Norwin takes down rival Penn-Trafford to win 1st WCCA 7-on-7 tournament

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Thursday, July 18, 2019 | 6:31 PM


For Norwin’s opponents in the ninth Westmoreland County Coaches Association 7-on-7 tournament, it must have, at times, felt more like 7-against-8.

With the quarterback and receivers getting the lion’s share of the attention in summer passing events, defensive backs often have to operate behind the scenes. But Norwin helped to change that perception on a humid Thursday in Latrobe.

Defense was front and center — the sub-plot to a championship — as the Knights picked off five passes to complement the pinpoint passing of senior quarterback Jack Salopek and win their first WCCA title.

The capper was a 24-13 victory over defending and five-time champion Penn-Trafford in the title game at Rossi Field.

Senior Mike Ryan picked off three passes, and juniors Nick Flemming and Ty Bilinsky had one apiece, Bilinsky’s coming in the final seconds of the championship as Warriors quarterback Gabe Dunlap tried a slant over the middle.

It was a nice, collaborative effort by the Knights offense and defense, the latter guided by ball-hawking coverage.

“That was the most interceptions we had over the course of the summer today,” Norwin coach Dave Brozeski said. “Our guys made the offense do some contested catches on the defensive side. Being in good spots. It was a great team day, a great program day.”

Salopek, who had a banner day guiding the offense, rifled 13 touchdowns to numerous receivers. Counter to his defense, Salopek did not throw an interception.

In all, he completed 65 of 78 attempts in six games for the Knights (6-0), who won Bracket B by a game over Franklin Regional (4-1), one of eight teams in the field playing new quarterbacks.

Each team played five games in pool play.

Junior tight end Tanner Krevokuch caught the first touchdown in the final, and the Knights added an extra-point pass.

Penn-Trafford made it 7-6 on a Dunlap-to-Cole Defillippo connection before Norwin went ahead 15-6 when Salopek hit Dom Barca for a touchdown and Bilinsky grabbed the two-point conversion.

Mason Frye pulled in a score from Dunlap and the Warriors added the point-after — teams got one point for conversions inside the 3-yard line and two points for others inside the 10 — to make it 15-13.

Salopek gave the Knights some breathing room with a dart to junior Connor Chrisman for a 21-13 advantage with about a minute left.

Bilinsky’s pick of a slightly underthrown ball near the edge of the end zone allowed the Knights to celebrate the title, plaque and free T-shirts.

“Our guys have been working hard all summer … leading up to this one,” said Salopek, a Western Michigan recruit. “I think we wanted it a little bit more. I feel like guys were prepared, which is a big thing, knowing all the plays at different positions; we had some guys cramped up so some guys had to come in that weren’t playing their normal positions.”

Penn-Trafford (5-1) cruised into the finals with a number of blowout wins, which allowed it to take the point-differential tiebreaker over Hempfield (5-0) and win Bracket A — the teams did not play head-to-head.

The Warriors posted three shutouts, including 32-0 over Derry and 28-0 over Mt. Pleasant.

“Salopek is really good and Norwin played really well,” Penn-Trafford coach John Ruane said. “They made one more play than we did. Credit them, they executed well. I thought we did a nice job of stretching the field better than we have in the past.”

The Warriors played without senior standout Caleb Lisbon, who rested a sore hamstring. With their safety out, Salopek could perhaps lead his receivers better and hit them in stride.

Teams got six points for a touchdown and the defense got three for each interception. Games were played on 40-yard fields and lasted 25 minutes each.

“It felt good today,” Salopek said. “That’s a testament to our guys working hard and getting open for me and catching. It’s not all just me; it’s a lot of them too.”

Norwin won some tight games, barely getting past one-win Greensburg Salem, 15-14, and won by a touchdown against Franklin Regional, 20-14.

“I was proud of all of our guys,” Brozeski said. “This is our fifth 7-on-7 we did over the summer. We always finish up with the county coaches; it’s always a great tournament and great competition.

“Jack did well. All the guys did well. I liked how everybody took a step from our last 7-on-7 to today. Jack did a nice job, and our guys ran good routes, and defensively, we made a lot of nice plays.”

Kiski Area also finished 4-1, the lone defeat the result of a forfeit. The team arrived late after the bus took a lengthy route and broke down in transit to Latrobe.

The Cavaliers were supposed to play Penn-Trafford in their opener.

“We want to see the kids compete; they fly to the ball,” Kiski Area coach Sam Albert said. “This is good for team unity, but the results mean nothing. Everyone plays man-under, two-deep (defense).”

A bright spot for Kiski Area was 6-foot-7 receiver Jason Baker, a junior who made some plays downfield in traffic.

Burrell junior quarterback Alex Arledge, a transfer from Central Catholic, also caught the attention of coaches. He had several memorable hook-ups with wideout Seth Fischbach. The Bucs went 3-2, as did Jeannette and Valley.

“It was a good day for us,” Burrell coach Shawn Liotta said. “We lost two close ones. We’re starting to polish our passing game. Events like this allow us to come out and get better.”

The field was reduced to 15 teams after Monessen declined to play because its helmets did not arrive in time for the competition. A few junior varsity teams filled in for the Greyhounds.

Norwin’s win was a bonus because it came against longtime rival Penn-Trafford.

“Any time you go against P-T, it’s picking up the intensity level,” Brozeski said. “Coach Ruane does a great job.”

Norwin opens the season Aug. 23 at Penn-Trafford.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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