Braden Laux has always shared a strong bond with his Belle Vernon senior class.

“We’ve been together since we were like 5 years old,” said the 6-foot-5, 215-pound quarterback who will play tight end at Eastern Michigan next fall. “This group of seniors, we’ve been together since we were young.

“It’s like a brotherhood. This whole thing is special to us.”

Now the most successful crop of Leopards in school history will have one more week together.

Belle Vernon rushed for 370 yards and five touchdowns to roll past Hickory, 42-16, in the PIAA Class 3A Western regional final Friday night at North Allegheny’s Wright Field in McCandless.

With the victory against the District 10 champion Hornets (11-3), the two-time defending WPIAL champion Leopards (12-1) will have the chance to defend their PIAA title from a season ago.

“It feels great,” Laux said. “We’re going on to another state title, so we’ve got to win that one.”

Belle Vernon, which has advanced to the WPIAL championship game each of the past three seasons, has district titles in 1995, 2022 and 2023 to its credit.

The Leopards advanced to their first PIAA championship game in school history last season, defeating Neumann-Goretti, 9-8, at Cumberland Valley High School in Mechanicsburg.

“I said it last week, it’s just a relief,” Belle Vernon coach Matt Humbert said. “There’s so much stress and so much grind that goes into this, again, it’s just relief. Finally being able to get back there, finally being able to get those key cards and get everybody ready to roll feels good. There’s no doubt about it, it feels good.”

Belle Vernon will now face Northwestern Lehigh, which knocked off Wyomissing, 33-24, Friday night to advance to the PIAA Class 3A championship game for the first time in school history.

The Leopards will square off against the undefeated Section 11 champion Tigers (15-0) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Cumberland Valley High School.

Humbert said his team’s experience winning a PIAA title game last season will be critical in the run up to their return trip to Mechanicsburg.

“There’s been a lot of success that those young kids had from a freshman, sophomore standpoint, even if they weren’t contributors,” he said. “They understand the process. They understand the ups and downs when it comes with highs and lows, of wins and losses.

“I definitely think that this year I can reap the spoils of just having that upper-class group that understands the grind, the system, the process.”

The Belle Vernon upperclassmen certainly took care of business against Hickory.

Laux completed 8-of-11 passes for 111 yards and one touchdown, while also rushing for 78 yards and two scores on 16 carries.

Senior running back Jake Gedekoh rushed for 112 yards, 60 of which came on a second-quarter touchdown, on 11 carries. He did not return to the game after suffering an injury on the final play of the first half.

Leopards senior Quinton Martin, a Penn State recruit, rushed for 64 yards and one touchdown. He also caught four passes for 67 yards and another score.

Junior running back Kole Doppelheuer also rushed for 78 yards and a 10-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown.

“We just kept driving the ball, running down the clock,” Laux said. “We really kept it out of their hands, limited their scores.”

Belle Vernon asserted its dominance from the game’s opening drive, moving the football 65 yards in 15 plays.

Laux scored the game’s opening touchdown on a 3-yard run.

After Hickory kicker Lukas Jones drilled a 40-yard field goal early in the second quarter to make the score 7-3, the Leopards offense really began to roll.

Martin punctuated the ensuing drive with a 20-yard touchdown run, before Gedekoh scored on a 60-yard run to make the Belle Vernon lead 21-3.

“I told everyone from the jump, there was no secret to it, if we’re going to be able to win this game then we’ve got to have strong line play up front,” Humbert said. “I think that’s the key.”

Laux and Martin would link up for a 25-yard touchdown pass to lengthen the Leopards advantage to 28-3 with 3:38 left before half time.

Belle Vernon grounded out 215 rushing yards in the first half, while Laux threw for 90. The Leopards defense, meanwhile, conceded Hickory just 38 yards on the ground and 45 via the pass in the first two quarters.

Defensive back Adam LaCarte had a first-half interception for Belle Vernon and defensive end Aiden Johnson had a sack.

Belle Vernon held Hickory quarterback Zander Telesz to just 73 passing yards and a 10-yard, third-quarter touchdown pass to Parker Hillard.

Telesz also rushed for a team-high 29 yards.

The Hornets’ scoring was rounded out by a 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the third quarter by Kelvin Morrison.

Humbert said he was particularly impressed with the play of his defensive line against Hickory.

“They just keep getting better every week,” Humbert said.

Class 5A

Nolan DiLucia is making the most of his — and Peters Township’s — first PIAA postseason.

The first-year sophomore starting quarterback threw for 193 yards and a pair of touchdown passes, while the Indians defense held strong late, to secure a 14-9 PIAA Class 5A semifinal victory against Cocalico Friday night at Mansion Park Stadium in Altoona.

A week earlier, DiLucia threw for a career-high 301 yards and two touchdowns in Peters Township’s 33-14 PIAA quarterfinal victory against Erie Cathedral Prep. Just a week before that, he led the Indians to the first WPIAL championship in school history.

Peters Township (15-0) will next face Philadelphia’s Imhotep Charter in the PIAA Class 5A title game at Cumberland Valley High School in Mechanicsburg at 7 p.m. Friday.

DiLucia completed a 24-yard, second-quarter touchdown pass to Carter Shanafelt to open his team’s scoring against Cocalico (12-2). He then tossed a 14-yard scoring strike to Thomas Aspinall with 14 seconds left before half time, which held up as the game-winning touchdown.

Shanafelt had three catches for a game-high 57 yards, and Aspinall added four catches for 46 yards.

Vinny Sarcone led the Indians rushing attack with 65 yards on 14 carries.

Cocalico quarterback Josh Myer completed just two passes for 17 yards against Peters Township’s defense but carried the ball 17 times for a game-high 80 yards.

Myer scored his team’s lone touchdown on the opening drive of the second half.

Cocalico would have a chance to win the game late after blocking a punt near midfield with 5:25 left in the game.

The Eagles drove the ball as far as the Peters Township 3-yard line for a third-down play with 30 seconds left in the game. The Indians forced a turnover on downs with two seconds left in the game to seal the victory.

Class 4A

Aliquippa’s tandem of exceptional running backs made sure Friday night their team would be playing in its third consecutive PIAA championship game.

Tiqwai “Tikey” Hayes, a Penn State recruit, rushed for 270 yards and four touchdowns, while John Tracy added 161 yards and two scores to lead the Quips to a 52-32 victory against Selinsgrove in a PIAA Class 4A semifinal game played at Central Cambria.

Aliquippa, fresh off its record 20th WPIAL championship and third straight district title, will next play for a PIAA championship game for the third December in a row.

The Quips (13-0) will face District 2 champion Dallas (15-0) at 7 p.m. Thursday at Cumberland Valley High School in Mechanicsburg.

Dallas knocked off Bishop McDevitt, which faced Aliquippa in each of the past two PIAA Class 4A championship games, 26-23 in two overtimes Friday night.

Class 1A

Sophomore running back Matt Sieg carried Fort Cherry to its first PIAA Class A championship game appearance in school history Friday night.

Sieg rushed for 258 yards and four touchdowns on 34 carries to lead the Rangers to a 33-23 state semifinal victory against Redbank Valley at Farrell.

Fort Cherry (15-0) will face Steelton-Highspire at 1 p.m. Thursday in the PIAA Class 1A championship game at Cumberland Valley in Mechanicsburg.

Defending PIAA champion Steelton-Highspire knocked off South Williamsport, 48-21, in a state semifinal game Friday night.

The Rangers will be looking to change some unfortunate history for WPIAL teams against Steelton-Highspire.

The Steamrollers knocked off Union in the PIAA championship game last season while also earning state titles against Serra Catholic in 2007, Clairton in 2008 and Jeannette in 2020.




Peters Township 14, Cocalico 9

Imhotep Charter 42, Strath Haven 14



Aliquippa 52, Selinsgrove 32

Dallas 26, Bishop McDevitt 23, 2OT



Belle Vernon 42, Hickory 16

Northwestern Lehigh 33, Wyomissing 24



Westinghouse 28, Beaver Falls 8

Southern Columbia 39, Dunmore 7



Fort Cherry 33, Redbank Valley 23

Steelton-Highspire 48, South Williamsport 21

John is a copy editor and page designer at the Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at

John Santa

John is a copy editor and page designer at the Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at