Strong pass rush, team speed lead game-changing Penn Hills defense

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Thursday, November 7, 2019 | 8:05 PM


Since he took over as coach at Penn Hills in 2017, Jon LeDonne has made sure his defenses set the tone on the field.

This season, a strong defense has been mandatory since the Indians offense isn’t as potent as last year’s.

The Indians defense has responded to the challenge all season long and is considered one of the best defenses in the WPIAL. Penn Hills (10-1) has allowed 12.1 points per game through 11 games this season, which ranks third in Class 5A in the WPIAL.

LeDonne points to the defense’s speed and physicality led by their defensive line as the difference maker.

“Our defensive line is very explosive,” LeDonne said. “Any team that wants to throw the ball on us, our defensive line is getting off the ball and getting to the quarterback. It makes it that much easier for the guys on the back end to guard their guy.”

Seniors Don Carpenter and S’qy Featherstone have anchored the Indians defensive line. Junior linebacker Jawann Brown, the team’s leading tackler, has provided consistency and maturity to the linebacker group.

The secondary has been led by junior safety Noel Roach, who has six interceptions. Roach plays alongside senior safety Aakeem Snell, while senior Dylan Bennett and junior Dontae Pollard man the corner positions for the Indians.

LeDonne utilizes senior Tony Grimes in the safety/linebacker hybrid role, where he can be positioned all over the field. Grimes’ versatility allows LeDonne and defensive coordinator Brian Tarrant to disguise coverages.

“(The defensive linemen) are doing a great job in the run game when they tackle the running back for loss, which leaves them with long third downs where the opposing offense has to pass,” Roach said. “When they do pass, we get to the quarterback really fast. We don’t have to cover for very long since they are already there.”

Roach has tried to bring the same energy and leadership Corey Thomas brought to the Indians secondary last season during their WPIAL and state title run. Thomas is now at Akron.

In a WPIAL Class 5A first-round matchup against Latrobe, Grimes and Snell each returned interceptions for touchdowns in a 56-17 win Nov. 1.

“Our mentality is to pick the ball off,” Roach said. “I feel like every pass should be a pick or it should be broken up.”

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