Top 5 teams McKeesport, Penn-Trafford set for premiere early-season matchup
If it were up to Penn-Trafford's John Ruane or McKeesport's George Smith, their football teams would be seeing each other much later in the season.
This is just way too early to suit both coaches.
“A great Week 9 game,” Smith insisted. “Like it was when we played Gateway.”
But the WPIAL, which decides the schedule, instead has served up the battle of Class AAAA top 5 powers for Week 3, where No. 5 McKeesport (2-0, 2-0) visits No. 3 Penn-Trafford (2-0, 2-0) on Friday night.
Both teams have begun the season on cruise control, McKeesport outscoring Connellsville and Altoona by a combined 91-7 and Penn-Trafford defeating Kiski Area and Connellsville by a combined 114-21.
Is either team ready for a classic, knockdown, drag-out battle at this point?
“Good question,” Ruane said. “Every time I expect one thing, we get the other. Two years ago, the offenses dominated. Last year, it was the defenses that shined.”
In 2013, the teams split their decisions, McKeesport beating Penn-Trafford, 34-14, during an undefeated run to the WPIAL playoffs, where the teams met in a rematch with the Warriors handing the Tigers their only loss, 35-20 in a quarterfinal-round game.
Penn-Trafford blanked McKeesport, 21-0, last season.
“I know one thing,” Ruane said. “McKeesport is playing with a different edge this year. They're faster and more physical.”
While neither team has been tested so far, Ruane said both faced tough opponents in their preseason scrimmages, McKeesport against No. 1 Central Catholic and No. 2 Woodland Hills and Penn-Trafford against No. 8 North Allegheny.
The series lately has featured two teams with contrasting styles.
Penn-Trafford offers one of the top passing attacks in the WPIAL, led by quarterback Brent Laffoon and wide receiver Tim Vecchio, a Robert Morris recruit who starred on defense last week in a 62-14 victory over Connellsville by returning three interceptions for touchdowns.
Laffoon has thrown four touchdown passes and running back Johan Lisbon has rushed for four scores for the Warriors.
McKeesport, coming off a 42-0 victory over Altoona, is led by running back Khaleke Hudson, who has scored eight touchdowns and passed for another. Hudson is a highly sought-after Division I prospect who totaled more than 1,500 yards rushing and 23 touchdowns in 2014.
“Penn-Trafford is very good and Vecchio is a tremendous player,” Smith said. “The defense will have their hands full. But we've been pretty good defensively.
“We can't make many mistakes offensively. The players, so far, have been approaching this game properly. Penn-Trafford dominated us in every phase of the game last year.”
Smith is hoping his offensive line, led by mammoth guards Curtis Harper (6-3, 276) and Lyle Petrosky (6-5, 280), can open holes for Hudson and his running mates, mainly Mark Cromerdie and John Harper, in McKeesport's confounding flexbone option attack.
Defensively, Smith is looking for linebackers Jahsai Allen, Ray Zellars, Islam Abdul-Raab and Tymar Sutton — who could return for an injury — to have big games along with Cromerdie, Hudson, Kyreek Sayles and Breon Green in the secondary.
Ruane mainly relies on nose guard Garrett Smith (5-11, 240) and defensive ends Andre Guest (6-3, 270) and Chris Stanford (6-4, 270) to clog things up in the middle for Penn-Trafford.
“We're still trying to figure out how to slow down Hudson,” Ruane said. “The key, like in any game, is winning the line of scrimmage. We can't let them play in our backfield, and we have to create movement. We have to make sure they don't get big holes to run through.”