Norwin, Penn-Trafford see improvement in rivalry game
In many ways, Friday's rivalry football game between Norwin and Penn-Trafford was revealing as to where each program currently stands.
P-T senior quarterback Dorian Stevens threw for 102 yards and ran for 50 more, and senior cornerback Dom Cima had two interceptions, as the Warriors came away with the Quad East Confernce win, 27-7, at Norwin Knights Stadium.
Penn-Trafford (1-1, 1-0) capitalized on five turnovers by Norwin (0-2, 0-2) to win for the eighth time in the last 10 meetings between the schools, but apart from the costly mistakes, some of which were self-inflicted, this year's Knights weren't overmatched by their rivals.
The game featured some hard hitting by players from both sides and remained scoreless until the 5:24 mark of the second quarter, when P-T got on the board with a 22-yard field goal by Matt Loughnane.
But a bad punt snap, the first of Cima's interceptions being returned for a touchdown and a fumbled shotgun snap all cost Norwin in the final three minutes of the first half, as the Warriors extended their lead to 20-0 at the break.
For Knights coach Art Tragesser, there no doubt was disappointment after the loss, but he also reflected on the positives, as his comparatively young team showed toughness and resiliency against a program that put the mercy rule on them to close the 2011 season.
“Every snap, every quarter, every play, we're getting better and we're getting experience,” Tragesser said. “We just can't keep shooting ourselves in the foot like that. You can't give a good team the ball in point-blank range.”
All but one of Penn-Trafford's scores — a 4-yard third-quarter run by Devin Austin, who finished with a team-best 66 rushing yards — came on drives of 40 yards or fewer, as the Knights' defense was solid.
Eliminating the big mistakes that cost the team is now the top priority for Norwin, something that should come with more experience for the many underclass players being used by the Knights at key positions.
“The first half, especially the end, we could've done a lot better, but I felt we came back a lot better in the second half,” said junior linebacker/running back Zach Tinsley, who led Norwin's offense with 72 yards rushing.
“In the second half, I could see our line improving. That's why we were a little more successful on the run. But we have to keep getting better. This was still a disappointing loss.”
On the opposite side of the field, Penn-Trafford also is a program learning on the fly. While much of the Warriors' roster was around to experience last year's conference title, only a handful of the current players were regular starters on that team.
While beginning conference play with a win is a boost for the program, P-T's players and coaches see their team also has room to improve, and they think they did that at Norwin.
“I'd like to see our offense start out the game going well, but we challenged them at halftime because we didn't run the ball the way we need to,” Penn-Trafford coach John Ruane said. “We have to keep working on stuff, but we ran the ball much better in that first drive of the second half, and that's something we can build on for the rest of the season.”
As the Penn-Trafford offense continues to grow, the defense has been more than capable of picking up the slack in the Warriors' first two games.
“Our defense did outstanding (against Norwin). Shutting a team out until the fourth quarter is great,” Cima said.
“The big plays, like the interceptions, they get our team going. We wanted to put some more points up, but we were happy with what we did. Our offense definitely got a lot more comfortable out there.”
The win gets the Warriors off to a good start in their quest for back-to-back conference titles, and the team will play its home opener at 7:30 p.m. Friday against a team new to the conference, Altoona (1-1, 1-1). The Mountain Lions are coming off a 7-0 loss to Kiski Area, and the game will be their first road game of the season.
Playing at home should help increase the Warriors' comfort level, as will the simple fact that many of the P-T players now have at least two varsity games under their belts.
“From Week 1 to Week 2, there was a big improvement,” Cima said. “In Week 1, there were a lot of kids getting their first varsity start, and they had to get the jitters out. You could definitely tell the difference in Week 2. A lot of kids that looked a little scared are starting to play up to their potential.”
Norwin, meanwhile, will try to end its losing streak on the road at 7 p.m. Friday against a McKeesport team (0-2, 0-1) that has had struggles of its own this season in losses to Hempfield and Woodland Hills.
Though the Tigers have a Division I quarterback in Akron recruit Eddie Stockett, McKeesport's offense has scuffled to begin the year, a trend Norwin would like to help continue.
“Right now, we just have to keep working hard in practice and try to win every game we play,” Tinsley said. “We all believe we can win (this) week and in the rest of our games. We can play with these other teams; we showed that tonight. We just have to keep working hard to get better.”
Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or firstname.lastname@example.org.