PIAA 3A Championship Preview: Belle Vernon vs. Northwest Lehigh

The Leopards defend their PIAA title against the undefeated Tigers

Sat Dec 09, 2023 - 12:45AM

Sean Meyers Sean Meyers
Belle Vernon coach Matt Humbert celebrates with the WPIAL Championship trophy on November 24, 2023. (Photo by Ed Thompson)Belle Vernon coach Matt Humbert celebrates with the WPIAL Championship trophy on November 24, 2023. (Photo by Ed Thompson)

Last Updated: Sat Dec 09, 2023 - 1:44AM

PIAA 3A Championship: Belle Vernon (12-1) vs. Northwest Lehigh (15-0)

Pregame at 12:30 p.m. on WSN Audio - LISTEN LIVE

Location: Cumberland Valley High School

WSN Broadcasters: Sean Meyers & Roger Downs

From the very start of the 2023 season, Belle Vernon Area was expected to compete for another state title. After capturing the first PIAA crown in team history last campaign, the Leopards returned the vast majority of their contributors, which yielded extremely high expectations.

Just one hurdle remains in the way of the Leopards fulfilling all of those expectations. On Saturday at Cumberland Valley High School in Mechanicsburg, Belle Vernon Area will face undefeated Northwestern Lehigh, the champion of District 11.

A week ago, the Leopards left no doubt as they overwhelmed District 10 champion Hickory 42-16 in the semis at North Allegheny High School. Leading 7-0 after the first quarter, BVA outpaced the Hornets 21-3 in the second quarter to gain complete command. Despite a couple of touchdowns by Hickory in the third quarter, the outcome was never seriously threatened.

In the triumph, Belle Vernon Area (12-1) rushed for more than 400 yards, scoring five touchdowns on the ground.

“What stood out was us being able to kind of flex our muscle from an offensive line standpoint,” noted BVA head coach Matt Humbert. “There was no secret – we felt that was probably an area for us to attack.”

Leading that attack was senior Jake Gedekoh, who posted 11 carries for 120 yards and a touchdown, all in the first half. Kole Doppelheuer amassed 10 carries for 76 yards and a score, Braden Laux had 15 carries for 76 yards and a pair of TDs, and Quinton Martin accumulated eight carries for 69 yards, including a touchdown.

Laux was effective throwing the ball, too, as he completed 8-of-11 passes for 108 yards and a score, a 39-yard connection to Martin.

Defensively, Adam LaCarte and Tanner Moody tied for the team-lead with seven tackles, as LaCarte added an interception, and Moody posted a sack.

On the other side of the state, Northwestern Lehigh claimed a 33-24 victory against Wyomissing last Friday in a back-and-forth contest at Kutztown University. In the victory for the Tigers (15-0), Dalton Clymer rushed 19 times for 96 yards and two touchdowns, while he also snagged a 25-yard TD reception. Quarterback Shane Leh went 6-of-12 passing for 110 yards and a score, and he compiled 10 carries for 62 yards and a rushing TD.

Defensively, Blaine Snyder posted 18 tackles, while Shane Hulmes and Clymer added 16 and 15 tackles, respectively.

Northwestern Lehigh, located in New Tripoli, has outscored its opponents 663-153 on the season, including a dominant run through the Colonial-Schuylkill Gold Conference.

“You can see why they’re 15-0, because they’re just solid in every component,” Humbert said of the Tigers.

Northwestern Lehigh has eclipsed 40 points scored 11 times this season. Leh has completed 112-of-187 passing attempts for 1,699 yards, with 23 touchdowns and six interceptions. Clymer has paced the running game, with 1,801 yards and 31 scores on the ground. Devon Hildebrand is the top receiver, as he’s registered 47 receptions for 629 yards, scoring seven times.

“I think their offense is their key. That’s how they go,” said Humbert, noting that the Tigers also possess a fast and athletic offensive line.

Defensively, Northwestern Lehigh allowed a season-high 24 points last week in the win against Wyomissing. On the campaign, Clymer leads the squad with 128 tackles, while Snyder and Hulmes have posted 118 and 105 tackles, respectively. Bryer Reichard has notched 10 sacks, while Eli Zimmerman has produced 10 interceptions.

While the entire defensive unit is impressive, Humbert pointed to Reichard and Benjamin Walters as the keys to the Tigers’ success on that side of the ball.

“All roads lead through their two defensive ends,” he revealed.

While Northwestern Lehigh is playing in its first state title game, the Leopards are familiar with the atmosphere and environment, having edged Neumann-Goretti 9-8 last December at Cumberland Valley.

“The template that we had last year worked out really well. We just duplicated that and we’re pretty much sticking to that script,” said Humbert.

“We gotta go out and execute and get ready to get an old-school battle going,” he added.