Penn-Trafford overcomes injuries to top McKeesport

Friday, September 13, 2019 | 11:17 PM

What concerned Penn-Trafford most about McKeesport this week was the Tigers’ reputation for being a physical opponent.

When these teams play, it can get rough. Clean, but rough.

Warriors coach John Ruane said this would be one of the most rigorous games his team would play all season — big hits and scraping for yards.

He was right.

But the top-ranked Warriors withstood each impact, overcame injuries to a pair of key starters and stood up to the Tigers defensively in a 29-12 victory in a Class 5A Foothills Conference game Friday night at Warrior Stadium.

Down early on the scoreboard, and wrung out emotionally by the half, Penn-Trafford willed its way to its 15th straight home victory.

Chalk this one up to resilience.

“We’ve never faced adversity like that at home,” Ruane said. “I am so proud to be their coach tonight. We lose two superstar running backs, but our line blocked really well, we made some key throws, and our defense played incredibly well.”

The Warriors (4-0, 3-0) lost two key senior running backs — Division I prospect Caleb Lisbon and Sam Fanelli — to apparent leg injuries. Both left the field at halftime on crutches.

Rather than let what Ruane called a “tragedy” affect his team, the Warriors rallied.

Senior quarterback Gabe Dunlap ran for 188 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries — 140 yards after halftime — and also threw for a score.

Backup running back Brad Ford, a junior, added 86 yards and a touchdown on the ground as the Warriors erased a sketchy first quarter.

“We knew we had to play for our family, play for each other,” Dunlap said. “We weren’t letting them down. The next guys stepped in and played their tails off.”

A slow start did not deter the Warriors. They pushed back after the Tigers scored first, and then again to take a 12-7 lead.

A normally swarming defense that recorded five interceptions and posted two safeties last week against Connellsville could not get to McKeesport quarterback Devari Robinson early.

McKeesport (2-2, 1-1), whose other loss was to Erie Cathedral Prep, the No. 1 ranked team in the state in Class 4A, got 163 yards rushing from Robinson.

McKeesport went 80 yards in 13 plays on its opening drive with quarterback Devari Robinson rushing for 53 yards and completing 3 of 3 passes, the third a 22-yard score to 6-foot-6 Deamontae Diggs.

The Tigers, who had the extra point blocked, stunned the Warriors by attempting an onside kick and recovering it.

No damage was done, however, as the Tigers punted, and Penn-Trafford rebounded to get on the board. After a hook-and-lateral play — Dunlap to Noah Allen, then to Lisbon for a 31-yard gain — Dunlap pushed it in from the 1.

A 16-yard reception by Fanelli set up the touchdown and the Warriors led 7-6.

Robinson spotted a hole on the left side and darted 90 yards for a score to give the Tigers a 12-7 advantage at the end of the first quarter.

Penn-Trafford had allowed a single touchdown in its three previous victories, but gave up two in the first quarter this time.

The Warriors’ sideline went silent after Lisbon went down with a leg injury early in the second quarter. He did not return.

In a three-minute span, Fanelli joined Lisbon on the sidelines, keeping trainers busy and back-ups on their toes.

“It didn’t look good,” Ruane said. “But our guys played for each other. That’s what we do here. We all got emotional.”

Still, the Warriors rallied for a score before the half with Dunlap’s legs and the passing game. Fanelli again made a play with a 16-yard catch before Cole DeFillippo squeezed in a 19-yard score to give the Warriors a 14-12 lead at the half.

With a steady dose of Dunlap and Ford, who looked warmed up for the fill-in role, the Warriors found the end zone again late in the third.

Dunlap found some space, gave a burst of speed on second-and-8 and dragged defenders downfield for a 44-yard gain. That set up his second rushing touchdown and the Warriors took a 21-12 advantage to the fourth.

“Gabe Dunlap played out of his mind tonight,” Ruane said.

With the lead late, the Warriors were content with running the ball — often. They owned the time of possession and lulled the Tigers away but not before one more score.

Ford capped a 12-play drive with a 23-yard touchdown run to push the lead to 29-12 with 2 minutes, 24 seconds to play.

McKeesport’d defense spent much of the third and fourth quarters on the field.

“We made some big-time conversions in the second half,” Ruane said. “There were some really long drives. I am proud of our kids.”

Ford was ready for a defensive assignment, but appeared more than ready to fill a void in the offensive backfield.

“Coach talked it about it all week — next man up,” Ford said. “We never let our heads down. We knew we’d face adversity. They’re a good team. We came out and we handled it.”

Penn-Trafford will take a rare out-of-town road trip next week when it travels to play national power Washington High School in Massillon, Ohio. McKeesport, meanwhile, will play at Plum.

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

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