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For the first time in his four years as the head coach of the Baldwin High School varsity football team, Jim Wehner's Highlanders will not win more games than they did in their previous season.
Baldwin High finished its 2012 season at 3-6 overall after falling to the visitors from Bethel Park High School, 42-25, on Senior Night on Friday—one game worse than the Highlanders' 4-5 mark from a year ago.
In 2010, Baldwin was also 3-6, but that was after a 2-8 mark in 2009 (Wehner's first season with the team) and after a dreadful 0-9 record in 2008.
But if you ask Wehner, the future for the Highlanders, who are expected to bring back for next season their starting quarterback, two leading tacklers, leading receiver and a host of promising running backs, remains bright.
"I like my team," Wehner said following Friday's conference loss, which dropped Baldwin to 2-6 in the WPIAL AAAA Southeastern division and raised Bethel Park High to 6-3 overall and 6-2 in the Southeastern. "I like those guys, and hopefully, they're gonna give me an opportunity to be here (for the future)."
Should Wehner not return in 2013, he'll leave the Highlanders without ever having led them to a win over nearby rival Bethel Park.
Friday's game looked nothing like a rivalry, though, with Bethel playing very much like a playoffs team and Baldwin appearing overmatched at times.
The Black Hawks, who have not yet learned whom their first-round postseason opponent will be this year, held the ball for 34 minutes, 45 seconds on Friday, compared to just 13:15 for Baldwin, which was mathematically eliminated from the playoffs before the opening kickoff.
Baldwin received that kickoff but punted the ball away after three plays. Bethel then went 32 yards over the next three plays, including a 24-yard touchdown run by senior wide receiver Avery Dibble, to set up a 7-0 lead with 8:52 left in the first quarter.
Dibble was one of five Black Hawks to rush for a TD on Friday. The next one came from freshman quarterback Levi Metheny on the first play of the second quarter. Metheny crossed the Baldwin goal line with a five-yard carry that ended a 13-play, 54-yard drive and helped to push the score to 14-0.
Things looked bleak for Baldwin when Bethel's ensuing kickoff and a Highlanders personal foul pushed them back to their own 14-yard line. But to its credit, Baldwin responded three plays later with a dramatic 83-yard TD catch by junior utilityman Luke Smorey. Smorey outran a Bethel defensive back and reached back over his own shoulder to haul in a pass from sophomore quarterback Doug Altavilla before using every bit of the left sideline to beat every other player to the end zone.
Smorey did a bit of everything for Baldwin in 2012, throwing 17 passes, rushing for 49 yards and leading his team with 294 receiving yards on a team-high-tying 11 catches. He also served as Baldwin's punter, holder and occasional placekicker and even returned an interception 100 yards for a TD during a 31-7 win at Canon-McMillan High School on Oct. 19.
Wehner—and Smorey himself—see the junior as a leader for the Highlanders in 2013.
"He's one of our leaders this year," Wehner clarified. "I think Doug (Altavilla)'s starting to come into his own a little bit, and Luke's gonna be a top receiver for him.
"Luke can do everything. If we need to move Luke, it doesn't take a lot to move him. We can put him wherever he needs to be."
Added Smorey, showing some senior leadership already, "We have to get in the weight room in the offseason and get bigger, faster, stronger.
“We only had a few seniors to leave, so we'll have a good chance next year. I think we'll look good."
Bethel took the momentum right back from Baldwin following Smorey's long TD catch.
In a drive that was typical of the Black Hawks' grinding offense on Friday, Bethel went 55 yards over the next eight plays to take a 21-7 lead with 6:53 to play in the second quarter. Senior running back John Mascaro finished that drive with a two-yard TD plunge.
The Hawks had an even longer drive just before halftime, scoring with eight seconds left on a six-yard run from junior running back Zachary Enick. Enick's carry ended a nine-play, 70-yard trip.
Any chance that the Highlanders had at a second-half comeback all but disappeared when Bethel received that half's opening kickoff and promptly went 53 yards over seven plays for a 35-7 advantage. Sophomore running back Alexander Minton finished that drive with a 20-yard rush.
But Baldwin didn't go down without a fight, getting an outstanding final two quarters from senior running back Dorian Brown, who finished his high-school career with back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
Despite missing one game due to an injury this year—and being limited by that injury in another—Brown ran 143 times for 1,059 yards and 12 TDs in 2012, including 182 yards and two TDs on just 14 carries on Friday.
Brown's 64-yard TD rush after Bethel's fifth TD narrowed Friday's gap to 35-13, but Bethel again got the next points, finding the Baldwin end zone early in the fourth quarter on another two-yard Mascaro rush to help to make it 42-13.
But with 9:49 left in the fourth, Brown struck again, scoring from three yards out to finish a drive in which he ran four times for 75 yards.
Brown, who has committed to play football at NCAA Division I Ohio University this coming fall, leaves big shoes to fill in Baldwin's offense, but the Highlanders could have a number of Cinderellas next year as evidenced at least by a 48-yard TD run from teammate and junior Stephon Harris with 1:03 left for the game's final score.
Out of all of the Highlanders to run the ball this season, only Brown is a senior.
"Dorian's a big guy to lose," Smorey said, "but I definitely think we can pick up his slack if we work hard in the offseason."
Added Wehner, "I think it's gonna be tailback by committee (next year)."
Despite Harris' long run, the Hawks' rushing game was much more balanced than the Highlanders'.
Enick led Bethel with 101 yards on 20 carries, followed by Metheny with 76 on 13, Minto with 68 on 11, Mascaro with 36 on nine and Dibble with 35 on three.
Enick (eight yards), Smorey (89 yards) and Bethel's senior wide receiver Zackary Rusch (25 yards) all tied for the game-high with two receptions.
Metheny also completed seven of 12 passes for 64 yards and one interception, while Altavilla completed five of 14 passes for 127 yards and two picks.
Baldwin's junior utilityman Nick Barca, who finished the season with a team-high 82 tackles, including a team-high 50 solo stops, registered a game-high 21 on Friday, including a game-high 12 of the solo variety.
Baldwin's senior wide receiver/defensive back D'Andre Andrews (seven solo) and sophomore defensive back Martino Stein (six solo) followed closely behind with nine tackles each. Andrews, who led the Highlanders with three interceptions this season, also picked off a Metheny pass on Friday and caught another from Altavilla for 23 yards.
Mostly due to the fact that Baldwin ran only 32 offensive plays—compared to 76 for Bethel—three players led the Hawks on Friday with three tackles apiece (all solo)—senior linebacker Bryan Rock, senior defensive back Cody Gilchrist and junior linebacker Corey Roach.
Gilchrist also broke up a pass, and Rusch and Dibble each had an interception.
"I don't think they (Baldwin's players) quit all year," Wehner said. "Even tonight, they didn't quit. That's part of being a good team and starting to become a good team.
"I like this team, and hopefully, I'm gonna get the opportunity to coach them again."
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