Freshmen make immediate impact for Penn Hills football

Sunday, November 1, 2020 | 11:01 AM

Heading into the season, coach Jon LeDonne knew he was going to hand the keys to the Penn Hills offense over to freshman Julian Dugger. However, LeDonne wasn’t sure how much of an impact the rest of the freshmen and sophomore classes would make on the offense.

As the Indians (4-3, 4-1) jockeyed for playoff positioning down the stretch, LeDonne had a handful of those players taking meaningful snaps as the Indians ripped off a three-game winning stretch to finish second in WPIAL Class 5A Northeast Conference.

“They’re competitors,” Le Donne said. “A lot of them started on the scout team for us and opened up some eyes on how they played. They kept earning more and more reps.”

One fresh face that shined down the stretch for the Indians was freshman running back Amir Key, who earned more playing time after a season-ending injury to senior Dontae Pollard in a 14-7 win at North Hills on Oct. 9.

The next week, Key racked up 109 yards rushing on 16 carries and reached the end zone in a 27-7 win at home against Fox Chapel on Oct. 16. Key scored on an 8-yard run in the second quarter to give the Indians a 17-0 lead.

“He was so excited,” LeDonne said. “He came in that next week of practice excited to practice. Once they start having that success, the harder they are going to work for more of it.”

Key finished the regular season with 196 yards rushing with most of it coming in the final two weeks. Key reached the end zone on a 4-yard run to start the scoring for the Indians in a 42-21 win at Shaler in the season finale on Oct. 23.

“He has real good footwork and vision,” LeDonne said. “We’re still teaching him how to run behind his pads. For a freshman, he has really good vision.”

Senior Derrick Topeck led the Indians during the regular season with 245 yards rushing as Pollard had 220 yards rushing before his injury.

As Dugger navigated his first varsity season as the starting quarterback, he found himself being protected by an offensive line that included freshman right guard Carter Lance and sophomore left guard Le’Anthony Smith.

Dugger finished the regular season with 906 yards passing, six touchdown passes and one rushing touchdown and threw four interceptions.

The freshman quarterback connected with senior Noel Roach on three touchdown passes on the season. The pair connected twice in the win over Shaler, including a 73-yard touchdown in the first quarter.

Sophomore fullback Keith Condon and freshman wide receiver D’Andre Cochran have seen some playing time during stretches of the season.

“The biggest thing with them is working on their consistency,” LeDonne said. “As young guys, their minds are all over the place. That’s one thing we’ve been preaching since their reps have been increasing.”

The practices for the WPIAL playoffs aren’t just important for that playoff game but also for the future of a program that looks to continue to have success for years to come.

Heading into their matchup against Gateway, the defending WPIAL Class 5A champion, LeDonne reflected on how the upperclassmen on this year’s team had an opportunity to grow as younger players when the Indians made their PIAA playoff run two seasons ago.

“Any time you get extra games, especially for the younger guys, means extra weeks of practice and gets them more comfortable with what you’re asking them to do,” LeDonne said. “Some of our seniors this year were part of that state championship team. They got six or seven extra weeks of practice compared to some other teams. That translates to a whole regular season.”


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