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PSR's High School Football Game of the Week: Penn Hills at Mt. Lebanon

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After returning 13 starters—including one of the WPIAL's most productive running backs in senior Luke Hagy—from a squad that went undefeated in the regular season a year ago, the Mt. Lebanon Blue Devils entered 2011 with some lofty goals.

And after whipping Pine-Richland 34-7—behind 242 yards and 5 touchdowns from Hagy—it appeared as though they were right on schedule.

But a 34-17 loss to Penn Trafford in Week 2 offered a hard dose of reality, further driven home by a 292 yard-performance from PT running back Manny Simpson, the likes of which head coach Chris Haering's teams are simply not used to seeing. Simpson was all over the field against the Blue Devils, breaking long runs of 39, 50 and 82 yards, and also grinding between the tackles in the fourth quarter to keep the chains moving and the clock running.

“There've been some good backs who have come through here,” acknowledged Haering after Simpson's big night. “Certainly we were very disappointed but on the other hand, he's an outstanding football player and I give a lot of credit to their football team. They came ready to play and they took it to us.”

The good news for Mt. Lebanon is that there's a lot of football left to be played, and a chance at redemption lies waiting in a talented Penn Hills squad this Friday night.

The Indians are searching for their first win, having dropped the first two games on their schedule to two very talented teams in Ohio power St. Edward's in the opener and rival Gateway last week. They won't be a pushover by any means, and Haering is certain his players are aware of the threat a hungry Penn Hills team poses.

“I think Penn Hills is a very good football team that played two outstanding football teams so far this season,” said Haering. “I don't think that's an indication of who they're going to be.”

Penn Hills is led by Pitt-bound receiver Corey Jones and play-making quarterback Chaz Whittaker.

“They're playmakers. They're not limited to making plays in certain situations or from certain positions,” said Haering of the pass-and-catch combo of Whittaker and Jones. “They move those guys around and they do a great job of turning plays that look like they're going to be negative plays into positive plays. So it's going to be a real challenge for us to stay disciplined and make sure that we are gap-sound on defense and that our secondary stays in position, because they are big-play guys and certainly that scares us.”

Whittaker turned in an excellent effort in Penn Hills' loss to Gateway last week, completing 10 of 12 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns, including a 60-yard strike to Jones and a 16-yard touchdown pass to Savon Salter.

The Penn Hills defense held its own against a loaded Gateway offense as well, holding the Gators to 19 points, but the Indians will get tested by a veteran Lebo offense led by Hagy, quarterback Pat Goff and offensive lineman Arthur Goldberg, a Wisconsin recruit.

While Mt. Lebanon's offense does have veteran leadership, the Blue Devils are still finding their way this season.

“That's on an ongoing process at any high school program,” Haering explained. “It's a week-to-week thing and we want to keep improving each week. Last week, I think the most disappointing thing from a coaching standpoint, and for our players, was we didn't feel we got better from Week 1 to Week 2, and we're taking steps to correct that this week.”

Finding a compliment to Hagy will be a key. The senior, who has scholarship offers from across the Ivy League and from local school Pitt, had an explosive opening week with five scores and 242 yards. Penn Trafford, however, proved the old adage of “you can't stop him, you can only hope to contain him” can be a winning formula, as Hagy's 112 yards and one touchdown was simply not enough.

With a talented Penn Hills squad that is backed into a corner—desperate for a win—looming, Haering knows the Blue Devils have to take that next step.

“Our football team needs to have a much better performance than how we played last Friday.”

Game time is 7:30 at Mt. Lebanon Stadium.

For more information on Mt. Lebanon football, visit LeboFootball.Com.

2011 PSR Game of the Week Schedule
Sept. 2: North Allegheny 53 - State College 21 (view highlights here)
Sept. 9: Hopewell 22 - Montour 19 (view highlights here)
Sept. 16: Penn Hills at Mount Lebanon, 7:30
Sept. 23: Pittsburgh Central Catholic at Woodland Hills, 7 PM
Sept. 30: North Hills at Hempfield, 7:30
Oct. 7: Chartiers Valley at Thomas Jefferson, 7:30
Oct. 14: Pittsburgh Central Catholic at Gateway, 7:30
Oct. 21: Erie McDowell at Butler, 7:30
Oct. 30: Mount Lebanon at Upper Saint Clair, 7:30

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