Devin Whitlock shines but sophomore shares spotlight as Belle Vernon tops Laurel Highlands

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Friday, October 1, 2021 | 10:35 PM


If this matchup was meant to decide the most-dangerous playmaker in the Big Eight, Devin Whitlock certainly made his case.

The Belle Vernon senior delivered another astonishing play Friday night when he returned a punt 67 yards untouched to the end zone for one of his three touchdowns in a 56-14 victory over Laurel Highlands. Yet, in a conference battle billed as a duel between Whitlock and Laurel Highland star Rodney Gallagher, a lesser-used sophomore stole some of their spotlight with five touchdown runs.

Belle Vernon’s Jake Gedekoh rushed for 247 yards on 23 carries and scored five times as the Leopards (5-0, 3-0) solidified their spot at the top-ranked team in WPIAL Class 4A.

“I love all of the hype matchups,” Whitlock said. “It gives you a chance to go out and show who you really are and what you can really do in those bright situations.”

A week after knocking off Thomas Jefferson, they took down another undefeated team in Laurel Highlands (5-1, 2-1) but with less fanfare. The win was Belle Vernon’s 14th in a row over the Mustangs.

“We found out a lot about our team,” said Laurel Highlands coach Rich Kolesar, whose team started 5-0 for the first time in school history. “We made some mistakes. We’ve just got to get those fixed. It’s a long season and all of our goals are still ahead of us.”

Gedekoh wasn’t the playmaker Laurel Highlands was most concerned with, but the 5-foot-10, 175-pound sophomore caused the Mustangs trouble. He had only 12 carries in Belle Vernon’s first four games but was forced into a lead-back role against Laurel Highlands when starting running back Quinton Martin was sidelined with a knee injury.

“I just do what they say,” said Gedekoh, who also plays tight end and fullback. “I do the job.”

Gedekoh said his 23 carries were his most since elementary school. He scored on runs of 2, 26, 10, 7 and 3 yards.

“I always knew that he had it in him,” Whitlock said. “He came out today and showed everybody that if he needs to, he could step up into that role.”

Along with a 67-yard punt return touchdown, Whitlock had 154 rushing yards on 10 carries and scored on runs of 5 and 27 yards. His first two touchdowns gave Belle Vernon a 14-0 second-quarter lead that the Leopards never lost.

In all, Belle Vernon ran the ball 35 times.

“We wanted to wear them down,” Belle Vernon coach Matt Humbert said. “We felt that we have what we wanted in the run game.”

Gedekoh had 106 rushing yards in the first half and Whitlock had 84.

“Let’s focus on the holes that were there to propel those guys to success,” Humbert said. “A lot of good pins. A lot of good pulls. We were very basic tonight. We weren’t trying to be fancy. We just wanted to impose our will and run downhill.”

Laurel Highlands was forced to play from behind but Gallagher found his moments too.

The junior completed 17 of 28 passes for 219 yards and two touchdowns but also was intercepted twice. Gallagher combined with Keondre DeShields for a perfectly placed 78-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter and found Jayden Pratt for a 23-yarder in the third.

But Laurel Highlands couldn’t keep pace. Belle Vernon led 21-7 at half and outscored Laurel Highlands, 33-7, in the final two quarters.

Whitlock and Gallagher are both two-sport athletes, which boosted the hype for their head-to-head matchup. They’re both quarterbacks on the football field and point guards on the basketball court.

“He was real competitive,” Kolesar said. “He was in there all the way until the end. He kept battling and kept working hard.”

Trailing 14-7, Laurel Highlands was trying to drive for a touchdown just before halftime when Belle Vernon’s Evan Pohlot intercepted Gallagher in Leopards’ territory. With 44 seconds until half, rather than running out the first-half clock, Whitlock sprinted 61 yards on first down, setting up Gedekoh for a 2-yard TD run.

Gallagher and Whitlock have faced one another before in both sports, but this was the first time they both were full-time quarterbacks.

Gallagher has numerous Division I scholarship offers for both football and basketball. Whitlock, whose recruiting stock is likely rising, has The Citadel and Youngstown State among his offers.

“Nothing gets to him,” Humbert said of Whitlock. “He doesn’t get rattled. He’s just an easy-going dude that’s the ultimate competitor.”

Listen to an archived broadcast of this game on Trib HSSN.

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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