Rivals Norwin, Penn-Trafford ready to open up playbook in Week Zero matchup

Thursday, August 23, 2018 | 5:27 PM

Scrimmage film can be a borefest for high school football coaches who are looking for helpful clues and tendencies but instead get a couple hours of boring and basic.

Teams don’t like to show too much of their playbook when they line up and hit an actual opponent for the first time, especially prior to the season opener and especially against a rival. It’s a double-scoop of sugar-free vanilla.

But sometimes a clip or two will be worth a rewind, like in the replay of Norwin’s exhibition against Franklin Regional.

It was clear to Penn-Trafford coach John Ruane that Norwin has some offensive firepower, particularly in the form of junior quarterback Jack Salopek throwing deep to senior wideout Gianni Rizzo. No hiding anything there. This could be end up being must-see TV.

The pair hooked up for two touchdown bombs and a few other key tosses.

Salopek-to-Rizzo, and a number of other challenges that touted Norwin presents, gave Penn-Trafford a lot to unpack in preparation for Friday’s Week Zero opener in North Huntingdon.

“They’re definitely one of the top pass combinations in the WPIAL,” Ruane said. “You can tell they’re going to put an emphasis on getting (Rizzo) the ball more. So that will be something we key on for sure. But they have a good run game as well, so you can’t overdo it with one or the other. Our eyes have been opened watching film. … It’s going to be a major challenge for us to stop it.”

Norwin also features senior running backs Jayvon Thrift and Zeke Houser, both of whom can be dangerous on runs and screens. Thrift has offers from Pitt, West Virginia, Indiana and others. Houser’s stock is rising.

Salopek also has a scholarship offer from Pitt. Rizzo, who caught 39 receptions for 506 yards and three touchdowns last season, is a Youngstown State commit.

The strong-armed Salopek threw for more than 1,800 yards and eight scores as a junior.

“Jack was also able to complete several other passes to other receivers and running backs, as well,” Norwin coach Dave Brozeski said of the scrimmage. “We are working each week to continue to be able to make positive plays in the offense, whether it is in the passing game or running game.”

Norwin has implemented a new offense, believed to be a no-huddle, spread developed by new offensive coordinator Tim Van Horn and the staff.

Brozeski is pleased with the progression of the new scheme but wants to see it applied to actual game situations.

“Now the games start and we have to be able to execute under the Friday night lights,” he said.

Warriors junior Caleb Lisbon can be one of the top running backs in WPIAL Class 5A and will get a test against a 6A defense, led by Rizzo at linebacker and Thrift in the secondary.

Lisbon and senior Dimitri George, among others, will look to slow down Norwin’s go-to targets.

Penn-Trafford, which has reached the WPIAL finals twice in three years, was working out two quarterbacks in camp. Ruane said the designation of junior Gabe Dunlap or sophomore Ethan Carr as the starter will be an end-of-the-week decision. A quarterback not named Laffoon will start under center for the first time in five years.

Penn-Trafford leads the all-time series 26-7, and has a 14-3 record at Norwin Knights Stadium.

The Warriors have won seven in a row against the Knights, including back-to-back three-point victories, 3-0 last season and 17-14 in 2016 when the Warriors scored inside the final minute.

“I expect this year to be another very close game with both teams battling to start the season with a win,” Brozeski said. “The game is a great rivalry and one of our best-attended games for both programs for the past two years.”

Both teams have several new linemen, many of whom saw their first varsity-level competition in the scrimmages.

Watch the kickers. Senior Carter Breen hit a 45-yard field goal in the scrimmage, while Penn-Trafford senior Keaton Hier appears to be a viable replacement for standout Nick Tarabrella.

Bill Beckner is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bill at [email protected] or via Twitter @BillBeckner.

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