Penn Hills football team showed development during playoff season

Sunday, November 28, 2021 | 11:01 AM

Development is a priority in the Penn Hills football program.

The Indians, who were eliminated from the playoffs after a 14-9 loss to Moon in the WPIAL Class 5A semifinals Nov. 19 at Newman Stadium, will lose three offensive linemen to graduation. Two of those players — Khalil Barley Morrow and Christian Williams — were first-year starters along with fellow senior and veteran Luke Pugliese.

“It’s all about reps and development,” Penn Hills coach Jon LeDonne said. “This season speaks to the growth and maturity of the players. They showed up ready to work and absorb the information given to them.”

Penn Hills, which finished 8-4 overall and finished with a three-way tie for the Northeast Conference championship, learned early it had to make improvements. The Indians were outscored by a combined 89-20 in the first two weeks by Central Catholic and Gateway.

“I definitely think playing high-caliber, playoff-type teams benefits you,” LeDonne said. “We made a lot of simple, mental mistakes. As the season went on, they took those past experiences and made improvements.”

While turnovers and mental mistakes did haunt Penn Hills throughout the season, the Indians showcased their growth in the playoffs. Playing at rival Gateway, which beat Penn Hills by 28 early in the season, the Indians built a 17-0 lead before holding on for a 23-20 victory.

Penn Hills’ defense continued to play strong in the semifinals, limiting Moon to a season-low 14 points. The problem was the Indians couldn’t force the Tigers into making game-changing mistakes.

“The semifinal game is a little bit more difficult. Points are harder to come by,” LeDonne said. “Moon played a mistake-free game.”

Penn Hills, which reached the semifinals for the first time since winning WPIAL and PIAA titles in 2018, will have the pieces returning to be competitive again next year.

The Indians will return their leading passer, sophomore quarterback Julian Dugger. Dugger is a dual threat, passing for 1,306 yards and 20 touchdowns this season. Dugger also finished second on the team in rushing with 651 yards.

Fellow sophomore Amir Key, who led the team with 842 rushing yards, will also return along with fellow running backs Amir Rollins and Naytell Mitchell.

LeDonne knows expectations will be high following their success this season.

“We want to keep getting better,” LeDonne said. “There are high expectations from what we were able to achieve this year. We lose a lot up front, on the offensive line especially. If you don’t have blocking, it doesn’t matter what you have on the back end.”


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