Labuda shines as Belle Vernon rolls past Beaver in WPIAL Class 4A quarterfinals
There wasn’t much Belle Vernon junior Nolan Labuda didn’t do Friday night.
The talented wide receiver/defensive back, who also started under center for the Leopards, ran for three touchdowns, threw for a pair, caught another and had an interception on defense as third-seeded Belle Vernon scored 35 unanswered points to claim a 49-11 victory over No. 6 Beaver in a WPIAL Class 4A quarterfinal at James Weir Stadium.
Labuda ran for touchdowns of 1, 2 and 5 yards, caught a 27-yard TD pass from Andrew Pacak and threw for nearly 100 yards in the victory.
“The kid never probably viewed that he was going to be starting a playoff game at quarterback,” Belle Vernon coach Matt Humbert said. “He’s just a product of what we have here. We just have kids who plug in, do their job and he’s good. He can run the ball, he can throw the ball and he’s just smooth.”
In the absence of quarterback Jared Hartman, who is out for the season after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery, Labuda and Pacak each saw time under center. While Labuda completed 6 of his 9 passes, Pacak also got the job done, completing 5 of 10 passes for 101 yards and a touchdown.
“When Andy came in, he operated it just as well,” Humbert said. “I think the game kind of spoke volumes to the kids we have filling in at that position and being able to do what they did. You had both of them throw touchdown passes, you had both run the football and had both execute the offense.”
Belle Vernon found the end zone on each of its first two drives.
On their first, the Leopards drove 48 yards on eight plays, capping off the drive with a 38-yard touchdown pass from Labuda to Anthony Bertram. Labuda found Bertram on an out route at the 30-yard line and Bertram did the rest, to make it 7-0 with 8:20 on the clock.
After forcing Beaver into a three-and-out, the Leopards went on an 11-play drive and finished it off with a short 1-yard spurt by Labuda to make it 14-0 with just over a minute remaining in the first quarter.
“In a perfect world, we want to score on every possession early on and we want to control the time. I think we were able to kind of replicate that again,” Humbert said. “To be able to go up 14-0 like that right off the bat was pretty big.”
Beaver trimmed its deficit thanks to a pair of Leopards turnovers.
Forced into another fourth-down situation, the Bobcats punted to Labuda, who fumbled around midfield. Mason Rose picked it up and ran into the end zone for a 45-yard touchdown that cut Beaver’s deficit to 14-8 after a 2-point conversion.
On Belle Vernon’s next drive, which started at the beginning of the second quarter, Labuda had a pass picked off by Noah Yates who returned it 19 yards to the Belle Vernon 36.
Beaver tried to get into the end zone on an 11-play drive, but settled for a Beckett Connelly 20-yard field goal to allow the Bobcats to trail 14-11 with just under seven minutes left in the first half.
“We needed a spark and certainly Mason provided that for us with the strip, the recovery and being able to run it back,” Beaver coach Jeff Beltz said. “We still had momentum and still had a good drive later, but Belle Vernon, to their credit, kept the pressure on and turned some plays into points.”
The Leopards showed resiliency on their next drive, responding quickly.
Belle Vernon needed just five plays to find the end zone as Pacak found Labuda in the end zone for a score, extending its lead to 21-11.
“I’m super excited about the versatility we showed tonight,” Humbert said. “Hopefully, that will help us out next week. If South Fayette wants to key on the run, then we should have some answers for them.”
Belle Vernon will take on No. 2 South Fayette in the WPIAL quarterfinals next week at a site and time to be determined.