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Belle Vernon repeats as 3A state champs, 38-7, beating Northwestern Lehigh

Written by: on Saturday, December 9th, 2023. Follow Joseph Santoliquito on Twitter.


Photos by Matt Topper

MECHANICSBURG, PA — Repeating is never easy. It comes with the perfunctory pressure of getting everyone’s A-game. It means mentally getting up for each game, which can be a draining process, and is usually an arduous task.

Belle Vernon defied the old obstacles this season.

The Leopards made it look easy on Saturday afternoon in the PIAA Class 3A state championship at Chapman Field at Cumberland Valley High School. Belle Vernon won its second-straight state title with a 38-7 victory over District 11 champion Northwestern Lehigh, which was making its first appearance in a state championship.

Belle Vernon closes a two-year stretch in which the Leopards have gone a combined 25-3.

In the championship, the Leopards were led by junior Anthony Crews, who scored twice, and Penn State-bound running back Quinton Martin, who rushed for 133 yards on just eight carries, averaging 16.6 yards a carry, the bulk of which came on a third-quarter 92-yard touchdown.

“I would never say (repeating) was easy and we may make stuff look easy, but we’re hard workers,” Crews said. “We knew the pressures repeating, and that added fuel to our fire. I’ll probably get emotion talking about it, but I’ll remember these guys forever.”

Midway through the third quarter, Martin took a handoff wide, and once he cut the corner, he ripped down the sideline 92 yards untouched for a 28-7 lead, which clinched it for the Leopards.

“That run coming out at halftime I felt that took down (Northwestern Lehigh’s) faith a little bit,” Martin said. “I wouldn’t say it sealed the game, but it made a big impact on it. It’s definitely not easy (repeating). Not many teams do it. I feel we had that one loss in the beginning of the year. I feel we had that mentality to not take anything lightly, just do your job, and we’re going to get the outcome we expected.

“We were everybody’s A-game and we expected that. We just had to work harder.”

Belle Vernon held a 21-7 halftime lead.

Trailing 14-0 with 10:05 left in the first half, Northwestern Lehigh got its first break. Belle Vernon fumbled a punt away, which the Tigers recovered at the Belle Vernon 37.

The Tigers wasted the chance, when on a fourth-and-one, Dalton Clymer, Northwestern Lehigh’s single-season TD record holder, tried slamming into the end zone to the left. Belle Vernon’s Adam LaCarte, who fumbled the punt, and Jake Gedekoh came crashing down, congesting that side of the field and stopping Clymer.

From there, the Leopards embarked on a 98-yard, nine-play drive that ended when quarterback Braden Laux snuck into the end zone from two yards out in what was a 14-point, gut-punch swing.

What could have been a 14-7 game turned into a 21-0 Belle Vernon lead with 1:48 left in the half.

Undeterred, Northwestern Lehigh managed to scratch back. The Tigers mounted a six-play, 68-yard series, culminating in quarterback Shane Leh’s perfectly arced pass in the corner of the end zone that fell into Landen Matson’s hands for a 17-yard score with 35 seconds in the half. What made the score possible was Leh’s 32-yard completion to Devon Hildebrand at the Belle Vernon 18.

Within their first two possessions, the Leopards scored more points than they did in their 9-8 championship victory over Neumann-Goretti last year.

Crews took the opening kickoff 78 yards for a TD, zig-zagging his way through the Northwestern Lehigh defense, and on a botched jet sweep, Crews struck again.

Laux handed Crews the ball on the jet sweep going left to right, but when Crews dropped the ball, it seemed everyone stopped for a moment. But Crews, showing great poise, picked up the loose ball, averted a few shooting Northwestern Lehigh defenders, found some space and outraced the overcommitted Tigers’ defense for a 62-yard touchdown and a 14-0 Belle Vernon lead.

Josh Snyder did a very good job in getting Northwestern Lehigh to its first state championship game. His team ran into a defending state champion that had blazing speed and could reel off explosive plays.

“They had a couple more players and playmakers, and they’re a good football team, they’re back-to-back state champions for a reason, kudos to them,” Snyder said. “There’s not a whole lot of holes in their football program, and for us to come out and compete with them, I feel good about that.”

Scoring Summary

Belle Vernon (13-1) 14 7 7 10-38

Northwestern Lehigh (15-1) 0 7 0 0-7

1st Quarter

BV – Anthony Crews 78 kickoff return (Preston Rathway kick good), 11:47

BV – Crews 62 run (Rathway kick), 7:52

2nd Quarter

BV – Braden Laux 2 run (Rathway kick), 1:48

NL – Landen Matson 17 pass from Shane Leh (Seth Kern kick), :35

3rd Quarter

BV – Quinton Martin 92 run (Rathway kick), 6:00

4th Quarter

BV – Rathway 44 FG, 10:08

BV – Jake Gedekoh 1 run (Rathway kick), 6:36




RUSHES-YARDS (NET) 32-334/39-135


Passes Cmp-Att-Int 6-8-0/15-22-1


Fumble Returns-Yards 0-0/0-0

Punt Returns-Yards 4-40/1-3

Kickoff Returns-Yards 2-91/6-100

Interception Returns-Yards 1-0/0-0

Punts (Number-Avg) 2-35.5/5-40.6

Fumbles-Lost 1-1/2-1

Penalties-Yards 6-60/5-35

Possession Time 23:45/24:15

Third-Down Conversions 1 of 6/7 of 14

Fourth-Down Conversions 1 of 1/0 of 2

Red-Zone Scores-Chances 2-2/1-3

Joseph Santoliquito is a hall-of-fame, award-winning sportswriter who has been covering high school football since 1992 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter @JSantoliquito [].

Follow on Twitter @EPAFootball

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