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Penn-Trafford chasing program history

| Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Penn-Trafford kick returner Timmy Vecchio returns the final kick off of the game versus Penn Hills during their November 1, 2013 contest in Harrison City.
Alisa Jacobson | For the Penn-Trafford Star
Penn-Trafford running back Devin Austin carries the ball during a WPIAL Class AAAA first-round playoff game against Penn Hills on Nov. 1, 2013, at Warrior Stadium.

Quarterback Brett Laffoon knows about the recent history of Penn-Trafford football in the WPIAL playoffs.

“(Before this game), we won one playoff game in 13 years,” Laffoon said after the Warriors' 22-16 victory over Penn Hills in the first round of the Class AAAA playoffs last week. “Now we have two. It's great.”

Fresh off its second playoff win since the 2000 season, No. 6 seed Penn-Trafford (7-3) finds itself chasing rarer achievements heading into its quarterfinal matchup with McKeesport on Friday night at Norwin.

With a win over the Tigers, the Warriors would advance to the WPIAL semifinals for the first time since 1997, when they finished as the Class AAAA runner-up behind Upper St. Clair.

“It's pretty special to be part of the last eight teams in (Class AAAA) standing,” Penn-Trafford coach John Ruane said. “I think (the players have) taken some pride in that. We haven't gone beyond this round in a long time, and if we can work hard and pull out a win Friday, that would be a big deal for the community. I think the kids are motivated by that more than anything.”

Providing extra motivation is a chance for redemption against No. 3 McKeesport, which beat Penn-Trafford, 34-14, earlier this season.

In that game, McKeesport converted a pair of Penn-Trafford mistakes inside its own 20-yard line into touchdowns. A special-teams mistake that gave McKeesport a short field to drive for a touchdown, enabling the Tigers to take a 21-7 lead into halftime, proved especially costly.

Ruane said the team was using the first game as “a teaching tool.”

“It's certainly the best film we have because it's our defense facing that offense, and our offense facing their defense,” he said. “So there's a lot we can teach from. But we put a lot of time in watching the rest of their season to see what they've done differently, see how teams have attacked them and how they've attacked people.”

McKeesport (10-0) enters Friday night's game on an offensive roll after scoring touchdowns on its first eight possessions in a 54-28 victory over Peters Township last week. The Tigers nearly reached the 50-point mark a week earlier in a 49-12 victory over Gateway.

“We have to be more disciplined than we were the first game in all phases,” Ruane said. “Just like they do to everyone else, when you miss your assignment defensively, they're going to make good reads and they're going to torch you. Certainly we learned that firsthand, and if you watch their games from the rest of the season, it just continues to happen. They're really well-coached, and the kids are good.”

The Tigers' flexbone, triple-option offense is led by quarterback David Queen and running back Mikell Moore, who have combined for 26 touchdowns this season, as well as a host of other playmakers and what Ruane called an “unsung” offensive line.

Last week, the Warriors held Penn Hills' offense mostly in check. While the Indians controlled the ball and the clock for most of the game, Penn-Trafford held them to just one offensive touchdown and forced three turnovers.

The Warriors must have a similar type of game against McKeesport, Ruane said.

“The big plays are what get you,” he said. “Penn Hills moved the ball for sure, but it's tough to put together long, long drives without making a penalty or without making a turnover. We were fortunate to get a couple of those breaks Friday, but the longer you make an offense possess the ball without hitting a big one, the more things (that) can happen. Obviously our goal is three-and-outs, but we feel good if we don't give up the big one.”

While Ruane said McKeesport's offense improved since the first game, the Warriors' has done the same. While Penn-Trafford committed three turnovers last week, including a fumble that Penn Hills returned for a touchdown, the Warriors also moved the ball effectively.

That ability to move the ball effectively proved especially important after Penn Hills scored to take a 16-14 lead with 1:38 left in the game. After a kickoff return by Timmy Vecchio set the Warriors up with good field position, they drove 54 yards in five plays and scored the winning touchdown with 27 seconds left on Laffoon's 23-yard pass to Vecchio.

“Coach made great play calls,” Laffoon said. “He knows what he's doing, and it set everything up. It was a perfect drive. (There was) great protection from the line — I had all day to throw — and wide receivers (were) getting open.”

Ruane said the team is still working to eliminate turnovers and produce better on third downs and in opponents' territory.

He believes his team will be ready to play Friday night.

“The game we played against McKeesport left a bad taste in our mouth,” Ruane said. “I think the kids are looking to respond and play hard.”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-388-5830, via email at dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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