Latrobe football team excited for 1st WPIAL playoff opportunity since ’09
Arnold Palmer. Fred Rogers. The banana split.
A number of historical staples, both timeless and recognizable worldwide, have helped put the Greater in Greater Latrobe.
Another is Steelers training camp at Saint Vincent College, a summer tradition for more than five decades.
While a cornerstone in its history, the Black and Gold practices are about the extent of football connections to Latrobe. Local establishments don’t welcome the high school team back for camp on their marquees, and surely haven’t had a reason to offer good luck wishes for them in the playoffs.
But maybe they will now.
This isn’t something out of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe: Latrobe really is headed to the postseason.
“It’s certainly going to be hard to ever trump the Pittsburgh Steelers,” Latrobe coach Jason Marucco said with a chuckle. “But that fact that we’re able to do the things we’ve been doing here the last couple years, building up to this opportunity, we’re certainly looking to put Latrobe football back on the map.”
The Wildcats (3-6), who have one regular season game left on Friday night at Highlands, have not qualified since 2009.
It looks like it’s time for their 15 minutes of fame, the latest to become hometown heroes.
All of that black and orange covering nearby homes might not soley be Halloween decor.
“It’s an awesome feeling to know that the time that we put in is finally paying off,” Wildcats senior lineman Trent Holler said. “The years that we spent trying to get this program where it needs to be, we’ve finally made it and that we have something special to do these next two weeks.”
Maybe this was destined to be the Wildcats’ return to playoff football. This season marks the 50th anniversary of Latrobe’s only WPIAL football championship team.
“It’s very exciting,” Marucco said. “I am happy for these coaches and players who have been working their tails off to get us to this point. All the hard work and development of our players, it’s finally reaping the benefits.”
But that title game victory -- 19-7 over Kiski in the first WPIAL championship played at Forbes Field -- stands as the last playoff win in Latrobe football history.
Eight trips to the postseason since have proved fruitless. Latrobe wants to change that with a first-round win and fill a long-gestating void.
Members of the ’68 team were honored during Latrobe’s season opener. They spoke to the current team about teamwork, perseverance and ignoring outside distractions.
The team was listening and applied that line of thinking to what has been a slow build to football in November.
“From my freshman year going 0-9 to 1-9 to 4-6 last year, playoffs was something really hard to do in this program,” Holler said. “All of us kept working because we knew the talent that was coming up. This past year, the seniors that just graduated, they told us, here’s what we did, now it’s your turn.”
Westmoreland teams support one another. Franklin Regional will make its 15th straight playoff trip but has taken notice of Latrobe’s whereabouts.
“I am so happy to see them make the playoffs; Jason and his staff deserve it,” Franklin Regional coach Greg Botta said. “They have put in the time and have been patient, and it’s paid off. They have played a lot of teams tough this year, including us. They almost beat us.”
The Panthers escaped Latrobe with a 17-14 win in Week 2.
Holler said the team’s push into the postseason has been a group effort -- and a reward for those who have supported the Wildcats through the trials and tribulations of down years.
“It’s big for the community,” Holler said. “I think we just gave everybody hope as to what they expect from us. We’re giving them a playoff game so hopefully everybody can come out and watch us and support us through it.”
Marucco said he thought last year’s group would be the one to break through and it came close -- Latrobe went 4-6 and finished sixth when the top four qualified for the postseason.
″(Last year’s quarterback) Jason Armstrong shot us a text and congratulated us and was very happy,” Marucco said. “Those guys paved the way, and these guys followed that lead. Now, we have the opportunity in the postseason.”