Westmoreland County high school football notebook: Linebackers lead Leopards

Thursday, November 23, 2023 | 11:01 AM

Matt Humbert describes his inside linebackers as having “nonstop motors.”

“Relentless speed,” the coach from Belle Vernon said. “So damn quick.”

But that is not the impressive part of the middle two players — and a reserve — who play on the back level of the Leopards’ 4-4 defense.

It is the size of the linebackers that makes Humbert shake his head and grin. Even for a Class 3A program, Belle Vernon does not have prototypical size with seniors Tanner Moody (5-foot-11, 175 pounds) and Colton Lee (6-2, 160).

“But they make plays. Just tough dudes,” Humbert said. “It’s unique with those guys.”

The linebackers could play a key role in Friday night’s WPIAL Class 3A championship when defending champion Belle Vernon (10-1) takes on Avonworth (12-0) at Acrisure Stadium.

Sophomore Deaubre Lightfoot also is part of the rotation. He is 5-10, 170.

“We’re all quick, so our speed helps us,” Moody said. “Colton and I have known each other since the first grade. (Outside linebackers Alonzo) Wade and (Jake) Gedekoh push everybody inside and help us make plays.”

Moody, who missed time last year with a shoulder injury, leads the Leopards with 68 tackles, 15 of which have produced negative yardage. He also has two sacks and two interceptions.

Lee has 40 tackles and a pick, and Lightfoot, who scored a rushing touchdown in last week’s semifinal win over East Allegheny, has 35 tackles and three sacks.

“Everyone has more experience (going into Friday),” Moody said. “We need to play how we know. Even though we won it last year, we’re not satisfied.”

Avonworth injuries

Avonworth is undefeated because it has a dynamic offense with numerous playmakers.

But the Antelopes have had success filling in vacancies caused by injuries.

Coach Duke Johncour said his linebackers have missed a combined 24 games with injuries.

“We had some question marks going into the season about what our identity was going to be, but I think we answered a lot of those questions and made it work with a lot of injuries,” Johncour said.

Senior Brandon Biagiarelli injured his hamstring during a 200-yard rushing game against Central Valley in Week 1. Freshman Dimitri Velsaris stepped in and ended up leading the team in rushing yards for the season.

Junior Nico Neal also filled in and scored five touchdowns but injured his foot.

Justin Beck, an offensive lineman, moved from guard to the backfield and had a pair of touchdowns against Seton LaSalle.

Against Quaker Valley, senior Atticus Kardell played well at tailback in a reserve role.

“Every kid has responded,” Johncour said. “We have filled in the gaps.”

Twice as nice

Belle Vernon is looking to become the sixth Westmoreland County school to win multiple WPIAL football titles.

With a win Friday, the Leopards would join Jeannette (2020, ‘17, ‘07, ‘06, 1983, ‘81, ‘71, ‘56, ‘39, ‘32), Burrell (1995, ‘86, ‘68, ‘67), Hurst (1942, ‘38, ‘31), Mt. Pleasant (1986, ‘83), Monessen (1961, ‘30) and New Kensington (1947, ‘46) as teams with more than one title.

Jeannette was the last county school to win back-to-back titles.

Friendly fire

A “couple” of girls basketball coaches have a rooting interest in the WPIAL 3A championship.

Kaitlyn Slagus is the coach at Belle Vernon, and Nick Dizon coaches Avonworth.

Slagus and Dizon are engaged to be married.

“We have been throwing little jabs at each other all football season because we both thought our teams were going to make it to the championship game,” Dizon said with a laugh. “The house is currently divided.”

The Belle Vernon and Avonworth girls will scrimmage each other Nov. 29, along with Woodland Hills.

Ticket info

Tickets for Friday’s four WPIAL football championships at Acrisure Stadium must be purchased online via Ticketmaster. Cost is $10 per ticket and does not include parking. Only Gate B will be used as an entrance for spectators.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.

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