Latrobe had gone 54 years in between its first and second WPIAL playoff wins.
Thankfully for the Wildcats, the wait for a third postseason win wasn’t nearly as long.
For the second consecutive season, Latrobe won a playoff game last Friday, this triumph being a 39-7 win at West Allegheny in a Class 4A first-round game. A season ago, Latrobe won at Highlands in the first round for its first postseason win since beating Kiski Area for the Class 3A title at Forbes Field in 1968.
It was a terrific all-around effort by Latrobe (8-3), which got a huge outing from junior quarterback John Wetzel, who ran for a career-high 247 yards and four touchdowns. Defensively, Latrobe, the No. 9 seed, limited No. 8 West Allegheny to a season-low seven points. The Indians had scored more than that against both Aliquippa (22) and Central Valley (20) in the regular season.
“I think it was a complete game by us,” second-year Latrobe coach Ron Prady said. “It was probably one of the better games we’ve played in a while. We were really physical on defense.”
That defense continues to be led by 6-foot-3, 210-pound junior linebacker Alex Tatsch, who leads Latrobe in tackles (90), tackles for loss (7), sacks (5), interceptions (4) and forced fumbles (3). Tatsch has seen his recruitment blow up this fall. His offers include Pitt, Penn State and West Virginia.
“Alex is just an incredible football player,” Prady said. “He loves the game of football. You love to see it because he lives it and breathes it and is completely dedicated to football. He’s so explosive, and every coach talks about the violence he plays with when he gets to the ball. I think that’s what makes him special.”
While Tatsch is often the one making headlines, Wetzel has been flying more under the radar. Wetzel has quietly established himself as one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the WPIAL. On the season, he has passed for 1,235 yards and 14 touchdowns and rushed for 1,038 yards and 15 touchdowns.
“He was incredible [against West Allegheny], but he’s been that way for us all year,” Prady said.
Wetzel along with all of his teammates will need to be at their best Friday when they travel to Aliquippa to take on the No. 1 seed and 19-time WPIAL champion Quips (9-0) in the quarterfinals. Aliquippa has reached the championship game 15 years in a row.
“Latrobe does not have the football-rich tradition like Aliquippa does, but we’re trying to get there,” Prady said. “We feel like for two years we’ve been really successful. But we’ve got a long way to go to get to Aliquippa, and so does everybody. We respect them for sure.”
Another first for Deer Lakes
Last Friday was a memorable one for Deer Lakes, which notched its first-ever postseason win. But for a few of the team’s players, it wasn’t the first time making school history.
Derek Burk, Aiden Fletcher, Wayne Love and Nathaniel Moore were varsity players for the Deer Lakes basketball team that last season won a WPIAL championship for the first time and advanced to their first PIAA Class 3A final. Love scored 10 points in the 61-60 WPIAL championship win against four-time defending champion Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. Fletcher and Burk also saw minutes in that game. Fletcher’s father, Albie, is the team’s coach.
Fletcher, Burk and Moore all scored touchdowns in Deer Lakes’ 48-18 win against Southmoreland in the first round of the WPIAL Class 3A playoffs. Fletcher scored on a touchdown run and Moore a fumble return, while Burk, son of Lancers coach Tim Burk, threw for two scores and ran for another. Love didn’t make the scoring summary, but he does lead the team in receiving this season.
OLSH was the defending PIAA champion when Deer Lakes took down the Chargers in the WPIAL basketball championship. Next up for the Deer Lakes football team (8-3) is a date Friday with reigning WPIAL and PIAA champion Belle Vernon (8-1). The two will play in a Class 3A quarterfinal at Belle Vernon.
Fort Cherry has been like a warm knife through butter this season, outscoring opponents by an average of 36 points a game on its way to a 11-0 record and No. 2 seed in the Class 1A playoffs. The Rangers will now get a familiar foe in the quarterfinals, one that handed them their most recent loss.
Fort Cherry and Rochester will meet in the quarterfinals for the second year in a row. Rochester is the No. 10 seed this season. As the No. 14 seed a season ago, the Rams stunned No. 6 Fort Cherry, 30-14. The Rams went on to lose to No. 10 and eventual champion Union in the semifinals.
In order to spring another upset, Rochester will likely need to try to find a way to slow down Fort Cherry sophomore quarterback Matt Sieg, who has rushed for 1,406 yards and 25 touchdowns and passed for 1,130 yards and 17 touchdowns. In last year’s loss to Rochester, Sieg rushed for 231 yards, passed for 42 and accounted for two touchdowns (one rushing, one passing).
Super coaching matchup
When No. 4 Mars (9-2) takes on No. 5 Central Valley (8-3) in a Class 4A quarterfinal, it will not only be a matchup of excellent teams but also championship coaches.
Central Valley’s Mark Lyons and Mars’ Eric Kasperowicz will square off for the first time. Both have done a lot of winning in their careers, combining to win nine WPIAL and four PIAA championships. Lyons has captured five WPIAL titles and Kasperowicz four. Each has won two PIAA titles. All of Kasperowicz’s championships came while he was at Pine-Richland. He’s in his second season at Mars.
Lyons and Kasperowicz actually both guided their teams to PIAA titles on the same day in 2020. Right after Central Valley beat Wyomissing, 35-21, for its first title, Pine-Richland defeated Cathedral Prep, 48-7.
4 for 4
It has been a perfect start to the playoffs for teams from the Class 4A Big Seven Conference and Class 3A Western Hills Conference. The conferences sent four teams to the postseason, and all of them secured spots in Friday’s quarterfinals.
No. 2 McKeesport, No. 6 Thomas Jefferson, No. 9 Latrobe and No. 10 Trinity are Big Seven Conference teams that have reached the Elite Eight. McKeesport had a first-round bye and will take on Trinity next. McKeesport handed Trinity a 35-7 home loss on Sept. 22. The Hillers are coming off just the third playoff win in school history. The Big Seven had four teams in last year’s quarterfinals, as well.
The Western Hills Conference is also well represented, with No. 2 Avonworth, No. 6 West Mifflin, No. 7 Beaver and No. 12 South Park all gearing up for quarterfinal games. South Park upset No. 5 Knoch in the first round. Avonworth, which received a first-round bye, will play Beaver for the second time this season. The unbeaten Antelopes outlasted Beaver, 33-28, on Oct. 6.