Last Updated: Fri Dec 01, 2023 - 12:14AM
PIAA 3A Semifinal: Belle Vernon (11-1) vs. Hickory (11-2)
Pregame at 6:30 p.m. on WSN Video (NFHS Network) - WATCH LIVE
Location: North Allegheny High School
WSN Broadcasters: Sean Meyers & John Flickinger
After Belle Vernon Area captured its second consecutive WPIAL Class 3A title last Friday at Acrisure Stadium, Leopards head coach Matt Humbert used the word “relief” to describe one of the emotions he felt.
While Belle Vernon Area controlled the game, claiming a 26-0 win against No. 2 Avonworth in a rematch of the 2022 matchup, the Leopards have had their sights set on repeating as WPIAL and PIAA champs since the start of the offseason. With that goal achieved, the Leopards took 24 hours to celebrate the win, and then turned their focus to their pursuit of another state title.
The Leps begin that journey on Friday in the PIAA Class 3A semifinals against District 10 Champion Hickory at North Allegheny High School in Wexford.
“We had to kind of already put the WPIAL championship to bed and move forward,” Humbert revealed. “Hickory does a lot of different things that will keep you guessing and keep you on your feet.”
To his point, the Hornets enter with a record of 11-2, although Hickory has not tasted defeat since Sept. 22. After toppling Sharon 14-6 to capture the D10 title, the Hornets ousted Central (Martinsburg) 26-13 last week.
Junior QB Zander Talesz was the offensive catalyst for Hickory, as he hit on 6-of-9 passes for 85 yards and a touchdown, while rushing 10 times for 108 yards and another score on the ground. Senior running back Sean Kennedy added 96 yards on 10 carries, while freshman Kelvin Morrison hauled in a 58-yard touchdown pass.
Another freshman, Jadon Phillips, snagged three interceptions defensively, while Kennedy notched 13 tackles, and Timmy Krivosh added 10 stops.
For the season, Telesz has thrown for 1,419 yards and 17 TDs, while rushing for 634 yards and 10 scores.
“The quarterback, he can sting you with his legs. He can run the ball, and he’s done a good job of being the X factor,” Humbert noted.
Telesz has plenty of enticing targets through the air, led by senior Tylon Cousin Jr, who has 31 catches for 516 yards and six scores. Luke Nevil has added 292 yards receiving, while Krivosh and William Acrie each have 224 yards receiving.
“I think their receiving corps is the best unit of receivers we’ve seen,” Humbert raved.
Morrison and Kennedy have also been effective out of the backfield, as Morrison paces the Hornets with 816 yards rushing, scoring nine times, while Kennedy has amassed 625 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground.
Defensively, Krivosh has posted an eye-popping 133 tackles, while Kennedy has registered 98 stops. Moreover, Phillips has compiled 10 interceptions.
“Their athleticism is probably the biggest thing that sticks out,” Humbert said of Hickory.
While the state playoffs typically bring a level of uncertainty regarding opponents, the Leopards know that Hickory has been battle tested.
“That District 10 has some good football,” said Humbert.
Meanwhile, the Leopards used a suffocating defensive effort last week to go back-to-back as district champions. Belle Vernon Area limited Avonworth to just 193 yards of total offense, as linebacker Tanner Moody posted nine tackles, while safety Adam LaCarte added eight tackles. Moreover, Zo Wade snagged a stellar interception.
Offensively, senior signalcaller Braden Laux led the way, hitting 12-of-21 passes for 155 yards and a score, and rushing 14 times for 53 yards, including a pair of short TDs. Quinton Martin added nine carries for 46 yards and five receptions for 25 yards, while Jake Gedekoh hauled in a 25-yard TD pass.
For the season, Martin, a Penn State commit, leads BVA in several offensive categories, including carries, rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, receptions, receiving yards, and receiving scores. Kole Doppelheuer and Gedekoh have also enjoyed success in the backfield, while Anthony Crews, Colton Lee, and Wade have been weapons in the passing game.
With a trip to the state championship game at Cumberland Valley High School on the line, Humbert knows his Leopards will have to be at their best.
“Prevent them from big splash plays. They’re dynamic. They really do a good job of stringing together drives,” he said of the keys against the Hornets’ offense. “We have to make sure that we’re fundamentally sound from an alignment standpoint.
“Offensively, we gotta be able to move the ball inside, outside,” he continued. “We gotta have big nights by our tailbacks, and by our quarterback throwing the ball.”
While the Leopards played in and won their first state title game a year ago, Hickory’s lone PIAA championship appearance came in a winning effort in 1989.
The winner will face either District 3 Champion Wyomissing or District 11 winner Northwestern Lehigh at 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9 at Chapman Field.