Noel Roach, Penn Hills eye return to championship game

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Monday, September 7, 2020 | 10:44 PM


Noel Roach remembers fondly the run to WPIAL and PIAA Class 5A championship in 2018.

He and his Penn Hills teammates hope to renew those feelings this fall.

“Every day we just want to go in and work hard to get better,” the senior wide receiver and defensive back said. “We know a championship is always the goal. We’re excited for the potential on both sides of the ball. We can’t wait to get out there and start playing.”

After the WPIAL made coronavirus-related schedule changes, an originally scheduled scrimmage Aug. 22 at Aliquippa, coach Jon LeDonne’s alma mater, and a Week Zero game against Central (Martinsburg, W. Va.) at the Wolvarena were eliminated.

A Northeast Conference game with Kiski Area was moved from Week 9 to the new Week 1 on Sept. 11, replacing a nonconference game with neighboring Gateway.

LeDonne said that while the changes were a little frustrating, it’s good to have some form of a season for his players.

“For the seniors, it’s good to have games to give them exposure for college recruiting purposes,” he said. “We’ll have to be ready quickly. It makes these practices so much more important.

“The games might look a little hectic and ugly at first because there won’t be a lot of competition against other teams going in. We just have that first scrimmage. The most important thing about the scrimmage, apart from seeing how we’ve improved and what we still need to work on, will be to come out of it healthy.”

Penn Hills finished 10-2 last year, won the Class 5A Northern Conference with a 7-0 record and advanced to the WPIAL quarterfinals before falling to McKeesport.

The PIAA is expected to decide on a postseason playoff scenario, which will affect how the WPIAL conducts its own playoff tournaments. Penn Hills hopes to be in position to qualify out of a conference that includes Kiski Area, Fox Chapel, North Hills, Shaler and conference newcomer Pine-Richland, last year’s WPIAL Class 6A runner-up.

“Every week is going to be big,” said Roach, a first-team all-conference selection in 2019 who committed to Akron last month. “The conference is going to be challenging again this year, but there is no reason why we can’t win it.”

Roach led the team with six interceptions last year and added 18 catches for 313 yards and two scores on offense.

Also back are all-conference first-team picks in senior defensive back Dontae Pollard (32 tackles, three interceptions), who owns an offer from St. Francis (Pa.), and senior outside linebacker Jawann Brown, as well second-team inside linebacker Cam Hopkins (senior), and honorable mention outside linebacker Derrick Topeck (senior).

Brown led the team with 91 tackles a year ago.

LeDonne said while the linebackers and secondary have experience, the task defensively will be in replacing four all-conference linemen.

On offense, several dual-threat players are in the running to take the place of graduate Eddie McKissick at quarterback. The group includes Perry transfer Tre’shaun Barron, a junior.

LeDonne said there will be some changes in the offense under new offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Alex Dennison, a Norwin grad who played at Buffalo.

“There will be some similarities to what we’ve done in the past, but there will be some additions to that,” LeDonne said. “He brings a lot of coaching experience, including at the collegiate level.”

Pollard enjoyed success at receiver last year and tied for the team lead with six touchdowns. Junior Jaden Dugger also is a pass-catching threat.

LeDonne expects Topeck (247 yards, three TDs) to handle the bulk of the carries in the run game.

There is experience up front with senior all-conference linemen Claude Vangelus (tackle), Luke Pugliese (center) and Damone Moultrie (guard). Senior Josias Dixon was a part-time starter last year.

Senior Jonah Silverman, an all-conference pick last year, hopes to make an impact in the kicking game.

“There is a buzz for the season,” LeDonne said. “There are a lot guys coming back ready and excited to see what they can do.”

Schedule

Coach: Jon LeDonne

2019 record: 10-2, 7-0 in Class 5A Northern

All-time record: 515-308-22

Date, Opponent, Time

9.11, at North Allegheny, 7

9.18, at Woodland Hills, 7

9.26, Kiski Area,* 7

10.2, Pine-Richland,* 7

10.9, at North Hills,* 7

10.16, Fox Chapel,* 7

10.23, at Shaler,* 7

*Class 5A Northeast Conference game

Statistical leaders

Passing: Eddie McKissick*

102-181, 1,560 yards, 17 TDs

Receiving: Dontae Pollard

32-526 yards, 6 TDs

Rushing: Germar Howard*

129-1,047 yards, 9 TDs

*Graduated

Fast facts

• Penn Hills enters the 2020 season having won 14 straight conference games.

• The Indians averaged 29 points over nine regular-season games after a shutout loss to Pine-Richland in the 2019 Week Zero opener.

• Roach had offers from more than a dozen Division I FBS and FCS schools before giving his verbal commitment to Akron. Among the other suitors were fellow Mid-American Conference schools Buffalo, Kent State and Toledo.

• New offensive coordinator Alex Dennison led Norwin, as the No. 5 seed, to the WPIAL Quad-A quarterfinals in 2007. The Knights rolled past Woodland Hills in the first round.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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