Trib HSSN Football Team of the Week 2022: Week 5

Sunday, October 2, 2022 | 9:34 PM

Entering a Week 5 Class 4A Big Seven Conference home game, Laurel Highlands was coming off a big road win at Latrobe and had won two of its last three games.

However, history was not on the side of the Mustangs, at all.

Laurel Highlands was 0-28 all-time against visiting Thomas Jefferson. The onslaughts began 55 years ago when the Jaguars beat the Mustangs, 34-6, in the fall of 1967.

They continued through the last three years, when TJ outscored LH, 180-3, in Big Seven Conference wins in 2019, 2020 and 2021.

“This is my fourth year here so I’ve been with these seniors all the way through,” Laurel Highlands coach Rich Kolesar said. “Every year, we’ve gotten a little bit better. So our talk this offseason was how do we take that next step, how do we beat the top programs.

“The Belle Vernon week, we struggled in trying to find our offense. Against McKeesport, we were competitive early, but that got away from us. So we knew this was our last chance (against TJ) in the regular season. The kids had a great week of practice and then they got after it.”

It didn’t take long Friday for Laurel Highlands to make a statement as senior quarterback Rodney Gallagher connected on a 90-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Antwan Black to put the Mustangs up, 7-0.

Thomas Jefferson answered though when junior Kam Eggerton had a 20-yard scoop and score on a fumble to tie the game for the Jaguars.

In the past, this would have led to the air coming out of the Mustangs’ balloon, but not this season.

“Our kids came off the field and they were telling me, ‘hey coach, next play, we’re fine, let’s go, we’re good,’” Kolesar said. “So I think we have that mindset where our kids understand bad things are going to happen and we just need to move on and worry about the next play.”

On the next drive, Gallagher connected with senior Keondre DeShields on an 87-yard scoring strike that put the Mustangs up for good.

Laurel Highlands senior Leland Lahue scored on a 10-yard fumble recovery while junior Jaiden Tucker scored on a 10-yard run as the Mustangs took a 28-7 lead into the locker room.

After Thomas Jefferson pulled to within four points with a third-quarter touchdown, one of the top kickers in the district, senior Harry Radcliffe, point the final points on the board with a 26-yard fourth-quarter field goal.

The history-making win for Laurel Highlands lifted the Mustangs into second place in the Big Seven Conference behind undefeated McKeesport.

The Mustangs have three conference games left, at Trinity in Week 7, home to winless Ringgold in Week 8 and at Connellsville in Week 9 against a Falcons team they had never beaten until a 44-14 win last fall.

Laurel Highlands has this week off to rest some key injuries before the final three weeks. If the Mustangs win out, they will finish second and host a 4A first-round playoff game in November.

WPIAL Week 5 Honorable Mentions

Shaler Titans

Coming off an emotional double-overtime homecoming game six days earlier, Shaler hit the road for its 5A Northeast Conference opener trying to do something it had never done in program history — beat Woodland Hills.

Titans junior quarterback Keegan Smetanka hit on 26 of 44 passes for 245 yards and three touchdowns as Shaler won at Woodland Hills, 28-21. It’s the first win for the Titans over the Wolverines in 12 meetings as Woodland Hills had outscored Shaler, 353-95, in those 11 victories.

Hopewell Vikings

Twenty years ago, Hopewell finished a golden season with a WPIAL championship victory over Pine-Richland, 20-15, followed by a PIAA Class 3A championship win over Strath Haven, 21-10. However, the program has fallen on hard times this past decade, making those Vikings memories feel a lot longer ago then 2022.

After a winless 2021 season and averaging only two wins a year since 2018, Hopewell improved to 3-3 overall with a win Friday. Senior Dayveon Jackson rushed for 162 yards and scored three touchdowns on runs of 11, 61 and 4 yards, and the Vikings defeated visiting Quaker Valley, 40-20, to move into second place in the 3A Western Hills Conference behind Avonworth (2-0) with a 2-1 conference record as they try to make the playoffs for the first time since 2012.

Avella Eagles and Shenango Wildcats

A pair of Class A teams looking for their first taste of victory in 2022 earned it at home at the midway point of the season.

Avella ended a seven-game losing streak dating back to last season when it knocked off Carlynton in a Black Hills Conference matchup, 22-14. Junior quarterback Cole Jaworski hit on 10 of 19 passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns of 27 and 10 yards, plus he scored on a 1-yard run for the Eagles.

Shenango picked up its first win since a Class A first-round playoff victory over Carmichaels last November, snapping a six-game skid in crushing Northgate, 75-19. The Wildcats made history in the victory. The 75 points were the most points scored in a game in Shenango program history.

2022 HSSN Teams of the Week

Week 4 – West Mifflin Titans

Week 3 – McKeesport Tigers

Week 2 – Ellwood City Wolverines

Week 1 – Bethel Park Black Hawks

Week Zero – Mars Fightin’ Planets

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