Penn-Trafford ready for battle with Penn Hills
On a hunch, Penn-Trafford football coach John Ruane spent some time last weekend preparing for a potential playoff game against Penn Hills.
With his team locked into a home playoff game, Ruane thought his team would likely get a first-round playoff matchup against Penn Hills, North Hills or North Allegheny. And because the Warriors scrimmaged North Allegheny during the preseason and played North Hills in Week 1, Ruane decided to focus his efforts on Penn Hills.
They're the only ones we didn't see this year, since we scrimmaged (North Allegheny) and played North Hills,” Ruane said. “They were the most foreign to us, so we spent some time looking at them.”
It turned out to be time well-spent, as Penn-Trafford, the No. 6 seed in WPIAL Class AAAA, will welcome No. 11 Penn Hills to Warrior Stadium on Friday night in the first round of the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs. The game will begin at 7:30 p.m.
“It's going to be difficult,” Ruane said. “Penn Hills is a very athletic team, very fast and physical, and (they) run a very diverse offense that you don't see too often. It's going to be difficult to prepare for, on a short week especially. We've got our work cut out for us in the next few days to get ready for it.”
Penn Hills (5-4) finished tied for fourth in the Quad Central with Peters Township but won a tiebreaker based on a head-to-head victory.
The Indians are led by a strong running attack. Quarterback Billy Kisner rushed for 1,108 yards and eight touchdowns during the regular season, averaging more than 7 yards per carry, while running back Isaiah Jones rushed for 853 yards and five touchdowns, averaging nearly 9 ypc.
“They're good,” Ruane said. “They have some athletes. Their quarterback is a player. I hope it's a good game. I hope we show up and play. Hopefully, we ride some momentum from the last couple weeks and come out playing hard.”
Penn-Trafford (6-3) finished as the second-place team in the Quad East thanks to a strong final two weeks that saw the Warriors upset Gateway, 35-34, and pound playoff-bound Hempfield, 42-14.
“We're definitely peaking at the right time,” said senior running back Tom Stinelli, who rushed for three touchdowns against Hempfield. “We had a great win over Gateway, and then we fixed our mistakes from last week and had a big win (over Hempfield).”
“Through practices, through film sessions, everyone's giving 110 percent,” said senior Josh McElrone, who set up Penn-Trafford's first touchdown with a key first-quarter interception. “It's been great. I haven't seen this in a long time.”
The Warriors had their most complete performance of the season against Hempfield. The offense scored a season-high 42 points, thanks to 220 rushing yards. Junior Devin Austin rushed for 108 yards and a touchdown, while Stinelli added 80 yards and his three touchdowns. Sophomore quarterback Brett Laffoon, meanwhile, threw for 112 yards and a key touchdown to Timmy Vecchio late in the second quarter that gave Penn-Trafford a 21-7 halftime lead.
Defensively, Penn-Trafford limited Hempfield's star running back, Joey DeFloria, to 85 yards rushing. Much of that came on a 53-yard touchdown run in the first half.
“I thought we were capable of this,” Ruane said. “We never really panicked as a coaching staff. We knew what we had as far as kids. This was a big game. This was a playoff game. You lose this one, you're probably the bottom seed in the tournament. Instead, we're a (No.) 2 seed and we've got a home game.”
This marks the third straight year with a home playoff game. Penn-Trafford will look to avoid the fate it suffered last year, when Pittsburgh Central Catholic emerged from Warrior Stadium with a three-point win in the first round of the playoffs.
These Warriors have aspirations of winning a WPIAL title, and Ruane knows the process begins Friday night.
“Every team you play is good,” Ruane said. “You can't look ahead. Penn Hills is going to be the only thing we eat, sleep or drink over the next three or four days. It's going to be a really tough football game, and we've got to try our best to come out on top.”