HARRISON CITY — The current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic sapped some of the traditional liveliness of a Friday night high school football game, but Penn-Trafford still managed to bring the energy.
The Warriors took it to Greater Latrobe early with four first-quarter touchdowns and two more in the second for an eventual 48-14 victory during the WPIAL Class 5A Big East Conference opener Friday at Warrior Stadium.
“No doubt it was different,” Greater Latrobe coach Jason Marucco said. “It comes down to the team that handles all of those things better on Friday night and certainly Penn-Trafford came out and handled that part of it better right off the bat.”
Warrior Stadium still featured regular gridiron commotion under the lights, but the hometown fans and raucous student sections were replaced with a smattering of senior Penn-Trafford parents only allowed into the stadium because of state guidelines during the pandemic limiting attendance to 250 people at outdoor venues.
“I think everybody was glad to be here,” Marucco said. “We really didn’t know what to expect in terms of the atmosphere, but it brings back some normalcy. It’s nice to play football again on Friday night. It’s what we all love to do. That part of it was great.”
The rest didn’t go as well for the Wildcats, particularly in the first half.
Penn-Trafford (1-0 conference, 1-0 overall) scored on its first five possessions, including four in the first quarter. The Warriors scored on six of their first seven possessions and outgained Greater Latrobe 275-37 in the first quarter.
It took nine plays for Penn-Trafford to score five touchdowns and rack up 275 yards of total offense. Ethan Carr connected with Chase Vecchio in the seam for a 67-yard touchdown, as Penn-Trafford took a 7-0 lead 52 seconds into the game. Cade Yacamelli broke free for a 75-yard run two plays into Penn-Trafford’s next series, giving the Warriors a 14-0 lead.
“I thought Penn-Trafford came out and got after us right off the bat in the first five minutes,” Marucco said. “To their credit, I thought they made two really good football plays. It’s tough to start your season out that way.”
Penn-Trafford used a trick play to open a 21-0 advantage. Vecchio took a reverse and launched a pass to a wide open Chris Popovich for a three-touchdown advantage. Mason Frye was wide open in the corner of the end zone for a 40-yard score two plays into Penn-Trafford’s next possession. A failed two-point try put Penn-Trafford in front, 27-0.
Penn-Trafford needed seven plays to score on its next possession. The Warriors scored their first four touchdowns in nine plays. Carr took a hit in the backfield, but he broke free of the Wildcats’ pressure for an 11-yard touchdown and a 34-0 lead.
Penn-Trafford finished with 496 yards of total offense. Carr completed seven of 10 passes for 170 yards with one interception and four total touchdowns, including one on the ground. Popovich caught two passes for 77 yards and a touchdown. Vecchio had two receptions for 76 yards, a passing touchdown and a receiving score, and Mason Frye ended with a pair of catches for 75 yards.
“You always know when you’re playing a team as talented as Penn-Trafford, they have the capability of doing that, so your focus should be on stopping the big play,” Marucco said. “They’ve always made the big play, they live off the big play and they did that (Friday) to their credit.”
A penalty on the ensuing kickoff started Greater Latrobe at the 50-yard line and the Wildcats took advantage. The Wildcats had 37 yards of total offense prior to their 50-yard scoring drive. Dylan Gustafson busted off a 33-yard run and Logan Carns connected with Kyle Brewer for a 13-yard touchdown two plays later, making it 34-7.
“To our credit, I thought we answered,” Marucco said. “Our pride was on the line, and I like how we responded.”
The Greater Latrobe (0-1, 0-1) special teams came through with a blocked punt on the ensuing Penn-Trafford possession. The Wildcats took over on the Warriors’ 5-yard line, but couldn’t punch it in. A procedure penalty pushed Greater Latrobe back to the 9-yard line and two plays later, Carns was stopped on fourth down at 1-yard line.
Penn-Trafford scored on the next play when Brad Ford broke free for a 99-yard touchdown run. It was the longest touchdown run in school history, eclipsing Chris Schneider’s 98-yarder in 1993 against Fox Chapel. Ford finished with 102 yards rushing, while Yacamelli led the Warriors with 134 yards and a score.
“We got the ball inside the 10, and that was big, but that one was on us,” Marucco said. “That was Latrobe stopping Latrobe. Those are the types of things that come back and haunt you against a good football team.”
Both teams managed a touchdown in the third quarter.
Greater Latrobe opened the half with a 14-play, 82-yard scoring drive. The Wildcats recorded four first downs, as Gustafson capped the series with a 1-yard plunge. Gustafson led the Wildcats with 117 yards and a score on 21 carries. Carns completed 11 of 24 passes for 169 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Carr later threw a 19-yard touchdown, his third passing and fourth total, to Jack Jollie to complete the scoring.
It was a lesson for the Wildcats against Penn-Trafford, a perennial power in the WPIAL since John Ruane took over as head coach. Penn-Trafford has qualified for the playoffs nine of the last 10 years. The Warriors reached the WPIAL championship game twice and made five appearances in the WPIAL semifinals since 2013, including last season.
Greater Latrobe, which has reached the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs in each of the last two seasons, plans to take lessons learned into an exhibition contest, 7 p.m. Friday at Mount Pleasant Area. The Wildcats’ next conference game is Oct. 2 at home against Gateway, a big winner against Franklin Regional on Friday.
“We’re going to build off the second half (against Penn-Trafford), for sure,” Marucco said. “We need to worry about us right now and make the necessary corrections, the things that are definitely coachable from a technique or scheme standpoint to make sure we’re in better position to stop the big play next week.”
Penn-Trafford 48 Greater Latrobe 14