Westmoreland football notebook: Belle Vernon motivated to win for injured QB
Quarterback Jared Hartman’s season-ending knee injury was a devastating blow to the Belle Vernon football program but the Leopards were quick to recover.
No “break glass in case of emergency” warnings or waving of white flags down in the Mon Valley.
Class 4A No. 3 Belle Vernon (6-1) is not panicking.
“No, not at all,” coach Matt Humbert said. “We’ve dealt with adversity here before, so it’s kind of been par for the course.
“There is a lot of motivation now: do it for Jared.”
Hartman tore the ACL, MCL and other ligaments in his right knee on a rush late in the first half of last Friday’s 28-12 win at West Mifflin.
Junior Nolan Labuda took over for Hartman in the second half last week, and it appears he will start in his place this week at home against Plum (2-6). Junior Andy Pacak, however, could also see time under center, Humbert said.
″(Labuda) has been in there before so this won’t be like his first varsity action,” Humbert said. “He can do a lot of the same things Jared can. Teams really haven’t seen (Labuda).”
Pacak, who just returned from an injury, is the Leopards’ outside linebacker. The initial plan was for him to back up Hartman.
Humbert said senior 1,500-yard running back Mason Pascoe also could get some direct snaps out of the wildcat formation.
“We have more decisions on the perimeter,” Humbert said about his QB combo. “There is that option component.”
Pascoe could present issues because of his speed.
“Mason has a very unique run style,” Leopards senior lineman Kirk Popelas said. “He plays through pain and is always ready to get back into the game no matter what the circumstance is. Whatever he puts his mind to, he can accomplish.”
Belle Vernon started the season down five starters for its first scrimmage, which made its decision not to play a Week Zero game that much more meaningful.
The Leopards were missing three starters for their first two games, including senior two-way tackle Kirk Popelas, who is getting some Division I attention.
“The West Mifflin game was the first time all season we were full healthy,” Humbert said.
A few playoff spots are up for grabs for local teams as the regular season winds into its final two weeks. Class 4A, 3A and A will have eight-team playoff fields, while Class 5A and 2A will have 16-team brackets.
Class 6A has just six playoff teams and will play two quarterfinal games, semifinals and a title game.
Area teams that already have clinched playoff berths are Penn-Trafford and Franklin Regional in Class 5A, Belle Vernon in 4A, Derry in 3A and Jeannette in A.
Penn-Trafford, Jeannette, Derry and Belle Vernon are in position to host first-round games.
Norwin still has a shot in Class 6A but likely has to win its final two conference games. Latrobe, meantime, clinches with a win over winless Albert Gallatin in its Big East finale. The Wildcats have not been to the WPIAL playoffs since 2009.
In Class 4A, Greensburg Salem remains in the hunt for a spot in the Big Eight. The Golden Lions, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2011, can clinch with an upset of Thomas Jefferson and an Indiana loss at Laurel Highlands. If Indiana wins and Greensburg Salem loses, the Golden Lions’ finale at Indiana will be for a playoff spot.
Yough can still qualify in 3A but will need some help. The Cougars need Freeport to lose to Mt. Pleasant and then win their final two Big East games.
In Class A, Monessen is on the cusp of a berth, and a potential co-conference championship. At the least, the Greyhounds could get one of the two wild-card spots.
Southmoreland won’t make the WPIAL Class 2A playoffs this season but that hasn’t stopped the Scotties (4-4) from becoming relevant again. With two games to go, they can still post five wins in a season for the first time since 2003, which also was the last time they had a winning season.
The team had not won more than three games in a season since 2014.
It also has been 15 years since Southmoreland averaged more points than it gave up. The Scotties are scoring 35.4 a game and allowing 31.3. They rolled up a school-record 72 last week against Shenango.
With some young talent getting a year of experience under their belt, the Scotties could be primed for a run next season at their first playoff trip since 1979.
Derry running back Justin Flack has scored 24 touchdowns, including a school-record eight last week in a 63-20 win over Yough. While the senior enjoys the routine trips to the end zone, he doesn’t “hog” all the attention. Flack would give his linemen all the helmet stickers if he could, and that includes tackles Gavin Adams, Justin Fallat and Cain Latta; guards Lucas Ciocco, Jordan Baum, Seth Loughner and Max Malis; and center Cullen Shawley.
“I cant say enough about those guys,” Flack said. “They get overlooked all the time, but they’re the engine of this team. They’ve been outstanding all year long. They’re why I have been able to play the way I have.”
Ligonier Valley standout receiver Aaron Tutino, fresh off breaking the state record for career touchdown receptions, grabbed his first scholarship offer this week, from Division II West Virginia State.
Tutino (5-foot-11, 170 pounds) has 41 catches for 841 yards and 16 touchdowns this season for the Heritage Conference champion Rams (8-0), who are ranked No. 2 in the state in Class 2A. West Virginia State plays in the Mountain East Conference.
• Derry senior H-back and linebacker Dom DeLuca received an offer from Division II Lake Erie.
The Appalachian Bowl matchup is set for next week. Heritage Conference champion Ligonier Valley (8-0) will take on WestPAC Conference winner Shade (8-0) at 7 p.m. Oct. 27 at Windber Stadium. The game had a long-standing tradition from 1973-93 and was rebooted in 2016.
The conferences will continue their unique format of cross-scheduling teams for Week 9, with second through 10th places playing one another.
Ligonier Valley plays in District 6 while Shade is from District 5.
The matchup will feature two of the top passers in the state in Ligonier Valley’s John Caldwell and Shade’s Brady Fife.
While both teams have a game before they meet, Fife has thrown for 2,394 yards and 34 touchdowns, while Caldwell has 1,585 yards and 27 scoring throws.
Next man up
Norwin and Jeannette will be without key starters this week. Norwin’s Zeke Houser and Marcus Barnes of Jeannette must serve one-game suspensions for getting ejected last week.