Gulasy: How to rekindle the Norwin/Penn-Trafford rivalry
I love rivalry games.
Games between two rivals bring more passion and more energy from players and fans alike. It doesn't matter whether it's the Steelers clashing with the Ravens, Pitt taking on Penn State or West Virginia, or my alma mater, Kent State, playing its arch-rival Akron.
More than that, I'd wager 99 percent of sports fans have a team — or, more likely, sports teams — they love to hate.
Friday night, Westmoreland County high school football fans will be treated to a local rivalry when the Norwin Knights travel to play the Penn-Trafford Warriors at 7:30 p.m.
Like the rivalries mentioned above, this one has a lot going for it. It benefits from the two schools' closeness, as the Norwin High School campus stands about 6 miles from Penn-Trafford's. The game carries extra weight because the two are conference rivals. And the storyline of Norwin coach Art Tragesser — who went 83-52 while roaming the sidelines at Penn-Trafford from 1996-2008 — returning to Warrior Stadium is an added bonus.
Animosity? That's there, too.
“I've talked to some of the alumni guys, and I don't want to say there's a hatred, but there's a deep feeling of, ‘We'd better not lose to Norwin,'” Penn-Trafford coach John Ruane said. “I'm sure Norwin alumni feel the same way. This obviously goes way back before I was here. But (for) the players, it's our arch-rival.”
For all the points in the Norwin/P-T rivalry's favor, however, it can get better in a few ways. As a close follower of the Norwin/Penn-Trafford rivalry going back to my high school days, here's how I would improve it:
1. Norwin needs to win — or at least be more competitive
Before I get attacked by a horde of angry green-and-gold Warriors, allow me to explain. Over the past 10 seasons, Penn-Trafford won eight of the meetings with its rival. In that time, the Warriors outscored the Knights, 300-158. The past two seasons, Penn-Trafford won both meetings with Norwin by a combined 62-7 score.
While I'm sure those statistics sit just fine with Penn-Trafford fans, it doesn't exactly make for the most competitive rivalry — which Tragesser acknowledged Sunday.
“The last two years, we haven't really been in the game,” Tragesser said. “We turned the ball over. Two years ago, the score could have been 100-0. We just have to really make it a rivalry. Until we step up and maybe win a game, then it's not big as it is. Gateway is a big rivalry for them, and Hempfield. So we've got to step up. If we want to have rivalries, then we have to beat these teams.”
For comparison's sake, let's take the Norwin/Penn-Trafford girls soccer rivalry. The teams compete against each other yearly for Section 1-AAA supremacy. In the past 10 seasons, Penn-Trafford won five section titles outright, while Norwin won three. The Warriors and Knights shared the section championship in 2004 and 2011.
Now that's a rivalry. Can you picture how big the football game would be if it was for the conference title?
2. The game needs a name
This one might seem trivial, but I love the mystique that surrounds many rivalries in college football.
Think about it: You've got the Backyard Brawl — or had it, at least — to go along with the Civil War (Oregon/Oregon State), Holy War (BYU/Utah and Boston College/Notre Dame) and Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate (Georgia/Georgia Tech). If you prefer simplicity, you've got The Game (Ohio State/Michigan).
Meanwhile. teams compete for the Golden Egg Trophy (Mississippi State/Ole Miss), Paul Bunyan's Axe (Minnesota/Wisconsin) and Victory Bells (too many to count).
If Norwin and P-T had such a name, or such a trophy, this game would be surrounded by more mystique. I'm not sure I can help with the trophy, but the name can't be too hard to come up with. If anybody would like to send suggestions, feel free to do so. I may run some in next week's issue.
3. The WPIAL needs to put it back where it belongs
I wish I weren't writing this column this week. I wish I were writing it later in the season — Week 9, to be exact.
From 2004-11, Norwin and Penn-Trafford closed each season by playing each other. The realignment that took Class AAAA from four conferences to three before last season changed that.
Ruane and Tragesser are in favor of moving the game back to where it used to be.
“I wish it was the last game of the year, but what are you going to do?” Tragesser said. “It's just the way the schedule worked out.”
“I think that's the ultimate thing — you have a season of buildup, and you get your rival (in) Week 9,” Ruane said. “Most teams get to do that, so hopefully (in) the next cycle that works out.”
The WPIAL will go through another realignment after this football season. Here's hoping the game gets put in Week 9.
The stakes would be a lot higher if the game decided a playoff spot, playoff positioning or — dare to dream — the conference title.