Defense dominates as Class 5A No. 1 Penn-Trafford beats Latrobe

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Friday, October 4, 2019 | 10:44 PM


Penn-Trafford was not clicking offensively. The running game was sluggish, passes were off the mark and the sticks weren’t moving with normal rapidity.

The Warriors’ defense, however, was there to bail it out.

No. 1 Penn-Trafford held Latrobe to one first down, pressured the Wildcats’ continuously and pounded down a 39-7 victory in the Class 5A Big East Conference on Friday night at Latrobe Memorial Stadium.

The Warriors are 6-1 overall and clinched at least a share of the conference title with a 5-0 mark.

Playoff-bound Penn-Trafford produced a safety and did not let the Wildcats gain 10 or more yards on any play from scrimmage.

“That was about as good as we can play defensively,” Penn-Trafford coach John Ruane said. “We haven’t been ourselves the last two weeks. We need to put a full team game together. We’ve been too hot and cold.”

Latrobe (2-5, 1-4) was strong defensively in its own right on homecoming night, preventing big runs from quarterback Gabe Dunlap and others. But the Wildcats’ offense sputtered and did not get a first down until there was 1 minute, 41 seconds left.

Like any top-ranked team, Penn-Trafford made the most of repeated opportunities, the ultimate undoing for Latrobe on this night. The score could have been worse if not for Latrobe’s run-stopping and the Warriors’ misfires.

Penn-Trafford scored 32 unanswered points after it was 7-7 early.

“I thought our defense was great tonight,” Latrobe coach Jason Marucco said. “We just could not get our offense going. It’s tough when you’re facing maybe the best defense in 5A.”

Latrobe was within earshot by halftime, thanks to a pursuing run defense that made Penn-Trafford look uncharacteristically slow.

The Wildcats stuffed the Warriors three times on fourth downs.

“They schemed us well like they always do,” Ruane said. “But we did not run the ball well. When they put that many in the box, we need to be able to throw.”

Dunlap still finished 13 of 20 for 184 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for a score before being replaced late by Ethan Carr, who ran for two second-half touchdowns.

After a scoreless second quarter, and penalty-free first half, the Warriors led, 20-7, at the break. It felt closer than that.

Dunlap ran in a 1-yard touchdown on the Warriors’ opening drive. But Latrobe’s Kameron Stevens, who has drawn the ire of opposing teams all season because of his return ability, took the ensuing kickoff back 95 yards and it was 7-7 early.

“I was surprised they kicked to him,” Marucco said. “Our blockers did a nice job sealing for him, but he just has that explosiveness.”

It was his fourth kick-return score of the season.

But Penn-Trafford quickly responded — harkening back briefly to last year’s score-for-score playoff game against Peters Township — as sophomore Cade Yacamalli returned the next kick 80 yards for Penn-Trafford.

The extra point was missed, and the Warriors settled on a 13-7 advantage.

“We made some adjustments at halftime and adapted better,” Yacamelli said. “We had a slow start, but we picked it up. Our line did a great job of blocking.”

Yacamelli also caught four passes for 55 yards and a touchdown.

He found the end zone again late in the first quarter when he pulled in a short pass and punctuated the 18-yard scoring play to up the Warriors’ lead to 20-7.

Freshman Josh Huffman kicked a 25-yard field goal, and the Warriors forced a safety to take a 25-7 lead into the fourth.

That’s when Carr ran for a pair of scores and completed 4 of 7 passes for 69 yards.

“We wanted a spark,” Ruane said when asked about pulling Dunlap for Carr.

Eight receivers caught passes for the Warriors. Brad Ford and Carr each had four catches.

Latrobe made a change at quarterback in the second half as Branden Crosby replaced Bobby Fetter, who Marucco said was “a little banged up.”

Ruane was anxious to start dissecting film, but he made sure not to cheat the moment.

“We didn’t play well but at the same time, we won a football game,” Ruane said. “We just need to be better and play harder. It’s that simple.”

Latrobe’s playoff chances could hinge on a win next week against Plum.

“Our playoffs start (Saturday) morning,” Marucco said.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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