Hempfield shows off for program’s 1st playoff team, routs Connellsville

Friday, September 2, 2022 | 11:42 PM

Hempfield honored its first playoff team on Friday night then took the field and played like a postseason squad of its own.

Gino Caesar rushed for 167 yards and four touchdowns, and Jake Phillips passed for 131 yards and ran for another score as Hempfield outclassed visiting Connellsville, 49-0.

It marked the second 49-point showing to start the season for the Hempfield offense. The Spartans went on the road to defeat Greensburg Salem, 49-7, on Aug. 26 in a game that was stopped at halftime because of lightning.

“Any time you get two wins, you’re happy,” Hempfield coach Mike Brown said.

The Spartans are 2-0 for the first time since going 3-0 in 2016.

“We have a mature group that is fully aware of what lies ahead on the schedule,” Brown said. “They already are turning their attention to next week. We are ready to focus on Latrobe now (on Friday night at Latrobe).”

Brown said he’s sleeping better at night knowing his players have put in an immense amount of work since last season. It shows, he said.

“We would like to start games a little better,” Brown said. “We want to have a complete game and it’s something we really worry about.”

Hempfield fell behind last week at the start before overwhelming Class 3A Greensburg Salem.

The Spartans were slow to start offensively against Class 4A Connellsville (1-1), which kept the game scoreless for much of the first half before Hempfield gained traction to take 7-0 lead on Phillips’ 28-yard touchdown run.

Hempfield, which ran up 435 yards of total offense, broke it open with three scores in the second quarter to take a 28-0 lead.

Elijah Binakonsky raced 14 yards less than 2 minutes into the quarter, and Caesar followed with runs of 21 and 2 yards, the latter coming with 57 seconds to go before the half.

Caesar’s 41-yard touchdown run in the third quarter gave Hempfield a 35-0 lead and triggered a running clock. He added a 2-yard run 2 minutes later, and the Spartans scored their final touchdown early in the fourth on Ethan Zontek’s 1-yard run.

Ian Tuffs finished with 100 yards receiving on four catches for the Spartans.

Before the game began, Hempfield honored the 1997 team that posted a 7-3 record after splitting a pair of WPIAL playoff games and was led by future NFL tight end Sean Berton.

“We talked about that ’97 team a little bit,” Brown said. “It was neat to get to talk to some of the guys this week. We picked their brains and came away feeling like they were kind of in the same situation we are before they made that playoff run. We kind of feel like we fed off them this week.”

Hempfield is playing in its first season in Class 5A after dropping from Class 6A.

Class 4A Connellsville, like Class 3A Greensburg Salem last week, was no match for Hempfield. The Falcons, like the Golden Lions, appeared overwhelmed from the start.

“For a third year in a row, the kids are learning a new system both offensively and defensively,” said Chad Lembo, one of three first-year, tri-coaches for Connellsville.

The trio of Lembo, Jace McClean and Mick Lilley, all former Falcons players, took over following the resignation of Bill Maczko, who coached the team for just one season after Marko Thomas left to take over at Greensburg Central Catholic.

Connellsville, a week after ending a 17-game losing streak with a season-opening victory at Albert Gallatin, ran into a bigger challenge at Hempfield.

A much bigger challenge.

The Falcons, who beat Albert Gallatin, 16-13, on Aug. 26, managed just 84 yards of total offense against Hempfield.

But while the offense sputtered, Connellsville’s coaching staff lamented the team’s poor defensive showing.

“We had a pretty good gameplan in place,” Lembo said. “We had bodies in the right places, but we tackled very poorly. Tackling lost us a lot of the points. We were in position to make the plays, but we just didn’t make them. We’re going to work to correct that.”

About that anemic offense that managed just 55 yards rushing and 29 passing?

“We just couldn’t get into a rhythm,” Lembo said. “Coming out and stopping them in the first series like we did, we had a chance to take the momentum and use it, and we didn’t capitalize on it. We watched the film, and we noticed they had a quick-tempo offense and we showed it to them, but the speed of it in a live setting is a different experience. It’s a good learning experience for them.”

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