Westmoreland football notebook: BVA’s Whitlock, Laurel Highlands’ Gallagher similarly electric, effective

Thursday, September 30, 2021 | 7:35 PM

A few months ago, people lined up to watch Devin Whitlock and Rodney Gallagher play basketball against each other in a local summer league.

On Friday night, fans can buy a ticket to see them go head-to-head on the football field.

It’s a main attraction in a matchup of unbeaten teams.

Remarkably similar players, Belle Vernon’s Whitlock and Laurel Highlands’ Gallagher — a senior and a junior — are worth the price of admission.

Both gifted athletes who play quarterback and defensive back, they are known for highlight-reel plays.

You can do a lot worse when it comes to play-making point guards who can take over games on the basketball court. But save that fun for the winter.

Football’s Big Eight Conference has a 1-on-1 matchup to beat the band this week.

No. 1 Belle Vernon (4-0, 2-0) is coming off a huge win over No. 1 Thomas Jefferson, while Laurel Highlands is 5-0 (2-0) for the first time in school history.

Belle Vernon has owned the Mustangs, winning 13 in a row against them, most in one-sided fashion.

Belle Vernon coach Matt Humbert has something in common with Gallagher, too. He also was a quarterback at Laurel Highlands.

“It’s another big conference game to get hyped up for,” Humbert said. “Gallagher is a great athlete. I’m a Laurel Highlands (guy), so that is excellent for him. But my dude (Whitlock) is the best player in the WPIAL, and I’ll take him any day.”

Their stats even are similar.

The 5-foot-8, 165-pound Whitlock has rushed for 532 yards and thrown for 444, while Gallagher (5-11, 170) has 471 yards rushing and 570 passing with nine touchdowns.

Whitlock has nine rushing TDs and is averaging 11.3 yards per run.

“He’s a great athlete,” Gallagher said. “He makes plays that others can’t.”

Gallagher has multiple Division I scholarship offers for football and basketball, including Pitt, Penn State, West Virginia and Notre Dame.

Whitlock, whose interest is growing, has football offers from The Citadel, Youngstown State, Notre Dame College and West Liberty. He is talking to Duquesne.

“Me and Rodney have been going against each other for years,” Whitlock said. “Football and basketball. I talk to him all the time outside of sports. There are some similar aspects to both of us. I think it’s our creativity that we both have.”

Gallagher said the difference between himself and Whitlock could be more intangible than what is seen in highlights.

“It’s just the mindset of when I come into every game,” he said.

Another note on the matchup: Belle Vernon assistant Scott Knee was the head coach at Laurel Highlands when Humbert played there.

Moving pieces

Belle Vernon moved players around for last week’s game against Thomas Jefferson, and the changes worked out well for the Leopards in a thrilling, 28-21 win, capped by senior quarterback Devin Whitlock’s 40-yard touchdown run with 4.5 seconds left.

Because of an injury to Ryan Hamer, a fullback and defensive end, Belle Vernon moved standout tight end Cole Weightman and sophomore Jake Gedekoh to fullback and had senior Craig Dongilli play on the line and at running back when Quinton Martin was injured.

Gedekoh played about half the snaps at fullback.

Weightman and Gedikoh delivered key blocks on the winning play.

“Those were the biggest keys,” Whitlock said. “Every big run … you always have a shot with the line.”

On defense, Weightman went to down lineman from defensive end, and senior Logan Hoffman played defensive end.

Hoffman stood out with 19 tackles.

“There were a lot of in-game moving pieces,” Belle Vernon coach Matt Humbert said. “It was copacetic.”

As for Whitlock’s winner, which is now known in some circles as “Riptide at the Beach,” Humbert said it came down to Whitlock making a play, or overtime.

“People were asking why we didn’t try a Hail Mary,” Humbert said. “”We tried a deep ball the play before.

“(Whitlock’s run) was our Hail Mary.”

GCC grind

After missing a game two weeks ago because Imani Christian forfeited, Greensburg Central Catholic set out for a what could be a grueling stretch.

The Centurions were set to play three top-5 teams in four weeks, starting with No. 3 Bishop Canevin before No. 4 Springdale next week and No. 1 Clairton on Oct. 15.

They lost to Bishop Canevin, 20-14.

Derry injuries

Derry has had a tough time with injuries and a covid-induced no-contest last week.

Carson Chamberlain and Zack Revoir are done for the season with injuries, and Derry coach Vince Skillings is hoping to get Noah Cymmerman and Don Taresco back soon.

Radiantly positive in his approach to coaching and motivating his players, Skillings told his team the “money round” is coming up.

“We have a few things to clean up, obviously, but we’re not as bad as we’ve looked,” Skillings said. “The players are determined to do their part, and the coaching staff has taken measures to up our game as well.

“If we clean up the little things that we’re doing wrong, play more aggressively, more fundamentally sound and disciplined we can still make a playoff run.”

Extra points

After last Saturday’s win over Shaler, Penn-Trafford coach John Ruane needs one more for 100 for his career. Ruane is 99-30 leading the Warriors (3-2, 0-0), who play at Woodland Hills (1-4, 0-0) on Friday. … GCC and Southmoreland will be without at least one starter this week. Jaydin Canady of GCC and Josh Bass of Southmoreland were ejected from games last week and, by rule, must sit out the next game. … Hayden Teska of Greensburg Salem continues to lead the WPIAL in passing yards. He has completed 60 of 122 pass attempts for 1,186 yards and 12 touchdowns. The 12 scores rank him second in the district. Gateway sophomore Brad Birch is second with 1,155 yards. The former Jeannette player has 11 TDs. … Bob Palko, the coach at Mt. Lebanon who has ties to Jeannette, is one win from tying Kiski Area’s Dick Dilts for 15th on the WPIAL all-time wins list. Palko has 233 wins.

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

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