Content courtesy of the Trib HSSN
When the PIAA expanded to six classifications four years ago and decided to move the start of the playoffs up a week, it also allowed schools to eliminate their second scrimmage and play a game during Week Zero.
Because many schools lost their rivalries during expansion, coaches and athletic directors decided to schedule games against neighboring rivals.
Those facing off Friday include Greensburg Salem at Hempfield, Latrobe at Derry, Jeannette at East Allegheny, Connellsville at Uniontown, Southmoreland at Mt. Pleasant, Burrell at Valley, Apollo-Ridge at Leechburg and California at Beth-Center. One rivalry that ended because of a threat last year was Monessen and Charleroi.
But the “Battle of Route 30” will take place at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Warrior Stadium in Harrison City between Norwin and Penn-Trafford.
“It’s good for the teams and the communities,” Penn-Trafford coach John Ruane said. “It’s one of the most highly attended games of the year. We should be playing Norwin every year, and when we went to 5A and 6A, it was the first thing the coaches agreed upon.
“It benefits both athletic departments, and the kids want to play each other and the fans certainly want to see it.”
Norwin coach Dave Brozeski said, “Norwin and P-T in anything always have a little extra incentive, and it’s certainly been a very competitive game over the past three years. I expect it to be another very close game.”
The Knights, led by quarterback and Western Michigan recruit Jack Salopek, will be trying for their second consecutive win in the series after a thrilling 44-36 victory last season. Penn-Trafford won the previous two Week Zero meetings — 3-0 in 2017 and 17-14 in ’16.
“I love playing in rivalries,” Salopek said. “Last year was the most fun I’ve had in a football game. I know we came out on the winning side. It was a great game and a great rivalry between the two schools. It was competitive, and it’s a great game every year.”
Salopek finished 20 of 28 passing for 283 yards and four touchdowns. He added 71 yards rushing and a score as Norwin raced out to a 24-0 lead.
Penn-Trafford rallied in the second half to pull to within 24-21 as Gabe Dunlap replaced Ethan Carr.
Dunlap completed 11 of 13 passes for 156 yards and three touchdowns and added 15 carries for 112 yards and a touchdown.
“It’s a great rivalry. Norwin and us are so close,” Dunlap said. “We battle in everything, it doesn’t matter what sport it is. It’s bragging rights. It’s, ‘We’re better than you.’ ”
Dunlap said he’s looking forward to the battle against Salopek.
“Jack is a great quarterback,” Dunlap said. “He’s very talented both running and passing the ball. I don’t feel it’s a personal battle. It’s a team game.”
While the quarterbacks will draw a lot of attention, there are many players on both sides ready to make noise. Both return veteran lines, and both are working in young receivers.
One of Penn-Trafford’s big guns is running back Caleb Lisbon, who rushed for 1,329 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. Norwin returns junior tight end Tanner Krevokuch, who caught 26 passes.
Ruane said the game draws a lot of excitement at the beginning of the season.
“It used to be at the end of the season,” Ruane said.
As for Norwin and Salopek, Ruane is impressed.
“Jack is one of the best quarterbacks I’ve seen in a long time,” Ruane said. “You can tell he’s a field general, and he knows where to go with the football and he knows his offense. He can direct traffic with his players, and he can put the ball in tight windows, better than a lot of players I’ve seen.”
At Tuesday’s practice, Brozeski reminded his players how important the game is.
He wants them to be focused on their job.
“Do your job,” Brozeski constantly harped. “I’m pleased how the players have responded as a team and taken the step up from last year with the new offense. We have to take care of our business.
“I know John will have his team ready. He’s going to throw a ton of stuff at us on offense. It’s going to come down to what team does a better job the duration of the game.”
Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter