Westmoreland County high school football notebook: Penn-Trafford ready for resurgent Gateway

Thursday, October 6, 2022 | 11:01 AM

Gateway made the loudest statement in the WPIAL last Friday night when it dismantled upstart Hempfield, 60-7, reminding everyone that it is still very much a part of the conversation in the Class 5A Big East Conference.

The Gators were, after all, the preseason No. 1 in the classification.

Hempfield (5-1, 1-1) has been the darling of the league with its first 5-0 start since 1971 but fell victim to quarterback Brad Birch and a high-powered offense in stunning fashion.

Birch, a Jeannette transfer, guided the No. 3 Gators (5-1, 2-1) to eight first-half touchdowns and a 53-0 lead after two quarters.

No. 5 Penn-Trafford (4-2, 1-1) is up next for Gateway as the teams get set to kick off at 7 p.m. Friday in Monroeville.

It is the on-again, off-again Victory Bell Game that began in 1990 — with the current schools’ namesake. The series is tied 11-11.

Warriors coach John Ruane teaches at Gateway, which often is a popular side note to the matchup. But this week is about how Penn-Trafford is going to slow down the Gators, who have two straight wins following a 16-7 upset loss to Franklin Regional.

“Gateway looked outstanding in all phases last week,” Ruane said. “They have a lot of guys on offense who can take it the distance and they spread the ball to them very well. Coach (Don) Holl has really added some difficult concepts to prepare for.”

Birch, who has a scholarship offer from Akron, was 18 of 23 for a career-high 331 yards and four touchdowns and also ran for a score.

Injuries to key contributors Jake Otto and Tommy Kalkstein in recent weeks have tested the Warriors’ depth.

They rebounded from a 28-17 loss to Hempfield with a 28-0 win over Norwin.

Penn-Trafford won last year’s home game against Gateway, 15-10.

Most of the key components to that win, however, are gone: Cade Yacamelli, Jakob Haynes, Carter Greene and Nathan Schlessinger.

Birch was 11 of 15 for 118 yards and a TD, but the Gators ran the ball much more in the second half.

Ruane is 5-6 against Gateway, including 0-2 in the playoffs.

“Their defense creates a lot of pressure and as usual, they fly to the football,” Ruane said. “We have to minimize the big plays and we have to sustain drives.”

Junior Carmen Metcalfe has been a key defensive player for the Warriors of late. He had two interceptions against Hempfield and another last week in the Norwin win.

He also caught a 20-yard touchdown pass last week.

‘It’s time to win’

After going off the grid during a winless 2020 season, Monessen has slowly returned to competitive football.

With four straight wins, the Greyhounds (4-2, 3-0 Tri-County South) are back in the Class A playoff conversation.

Freshman tailback TyVaughn Kershaw has been a big reason why — far from the only reason, but a key to an improved offense that is averaging 34.8 points.

The Greyhounds beat West Greene last week, 62-25.

“We know what we have to do in order for us to get the job done,” Kershaw said. “Our team is finally at the stage where we know it’s time to win. We have been playing much better than the last few years here, and we’re hoping to keep it going.”

Kershaw ran for 212 yards and four touchdowns on 12 carries last week, while junior running back Daevon Burke added 233 yards and two TDs on nine totes.

Kershaw has nine touchdowns in four games played.

So far, he arguably has been the most impactful freshman at Monessen since Devin Whitlock played quarterback for the Greyhounds in 2018 before he left for Belle Vernon.

“I haven’t really surprised myself,” Kershaw said. “I still feel like I haven’t done enough.

“I’m expected to do this, so I just have to keep balling.”

Castle commits

Norwin senior kicker and punter Joey Castle announced he will continue his playing career at Akron.

The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Castle, who is ranked as the No. 19 punter nationally for the Class of 2023 by Kohl’s Kicking Camps, said he can earn a scholarship if he lands a starting spot.

Castle, who has a 40.2 average on punts this season, gave up soccer to focus on football.

Did you know?

Several local coaches/administrators from WPIAL programs, two of them local, played football together at Cal (Pa.).

Belle Vernon coach and athletic director Matt Humbert, Yough athletic director Bill Flow, former Aliquippa athletic director and Northgate coach Brandon LeDonne and Imani Christian coach and former Sto-Rox coach/athletic director Laroi Johnson are former Vulcans.

Humbert played quarterback at Laurel Highlands, while Flow went to Norwin, LeDonne is an Aliquippa alum, and Johnson played at Peabody.

Norwin QB situation

Norwin’s quarterback job, it seems, has been in flux since the opener.

Two weeks ago, the Knights lost freshman starter Trystin Tavares to an ankle injury, so last week against Penn-Trafford, junior Luke Denny and senior Nick Urey shared time behind center.

It is unclear who will start this week.

Extra points

Hempfield fell from the Trib HSSN rankings after its loss to Gateway. Belle Vernon remained No. 3 in 3A. … Quarterbacks Jake Phillips of Hempfield and Tyree Turner of Greensburg Central Catholic have topped 1,000 passing yards for the season. … Mt. Pleasant running back Robbie Labuda is the first county rusher to eclipse 1,000 yards. He has 1,011 on 97 carries and 10 touchdowns. … Penn-Trafford’s Jake Otto, Anthony Pirillo of Norwin and Hempfield’s Jackson Barton have been offered a roster spot at Grove City.

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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