Belle Vernon building on recent success
Belle Vernon qualified for the WPIAL playoffs for a 10th consecutive year last fall, but the majority of those trips were one-stop stays made by teams with mediocre records.
Things have changed in recent seasons. No longer are the Leopards satisfied with simply qualifying for the postseason. Stockpiling wins and contending for conference and district titles are the new norm since Matt Humbert became coach in 2014.
Behind a balanced offense and opportunistic defense, Belle Vernon won its first 10 games a year ago, won the Big 8 Conference title thanks to a 21-17 win against perennial power Thomas Jefferson -- the second time in three years the Leopards beat the Jaguars in the regular season -- and reached the WPIAL Class 4A semifinals before seeing its season end against TJ.
Key players return on both sides of the football, but the Leopards aren’t talking WPIAL playoffs or defending the conference title, at least not publicly. That goes against Belle Vernon’s business model.
“We try to dispel looking ahead,” said Humbert, who has compiled an impressive 32-10 record at Belle Vernon. “I know it’s not great paper talk, but it’s truthful. We start with heat week. From there, it’s training camp. Then, it’s the first scrimmage. We go from there. We’re trying to win that day. Then, we’re trying to win the next day.”
Belle Vernon is getting used to winning, and junior quarterback Jared Hartman leads the way.
The multisport standout excelled in his first year as a starter. He passed for 928 yards with 15 touchdowns and three interceptions. His nine rushing touchdowns led the team, and he’s worked hard to improve.
“We all worked hard this offseason. We had workouts three days a week, but on Fridays, I would get the guys together and work out with the receivers,” Hartman said. “Last year, I did assume a leadership role as the starting quarterback, but I’m more comfortable in that role this year. I’m more comfortable in pushing everyone to be better. As a sophomore, I was a little nervous to say something to the seniors.”
Hartman will direct an offense that returns running back Mason Pascoe, a powerful 5-foot-6 senior who rushed for 788 yards and six touchdowns last season.
Junior Larry Callaway also is back, and they will be running behind an offensive line that returns four starters in tackle Anthony Rebar, guards Collin Pallotta and Kirk Popelas and center Eric Oblak. Having four returning starters up front should help ease the loss of Pitt freshman Blake Zubovic, an all-state performer last season.
“The nice thing about all these kids is they’ve had fantastic offseasons,” Humbert said. “From an (athletic director) perspective, we want kids who play as many sports as they can but still invest huge amounts of time in football.”
Investments paid off defensively in 2017 as Belle Vernon held seven opponents to seven points or fewer. The Leopards allowed 10.5 points per game, second best in the classification to TJ (6.9).
Belle Vernon created turnovers, came up with tackles for loss in bunches and set up the offense with short fields all season. Cameron Guess, the nation’s top-ranked punter in the Class of 2020 by Kohl’s Kicking Camp, also provides Belle Vernon with an unique advantage.
“I know I appreciate our defense. That’s for sure,” Hartman said.
And Belle Vernon appreciates a winner. James Weir Stadium, home of the yellow turf players call “The Beach,” has seen an uptick in attendance. There’s a buzz in the community that hasn’t been there since the late 1990s.
“We’re the conference champs,” Hartman said. “We’ve got a target. Everyone wants to beat us.”
Coach: Matt Humbert
2017 record: 10-1 8-0
All-time record: 306-231-7
Date Opponent Time
8.31 Ambridge 7
9.7 Thomas Jefferson* 7
9.14 at Laurel Highlands* 7:30
9.21 at Indiana* 7
9.28 Greensburg Salem* 7
10.5 Trinity* 7
10.12 at West Mifflin* 7:30
10.19 Plum 7
10.26 at Ringgold* 7
*Class 4A Big 8 Conference game
Passing: Jared Hartman
61-123 928 yards 15 TDs
Rushing: Mason Pascoe
115-788 6 TDs
Receiving: Logan Pfrogner*
21-322 yards 7 TDs