The fact that Greater Latrobe is even able to play a football game this week is a plus.
It came close to not taking place at all.
That it’s another non-conference game, the second in a row, to get ready for the rest of the regular season and WPIAL Class 5A Big East play is an added bonus for the Wildcats.
Originally, Greater Latrobe was to face South Fayette this week. But because the pandemic has thrown the schedules of some teams into disarray, South Fayette must play a conference game against Peters Township, which was out for two weeks because of the virus.
Upper St. Clair, meanwhile, was supposed to play Penn Hills, which had its conference matchup with Kiski Area pushed back to this week, again because of COVID-19.
That, in turn, left Greater Latrobe and Upper St. Clair without a game for this the third week of the season.
But not for long.
It was only natural for the teams to schedule a game, especially with them being in the same classification (WPIAL 5A). And so they will meet, 7 p.m. Friday when Greater Latrobe (1-1 overall) plays its home opener vs. Upper St. Clair (1-1) at Memorial Stadium.
“Both teams ended up with a open date. It just made sense to play,” reasoned Greater Latrobe head coach Jason Marucco.
And, for the second time in three weeks, the Wildcats will be going up against a team ranked in the top five in WPIAL Class 5A after beginning the season with a Big East Conference contest at Penn-Trafford. Like Greater Latrobe, Upper St. Clair’s loss came to another one of those top-ranked teams — No. 1 Pine-Richland — by 21 points (34-13) in a crossover game last week.
“They’re a very talented team,” Marucco said of the Panthers, “particularly at the skill positions.”
For starters, USC senior quarterback Ethan Dahlem (5-10, 180) has picked up where he left off last year when he led WPIAL Class 5A in passing yards (seventh overall) during the regular season with 2,077. So far this season, Dahlem is 33 of 54 for 378 yards in two games.
“He’s a very good quarterback. And,” Marucco added, “they have an All-State wide receiver.”
That would be senior David Pantelis (6-1, 180), who has already committed to NCAA Division I Yale and was second in all of the WPIAL a year ago with 77 catches. The Panthers’ other leading receiver is junior Mateo Cepullio (6-0, 175).
“They have a lot of talent at the skill positions,” Marucco reiterated.
“They’re going to come out and see how you line up defensively and what you’re giving them, and go from there, and they also like to play fast on offense. They like to throw the ball around and get their athletes in space.
“They’re a lot different team than what we saw last week against Mount Pleasant.”
After a five-touchdown defeat (48-14) to Penn-Trafford, Greater Latrobe shut down Mount Pleasant Area’s running game to the tune of 56 rushing yards on 34 tries. The Wildcats also limited the Vikings to 131 total yards in a 35-7 win.
“We didn’t get off to a good start that first week,” Marucco said of the Penn-Trafford game. “I thought we bounced back nice against Mount Pleasant.
“I thought, defensively especially, we lined up properly and tackled very well, and did what we needed to do. I thought we did a really good job on that side of the ball, taking away what they do best and forcing them into some other things. And that allowed our offense to catch up.”
Greater Latrobe led by only nine points at halftime. But the Wildcats scored two touchdowns in each of the last two quarters while giving up just one.
“Overall, I thought the win was the result of a total team effort,” Marucco remarked. “In the end, I thought we did everything we needed to do in all three phases of the game to get a victory.”
Greater Latrobe rushed for 239 yards, averaging 5.9 per attempt. Quarterback Landan Carns (6-2, 200) and running back Dylan Gustafson (5-10, 170), both seniors, combined for 173 yards on the ground — 96 and 77, respectively — with the latter also scoring twice. Juniors Kyle Brewer (5-11, 170) and Drake Clayton (5-10, 195) contributed another 47 while backup junior quarterback Bobby Fetter (5-10, 165) accounted for the Wildcats’ other rushing touchdown behind an experienced offensive line made up of four returnees, three of them seniors — center Alex Aiello (5-7, 210), guard Payton Hrehovchak (5-10, 190) and tackle Isaac Landry (5-11, 225) — and junior guard Tyler Lynch (6-0, 230) with junior tackle Jacob Brisky (6-2, 205) the lone first-year starter.
“Our approach going in was to take whatever they were going to give us,” Marucco explained of the game-plan. “I thought we did a good job with that.
“We were patient on offense. They were doing some things defensively to try and take away parts of our running game, so we were able to throw the ball.”
Through two games, Gustafson is at 154 yards on 31 carries (4.9 average). Carns has 134 on 18 touches, which works out to 7.4 a carry.
In addition, Carns completed seven of 17 passes for 128 yards and one TD to senior tight end Tucker Knupp (6-0, 225) against Mount Pleasant Area. Carns has connected on 45% of his attempts (20 of 44) for 286 yards and two scores (two interceptions) with Knupp on the other end of seven of those passes for 125 yards while senior wide receiver Nate Stemmerich (5-8, 155) has four catches for 68 yards.
Defensively for Greater Latrobe, Clayton and Knupp lead the team in tackles with 17 and 16, respectively, from their inside linebacker positions. Both also have one sack and five tackles for losses between them.
And Marucco knows his defense will be tested by Upper St. Clair and the tandem of Dahlem and Pantelis. As he stated earlier, Marucco says the Wildcats will have to make a mental adjustment on defense from last week this one against the Panthers.
“They definitely like to throw the ball more than run it,” Marucco noted. “We just have to make sure we have the right people on the field to match up with them.”