Seneca Valley makes waves in debut, routs Hempfield

Friday, September 18, 2020 | 11:22 PM

The wait was a bit longer than expected, but when Seneca Valley finally was able to take the field for its football opener Friday night, the Raiders did not disappoint.

Dustin Horn, making his first varsity start, threw four touchdown passes and rushed for another for Seneca Valley in a 38-0 rout of Hempfield in a Class 6A game at Spartan Stadium.

Horn, a backup for three seasons behind Gabe Lawson, now at FCS Valparaiso, completed 12 of 15 passes for 202 yards, including touchdown strikes of 11 yards to Luke Lawson and 13 yards to Lucas Lambert in the first half, as well as 25 yards to Connor Lyczek and 54 yards to James Sprentz in the second half.

So much for opening-night jitters.

“I’ve been prepared since Day 1,” said Horn, a 6-foot-1, 175-pound senior. “I got a little bit of the jitters out of the way when we scored. Once we were rolling, we were rolling.”

Seneca Valley (1-0, 1-0) was among seven WPIAL teams making their season debut this week after covid-19 concerns delayed their start for a week. It came on top of the unusually late kickoff date of Sept. 11, leaving WPIAL teams with a maximum seven-game regular-season schedule.

Mt. Lebanon, also in Class 6A, as well as Peters Township and Kiski Area in Class 5A, Elizabeth Forward in Class 3A and Serra Catholic and Steel Valley in Class 2A also had their seasons delayed by a week because of issues related to the pandemic.

Seneca Valley outgained Hempfield in total yards 366-122 limiting the Spartans to 59 yards rushing and 63 passing.

“It really, really felt normal out there,” Seneca Valley coach Ron Butschle said. “It’s felt like a normal Friday night. It was a lot of fun, a first game with a lot of first-game mistakes. But our kids executed at the right times.

Seneca Valley set the pace early, scoring on its opening possession following an 11-play, 87-yard drive that included a pair of fourth-down conversions, including Horn’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Luke Lawson.

Moments later, Lawson jumped on a loose ball on the ensuing kickoff, giving the Raiders possession again at the Spartans 23.

While Seneca Valley couldn’t capitalize on the turnover, the Raiders, after Davies tacked on a 25-yard field goal early in the second quarter, added another takeaway and eventually cashed in with a touchdown on the final play of the first half, Horn finding Lambert on a 13-yard pass play to make it 17-0.

Mitchell Curran picked off a pass by Hempfield sophomore Jake Phillips, who had been 5 for 5 in passing since briefly replacing shaken-up starter Christian Zilli, giving Seneca Valley possession at its 15.

From there, the Raiders drove 85 yards in 3 minutes, 20 seconds, leading to the last-second TD.

Horn, a senior, finished the first half 10 of 13 for 123 yards.

“For a kid who has been waiting and biding his time and is such a coachable kid,” Butschle said, “I’m just as happy as heck for him. It’s got to propel him for the future. I’m just super proud of him.”

Seneca Valley’s size advantage and experience — the Raiders return 13 starters, including seven on defense — dominated the second half as Hempfield began to wear down.

“They’ve got some size and experience,” Hempfield coach Rich Bowen said. “Defensively, we battled, especially in the first half. We showed a lot of guts. But we’ve got to be better offensively.”

Ethan West, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound senior drawing interest from Army as well as a number of FCS schools, powered his way to 80 yards rushing on 20 carries behind a sizeable offensive line.

Horn’s 25-yard pass to Connor Lyczek with 7:45 left in the third boosted the Seneca Valley lead to 24-0 before he found James Sprentz on a 54-yard scoring pass less than 4 minutes later to push the advantage to 31-0.

Horn’s 1-yard keeper for a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter made it 38-0 and ignited a running clock the rest of the way.

Seneca Valley had an apparent touchdown nullified in the second half when Lyczek’s 39-yard punt return was wiped out by a personal foul call against the Raiders.

Phillips, in limited playing time, completed his first five passes and finished 6 for 11 for 55 yards, while Zilli, who led Hempfield (1-1, 1-1) a week ago to a season-opening victory over Norwin by rushing for one touchdown and passing for another, managed just 2 of 9 passing for 8 yards against Seneca Valley.

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