Belle Vernon well-stocked to defend WPIAL, PIAA Class 3A titles

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Wednesday, August 16, 2023 | 8:29 PM


After capturing long-awaited WPIAL and PIAA championships last season, Belle Vernon gets to test the old adage that defending a title is more difficult than winning one in the first place.

Coach Matt Humbert said he has been trying to push his players a little bit harder in the offseason, to make them, to use his word, “uncomfortable.” But that doesn’t necessarily mean there is more pressure on the Leopards. Whatever external forces the team faces, they won’t be greater than those on the inside.

“The whole bull’s-eye on the back, it was there last year,” Humbert said. “They anointed us before we even played a game. So I think it’s similar in that regard. … With all the expectations last year, preseason wise, I don’t think it’s really that much different.”

Added senior QB/DE Braden Laux: “We’ve really just approached it the same way as we did last year. Just get through our practices, prepare for each team each week and just move forward.”

Preparations won’t be the only “same” element for Belle Vernon (12-2 last season). The majority of the players who won those Class 3A titles return. Leading the way is a large senior class fronted by Penn State commit Quinton Martin.

Martin’s exploits are well-documented, and, as eye-popping as his numbers are, they are a fraction of what they might be on other teams. And that’s a good thing.

Humbert has never had to overwork Martin in games because of the wealth of talent that surrounds him. That is beneficial in two ways: BVA can win without leaning on Martin — witness the ‘22 PIAA semifinal when Martin got limited touches — and it keeps him fresh for the games when he needs to carry a bigger load.

“There’s games where you could have easily given Quinton the ball a thousand times,” Humbert said. “But that never was really an issue. The issue was always making sure we were multiple enough where, if we have a situation where he wasn’t there, you still don’t skip a beat.”

Laux, an Eastern Michigan commit, proved to be a threat running and throwing. Jake Gedekoh returns as a bruising complement to Martin in the backfield. Senior Adam LaCarte and juniors Anthony Crews and Alonzo Wade are talented targets in the passing game, and tight end Aiden Johnson is among the unsung heroes of the offense.

Crews has proven he is capable of big plays, returning a kickoff for a touchdown in the PIAA semis against Central (Martinsburg). And the 6-foot-3 Wade should feature more this season.

The contributions of senior kicker Willie Schwerha can’t be overlooked. He converted a 31-yard field goal and three extra points in the WPIAL title game and had a 24-yard field goal in BVA’s 9-8 win over Neumann-Goretti in the state final.

The line, which must replace Steve Macheska on both sides, will be led by seniors Dane Levi, Luke Bryer and Jake Heckel.

Many of the aforementioned players, along with senior linebacker Tanner Moody, will key the defense as well. That unit never gave up more than 17 points in a game last season.

“There’s always that expectation,” LaCarte said. “We know that we’re expected to win every game, so we have to go into those games with that mindset, knowing that we can’t take any teams lightly.”

Editor’s note: Due to production scheduling conflicts, the preview for Interstate Conference team Elizabeth Forward will appear later this month.

Belle Vernon

Coach: Matt Humbert

2022 record: 12-2, 5-0 in Class 4A Interstate Conference

All-time record: 353-24-7

SCHEDULE

Date, Opponent, Time

9.1 at Laurel Highlands, 7

9.8 McKeesport, 7

9.15 at Penn-Trafford, 7

9.22 Thomas Jefferson, 7

9.29 at South Allegheny*, 7

10.6 Greensburg Salem*, 7

10.13 at Mt. Pleasant*, 7

10.20 at Southmoreland*, 7

10.27 Elizabeth Forward*, 7

*Conference game

STATISTICAL LEADERS

Passing: Braden Laux

71-139, 1,003 yards, 12 TDs

Rushing: Quinton Martin

148-1,246 yards, 22 TDs

Receiving: Martin

28-411 yards, 6 TDs

FAST FACTS

• Belle Vernon’s defense yielded 48 points in the first three games last season. In the final 11, including the WPIAL and PIAA championships, it gave up 73.

Belle Vernon enters the season on an 11-game winning streak.

• In the past six seasons, Belle Vernon is 36-3 in conference games. The last time the Leopards lost more than one game in conference was 2016 (6-2, Big Nine).

• Quinton Martin scored 28 touchdowns on offense last season for 168 points. That’s 47 more points than Belle Vernon’s opponents scored last season.

ROSTER

No., Name, Pos., Ht./Wt., Cl.

1, Kole Doppelheuer, RB/LB, 5-9/155, Jr.

2, Colton Lee, WR/LB, 6-2/160, Sr.

3, Curtis Wade, QB/DB, 6-2/160, So.

4, Alonzo Wade, WR/LB, 6-2/195, Jr.

5, Anthony Crews, WR/DB, 5-10/180, Jr.

6, Dominic Ghilani, WR/DB, 6-2/200, Jr.

7, Zach Plymire, QB/LB, 5-9/135, Fr.

8, Anthony DiCenzo, WR/QB/LB, 5-2/168, So.

9, Deaubre Lightfoot, RB/DB, 5-10/170, So.

10, Jake Gedekoh, RB/DB, 6-0/205, Sr.

12, Nick Mahalko, WR/QB/DB, 5-11/150, So.

13, Chase Mertz, QB/LB, 6-0/155, Jr.

14, Braden Laux, QB/DE, 6-5/215, Sr.

15, Jace Gedekoh, QB/LB, 5-11/160, Fr.

16, Caleb Horner, WR/LB, 5-7/145, So.

17, David Bergstedt, WR/LB, 5-5/140, Fr.

18, Bradey Gabrovsek, WR/LB, 5-10/170, Jr.

19, Adam LaCarte, WR/DB, 6-1/200, Sr.

20, Mitchell Daley, WR/DB, 5-6/140, So.

21, Chase Petrosky, RB/LB, 5-8/160, Fr.

22, Tanner Moody, RB/LB, 5-11/175, Sr.

23, Derek Milkovich, TE/LB, 5-11/155, So.

24, Jake Tatar, WR/DB, 5-11/160, Sr.

25, Quinton Martin, RB/DB, 6-3/205, Sr.

26, Joel Lawver, RB/DB, 5-5/125, Fr.

27, Nicolas Angelo, WR/Db, 5-3/120, Fr.

28, Cameren Jenko, RB/DE, 5-10/190, Fr.

29, Suyash Sapkota, WR/DB, 5-5/150, Fr.

30, Tanner Hepple, FB/LB, 5-10/190, Jr.

31, Andrew Bickerton, WR/DB, 5-6/125, Fr.

32, Zach Zelenski, FB/LB, 5-10/195, Sr.

33, Brayden Minahan, WR/DB, 5-7/130, Fr.

34, Jason Petrusky, WR/DB, 5-8/168, So.

40, Theodore Brewer, WR/DB, 5-11/145, Jr.

41, Robert Allhouse, WR/DB, 5-4/120, Fr.

42, Skyler Gush, FB/LB, 5-10/160, Fr.

43, Izak Sobczak, FB/LB, 5-10/160, Sr.

44, Luca Ghilani, WR/DB, 5-11/150, Fr.

45, Mason Baughman, WR/DB, 5-10/140, Fr.

46, Angelo Spoto, WR/DB, 5-7/138, Fr.

48, Caden Hoffman, WR/DB, 5-9/125, Fr.

50, Dylan Dewitt, OL/DL, 6-0/250, Sr.

51, Jordan Siguta, OL/DL, 6-0/195, Sr.

52, Jake Heckel, OL/DL, 6-0/280, Sr.

53, Luke Bryer, OL/DL, 5-10/220, Sr.

54, Ethan Baron, OL/DL, 5-10/180, Fr.

55, Tyler Zelenski, OL/DL, 6-0/210, Jr.

56, Ryan Kent, OL/DL, 6-2/245, So.

58, Dalton Daumit, OL/DL, 6-1/207, Fr.

59, Maddox Ceccarelli, OL/DL, 5-10/155, Fr.

60, Jacob Pfarr, OL/DL, 5-8/210, Sr.

61, Caleb Cunningham, OL/DL, 5-7/200, Fr.

62, Zak Wade, P/K, 5-7/145, Fr.

63, Aunsh Bhandari, OL/DL, 5-8/168, Fr.

65, Cole Browder, OL/DL, 5-10/215, Jr.

66, Aiden Clegg, OL/DL, 5-8/185, Fr.

68, Timmy Schwerha, OL/DL, 6-0/255, So.

69, Perry Riggle, OL/DL, 6-0/270, Sr.

70, Dane Levi, OL/DL, 6-3/280, Sr.

71, Carter Briggs, OL/DL, 5-9/250, Fr.

72, Preston Rathaway, P/K, 5-8/145, Fr.

73, Randy Munsky, OL/DL, 6-0/340, Fr.

74, Jeremiah Scott, TE/DE, 6-0/180, Jr.

78, Gage Mitchell, OL/DL, 6-0/195, Jr.

79, Derek Deleonibus, OL/DL, 6-0/200, Fr.

80, Jackson Alexander, TE/LB, 5-11/180, So.

81, Jude Minniti, TE/DE, 6-3/210, So.

82, Josh Zdrojewski, TE/DE, 6-1/180, Jr.

86, Willie Schwerha, P/K, 6-0/190, Sr.

88, Aiden Johnson, TE/DE, 6-2/215, Sr.

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