Penn-Trafford seniors leave lasting impression on football program

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Sunday, November 19, 2017 | 6:15 PM


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Penn-Trafford left a lasting impression on its tomahawk-chopping fanbase by reaching the WPIAL football finals for the second time in three years and garnering the No. 1 seed for the first time in program history.

And though the Warriors fell short of their first championship Saturday night at soggy Heinz Field, the senior group also left a lasting impression on their coach.

“We had 13 seniors, and all of them are fantastic,” coach John Ruane said. “The list goes on. They are a pleasure to coach. I really love Penn-Trafford, and it's because of these kids. Their families have done a great job with them.”

Penn-Trafford finished 11-2 and worked its way through an ultra-competitive Class 5A playoff bracket.

The Warriors had a record of 41-7 over the last four years.

Another postseason run, albeit one with sawed-off excitement, has the program in good standing but also wishing the group didn't have to break up.

“It shows how far of a stride this program has taken,” Warriors senior quarterback and linebacker Cam Laffoon said. “To make it (to the finals) two of the last three years is amazing. Hopefully, we can start winning them. … It shows how far we've come, from my brother (Brandon) winning that first playoff game in 2011 and my other brother (Brett) getting us back here.”

This senior group was one of the most athletic in program history. It helped make the Warriors equally effective on offense, defense and special teams. More than a couple coaches said Penn-Trafford lacked a weakness.

Also among the senior group are the front defensive three of Logan Hawkins, Will Mayr and Cam Elma, running back John Gay IV, receiver/defensive back Cam Suman, key linebacker Matt Wilkie, lineman Mitch Nedley and record-breaking kicker Nick Tarabrella.

“These are terrific human beings,” Ruane said. “It starts with character and work ethic. These guys bring it every rep, every day. I don't have to police anything on my team. Everything is taken care of. We have zero problems — in the locker room and in school — because our senior leaders make sure of that.”

The defense gave up just 11.5 points per game and posted three shutouts.

Laffoon passed for 1,511 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Gay finished the season with 1,284 yards rushing. He ran for 53 yards and two touchdowns Saturday, including a 9-yard scamper in the fourth that saw him hurdle a defender.

Hawkins, an Akron recruit, broke through the Gateway line several times to force big losses. Suman caught a late fourth-down pass to keep a drive intact.

And Wilkie recovered a fumble, made possible by Laffoon.

But a title was not to be, despite a late flicker of hope.

The Warriors rallied in the fourth quarter and had the Gators on their heels. After picking up a safety, P-T drove deep into Gateway territory in the closing minutes, but turned the ball over with an interception.

“Our guys have been resilient, and that was another mark of it,” Ruane said. “Give Gateway credit. They took it to us, especially early on. They took away some of our best stuff in our offense that we like to do.”

Gateway's defense was relentless and made just about everything the Warriors tried to do a challenge. Laffoon was sacked five times.

Penn-Trafford shut out Big East Conference rival Gateway, 28-0, in Week 5.

Gateway (12-1) had a healthier quarterback this time, and its running back of the future was ready for the big stage.

Quarterback Brady Walker had a bum left shoulder when the teams played earlier in the season, but he was at full strength for the final, allowing him to run more. Walker completed 24 of 33 passes for 203 yards and a touchdown. Freshman sensation Derrick Davis intercepted two passes, had a key sack, ran for a score and tallied 108 total yards.

“It's individuals making plays,” Gators coach Don Holl said. “We have a lot of physical kids who just played with great effort and energy. (Penn-Trafford) is really good and hard to stop. A lot of credit to our guys for being as physically in control as they were.”

Ruane, a business teacher at Gateway, where he also is an alum, former quarterback and assistant coach, was gracious to the Gators, who won their sixth WPIAL title.

“Every one of those guys came up to me on Friday, wished me luck and shook my hand, and I did the same to them,” Ruane said. “I am genuinely happy for them. I see those guys 200 minutes a week in class, so it's a unique situation.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BillBeckner.

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

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