Jake Phillips’ 7 touchdowns lead Hempfield to romp of Shaler

Friday, September 16, 2022 | 11:16 PM

Coming into Friday night’s game at Shaler, Hempfield knew it was knocking on history’s door.

A performance for the ages blew that door clear off the hinges.

Spartans quarterback Jake Phillips accounted for 363 yards of offense and all seven touchdowns as Hempfield (4-0) pounded Shaler, 48-7, on Friday night in front of a raucous crowd at Shaler Stadium.

“He’s the real deal,” Hempfield coach Mike Brown said. “We’re excited for him. And we’re excited he’s on our team.”

Phillips tossed for 312 yards on 18 of 20 passing, connecting for four touchdowns, and ran for 51 yards and three more scores.

“In the offseason, I built chemistry with my receivers,” the senior said. “And things were just clicking tonight. Our offensive coordinator, Ryan Reitz, did a fantastic job calling plays. We gameplanned all week for this. This is what we hoped for.”

The Spartans are unbeaten after four weeks for the first time since 1971.

“It’s exciting,” Brown said. “But the kids know that’s not the final goal. It’s to go 5-0 next week, then 6-0. We’re excited, but about midnight tonight we’ll look ahead to going 5-0.”

The matchup was billed as one of the top games in the WPIAL — and one between programs that have each lacked success over the last decade or longer. But the high-profile contest quickly turned into a runaway.

Hempfield fumbled on the game’s second play and punted on its second drive. Shaler was unable to capitalize and, after that, the Spartans scored twice in less than two minutes.

Phillips hit tight end Anthony Vallano for a 5-yard score and then Daniel Katonka for a 40-yarder.

The Spartans then recovered a surprise onside pooch kick and scored on a 3-yard run by Phillips.

“We knew we were going to do that if the situation presented itself, just from watching film all week,” Brown said of the special teams play. “It was called, and the kids executed perfectly.”

Said Shaler coach Jim Ryan: “At that point, you get a momentum swing. That’s tough. And we’re still a fragile program, trying to build up and get to where we need to be. Moments like that, against a team of that caliber, it’s hard to come back from.”

Phillips then scored on a dazzling 12-yard run and a 5-yard jaunt and hit Keiran Lippmann for a 45-yard touchdown before halftime to give Hempfield a 41-0 lead at the break.

“Shaler’s a really good football team because they capitalize on people’s mistakes,” Brown said. “We tried to limit those mistakes as much as possible.”

After halftime, Phillips found Katonka for an 11-yard score.

Shaler (2-2) got on the board with an 89-yard touchdown reception by Kaden Orga from Keegan Smetanka, who passed for 161 yards and provided a rare moment to cheer for a packed home side of the stadium.

“There’s a lot of good people around here who care about the football program, school and community,” Ryan said. “As long as everybody continues to have faith in what we’re doing and buys in, there’s going to be a lot of good things to come.”

Hempfield faces Westmoreland County foe and defending state champion Penn-Trafford in its Class 5A Northeast conference opener next week, a game that should be its biggest test to date.

The Spartans enter with an offense averaging more than 48 points and a quarterback who already has eclipsed the 1,000-yard passing mark for the season.

“You finally get a big one at Hempfield,” Brown said. “There really hasn’t been that big of a game in a long time.”

Phillips, who totaled as many touchdowns Friday as he had in the team’s first three games, agreed.

“We’re going to be ready for P-T,” he said. “It’s an exciting game. We’ve been thinking about it all year, and we’re coming ready to play.”

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