Hempfield runs past Latrobe, gets off to 3-0 start

Friday, September 9, 2022 | 10:59 PM

There were a lot of happy faces in the Hempfield locker room following Friday’s nonconference game at Latrobe Memorial Stadium.

The Spartan players were posing for photos and music was blaring after their convincing 49-14 victory against Latrobe in a battle of the unbeaten — and they should be happy, starting the season 3-0 for the first time since 2016.

Hempfield racked up 462 yards of offense and scored 49 points for the third consecutive game. The Spartans defense limited Latrobe (2-1) to 155 yards, and Robert Fulton, who opened the season with consecutive 200-yard games, to 42 yards.

Senior running back Gino Caesar rushed for 131 yards and three touchdowns and caught three passes for 42 yards, including a 29-yard touchdown catch.

Quarterback Jake Phillips completed 14 of 21 passes for 261 yards and two touchdowns and senior wide receiver Ian Tuffs had seven catches for 137 yards including a 15-yard diving touchdown catch.

So what pleased Hempfield coach Mike Brown more? The high-powered offense or the ball-hawking defense?

“Honestly, both,” Brown said. “But anytime you play defense like that, we gave them a cheap one at the beginning with the kickoff, the kids only gave up seven points and you can’t ask for much more than that. They played hard. They tackled. I couldn’t be any prouder than that.”

Things started well for Latrobe as Kollin Stevens returned the opening kickoff 83 yards for a touchdown.

Unfazed, Hempfield responded to tie the score by driving 79 yards in 12 plays with Elijah Binakonsky scoring on a 6-yard run. The big play in the drive was a 43-yard pass from Phillips to Tuffs on third-and-11 from the Spartans 20.

“These kids will never quit. They showed that last year when we were taking our lumps,” Brown said. “They didn’t allow that kickoff return to bother them. They knew what they had to do.”

Hempfield took advantage of a Latrobe fumble at the Wildcats 38 and used the short field to grab a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter on a 1-yard plunge by Binakonsky.

Latrobe’s offense found some traction as the Wildcats drove 76 yards to tie the score at 14. John Wetzel got things started with a 53-yard run. Fulton followed with a 16-yard run.

The tying score came when Fulton lined up in the Wildcat and tossed a jump-pass to tight end Corey Boerio for a 6-yard score.

“There aren’t many positives from this one, maybe the kickoff return,” Latrobe coach Ron Prady said. “You can’t turn the ball over four times in the first half and expect to be in the game. They took advantage of our mistakes and we didn’t take advantage of ours.

“They were bigger and stronger. Their up-tempo offense wore us down. They improved a ton from last year.”

Latrobe forced a Hempfield turnover on the Spartans’ next possession as Dom Flenniken picked off a Phillips pass at the Latrobe 40.

But Hempfield’s defense stopped Wetzel on fourth-and-1 at the Hempfield 44 and the Spartans ran away from there.

Caesar scored on a 1-yard run four plays later to make it 21-14, and then Phillips and Tuffs connected on a 15-yard score to make it 28-14.

Latrobe drove to the Hempfield 17, but Tuffs picked off a Wetzel pass near the goal line to end the threat.

Hempfield put the game away in the second half, scoring on its first three possessions to send the game into the mercy rule.

Caesar hauled in a 29-yard pass for a score early in the fourth quarter.

“We didn’t start out how we wanted to on both sides of the ball,” Caesar said. “We started slow. We came in at halftime and made a few adjustments and came out in the second half and put it all together.”

Brown was also pleased with the atmosphere as a large crowd jammed into the stadium.

“This is what high school football is all about,” Brown said, “being on the grass, under the lights on Friday night and both communities showed up.”

Prady was also pleased with the atmosphere; he just hoped his team performed a lot better.

Latrobe opens WPIAL Class 4A Big Seven Conference action next week at Thomas Jefferson.

“It doesn’t get any easier next week,” Prady said. “Thomas Jefferson is one of the premier programs in the state. That’s where we want to get to someday.”

Hempfield has one more nonconference game next week at Shaler before starting WPIAL Class 5A action at home against Penn-Trafford on Sept. 23.

What Brown likes most about his team is the togetherness they formed.

“They play for each other,” Brown said. “They fight for each other. They play for the man next to them. They keep each other accountable. The brotherhood is what I haven’t seen in a long time, whether it was coaching here or in college. These kids come together. They play together. They showed that (Friday).”

Paul Schofield is a TribLive reporter covering high school and college sports and local golf. He joined the Trib in 1995 after spending 15 years at the Daily Courier in Connellsville, where he served as sports editor for 14 years. He can be reached at pschofield@triblive.com.

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