Penn-Trafford hunting elusive WPIAL football title

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Tuesday, November 23, 2021 | 6:37 PM


Penn-Trafford has a storied football program, but its resume is missing a couple of key items: WPIAL and PIAA titles.

The Warriors can add those to the trophy case over the next few weeks starting Saturday at Heinz Field when they face Moon in the WPIAL Class 5A championship game.

This is the fourth time the Warriors have made the finals, but they’ve yet to wak away with a title.

This also is the third time that John Ruane is taking a team to the championship game, all at Heinz Field.

In the three previous games, the Warriors have played well but come up short.

In 1997, the Warriors dropped a heart-breaking 28-27 decision to Upper St. Clair when an extra point was missed in the final seconds. That game was at Three Rivers Stadium.

In 2015, Penn-Trafford fell to Central Catholic, 24-17, and in 2017, it dropped a 21-16 decision to rival Gateway.

Ruane said slow starts in 2015 and 2017 cost the team.

“That’s something we’ll try to avoid this year,” Ruane said. “We played much better in the second half of both of those games. We have to play well for the entire game.”

Here’s a look back at the three previous championship games.

One point away

In 1997, Penn-Trafford was locked in a see-saw game.

Matt Gavrish, who rushed for 174 yards, got the Warriors on the board in the first quarter on a 6-yard run for the 6-0 lead. Upper St. Clair blocked the extra point.

After Upper St. Clair took a 7-6 lead in the second quarter, the Warriors reclaimed the lead when quarterback Eric Stewart connected on a 22-yard touchdown pass to Brad Lovas. Marko Thomas’ two-point conversion run gave the Warriors a 14-7 lead at halftime.

Upper St. Clair scored two touchdowns in the third quarter to take a 21-14 lead, but Stewart’s 17-yard touchdown run and Kevin Topper’s extra point tied the score at 21-21 early in the fourth quarter.

The Panthers reclaimed the lead 28-21 on a 50-yard touchdown run by Matt Monitz.

But with 18 seconds left, facing fourth-and-11, Stewart connected on a 46-yard touchdown pass to Thomas. Topper then missed the extra point.

Topper said he wouldn’t let that kick define him. He said in 2017 that he used it as a learning tool.

One comeback short

In 2015, the Warriors fell behind 7-0 at halftime and 14-0 early in the third quarter when Central Catholic lineman Rashad Wheeler returned an interception 6 yards for a score.

But the resilient Warriors quickly tied the score at 14-14 when Tim Vecchio caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Brett Laffoon and Laffoon scored on a 1-yard run.

Laffoon completed 10 of 20 passes for 167 yards and Vecchio caught four passes for 85 yards.

Central Catholic reclaimed the lead, 24-14, in the fourth quarter on a 72-yard touchdown run by Ronnie Jones and a 24-yard field goal by Jacob Rocchi.

Nick Tarabella booted a 20-yard field goal for Penn-Trafford, but it couldn’t get the tying score late in the fourth quarter.

Gators get away

In the 2017 game, the Warriors again came up short.

After defeating Gateway, 28-0, during the regular season, the teams met in the finals with a different outcome.

Gateway quarterback Brady Walker scored on a 10-yard run and threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Courtney Jackson to help the Gators to a 14-7 lead at halftime. John Gay scored on a 2-yard run for the Warriors in between Walker’s scores.

Derrick Davis’ 7-yard touchdown run in the third quarter pushed the lead to 21-7 before the Warriors launched a comeback.

The Warriors recorded a safety to trim the lead to 21-9, then Gay added his second touchdown of the game to make it 21-16. But the Gators were able to hold on for the win.

Laffoon rushed for 92 yards and completed 6 of 16 passes for 78 yards.

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at pschofield@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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