Howard bolsters Penn Hills rushing attack

Thursday, October 24, 2019 | 3:53 PM

During the WPIAL playoffs, a successful team will need to lean on a strong running game to advance deep in the tournament.

Throughout the season, the Penn Hills football team has worked to establish a run game after the graduation of Terry “Tank” Smith.

Coach Jon LeDonne has leaned on senior running back Germar Howard to take over for Smith. In the early going, Howard was trying to find his way in his new role but looks to have found his stride in recent weeks as the playoffs fast approach.

Howard leads the Indians (8-1, 6-0) with 943 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on 103 carries heading into the final week of the season.

Howard rushed for 243 yards and a touchdown in Penn Hills’ 20-7 win over Baldwin in Class 5A nonconference action Oct. 18. Howard’s lone touchdown came off a 10-yard run in the third quarter.

“We found a reliable run game the last couple of weeks. Germar is getting a little bit more comfortable back there and understanding where he’s supposed to run the ball,” LeDonne said.

“The offensive line is doing a really good job opening up holes. We’re running the ball a little bit more than the last two years. If it keeps working, we will keep moving forward with that.”

The run game started to click when for the Indians when Howard rushed for 122 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries in a 14-7 win over Mars in Northern Conference action Sept. 13. Howard scored on a game-winning 78-yarder up the middle with 4:29 left. Howard also had an 18-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.

Three weeks later, Howard ran for 220 yards and two touchdowns in a 30-10 win over Hampton in conference play. The following week, Howard rushed for 152 yards and touchdowns of 85 and 8 yards against Shaler.

“This is the first time playing running back at the varsity level. His vision is really improving. His footwork and explosiveness through the hole,” LeDonne said.

“We talked to him early on in the year when he was trying to make three or four cuts. We got him down to making one cut and going. He’s seeing the holes better as he gets more reps and the season has gone along.”

If LeDonne and the Indians want to repeat as WPIAL and state champions, they understand the importance of a run game to complement their passing game, led by senior quarterback Eddie McKissick.

“Even though there is all this glory in spread and run ‘n gun, western Pa. football has its roots heavy in running the football. You hope to be playing games in late November when the weather can impact you and you need to have a good run game,” LeDonne said.

However, LeDonne feels the Indians are playing an all-around game at the right time of the year.

“We are starting to hit stride both offensively and defensively. We’re finishing the year with a couple quality playoff opponents,” LeDonne said.

“As we move into the playoffs, a lot of the guys were a part of the team last year maybe in different roles, but they have a feel of being there and what is needed to get there. The biggest thing is going to be execution.”


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