Gallagher spins away from a tackle

Jim Downey | Herald-Standard

Laurel Highlands’ Rodney Gallagher spins out of the grasp of Connellsville’s Austin Elstner on a punt return in the first quarter of Friday’s non-conference game at Connellsville Stadium.

Laurel Highlands and Southmoreland both broke out of the gates quickly last week during Week Zero of the high school football season.

The Class 4A Mustangs went on the road and galloped past Class 5A Connellsville, 44-14, while Class 3A Southmoreland made a strong statement when it romped over old nemesis and Class 2A power McGuffey, 47-22, at Russ Grimm Field.

Now the two will face each other at Southmoreland tonight to see which can keep the momentum going.

“I don’t think it’ll take much to get them to refocus on Laurel Highlands now,” Scotties coach Dave Keefer said. “I’ve got a pretty veteran crew here. I think we’ll come ready to play.”

Every local team except Albert Gallatin is in action during Week One. Uniontown, under first-year coach Keith Jeffries, kicked off its first season as an independent on Thursday night with a game at Perry Traditional Academy.

The rest of the squads take the field tonight in non-conference games all slated to kick off at 7 p.m.

Fifteen area teams began their season last week while California, Brownsville, Beth-Center, Belle Vernon, Bentworth and Charleroi play their openers tonight.

The Falcons, under first-year coach Brian Gates, travel to McGuffey (0-1), the Bulldogs and Trojans square off in California, the Leopards are at Chartiers Valley (1-0), the Cougars host Carmichaels (1-0) and Bentworth entertains Waynesburg Central (0-1).

In addition to the Mustangs, Scotties and Mikes, three other area teams will be looking to open 2-0 as Elizabeth Forward (1-0) hosts Ligonier Valley (1-0), Mapletown (1-0) travels to Northgate (1-0) and Mount Pleasant (1-0) is at Derry (0-1).

The Vikings romped over visiting Burrell, 40-7, in Week Zero but aren’t taking Derry lightly despite a 61-0 opening loss at Latrobe.

“There’s no overconfidence,” Mount Pleasant coach Jason Fazekas said. “We’ll coach this week like we would against anybody else. Starting with film on Saturday and practicing this week, our goal is to keep improving every game.

“We’re going in with every intent to play better than we did last week.”

In other games tonight, Connellsville (0-1) is at Greensburg Salem (0-1), West Greene (0-1) hosts Burgettstown, Frazier (0-1), which had its opener cut short due to lightning, travels to Brentwood (0-1), Monessen (0-1) hosts Imani Christian, Jefferson-Morgan (0-1) entertains Washington (1-0) and Ringgold (0-1) hosts Yough (0-1).

Laurel Highlands’ game against Southmoreland was originally scheduled to be played at Mustang Field but was moved because new turf could not be installed in time.

“We were limited with home games last year so it is nice to get an extra one,” said Keefer whose team played only twice at Russ Grimm Field in 2020. “That was a little serendipitous for us.”

Southmoreland’s opening win also came at home over coach Ed Dalton’s Highlanders, who were ranked as one of the top teams in Class 2A.

“We knew about their ranking,” Keefer said. “I expected it to be a tough game but I’m pretty confident in this group of kids. I’ve had this group of seniors here for four years. We thought we could match up against them.”

The win was a bit of redemption for the Scotties from a 55-28 conference loss in 2019 when they went in with a 5-0 record.

“A few years ago Ed Dalton beat us here and they said about us that the Browns will always be the Browns,” Keefer recalled. “I remember that and the kids remember that, too.”

The Cleveland Browns are a pretty good team nowadays and so are the Scotties.

As for this week, Keefer recognizes the unique challenge Laurel Highlands presents, most notably junior quarterback/defensive back Rodney Gallagher, who is being heavily recruited by NCAA Division-I football teams.

Gallagher ran for two touchdowns and threw for two scores against Connellsville, and also came up with a pair of interceptions.

“We scrimmaged them last year,” Keefer said. “He was good then but I think he’s much more dynamic this year.

“We’ve just got to look at the matchup itself, what they give us, what our strengths our, what their strengths are. Obviously, you’ve got a once-in-a-lifetime athlete that you’ve got to coach against. You’re not going to stop him but we’ve got to try to limit him somehow and come up with a defensive game plan to try to get a few stops.”

Southmoreland has its own two-way threat in senior quarterback Anthony Govern who rushed for three touchdowns and tossed two TD passes to Isaac Trout in the Week Zero victory.

“He’s a little bit different package,” Keefer said of Govern. “You’ve got a 6-2, 250-pound quarterback who can sling it and has a good skill set. When we ask him to pull it down, for a big guy he has decent speed plus he can carry a few with him at the point of attack.

“I expect it to be a good game. Our guys are looking forward to it.”

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