Belle Vernon coach Matt Humbert said he was concerned how his offensive front would handle Trinity’s stout front defensive wall.
After Friday night’s performance at Hiller Field, the young Leopards coach had very little reason to worry as Belle Vernon clinched a Class 4-A playoff spot with a dominant 52-14 win over the Hillers.
The Leopards moved to 5-1 overall and in the Big Eight Conference, while Trinity fell to 3-3 and 2-3.
“We knew they were going to be tough,” Humbert said. “I was proud of how our kids answered this challenge. All week, we tried to make things hard on them in practice. They have three really good defensive linemen. Regardless of how many points we scored or how many turnovers we forced, I was proud of how we responded.”
Belle Vernon’s defense forced six turnovers, five of which were interceptions of Trinity quarterback Connor Roberts. One was a late fumble recovery in the Leopards’ end zone for a touchback.
Roberts finished with 12 completions in 26 attempts for 175 yards and a touchdown. The Leopards managed to hold Trinity running back Micah Finley to 68 yards on 22 rushes.
Belle Vernon junior quarterback Devin Whitlock continued his stellar play this year as he accounted for five touchdowns. Three were rushing, one was through the air and another was via an interception return. He finished with 143 yards rushing on nine carries and also threw for 108 yards and a touchdown.
Freshman Quinton Martin came in off the bench for the Leopards to score three times and rush for 68 yards on six totes. He took the place of Dane Anden who left with a leg injury in the second quarter. Anden finished with 76 yards on 10 carries through two quarters.
“We have a lot of confidence in that freshman,” Whitlock said of Martin. “I think you see why tonight.”
The Hillers got off to a good enough start as they marched 66 yards in six plays. Roberts scored the game’s opening touchdown when he plowed in from four yards out on fourth and short. Dante DeRubbo’s kick was good, giving Trinity a 7-0 lead five minutes into the contest.
The Leopards moved 57 yards in seven plays on their second possession. Whitlock took a shotgun snap and swerved 15 yards through the Hillers defense for the tying score. The junior then showed off his passing arm after a blocked Trinity punt gave Belle Vernon the ball on the Hillers’ 45. Two plays later, Whitlock snuck a sideline pass to Ian Maloney, who took it the rest of the way for a 45-yard score. Tyler Kovatch’s kick was good, giving the Leopards a 14-7 lead late in the first quarter.
Trinity reached the Belle Vernon 30 on its next possession, but Roberts was hurried into an incomplete pass on fourth down, giving the ball back to a hot Leopards offense along with momentum.
Martin showed his vast potential when he ripped through the Hillers’ defense for a 28-yard scoring run two minutes into the second quarter, giving the visitors a 21-7 advantage.
Whitlock put his stamp on the contest after Jake Haney ended the following Hiller drive with an end-zone interception. The junior electrified the crowd with a 78-yard touchdown run that featured several cuts that left multiple Trinity would-be tacklers grasping at air, extending the Leopards’ lead to 28-7 with less than four minutes remaining in the half.
He also announced his presence on defense when he intercepted Roberts at the Belle Vernon 23 later in the quarter. Following his blockers, Whitlock raced 77 yards for a backbreaking score that pushed the Leopards’ lead to 34-7.
With nine seconds left in the half, Trinity cut the lead to 34-14 when Peyton Thompson scored on a 16-yard screen pass from Roberts.
Belle Vernon’s Logan Cunningham intercepted Roberts on the Leopards’ 40 and returned it to the Hillers’ 9 early in the third quarter. Whitlock carried it in from there, extending the Belle Vernon lead to 40-14.
Whitlock showcased more moves when he intercepted a deflected Roberts pass and weaved 25 yards to the Hillers’ 40, short-circuiting another Trinity possession. Three plays later, Martin rushed 20 yards through a demoralized Hillers defense and a 46-14 bulge midway through the third quarter.
Martin notched his third score when he plunged in from the three late in the third to set the final score.