Taking chances pays off as Hempfield knocks off Penn-Trafford

Friday, September 23, 2022 | 10:45 PM

When you’re a football team trying to turn its fortunes around, you have to take chances.

Hempfield did that Friday night before a standing-room-only crowd of more than 5,000 at Spartan Stadium.

The Spartans defeated No. 1 and reigning Class 5A PIAA and WPIAL champion Penn-Trafford, 28-17, in the Big East Conference opener.

The Spartans rallied from a 10-point deficit in the second quarter to pull off what some would consider an upset.

The win pushed the Spartans to 5-0, ended Penn-Trafford’s 19-game winning streak against them — the 1971 Spartans started 6-0 — and delivered one of the biggest wins in school history.

Two fourth-down touchdown passes in the second half proved to be the difference. Hempfield quarterback Jake Phillips connected with Ian Tuffs on a 42-yard strike on fourth-and-2 late in the third quarter to give the Spartans the lead for good, 21-17.

Late in the fourth quarter, Phillips delivered the final dagger by connecting on a 31-yard touchdown to tight end Anthony Vallano on fourth-and-1 with 3 minutes, 4 seconds left to make it 28-17.

“We were playing to win,” Hempfield coach Mike Brown said. “I believe these seniors worked too hard to let it happen. They were fighters. They were fighters last year. So I’m really happy with how they fought.

“I believe our strength and conditioning played into it in the second half, and we came out with a victory.”

Hempfield grabbed a 7-0 lead in the first quarter as Phillips scored from the 1. It was Phillips’ interception that set up the short score.

“It was a play that my coaches showed us in practice all week,” Phillips said. “When I saw my player leave, I knew where the ball was going.”

Penn-Trafford (3-2, 0-1) responded by scoring the next 17 points.

Quarterback Conlan Greene connected on a 21-yard swing pass to Tasso Whipple to tie the score. Tommy Kalkstein raced 65 yards for a touchdown to make it 14-7.

The Warriors converted an interception by Carmen Metcalfe into a 32-yard field goal by Brady Paliscak.

“We hurt ourselves with penalties, but don’t think that was the reason why we lost,” Penn-Trafford coach John Ruane said. “They beat us fair and square. They outplayed us, especially in the second half. I feel bad for my effort in the second half. I don’t think I did a great job.

“They’re a real good football team. Credit them and their staff on both sides of the football. I thought Ray Reitz (defensive coordinator) made some real good adjustments and shut us down in the second half, and that was the difference I thought.”

Ruane also thought two penalties — an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty at the Hempfield 2 in the second quarter and an illegal forward pass on Penn-Trafford first drive of the game — were costly.

Kalkstein rushed for 170 yards, and Greene ran for 77. Most of those yards came in the first half.

Penalties and Hempfield’s defense slowed Penn-Trafford drives in the second half.

Hempfield showed its mettle after falling behind by 10 points and drove to pull within 17-14 at halftime when Elijah Binakonsky raced 41 yards for a touchdown.

Brown said the defensive changes by his staff in the second half were putting more guys in the box to slow down Kalkstein and Greene.

“We put our defensive backs on an island and told them to compete,” Brown said.

The Spartans took a 21-17 lead late in the third quarter when Phillips, on fourth-and-2, connected on a 42-yard touchdown pass to Tuffs. This came after an interception at the Hempfield 41 by Binakonsky.

Phillips also came up with two sacks.

“My line did a great job making a pocket for me,” Phillips said. “And Ian ran a great route.”

Phillips said the atmosphere at the game was unbelievable, especially the fans jumping up and down.

“They were into the game, and I’m glad we gave them a show,” he said.

Brown said he told the players to enjoy the win until midnight because the focus had to quick to toward the next opponent: Gateway.

Hempfield’s win served notice to the rest of the teams in the conference and WPIAL, that Hempfield is for real.

Watch an archived broadcast of this game on Trib HSSN.

Paul Schofield is a TribLive reporter covering high school and college sports and local golf. He joined the Trib in 1995 after spending 15 years at the Daily Courier in Connellsville, where he served as sports editor for 14 years. He can be reached at pschofield@triblive.com.

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