Westmoreland high school football notebook: Victory Bell up for grabs as Gateway hosts Penn-Trafford
It is a new school year, but as John Ruane walks the halls at Gateway High School, where he is a technology teacher, it’s more same-old than what’s-new, at least when it comes to football players.
“There aren’t a lot of new faces,” Ruane said, shaking his head and chuckling.
And therein lies the dilemma for Ruane, who doubles as the football coach at Penn-Trafford. The Warriors (0-1) visit top-ranked Gateway (1-0) on Friday night, and they will see much of the same team they lost to in last year’s WPIAL Class 5A championship, 21-16, at Heinz Field.
“They’re the No. 1 team in the state, and they’re loaded,” Ruane said. “We respect that, but we have to focus on playing our game and see how it goes.”
The annual Victory Bell game was won by Penn-Trafford last year in Week 5, 28-0, before the Gators took the title game. Gateway leads the all-time series 10-9 and the Bell series 5-3.
A team hasn’t won two in a row in the series since 2011-12.
“They didn’t count the championship as a Bell game so we still have it,” said Warriors senior H-back/linebacker Niko Rosso. “Any time it’s a rivalry game, it’s not tough to get up for it. It’s revenge week for us.”
Two consecutive rivalry games present a tall task for the Warriors, who lost to upstart Norwin in the opener 44-36 after falling behind 24-0.
“We need to be more detail-oriented,” Ruane said. “We gave up too many third-and-long’s (last week). We played well for a big portion of the game and moved the ball, but we hurt ourselves.”
Rosso missed last year’s WPIAL final with an arm injury so he is anxious to play against the Gators, who rolled to a 31-8 win over Mt. Lebanon in Week Zero.
“It feels great to get back out there,” Rosso said. ”(Gateway) plays in a lot of open space. Everyone has to get to the ball.”
Sophomore Derrick Davis can present headaches for any opponent and was a difference-maker in last year’s championship. Ruane said the focus can’t just be on Davis, a running back and linebacker.
Senior Brendan Majocha is a viable replacement for standout Brady Walker, and senior receiver Courtney Jackson is a playmaker.
“It’s a different year,” Ruane said. “Whatever happened last year, good or bad, is out the window. We just know we have to do better than a week ago, and we will.”
Gateway coach Don Holl said he has great respect for Ruane and Penn-Trafford.
“They are more than just a team, they are a program,” Holl said. “Well-coached and very comfortable and well-versed in what they do. We will have to be at our very best to come out on top.”
Penn-Trafford used two quarterbacks last week in junior Gabe Dunlap and sophomore Ethan Carr, but Ruane said the plan is to go with one. Dunlap will start Friday. He threw for 156 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 112 yards in the opener.
A couple of Westmoreland County teams chose to scrimmage last week rather than open the regular season. But Franklin Regional and Belle Vernon begin play this week.
Franklin Regional, the only team from the Class 5A Big East Conference not to play last week, hosts Plum on Friday night.
“One big reason is I am still not sure of who some of my starters might be,” Panthers coach Greg Botta said. “I want to see a number of players see varsity action without the concern of winning the game.”
Belle Vernon, meantime, hosts Ambridge (0-1) in a nonconference game.
“Doing two scrimmages is basically predicated on, it’s more an evaluation for us,” Leopards coach Matt Humbert said. “There’s always an urge to actually play a game from a competitive standpoint, but certain years it’s good to have that extra way to evaluate players, especially when you might not have all positions set in stone by the end of camp.
“I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way and there’s good arguments for both sides, but the No. 1 thing that benefits us ... to get multiple kids in and get film on them.”
Derry did just fine without two key running backs who were out with injuries last week in a 45-15 win at Latrobe.
Both players figure back into the mix at some point, coach Tim Sweeney said.
Senior Colton Nemcheck and junior Justin Huss both suffered leg injuries during preseason workouts. Nemcheck injured his knee, but Sweeney said he could play next week. Huss, however, is expected to be out until October with a broken leg he suffered during a seven-on-seven passing scrimmage.
“We have a nice stable of backs, but we’re a little injured right now,” Sweeney said.
Thomas wins opener
Penn-Trafford graduate Marko Thomas is trying to turn Connellsville football around. A season-opening win in his second year with the Falcons is a step in that direction.
Connellsville stomped Uniontown last Friday, 64-19, in the annual Battle for the Coal Bucket Trophy.
Connellsville’s Blake Lancaster returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, and the Falcons rolled from there.
With its fourth straight win over Uniontown, Connellsville leads the series 38-36-9.