Westmoreland high school notebook: Ex-Penn-Trafford kicker Topper gets closure

Sunday, December 26, 2021 | 4:59 PM

It has been 24 years since Kevin Topper missed low and left at Three Rivers Stadium.

A kicker for Penn-Trafford in 1997, his extra point could have tied the WPIAL Class 4A football championship against Upper St. Clair with 18 seconds remaining.

But it wasn’t meant to be.

Warriors faithful sighed and lowered their heads in unison as the ball flailed off to the side, and USC celebrated a 28-27 win, spoiling the Warriors’ comeback in their first trip to the finals.

The kick, which was supposed to be a formality after a 46-yard touchdown pass from Eric Stewart to Marko Thomas, hindered the ill-famed Topper for years.

But his pain has been eased with the help of the current WPIAL and PIAA champion Warriors.

Topper finally has some sense of closure thanks to an incredibly thoughtful gesture by current Warriors coach John Ruane.

Topper, 42, opened his mailbox days after this year’s WPIAL championship and found an envelope from Ruane. Inside was a letter and a shiny, new gold medal.

Ruane made sure Topper received one after the Warriors clipped Moon, 24-21, to claim their long-awaited first title in their fourth try.

Topper, who has used his tale of trepidation to motivate his wide-eyed kindergarten students at Quaker Valley, was floored.

Ruane’s peace offering had an underlying message: “Let’s leave the poor guy alone now.”

As Moon drove downfield to set up a potential tying field goal, the video crew at Heinz Field played a clip of Topper’s miss on the JumboTron.

“We just felt like that kick gets brought up a lot when we go far in playoffs,” Ruane said. “Hopefully, winning it ends all that. He had a great career and shouldn’t be defined by that.”

Topper received pick-me-up messages from then-Buffalo Bills kicker Scott Norwood and other NFL kickers after his miss, which was played and replayed by KBL.

Like some ironic twist, Moon kicker Jacob Wieland missed a field goal a few weeks ago at Heinz Field that could have tied the WPIAL 5A championship against Penn-Trafford. When his 33-yard attempt sailed wide, Penn-Trafford celebrated a 24-21 win and its first title.

It was like decades-old demons had been exorcised.

Topper did not lose perspective. He sent Wieland a keep-your-head-up email after the senior kicker’s gut-wrenching miss that stirred up so many emotions, many of which went silent when he opened mail and saw the medal.

Bach to EMU

Former Yough star baseball pitcher Jarett Bach left Pitt but has found a new landing spot to continue his college career.

Bach, a 6-foot-6, left-handed pitcher, will join Eastern Michigan in the spring.

Slowed by thoracic outlet syndrome, where blood vessels and nerves can become compressed between the collarbone and first rib, Bach had just one relief appearance for Pitt in 2020.

Bach also considered Seton Hill, Gannon, Shippensburg and UMBC. He is pursuing a NCAA waiver for his medical condition to be eligible right away this year. Otherwise, he would have to sit out a year because he is going from one Division I program to another.

“I think (Eastern Michigan) is a good fit for me because they have my major and the head coach recruited me in high school, so he understands my situation,” Bach said. “I’m making good progress. I think just getting back to pitching in games and being in a competitive setting again will be big for me.”

Bach was the Trib Westmoreland Baseball Player of the Year in 2019 as a senior.

That season, he finished with a 7-1 record, a 0.57 ERA and 112 strikeouts.

Top dogs

The Southmoreland girls are among the local favorites to contend for a WPIAL basketball title this winter. The Scotties (4-0) are ranked No. 1 in Class 4A and have amped up their schedule to get them sharp for another postseason run.

Proof is Tuesday’s game in the Cal (Pa.) holiday tournament. Southmoreland will play Upper St. Clair (5-0), the No. 2 team in 6A, at 5 p.m.

Upper St. Clair is averaging 67.6 points, and Southmoreland is allowing 35.8.

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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