Gutsy performance helped Penn Hills advance in WPIAL football playoffs

Sunday, November 21, 2021 | 11:01 AM

All the time the Penn Hills football team’s coaching staff dedicated to knowing their players paid off Nov. 12 at Gateway.

Indians coach Jon LeDonne knew what Julian Dugger was capable of while battling cramps during a 23-20 win over the Gators in the WPIAL Class 5A quarterfinals on the road.

When Gateway came roaring back from a 17-point deficit to take the lead in the fourth quarter, LeDonne knew what Dugger would do.

Limited by cramping, the Indians staff ran plays Dugger would be comfortable with. He was able to find Chase Barney for a 41-yard pass on the go-ahead drive.

“Once Gateway scored, I didn’t have to ask if No. 2 was ready,” LeDonne said. “Watching film, you can tell he was cramping, but he dug deep and threw a nice long pass to set up the game-winning touchdown. It wasn’t a question of if he was ready. It was what play calls put him in the best position to have success.”

Amir Key scored the winning touchdown on a 2-yard run to cap the No. 5 seed Indians’ upset victory over their rival. Penn Hills (8-3) had lost to Gateway 41-13 in the regular season and were knocked out of the playoffs by the Gators last season.

With the win, the Indians advanced to the WPIAL semifinals to meet Moon seeking their first trip to the WPIAL championship game since Penn Hills beat West Allegheny in 2018. Results from the game were too late for this edition.

“This postseason, we’ve been playing with a chip on our shoulder,” LeDonne said. “We didn’t think we got the respect we deserved. We can’t think about what happened in 2018. Moon is a very good team and they execute well. They are the No. 1 team for a reason.”

Key led the Indians with 74 rushing yards on 13 carries in the Gateway game. Dugger passed for 128 yards but missed most of the second half because of his injuries.

When Dugger returned, he made big plays to help earn a Willis Reed-type moment.

How well the Indians know each other helped everyone get on the same page.

“Our staff is unique and we bring a diverse group,” LeDonne said. “One thing is we care a lot about our players, and we spend a lot of time with them. We’re there a lot more than a normal staff, before practice, after practice. We know them more than just football players. I was comfortable with the offensive staff with us taking the field down three.”


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