the second half and said we were going down swinging, and we started passing,” Gaillot said. “But there are no flaws in their secondary.”

Watch an archived video stream broadcast of this game on Trib HSSN.

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

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