Westmoreland football notebook: ‘Lights out’ Penn-Trafford defense leads way

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Saturday, November 9, 2019 | 8:36 PM


Upper St. Clair junior quarterback Ethan Dahlem is a nightmare to defend.

He makes plays with his legs and right arm.

If you don’t corral him, he runs around in the backfield and finds an open receiver or a lane to run through.

Penn-Trafford’s defense did a good enough job Friday in the WPIAL Class 5A quarterfinals of slowing down Dahlem in its 31-7 victory.

“When you watch him on film, he does this every single game,” Penn-Trafford coach John Ruane said. “He makes crazy plays happen.

“Some of the plays when he’s scrambling and all of sudden he lofts one over the middle and finds wide-open guys. He’s amazing.”

Dahlem rushed for 104 yards and completed 10 of 14 passes for only 67 yards. Most of Dahlem’s rushing yards came after Penn-Trafford had opened up a 24-7 lead.

“We bent a little, but we didn’t break,” Penn-Trafford linebacker Chase Burk said. “Once in awhile you’re going to break, but you have to have a good mindset and you have to get back at it.”

Dahlem entered the game the top passer in Class 5A with 2,151 yards and 17 touchdowns and had 847 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns.

Other than one drive early in the third quarter, the Penn-Trafford defense did a great job forcing turnovers and not allowing the fast-paced Upper St. Clair offense to get into a rhythm.

“Kudos to our defense,” Ruane said. “That’s a very difficult offense to defend. I thought the defense played lights out other than the one drive.”

Ethan Carr returned a kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown after Dahlem gave the Panthers a 7-3 lead. The Penn-Trafford defense forced three consecutive turnovers the offense turned into points.

Now, No. 1 Penn-Trafford has a semifinal match against Peters Township (11-1), the team that ended its season in the quarterfinals a year ago, 38-35.

End of an era

Derry football players moseyed off the field at North Allegheny on Friday night, almost as if they didn’t want to leave.

Some limped with the aid of crutches. Others turned and looked back at the field before finally disappearing into the locker room.

Several players hugged assistant coaches and teammates after the Trojans lost to top-seeded Central Valley, 42-7, in the WPIAL Class 3A semifinals.

Quite literally, there was blood, sweat and tears emanating from the seniors, who capped a memorable run that included four playoff trips, a WPIAL runner-up finish, another semifinal appearance, and 40 wins.

Senior lineman Gavin Adams was emotional as he left Newman Stadium, blotches of blood on his game pants and tears streaking down his cheeks.

“It’s been amazing,” Adams said. “We’ve had our differences in our locker room, but I think we’ve overcome a lot of them and became the best we could have been.”

Derry will lose 11 seniors, including running back Justin Huss and lineman Max Malis, both of whom were knocked out of their final high school game with injuries.

Huss ran for 2,020 yards and 27 touchdowns this season.

“You look at it like life,” Derry coach Tim Sweeney said. “Nothing is promised. Tomorrow is not promised. You have to stop and cherish this. Our seniors left their mark.”

Rally to advance

After his team’s 41-30 victory over South Fayette in the WPIAL Class 4A semifinals Friday night, Belle Vernon coach Matt Humbert said, “It’s been a mission for 365 days.”

For fans of the Leopards, it has been a mission for 20 years.

No. 3 Belle Vernon (10-1) will try to win its first WPIAL title since 1999 when the Leopards take on No. 1 Thomas Jefferson (12-0) at 5 p.m. Saturday at Heinz Field.

The Leopards earned the title-game berth after rallying past South Fayette by scoring 20 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.

South Fayette led 30-21 with two minutes left in the third quarter.

Then, Devin Whitlock scored on a 10-yard run and Larry Callaway ran in from 4 yards out for a 34-30 lead.

On the ensuing kickoff, Hunter Ruokonen scooped up a fumble and scored from 24 yards out to seal the Belle Vernon win.

“This feels so good. And I know how much these guys wanted another shot at them,” Humbert said. “It’s a credit for these seniors and all those guys that have laid their bricks to get the program back to this point.”

Thomas Jefferson defeated Belle Vernon, 34-7, on Sept. 6.

“They’re better than when we played them the first time,” TJ coach Bill Cherpak said. “We’re better than when we played them the first time.”

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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