Penn Hills grinds out tough victory over conference foe North Hills

Friday, October 9, 2020 | 11:52 PM

North Hills was looking to stay atop the Class 5A Northeast Conference when it met Penn Hills on Friday night. Penn Hills, meanwhile, was hoping to bounce back after being shut out the previous week.

In a defensive struggle, Penn Hills (2-3, 2-1) outlasted North Hills (2-3, 2-1), 14-7.

“We went out and got back to Western Pennsylvania football and grounded out the win,” Penn Hills coach Jon LeDonne said. “We shortened the game by running the ball and asked our defense to make plays, which they did.”

With 7 minutes, 52 seconds to go in regulation, Penn Hills began its fourth drive of the second half on its own 23-yard line. On third-and-3, Julian Dugger completed a pass to Noel Roach, but after gaining 25 yards, Roach fumbled.

Deondre Mitchell alertly ran across field to recover the fumble for Penn Hills to keep the drive alive. Later in the drive, Derrick Topeck took the handoff on fourth-and-1, but he got a lot more than a first down. He ran 31 yards to end zone to give Penn Hills the 14-7 lead.

North Hills looked to tie the score with 4:22 remaining. Facing a third-and-nine, Ethan Marker rolled out to his right and looked downfield for his target. But Penn Hills’ Jaden Dugger jumped the route to intercept the pass at the Penn Hills 25 and clinch the win.

“We pride ourselves on our defense with the bend-but-don’t-break mentality,” LeDonne said. “Jaden (Dugger) came back at the end and made a big play for us, while Luke Pugliese is one heck of a player with playing both sides of the ball for us.”

Said North Hills coach Pat Carey: “Our kids played with a ton of effort being outsized against them. In all three phases of the game, our guys gave great effort. That is a good squad on the other side of the field that has experience in winning games.”

After North Hills missed a field goal with 2:45 remaining in the first quarter, Penn Hills took over. The offense looked to but stalled, but Jawaan Brown took a direct snap on fourth-and-1 and picked up the first down to keep the drive alive.

The 11-play, 80-yard march ended when Dontae Pollard rushed in from 8 yards to give his team the 7-0 lead with 9:31 to go in the half.

“We were moving the ball throughout the game, but we couldn’t get any big hits,” Carey said. “We outgained them, but we didn’t hit any big plays and that was the difference.”

With 2:09 remaining before halftime, North Hills took possession and drove to the Penn Hills 48. Facing a second-and-10 with 21 seconds to go, North Hills went to the back pages of the playbook and executed a flea flicker: John Green caught a backward pass from Marker, and Green launched a pass to Robert Dickerson for a touchdown to even the score at 7-7 with 14 seconds left in the half.

Julian Dugger was 5 of 12 passing for 100 yards and rushed for 30 yards on nine attempts. Pollard rushed nine times for 46 yards and a score, and Topeck gained 42 yards on five carries with a touchdown.

Curtis Foskey led North Hills with 18 carries for 117 yards. Marker finished the night 3 of 8 for 40 yards and one interception. Dickerson caught four passes for 88 yards and a score and rushed 12 times for 35 yards.

Watch an archived broadcast of this game on Trib HSSN.

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