Gino Caesar passes 1,000-yard mark, leads Hempfield past Norwin

Friday, October 28, 2022 | 11:22 PM

Their football playoff aspirations dashed, Hempfield and Norwin entered their 2022 season finales having been reduced to playing for the latest bragging rights in this storied Route 30 rivalry.

Norwin came into Hempfield’s Spartan Stadium on Friday night carrying the torch after a decisive victory last season, but the nod this time went to Hempfield for the third victory in the past four games of the series.

“We’ve been playing with this same group of kids — even from Norwin — we’ve been going at it since we’ve been in midget football. It’s always a fun game to play, no matter which way it goes,” said Hempfield senior running back Gino Caesar, who rushed for 157 yards to surpass 1,000 for the season and scored three touchdowns in the Spartans’ 34-7 victory.

Hempfield freshman quarterback Dominic Detruf, subbing for injured senior Jake Phillips, passed for 163 yards, including an icing-on-the-cake 83-yard touchdown to Eli Binakonsky early in the fourth quarter.

“We didn’t get all the wins we wanted, but the guys never gave up,” Hempfield coach Mike Brown said. “You know, we were pleasantly surprised with that. We were happy with the way this group pulled through.”

The victory ended a four-game losing streak for Hempfield, which enters the offseason with some momentum for next year.

“I’m going to be motivated, for sure,” Brown said. “We’ll evaluate and start back up in January and get things going again. This group of seniors kind of showed the younger kids how to work and get a winning season. They put the blueprint out there. We proved that, if you put in the hard work, good things happen.”

Hempfield (6-4, 2-3 Big East) posted its first winning season since 2013, despite hitting a wall at midseason after opening the year with five victories.

Both teams were playing down a notch in classification to Class 5A, but the competition remained formidable. Compounding matters for both were injuries to key players, including both teams’ starting quarterbacks.

“In high school sports, you’ve got to play the hand you’re dealt every year,” Norwin coach Dave Brozeski said.

The Knights (1-9, 0-5) limped to the finish line in what Brozeski called as tough a season as he’s had to endure.

“The only thing worse than a one-win season is a zero-win season,” he said.

Hempfield played the final five games without quarterback Jake Phillips, who is drawing interest from Division II schools. He was close to being recovered from a broken collarbone, Brown said.

The Spartans also were without center Logan Eisaman, a 6-foot-, 280-pound senior, who was out with a sprained ankle.

Norwin freshman quarterback Tristyn Taveres, who began the season as the starter, returned after an extended absence from an ankle injury but was largely ineffective under heavy pressure throughout the game.

“The kids competed until the very end,” Brozeski said. “Obviously, we didn’t have success in wins and losses this year, but one thing football teaches you, what sports in general teaches you, it really challenges you. It’s obviously easy whenever you’re winning. When you’re not doing well, it builds character. I’m proud of the guys for continuing to battle until the very end.”

The series was nearly deadlocked over the past 10 seasons, Hempfield winning six games and reaching the WPIAL playoffs three times and Norwin prevailing four times with four playoff appearances.

Norwin won last year’s matchup in North Huntingdon, 27-7.

In the latest meeting, Hempfield dominated from the opening kickoff, advancing at will against the Norwin defense while stifling the Knights’ offense.

The Spartans used a 137-12 edge in rushing yards in the first half to take a 20-0 halftime lead on the three short touchdown runs by Caesar, who scored from 3, 1 and 2 yards out.

Binakonsky scored on a 1-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter to make it 27-0. The play was set up by Jackson Barton’s 34-yard interception return to the 1.

Norwin avoided its fourth shutout loss by scoring with 3 minutes, 25 seconds left on Nick Urey’s 25-yard touchdown pass to Luke Denny.

“It was a huge blow for us losing a kid like Jake Phillips, arguably one of our best players, and losing our center (near) the end,” Brown said. “They were huge losses, but a credit to our guys, credit to the seniors. They bought in and got the results they wanted. Hopefully, the younger guys will follow in their footsteps.”

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