Penn Hills heats up behind strong play from offensive, defensive lines

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Sunday, September 25, 2022 | 11:01 AM


By the second half of a Week Zero loss to Seneca Valley, the Penn Hills football team appeared to be putting everything together. The Indians were running the ball better and thought they would be primed to succeed in short order.

The Indians reeled off three straight wins — including a 35-0 destruction of defending WPIAL Class 5A runner-up Moon — to improve to 3-1 overall and 1-0 in Northeast Conference play. The Tigers eliminated Penn Hills, 14-9, in the WPIAL semifinals last season.

“We have been able to get strong play from our offensive and defensive lines,” Indians coach Charles Morris said. “We had to get our alignment and a lot of other things right.”

What helped the Indians develop the right continuity was getting everyone in the right spots. Penn Hills didn’t return much experience from last year’s offensive line.

Carter Lance, James Goode, Kelsey Hundley, Bernard Ndum and Gerald Jones have all settled into spots up front.

On the defensive side, Keith Pullman has helped make a lot of plays up front. Morris didn’t feel like anything complex needed to be changed for the team to be successful.

“I think it was more of moving guys around and getting them in the right place,” Morris said. “These guys work hard and they buy in. Once they were in the right place, it was easy for them.”

What the offensive line created is a team that is equally capable of running or throwing. Julian Dugger has passed for 457 yards and four touchdowns so far this season.

Dugger also averages 7.0 yards per carry on the ground. Amir Key is once again having a strong season at running back, piling up 582 yards and 7.2 yards per carry on the ground.

Raion Strader has been Penn Hills’ top receiver, hauling in seven passes for 126 yards.

The Indians’ early success hasn’t come against weak competition. In addition to beating Moon, Penn Hills also picked up a win over Pine-Richland, which also reached the WPIAL semifinals last year, and is coached by former Indians coach Jon LeDonne.

Morris, in his first year leading a program, feels humbled to see progress so quickly under a new system. He had served as an assistant for a number of years before taking over Penn Hills.

“I just want to stay true to my faith,” Morris said. “My faith in God helps me. We are trusting in the process and I’m leaning on things I’ve learned from my mentors: Terry Smith, Matt Morgan and coach (Neil) Gordon.”

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