In the days heading into his team's regular-season finale against Hempfield, Penn-Trafford coach John Ruane had played the possible scenarios over and over in his mind.
While defeat is never easy to accept for any coach, Ruane knew how devastating a loss would be -- a likely first-round matchup against Class AAAA No. 1 Upper St. Clair. Barring something incredibly unforeseen taking place, his team's game Friday night was for its season.
With that thought lingering, the Warriors responded, and did so in a big way.
On a frigid night that felt more like December than October, Penn-Trafford utilized the legs of Devin Austin and Tom Stinelli to overpower visiting Hempfield for a 42-14 victory.
The win allowed the Warriors (6-3) to claim second place in the Class AAAA Foothills Conference, granting them a home game in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs next week.
"We did what we wanted to do, controlling the line of scrimmage, and that was key for us," Ruane said. "That's the way we're going to win if we're going to win in the playoffs -- you have to run the ball, you have to play good defense. I think we did both of those things [against Hempfield]."
Stinelli rushed for 85 yards and three touchdowns while Austin ran the ball 18 times for 100 yards and a touchdown.
By halftime, the Warriors held a 21-7 lead, an advantage that would have undoubtedly been closer had it not been for a series of miscues by the Spartans (6-3).
On its second drive of the game, Hempfield quarterback Ty George threw an interception in his territory that was returned to the 29 by Penn-Trafford's Josh McElrone. A few plays later, Stinelli scored on a 9-yard run to put his team up, 7-0.
The Spartans responded effectively, getting a 53-yard touchdown run from Joey DeFloria early in the second quarter. But, again, a turnover in their territory -- a botched handoff to DeFloria -- gave Penn-Trafford ideal field position and, eventually, a touchdown, as Stinelli punched it in the end zone from 1 yard.
"When you play a good football team, they're going to take advantage of that and that's what they did," Hempfield coach Rich Bowen said.
The Warriors would score one more time before the half ended -- going 54 yards in 1:35, capped by a 27-yard touchdown pass from Brett Laffoon to Timmy Vecchio -- to extend their lead to two touchdowns.
From there, the Spartans would get no closer than 14 points and only managed seven yards of offense in the second half before their final possession of the game.
Penn-Trafford's success in moving the ball was a product of something as simple as field position, as its drives, on average, started at the 50. In contrast, Hempfield's average starting field position was the 33.
"It just gives you momentum and build confidence in you," Ruane said. "That was a critical element of the game."
Even with the loss, their most lopsided of the season, the Spartans still qualified for the playoffs as the fourth seed out of the conference.
Craig Meyer: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.