Penn-Trafford looks to build momentum after win over Gateway
Penn-Trafford senior Jack Brady watched from the sidelines two seasons ago when the Warriors upset Gateway with a last-minute field goal on their way to an undefeated regular season and Quad East championship.
He got a better vantage point for Penn-Trafford's most recent signature win, as he was on the field when Devin Austin caught the 2-point conversion that gave Penn-Trafford (5-3, 5-2) a 35-34 victory over Class AAAA No. 3 Gateway last week at Antimarino Stadium in Monroeville.
“I said that game (two years ago) was the best game I've ever seen, and it was. It was terrific,” said Brady, a starting offensive lineman for the Warriors. “I was on the sideline watching because I was just a sophomore, and I loved it.
“(But) this year, this game, winning by one point and actually starting and being a part of it and helping lead to that success, this has by far been my favorite game ever and probably will be my favorite game ever until I can't even tell you when.”
Last week's victory did more than give Penn-Trafford a memory to cherish. It also put the team in position to clinch a playoff home game when they host Hempfield at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
The Warriors can clinch anything from second through fifth place in the conference depending on how they and other teams perform this week. They would earn the second-place finish, and a guaranteed home playoff game, if they win and Gateway loses to McKeesport on Thursday night. They would earn the third-place finish in the conference if they and Gateway both win.
A loss to Hempfield would guarantee Penn-Trafford fourth or fifth place in the conference, depending on how Kiski Area fares in its game against Latrobe.
Penn-Trafford's players are motivated by the chance to play another game at home after Friday night.
“I think everybody would appreciate another chance to play in front of our hometown crowd,” senior lineman Adam Polakovsky said. “Those guys are great. They support us through everything, and I think it would be great to give them one more home game.”
The Warriors earned the victory over Gateway after suffering a 34-14 loss against Kiski the week before.
Coach John Ruane said the team turned the page quickly after that loss and put in a good week of practice before the Gateway game.
“In my opinion, I think the last week of practice was by far our best week,” Brady said. “Everyone just seemed on the ball. The scout team was going 100 percent, getting us starters ready.”
While Gateway jumped out to an early lead thanks to an 82-yard pass from Jimmy Moore to Montae Nicholson, the Warriors responded with two scores — an Austin 6-yard run and Timmy Vecchio 48-yard interception return — to take a 13-6 halftime lead. Gateway outscored Penn-Trafford, 15-7, in the third quarter to take a 21-20 lead, then added another score early in the fourth quarter to widen its advantage to seven points.
Penn-Trafford tied the score on a 14-yard pass from Brett Laffoon to Vecchio, but Gateway retook the lead on a 1-yard Zaihe Regus run.
That set up Penn-Trafford's go-ahead drive, which featured a big fourth-down conversion before Laffoon found John Guzik for an 18-yard score that made it a 34-33 score. Ruane said he originally decided to kick an extra point, but his assistants talked him into going for two points.
It worked out well for the Warriors.
“That's why you hire good assistants — because you can't do all the thinking on your own,” Ruane said. “Those guys certainly saw something in our kids, and I did. But we all felt we had the momentum and went for it.”
The 35 points scored against Gateway marked the Warriors' best offensive performance of the season. Four different players scored touchdowns, including the first touchdowns of the year from Guzik and Chris Stanford.
Penn-Trafford's running game, which struggled in the two weeks prior to the Gateway game, also picked up. Austin rushed for 182 yards and a touchdown.
While Gateway came into last week's game as the No. 3 team, Penn-Trafford will face another quality opponent Friday night. Hempfield (6-2, 5-2) has outscored its past two opponents by a 73-14 margin and features one of the top running backs in Class AAAA in Joey DeFloria (1,294 yards, 11 touchdowns).
“They might be the best team we've seen all year, and I'm not blowing smoke,” Ruane said. “The running back, I think, is the best running back in Quad-A, the quarterback (Ty George) is a veteran athlete who makes a ton of plays, they're very well-coached (and) they're very fundamentally sound. They bring pressure on defense. They're always in the right spot. They've been playing at a super high level the last five (or) six weeks.”
For their part, the Warriors will look to carry some of their momentum from last week into Friday night's game.
“The win we're coming off of this week is key,” Polakovsky said. “I think it's going to put us on a roll. It gave us spirit, it gave us confidence. It's a big win for our program, and rolling into another tough game, if we play the way we have and know we can, I think it'll be similar circumstances.”