WPIAL Football Team of the Week: Week 11

Monday, November 11, 2019 | 8:54 PM

Sesame Street once had a song that began, “One of these things is not like the other.”

When you look at the eight teams that will be playing for WPIAL football gold on Saturday at Heinz Field, six teams are no stranger to playing on the North Shore in November. One of them has been there, done that a couple of times.

Then there is Belle Vernon.

The Leopards have never played at Heinz Field. In fact, they haven’t played in a WPIAL football championship game in this century.

But when Belle Vernon came back to beat defending Class 4A champion South Fayette on Friday in a semifinal game, they partied like it was 1999, the last time the Leopards played for gold.

“Since 2015, we have had some great young men come through this program,” fifth-year Belle Vernon coach Matt Humbert said. “All contributed to changing the culture and putting the program in a successful position.”

In his first two years at Belle Vernon, Humbert’s teams lost in the quarterfinals.

This marked the third straight trip to the Class 4A semifinals for BVA. But after losing in the final four the previous two years, the Leopards took the next big step Friday as they scored 20 unanswered points to win, 41-30.

“My kids and coaches are strong and resilient,” Humbert said. “We don’t need any games in the past to prove that.”

While the Leopards ended strong, they did not start the game that way, falling behind the Lions 14-0 in the second quarter.

“We have been in that situation before,” Humbert said. “We have been in games in previous years down 21 (points) going into halftime and came back and won. The thing we preached all week was that other teams have had success in the second half against them.”

It seemed every time South Fayette was ready to pull away, senior quarterback Jared Hartman had an answer to keep Belle Vernon close.

“Efficiency is what Jared is all about,” Humbert said. “There were two throws in that game where he went through his progressions and made plays. Not enough is mentioned about his efficiency with the ball.”

Hartman connected on 16 of his 19 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns.

The Leopards’ rushing attack also had success in the second half. Devin Whitlock and Larry Callaway scored on fourth-quarter runs. Callaway led the way with 138 yards rushing.

“Just a great kid,” Humbert said of Calloway, his senior running back. “He ran hard and showed toughness between the tackles. He was a big contributor (Friday) like he has been all year.”

Belle Vernon began the fourth quarter trailing South Fayette, 30-21, before three straight touchdowns gave the Leopards their monumental victory.

“The goal was to keep it close with them,” Humbert said. “We would be unrealistic to think they would not score. We have worn teams down in the second half many times this season, so we felt comfortable that if we kept it close going into the fourth, we would be on solid ground.”

Now, the next ground the Leopards step on for game day will be the hallowed grounds of Heinz Field.

Their task of winning a football championship for the first time since 1995 won’t be easy as Belle Vernon faces a Thomas Jefferson team that is undefeated and that beat the Leopards, 34-7, in Week 2.

“They are big and physical, can throw and run and are stout on defense,” Humbert said. “Friday was a dogfight for us and we never backed down. We will need to carry that mentally into Saturday.”

2019 Trib HSSN football teams of the week:

Week Ten – South Park

Week Nine – Shaler

Week Eight – Cornell

Week Seven – Pine-Richland

Week Six – Baldwin

Week Five – McGuffey

Week Four – Canon-McMillan

Week Three - Freedom

Week Two – Central Valley

Week One – Moon

Week Zero – New Castle


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