Westmoreland football notebook: Ligonier Valley linemen grew into dominant force

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Thursday, November 14, 2019 | 9:18 PM


Ligonier Valley has some of the better offensive and defensive lines the program has seen, but the hulking blockers are not just successful because of their size.

Rams coach Roger Beitel has watched his linemen develop from a young age and has seen their progression through a number of sports, not just football.

Baby faces with baby fat grew into strong, physical keep-fitters with Division I-caliber skill sets.

“They are all athletes,” Beitel said. “They were once skill players, basketball players, they wrestled and played baseball.”

The Rams (12-0) will take on Richland (11-0) at 7 p.m. Friday in the District 6 championship at Mansion Park Stadium in Altoona.

Senior guard and defensive tackle Michael Petrof was a baseball pitcher, catcher and infielder and played for Beitel in little league.

Senior offensive tackle and defensive end Christian Jablonski was a starting center fielder for Beitel, and he “always had a green light to steal for me,” the coach said.

Sophomore Jude Grzywinski, a center and defensive end, was a corner infielder for Beitel, and senior guard/tackle Alex Torrance was a first baseman. Petrof (6-foot-2, 280 pounds) has committed to play at Navy, Jablonski (6-5, 250) is headed to Lehigh and another senior, Wiley Spiker (6-3, 260), a two-way tackle, committed to St. Francis (Pa.).

Grzywinski is generating Division I interest, as well.

A stern strength and conditioning program helped sculpt the linemen into dominant players.

“When we first had Wylie Spiker and Christian Jablonski on the varsity roster, they actually started out as receivers and safeties,” Beitel said. “They were 150 pounds.”

Jablonski and Petrof have been dubbed the “Twin Towers,” while an opposing coach referred to the Rams line as “The Great Wall.”

“This group is so physically strong,” Beitel said. “The starting five offensive linemen all bench 300 or more (pounds) and squat 500 or more.”

Six seniors and Grzywinski form the Rams’ rotation on both lines.

GS hosting playoff game

Greensburg Salem seemed like a bit of surprise to host a WPIAL playoff game Friday night, but Offutt Field will welcome Gateway and McKeesport in a Class 5A semifinal at 7 p.m.

Offutt Field has not hosted to a playoff game since 2006 when Jeannette played Brookville in a PIAA Class AA quarterfinal. Jeannette won 32-7. Terrelle Pryor was a junior on that Jayhawks team.

“We consider this an honor and an event the whole city can celebrate,” Greensburg Salem athletic director Mike Burrell said.

“This helps our local economy while being able to showcase our facility. Greensburg Salem has a rich athletic history, especially in football, and what better way to celebrate it than hosting a WPIAL semifinal?”

Gateway and Penn Hills also played quarterfinal games in Westmoreland County last week. Gateway edged Bethel Park, 17-13, at Norwin, and McKeesport beat Penn Hills, 35-20, at Hempfield.

The WPIAL 5A championship is next Saturday at Norwin.

Carr vs. Casilli

Penn-Trafford and Peters Township have been complimentary of one another this week in preparation for their WPIAL Class 5A semifinal Friday night at West Mifflin’s Titan Stadium.

It could be considered one of those mirror-image games with so many similarities between the Warriors (11-1) and Indians (11-1), but two players, in particular, could place their fingerprints all over the outcome.

Penn-Trafford junior Ethan Carr and Peters Township senior Josh Casilli have been game-changing athletes. They have similar numbers.

Casilli has 20 touchdowns and Carr has 18, and they have come in a variety of ways. Both have been dangerous rushers on direct snaps from the wildcat formation.

Casilli has 47 catches for 829 yards and 12 touchdowns, with his other scores coming on rushes and returns.

Carr has 34 catches for 644 yards and nine touchdowns and 289 yards rushing and eight scores. The other TDs came on kickoff returns. He also has thrown two scoring passes.

Dangerous Leopards

Look at the talent and numbers on the Belle Vernon football team, and it should be no surprise to see the Leopards (10-1) in the WPIAL Class 4A championship. They are a well put-together group that will take on top-seeded Thomas Jefferson (12-0) for the title at 5 p.m. Saturday at Heinz Field.

Senior quarterback Jared Hartman has been one of the most accurate passers in the state. He is 119 of 155 for 1,718 yards and 29 touchdowns for a team that averages 48.3 points.

Senior Larry Callaway has rushed for 1,023 yards and 16 touchdowns, and sophomore Monessen transfer Devin Whitlock has 503 yards on the ground and six scores.

Whitlock was an addition who made an already talented team that much better.

Four players have double-digit receptions, led by senior Nolan Labuda (46 for 580 yards and 11 TDs). Senior Hunter Ruokonen has 24 for 359 yards and eight scores, and Whitlock has 20 grabs for 272 yards and two TDs.

Belle Vernon has had 17 players touch the ball this season, and 16 have scored touchdowns.

Defensively, the Leopards have 17 interceptions: five from Labuda and three by Whitlock.

Extra points

The last time Belle Vernon played in the WPIAL finals (1999), coach Matt Humbert was an eighth-grader, soon to take the helm at quarterback at Laurel Highlands. Humbert threw for 4,408 yards and 30 touchdowns in three seasons as a starter. … Belle Vernon lost to West Allegheny and quarterback Tyler Palko, 37-12, in the 1999 Class AAA title game at Three Rivers Stadium. … Hempfield center and defensive tackle Ryan Cross (6-1, 190) received a preferred walk-on offer to play at St. Francis (Pa.).

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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