Latrobe edges crosstown rival Derry in overtime

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Saturday, August 24, 2019 | 12:21 AM


As backyard brawls go, this one went overtime.

Branden Crosby’s 27-yard screen pass to Logan Gustafson gave Latrobe the go-ahead touchdown in the extra session, and the Class 5A Wildcats came away with a 20-14, season-opening road victory over Class 3A No. 5 Derry on Friday night.

The victory ended a three-game Derry winning streak in the series between the two neighboring schools.

Derry, which has won three consecutive Big East Conference championships and finished runner-up to Aliquippa in the 2018 WPIAL Class 3A playoffs, routed Latrobe, 48-15, last season.

But the Wildcats turned the tables against the Trojans on Derry’s home field in their latest encounter.

“What a great game,” Latrobe coach Jason Marucco said. “It’s a great atmosphere here, and what a great game for both communities. It’s even better when you come out on top.”

Gustafson’s 5-yard touchdown run in the third quarter pulled Latrobe even at 14-14 after Derry carried a 14-7 advantage into the second half after Paul Koontz’s 36-yard scoring strike to Tanner Nicely with 1 minute remaining in the second quarter.

While it was an early-season matchup of teams from different classifications, it had the feel of a playoff battle. Neither team appeared to want to budge.

And when the fourth quarter came down to the closing minutes with no one seemingly seizing momentum, it became evident overtime was a distinct possibility.

Latrobe (1-0), in the end, played like it wanted to win more desperately than did Derry (0-1).

“I can’t say enough about the group of kids and what you saw here tonight,” Marucco said. “We’ve been talking all offseason about what this game was about. One thing in years past that we were lacking was our ability to want it more than Derry. Our kids dug in and believed in what we were doing and literally left everything they had on the field.”

All was quiet for much of the first quarter, both teams taking turns stalling before they reached the end zone.

It was 7-7 in a flash.

Derry scored first on Koontz’s 54-yard pass to Justin Huss with 2 seconds to go. Latrobe then knotted it heading to the second quarter when Kameron Stevens took the kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown.

“Our defense played shutout football in the first half,” Derry coach Tim Sweeney said. “You can’t score a touchdown, get momentum and then, bang, they take it away. Our offense in that first quarter put our defense in a big hole. And we can’t have breakdowns on special teams, like that.”

It stayed tied until Derry went back in front very late in the second quarter as Koontz, who finished with 163 yards passing, completed three passes in a row, capped by the 36-yarder to Nicely just before halftime.

Latrobe pulled back even, 14-14, with 3:35 left in the third quarter on Gustafson’s 5-yard TD run.

“His vision is really good, very underestimated,” Marucco said. “Then, when he sees it, his lateral movement makes him so tough to bring down.”

Sweeney spent a long time in the locker room with his players and staff afterward. After all, it is a backyard brawl that defines high school football fans in eastern Westmoreland County at this time of year.

“A salute to Jason and his staff and their kids,” Sweeney said, after he finally emerged. “They had a nice gameplan, and they executed. We need to be better as coaches. We made some mistakes.”

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