Westmoreland County running backs in a rush this season

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Thursday, October 31, 2019 | 8:52 PM


Nathan Roby ran for 189 yards in a game against North Allegheny on Oct. 11. It was an impressive performance against a WPIAL heavyweight — a career night, even.

At the time.

Compared to what the Hempfield senior running back had in store, it was pedestrian. Roby was just getting started, and nobody was going to stop him.

Roby piled up 297 yards the next game at Butler, then delivered his tour de force: 407 yards and six touchdowns (he also caught a TD pass) last Friday in a 60-27 victory over Plum.

All told, Roby ran for 893 yards and 14 touchdowns in three games. That’s a lot to unpack for 12 quarters of football, and even Roby marveled at the results that led to him becoming Hempfield’s career rushing leader.

“I am impressed,” he said. “I honestly didn’t think I was capable of putting up those numbers.”

Not that the 5-foot-7, 155-pound Roby was alone in his late-season surge. A number of area players also have been in a rush this season.

Derry senior running back Justin Huss has produced at a similarly dominant pace — and on a more regular basis. Huss ran for 405 yards and five touchdowns last week in a 56-32 win over Burrell, a performance that followed his 304 yards and four touchdowns on only 10 carries — all in the first half — in a 42-0 win over Deer Lakes.

In back-to-back weeks, he broke the Trojans’ single-game rushing mark.

And don’t forget Kyrie Miller, a senior running back at Ligonier Valley, who ran for 256 and 258 yards in weeks 5 and 8 on the way to becoming his school’s all-time leading rusher.

Roby holds Hempfield marks for career rushing (2,337 yards) and TDs (28), among other marks. He had 541 yards though Hempfield’s first seven games. He had 1,199 all-purpose yards in the final three.

“He has had a three-week stretch that has been phenomenal,” Hempfield coach Rich Bowen said. “He has worked very hard and is very deserving of all the recognition. The O-line has played very well the last three weeks, and they are a very big part of what he has accomplished.”

Roby, Huss and Miller have more in common that their gaudy stats: They have run behind hulking and senior-led offensive lines.

“They are the backbone of my success,” Roby said of his blockers. “Without them I wouldn’t have achieved what I did. They deserve the credit.”

Huss added games of 227 and 261 yards that, again, at the time, were outstanding but lacked staying power.

He was the top rusher in Westmoreland County during the regular season — third in the WPIAL — with 1,803 yards.

“It’s very impressive to see Huss do the things he does,” Derry senior lineman Max Malis said. “Especially knowing the pain he went through last year recovering from his leg injury. It’s a great feeling to get your block and just watch the kid take off and meet him in the end zone.”

Huss had surgery on a fractured leg and missed most of last season.

Some linemen could be in for some good eats for their behind-the-scenes efforts. Miller said a steak dinner might be in order for the Rams’ front-liners, who include senior Division I commits Michael Petrof (Navy), Christian Jablonski (Lehigh) and Wylie Spiker (St. Francis).

“They make it happen,” said Miller, who also has a 220-yard game this year. “It’s not just me making moves.”

This was christened the “year of the lineman” in Westmoreland County over the summer, and the big blockers have cleared the way for the head-turning performances, thus living up to their reputation.

Hempfield, which went 4-6 and did not make the Class 6A playoffs, featured Delaware commit Fintan Brose, as well as fellow seniors Ryan Cross and Paul Newill.

A tweet by Newill the night Roby ran for 406 read, “Roby is the best running back in the WPIAL hands down.”

Roby, who ran for 1,449 yards this season, said an injury to a teammate helped stoke his competitive fire.

“When (junior) Mario Perkins went down, I took it upon myself to be the main back for the offense, even with me playing slot,” Roby said. “So I guess I wanted to prove to people that I can get 20-30 carries a game and be effective.”

Did he get tired, especially after 34 carries in the Spartans’ season finale?

“At times, but as the season progressed, I got conditioned and used to being in the game that much,” Roby said.

Huss and Miller aren’t done.

Derry (8-2) is set to open the WPIAL Class 3A playoffs Friday night at home against Beaver Falls (8-2), and Ligonier Valley (10-0) hosts West Shamokin (5-5) in a District 6 playoff opener.

Ligonier Valley has one of its best lines and the perfect complement in Miller, who has 1,651 yards this season. He and Huss played one fewer game, Miller because of a forfeit and Huss because of an injury.

Ligonier Valley’s linemen appreciate watching Miller as much as the Rams’ fans.

“Our coaches are fantastic about breaking down defenses and coming up with the ultimate game plan,” Petrof said. “Having a running back like Kyrie makes our lives so much easier. The fact that he can set up blocks and hit the right holes is fantastic. He is slippery, and even if we miss assignments, he has ways to just get away.”

Three other local backs also had 200-yard games this season: Franklin Regional senior Zac Gordon (230), Jeannette senior Imani Sanders (217) and Mt. Pleasant senior Jake Johnson (201).

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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