ROSTRAVER TWP. — Jared Hartman threw four first-half touchdown passes in Belle Vernon's 63-13 Big Eight Conference victory over Laurel Highlands on Friday at James Weir Stadium in the Herald-Standard Game of the Week.
The Leopards senior quarterback was 14 of 16 for 151 yards and no interceptions. He threw his touchdowns to four different teammates in Larry Callaway (31 yards), Ian Maloney (13 yards), Dane Anden (6 yards) and Nolan Labuda (18 yards).
Hartman deflected all praise to his receivers and linemen.
"We just stick to the plan and we had a good week of practice," said Hartman while being flanked by his offensive linemen. "These boys got my back through it all. They give me time and the receivers get open. We want to get back to the playoffs.
"I also want to give a shout out to Hunt. He dislocated his elbow today in the game. I want to wish him a speedy recovery. It was also great having all the fans here. We love playing here at the Weir. We wouldn't want to play anywhere else."
Belle Vernon (1-1, 2-1) was coming off a 34-7 setback to Thomas Jefferson (3-0, 4-0), but came out strong and scored on its first three possessions.
"We try to take a positive out of everything, and whatever narrative you want to follow about last week's game, we felt like we gave a lot of stuff away," Belle Vernon coach Matt Humbert said. "It was a humbling experience that we went through last week, and I'd be lying to say that practice wasn't a little longer, a little harder this week, and I think it showed tonight.
"There was a hunger to play some football. We will enjoy this for a few hours, and now the time comes where you got to keep on plugging and get ready for next week. I think we played with a little bit more of a chip on our shoulder because of last week. Hopefully, that motivation will put the bar where we need to go."
The Mustangs (0-1, 0-4) were forced to punt on their first drive, and Labuda set up the Leopards for their initial score on a 44-yard punt return to the Laurel Highlands' one.
Sophomore Devin Whitlock lined up at quarterback and scored on a keeper for a 6-0 lead with 10:45 left in the first quarter. Whitlock gained 80 yards on six carries.
"It was good to see the special teams get involved tonight on that level," Humbert said. "I was proud of Jared (Hartman) with his checkdowns. Last week, we had six sacks, and it came a lot with our spread stuff. That was on me. I needed a way to make sure he had blitz checks.
"I am proud of the way he handled that one drive in the first quarter. He took his checkdowns whenever he saw that pressure because they run a stack and like to bring the inside guys a lot. It was nice to get in that flow this week."
Callaway's touchdown came on a 4th-and-12 and Whitlock took a direct snap into the end zone for the two-point conversion to increase the Leopards' advantage to 14-0 at 6:06 of the first.
The Mustangs had two first downs on their next possession, but the drive ended when Labuda picked off Laurel Highlands quarterback Tyler Christopher and returned it to the LH 13.
Maloney scored on the first play after the interception for a 20-0 lead at 3:10 of the first.
The Mustangs cracked the scoreboard on the ensuing drive when Rodney Gallagher pulled in an 80-yard touchdown reception from Christopher at 2:48 of the first to cut the deficit to 20-6. Gallagher, a freshman who has Division I offers from Illinois and Rhode Island for basketball, demonstrated his athleticism on the play.
"He (Gallagher) is an amazing athlete, and I believe that is what high school sports is about; to get athletes to play sports," Laurel Highlands coach Rich Kolesar said. "I encourage kids to go play every sport you can possibly play in high school, and that's what he's doing. He is just enjoying being a kid and is a great personality, and is going to be really good for the next four years."
"I know a little bit about his (Gallagher) basketball stuff and that he's really talented, but I'm proud of him as a former Mustang just for the simple fact that he's a dual-sport kid," Humbert said. "He could be easily just focusing on basketball and doing his thing, and I love how that kid's out here playing football and competing. That will set him up for a very healthy future."
Laurel Highlands used the momentum from Gallagher's score to force Belle Vernon to punt on its next drive, but the Mustangs couldn't capitalize and had to give the ball back to the Leopards.
"I saw life in our kids' eyes," Kolesar said. "We are getting closer. We are working every day. They are a great football team. We got to get to that level, and that's our goal. We can't beat ourselves. We left a lot out there and gave them a lot of extra opportunities that we didn't need to."
Belle Vernon scored on its next three drives, as Anden reached the end zone at 9:53 of the second quarter, Callaway scored on a five-yard run at 8:14 and Labuda capped the first-half scoring at 5:34.
Hartman connected with Labuda for the two-point conversion after Anden's touchdown, Whitlock ran in the two pointer following Callaway's score and Cameron Guess made the first of three PATs following Labuda's touchdown to extend the Leopards' advantage to 43-6 at halftime.
Callaway opened the second half with an 87-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and Jack Bryer scored on a 12-yard run at 1:36 of the third quarter for a 57-6 lead.
Belle Vernon's Craig Dongilli recovered a fumble in the end zone for a 63-6 advantage in the fourth quarter.
Gallagher scored on a 73-yard touchdown run with 41 seconds remaining and Zackery Layton added the PAT.
Christopher was 7 of 24 for 164 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Teammate ShiNeill had 23 yards rushing and Christian Burchick caught three passes for 28 yards.
Callaway gained 59 yards on seven carries and he caught three passes for 57 yards. Labuda had six receptions for 32 yards.
The Leopards' Andrew Pacak had seven tackles and one interception. Teammate Hayden Barron also had seven tackles.
Belle Vernon hosts Indiana (1-2, 1-3) next week in Big Eight Conference play at 7 p.m.
"We will start Sunday with prep and we will be ready to roll, and the nice thing is we will get another home game at The Beach, so we are looking forward to that," Humbert said. "The Hall of Fame Game is always great, and my athletic assistant, Janice Sandy, was honored tonight, so shout out to Janice for her acknowledgement. There was no real rebound from last week."
Laurel Highlands welcomes Greensburg Salem (1-0, 1-3) to town next week for Homecoming in conference action at 7 p.m.
"We've played four great football teams, and this is our first section game," Kolesar said. "Right now, we're 0-1 in the conference and trying to get in the playoffs. We are looking to even that up next week at 1-1."
Big Eight Conference
Laurel Highlands 6 0 0 7 — 13
Belle Vernon 20 23 14 6 — 63
BV: Devin Whitlock 1 run (run failed), 10:45
BV: Larry Callaway 31 pass from Jared Hartman (Devin Whitlock run), 6:06
BV: Ian Maloney 13 pass from Jared Hartman (kick failed), 3:10
LH: Rodney Gallagher 80 pass from Tyler Christopher (kick failed), 2:48
BV: Dane Anden 6 pass from Jared Hartman (Nolan Labuda pass from Jared Hartman), 9:53
BV: Larry Callaway 5 run (Devin Whitlock run), 8:14
BV: Nolan Labuda 18 pass from Jared Hartman (Cameron Guess kick), 5:34
BV: Larry Callaway 87 kickoff return (Cameron Guess kick), 11:51
BV: Jack Bryer 12 run (Cameron Guess kick), 1:36
BV: Craig Dongilli fumble recovery in end zone (kick failed), 2:30
LH: Rodney Gallagher 73 run (Zackery Layton kick), :41
Records: Belle Vernon (1-1, 2-1), Laurel Highlands (0-1, 0-4).