Westmoreland high school football notebook: Area teams enjoy turnaround seasons
The football playoffs will have the local regulars. Jeannette, Franklin Regional, Penn-Trafford and Belle Vernon occupy spots on the WPIAL brackets.
Derry and Monessen are back to being contenders and Ligonier Valley has become a juggernaut in the District 6 Heritage Conference.
But the return of a pair of local teams to the postseason has been a part of, perhaps, a bigger story in 2018.
With Latrobe qualifying for the first time since 2009 and Greensburg Salem returning to November football since its last trip in 2011, turnarounds continue to happen.
Overall, it has been a season of improvement for several county programs.
The advent of six classes certainly has increased opportunities and helped to level the playing field, but many teams have embraced new coaching philosophies and schemes, and have found their way again.
• Latrobe came close last season with a similar 4-6 season but finished a game out of the wild card conversation. This time, though, the Wildcats broke through.
Now, the hard part: winning a playoff game. It’s been 50 years since that has happened at Latrobe and a tall task awaits Friday night at unbeaten Penn Hills (10-0).
“It’s nice seeing all of my teammates excited,” Wildcats quarterback Branden Crosby said. “The team last year helped turn things around, I kind of just picked up where Jason (Armstrong) left off and continue to move forward.”
• Greensburg Salem finally returned to the playoffs after missing out on a tiebreaker last season, tying West Mifflin for fourth place in the Class 4A Big Nine Conference.
“It’s been really great being able to be a part of something that’s bigger than me,” Greensburg Salem quarterback Trent Patrick said. “I’ve truly been blessed with the opportunity to go out and play with all of my guys this season. We’ve really come together as a team, and I hope that that mentality continues as we proceed through the next few weeks.”
Golden Lions coach Dave Keefer said each week brings a new opportunity to move the program forward. Missed opportunities are quickly discarded for new ones.
“We coach for the opportunity to compete every week,” Keefer said. “That’s why we do it.”
The Golden Lions have not won in the playoffs since 2000 when they beat Hopewell, 23-0.
• While it did not get into the playoffs for the first time since 1979, Southmoreland competed with just about every opponent. The Scotties, under first-year coach Dave Keefer, opened with a win over Mt. Pleasant and parlayed the momentum into a 4-6 season, all the while averaging 33.2 points. That is offensive production that was almost unheard of in years past.
The team produced a 1,900-yard passer in sophomore Zach Cernuto, a 1,000-yard rusher in senior Ronnie Robinson and a receiver with 47 catches in junior Riley Comforti.
• Greensburg Central Catholic rebounded nicely from a down season, flipping its record from 3-7 to 7-3 under second-year coach Aaron Smetanka. The WPIAL, though, cut the playoff field from 16 teams to eight so GCC missed the postseason despite finishing fourth (3-3) in the Eastern Conference.
Meeting of the minds: Bethel Park will host Franklin Regional on Friday night in the 8 vs. 9 game in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs.
The game will match two of the WPIAL’s veteran coaches in Jeff Metheny of Bethel Park and Greg Botta of Franklin Regional.
Botta doesn’t keep track of much; stats or coaching wins included.
“I have more than one and less than 200 (wins),” Botta joked.
But the coaches have been around about the same time. Metheny has 205 wins in 25 seasons with the Black Hawks, while Botta has 168 since taking over the Panthers in 1994.
• Monessen was 1-9 two years ago and 3-8 last year, but the Greyhounds are 7-2 as they open the WPIAL Class A playoffs against No. 1 Jeannette at Hempfield. The WPIAL took half as many teams to the playoffs than it did a year ago, so Monessen earned its No. 8 seed.
A number of area teams have been practically unbeatable playing at home of late, and they will host opening-round playoff games Friday.
Of the eight local teams in the postseason, five will be the home team Friday.
Derry and Ligonier Valley each have won 19 in a row at home, although Ligonier Valley announced Wednesday it moved its District 6 playoff opener against Marion Center to Greensburg Salem. Field conditions are not suitable at Weller Field in Ligonier and late-week rain added to the muddy conditions.
Rams quarterback John Caldwell said the venue change will not affect the Rams.
“It’ll definitely have a different feel to it,” Caldwell said. “But since our home games have been so limited this year we’re very familiar with playing on the road. I still expect a very nice home crowd, so it shouldn’t be too much of a challenge. I think it will still have a home-game feeling to it. I just hope if all goes well this week we’re home next week so the seniors and I can get one last game on Weller.”
Ligonier Valley’s last loss at Weller Field was on Nov. 6, 2015 against Central, 35-13.
Jeannette, which has won 13 in a row at McKee Stadium, will be the home team Friday but also will be at a neutral site.
The Jayhawks are playing Monessen in a Class A quarterfinal at Hempfield because of unplayable field conditions on the natural grass surface at McKee.
Derry welcomes Central Valley to the natural grass at Trojan Stadium Friday in a WPIAL Class 3A quarterfinal.
Derry has tarps down, the length of the field and in between the hash marks, to keep that area of the field protected.
Ligonier Valley practiced at the middle school field Thursday.
Jeannette practiced at Hempfield Wednesday and followed suit on Thursday.
Shoaf top rusher again
Yough’s Dustin Shoaf captured his second consecutive WPIAL regular season rushing title. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound senior ran for 1,968 yards and 18 touchdowns on 257 carries.
He finished his career with 5,053 yards, third all-time in Westmoreland County behind Matt Gavrish of Penn-Trafford (6,534) and Max Suter of Greensburg Central Catholic (5,252).
One thing that stands out for Shoaf, who is the only player in WPIAL history to have two 400-yard games, is that he averaged 6.6 yards per carry for his career.
Jeannette and Monessen will play each other Friday night. They are one-two in playoff appearances in Westmoreland, combining for 75. Jeannette has 41 and Monessen 34. ... A pair of freshmen lineman have started for two area playoff teams and have been making significant contributions. They are Franklin Regional’s Josh Pelusi (5-11, 298) and Greensburg Salem’s Billy McChesney (6-1, 250). ... A performance that didn’t get much attention last week came from GCC quarterback Max Pisula, who ran for 252 yards and two touchdowns on 39 carries in a win over Southmoreland. Pisula is from that area. ... Penn-Trafford junior Gabe Dunlap set the school record for rushing yards in a season by a quarterback. He has 699 yards and eight touchdowns.