South Allegheny, Elizabeth Forward set to make return to postseason
It was like homecoming for Pat Monroe when he walked into the WPIAL football pairings meeting at the Doubletree Hotel in Green Tree on Monday.
He chatted and shook hands with many of the other coaches in attendance, shared a few laughs and waited patiently as his South Allegheny (7-2) squad was officially added to the Class AA bracket for the first time since 1986.
“That's a reward for our kids that they have achieved something and I liked the way the (WPIAL) celebrated the success of the efforts of, not only the players, but the coaching staffs and everyone involved in this process,” Monroe said. “We were very fortunate to have something of this magnitude to celebrate how much collective effort everyone put into the success of these young men.”
For Monroe, it was not only a night to celebrate the Gladiators ending a 26-year postseason drought, but also a personal triumph. He had not been to the pairings meeting since 2006 when he walked in as the coach of defending WPIAL Class A champion Duquesne in the Dukes final season.
“It's hard to separate the individual from group that you represent, but it's nice to be around your colleagues and they recognize the effort that you put in,” Monroe said. “The emphasis that we've had since we've been there has been to help bring this school district up to this level. … And, yes, there is some satisfaction. I was fortunate to coach at a school district that was able to do that on a regular basis, and sometimes you might take that for granted, and then you see what it takes to get there and it makes it all the more fulfilling.”
Elizabeth Forward coach Mike LeDonne had not been to the pairings meeting since he attended as the defensive coordinator for Clairton in 2009, the year the Bears began their current 56-game winning streak and won their first state championship. But coming down this year representing the Warriors — his alma mater — after guiding the team to its first postseason berth since 2005 was extra special.
“I'm excited to be back and try to help them to be an every-year playoff contender,” LeDonne said. “There weren't a lot of people that thought we could do it and we said that we were here to make the playoffs. Period. And it just happened faster than we thought it would.”
As the third-place finisher out of the Big 9 Conference, Elizabeth Forward (6-3), the No. 9 seed, will travel to No. 8 Franklin Regional (7-2) at 7:30 p.m. Friday night. The last time the Warriors qualified for the postseason was also the same year the Panthers won their only WPIAL and PIAA Class AAA titles.
“You never know who you're going to get, and the bottom line is Franklin Regional is a good football team and they were the No. 1 rated team coming into the season this year,” LeDonne said. “This is a great time for our kids to step up and see what we got.”
Ironically, South Allegheny will get the only other Westmoreland County team to win a state championship as the Gladiators were dealt the No. 13 seed and will travel to McKee Stadium to play No. 4 Jeannette (8-1). The Gladiators have not won a postseason game since a 14-0 victory against Burgettstown in the 1986 quarterfinals.
“It's a great thing because Jeannette is a seasoned, veteran operation with a lot of scrappy kids that know what it takes to get the job done,” Monroe said. “That's playoff football. That's beautiful. And you don't have to get everyone excited to play Jeannette because they'll already be pumped up.”
Keith Barnes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-664-9161, ext. 1977.