Hampton football wraps up historic season

Saturday, November 20, 2021 | 11:01 AM

Following their WPIAL playoff loss to Thomas Jefferson, the Hampton senior football players gathered at midfield inside a quiet, emptied Fridley Field.

“It was bittersweet,” senior tackle John Morris said. “We just talked about memories. Just the seniors.”

They had a lot to talk about.

The senior-heavy Talbots enjoyed the most successful season in program history, going 11-1 on the way to the Greater Allegheny Conference title and a WPIAL Class 4A playoff victory over Plum.

The memorable run ended with a 42-14 quarterfinal loss to visiting No. 5 Thomas Jefferson on Nov. 12. But the defeat didn’t tarnish a season that included a school-record 11 wins, a pair of 1,000-yard rushers and a string of lopsided victories.

“I knew this season was going to be something special,” junior quarterback/defensive back Joey Mayer said. “We had a lot of great seniors. I loved every single part of this season.”

Highlights included a comeback 41-38 overtime victory at Shaler and holding on for a last-second 21-20 win over Armstrong in back-to-back weeks in mid-September and rallying for a 14-13 triumph over Plum in the Talbots’ first playoff victory since 2015.

Off the field, the players also made an impact, helping Hampton neighbors clean up damage on a Saturday afternoon following an Oct. 21 tornado and storms.

“I don’t know if I can put it into words,” coach Jacque DeMatteo said. “I am just so proud of the seniors and the whole entire group of boys and our coaches and a community that really rallied behind them.”

Even in their lone defeat, the No. 4-seeded Talbots never quit. They fell behind perennial power Thomas Jefferson, 28-0, in the second quarter but scored two touchdowns in the final 32 seconds of the first half to cut the deficit to 28-14. The Jaguars scored the only points in the second half.

DeMatteo, in his 14th season, is hopeful the program can keep moving forward but says “a bunch of things need to happen” for the Talbots to make the next step to a “different level.”

“If you continuously win, that winning breeds itself and takes care of itself,” DeMatteo said. “I am hoping that is the direction we are headed. … There is a lot that has to happen.

“From the lower programs, we can’t be playing 6A schools that they are playing. We are a 4A program. We can’t be playing 6A schools. Obviously, as a coaching staff, we have to keep doing a good job of trying to get kids out and create excitement.

“But in order to get that level of a TJ, Aliquippa, Belle Vernon, McKeesport, year after year after year … I think that we are capable as a student body and as a staff to make the playoffs. But in order to then compete at a different level, there’s a bunch of things that would have to happen here. I don’t know. We will have to see what goes on. There are some things out of my control.”

The Hampton seniors — 16 on the roster — endured a number of obstacles over the years. They went 2-8 in their first two seasons competing in Class 5A before breaking through with a WPIAL 4A playoff spot last season.

This season, they put it all together.

Senior running back Christian Liberto rushed for 1,174 yards and 16 touchdowns and sophomore Brock Borgo added 1,085 yards and 17 TDs for the Talbots, who scored 40 or more points six times this season.

“Every year it’s been a challenge and like coach says all the time, we’ve risen to it,” Morris said. “This was just a really good year for us. Last year we had one of our best years in a while and this year we just tried to carry the torch and keep it going.”

The senior class consisted of QB/DB Matt DeMatteo; RBs Liberto and Jacob Premick; TE/LB Michael Witherup; OL/DLs Morris, Reiser, Logan Schwartz, Logan Rutledge, Charlie Schuit, Michael Bagley, Keegan Berzonski and Devon Fritsche; and LBs Jayden Resch, Bobby Oliver, Osemerie Efetie and Adam Dembowski.

“Our numbers are going to be a little bit down (next season) as far as the number of seniors,” coach DeMatteo said. “Next year will be a little bit of a drop-off.”

The Talbots’ top returnees are Mayer, Borgo, and juniors Benny Haselrig (WR/DB), Michael Santorello (LB) and Michael Morgano (RB/DB).

Others coming back include juniors Gabe Harris (TE/DL) and Eric Weeks (WR/DB) and sophomore linemen Gabe Gannelli and Adrian Midgley.

“We are losing a lot of guys, but we are getting back a lot of guys,” Mayer said. “Next year is also going to be a pretty good year for Hampton football.”

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