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Connellsville looking to regroup after tough season

| Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013, 8:55 p.m.
Evan R. Sanders | Daily Courier
Connellsville quarterback Jade Maher will run the offense for the Falcons in 2013.
Evan R. Sanders | Daily Courier
Connellsville's Dylan McCrae practices at training camp.
Connellsville's Marvin Wedge works on his blocking technique during a recent practice at Connellsville Stadium.

There were high hopes for Connellsville as it began the 2012 season. The Falcons had come off a 2011 campaign in which they finished with five wins and qualified for the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs for the first time since 2005.

But the Falcons found out that in many games, there is a thin line between winning and losing, and last season, they were on the wrong side of that line more often than not. They limped to a 2-7 record and a seventh-place finish in the Quad East.

In terms of wins and losses, last season represented a step backward. But as a whole, third-year coach Dave McDonald is expecting it to ultimately serve as a positive as the team prepares to get back in the playoff picture.

“I think that it was a learning experience,” McDonald said. “I think the kids learned that every year is a new year and a new challenge. Success the year before doesn't guarantee success the next. You can't take anything for granted in Quad-A football. Last year, we fell off the tightrope a couple of times.”

Connellsville certainly had its chances to be a playoff team. However, narrow losses to Kiski Area and Latrobe proved too much to overcome.

“There were ups and downs,” senior quarterback Jade Maher said. “We played well in games against Norwin and Hempfield (both Connellsville victories). In other games, there were just little things that cost us.”

One of the biggest reasons for optimism is the fact that McDonald's Wing-T system has taken hold. Both players and coaches are comfortable with the team's ability to execute at a high level on offense.

“There are still new looks he throws in there,” Maher said. “But we know what he is talking about and that's a huge advantage. We're very comfortable in the system.”

Connellsville returns a largely experienced group on offense. Dylan McCrae, Austin Brooks, Austin Heinbaugh and Kevin Koontz are returning starters on the offensive line. Left guard Bobby Groff was the lone starter who graduated.

Jimmy DeMarco returns as the starting tight end along with wide receivers Darrell Ross and Nate Norton. In the backfield, Jordan McCrae and Zach Cree have graduated, but halfbacks Mike Parlak, Dylan Knopsnider and Steve White appear ready to handle the load. McDonald noted there is competition for at least one more spot in the running game.

Maher will be running the offense for the third consecutive season. He's eager to help guide the team to a big season.

“I like the pressure,” Maher said. “Two years ago we made it to the playoffs, but I wasn't the main contributor. This year, this is our group and I just want us to go out and execute the best we can. We definitely want to make the playoffs and get Connellsville back on the map. I want to win the section title and make it to the WPIAL championship. Connellsville hasn't been there since 1991, so why can't we go back?”

Much of Connellsville's success will also depend on defense. Brooks, Heinbaugh, Marvin Wedge and Seth McFadden are returning starters on the defensive line. The Falcons need a replacement for graduate Dylan Miller.

Jimmy DeMarco and Anthony DeMarco are inside linebackers, and Parlak, White, Chris Russell and Josh Cree will play outside linebacker.

The secondary will be anchored by Dylan McCrae, but the Falcons are still looking for players to step up and fill cornerback and safety spots.

In terms of special teams, the Falcons will look to replace kicker Benjamin Kisiel, who was lost to graduation. Luke Kisiel will handle kicking duties.

Despite a few shortcomings, the Falcons are anxious to get started on what they hope is a big season.

“Last year, we had a young football team, but if we perform up to our ability, we'll be competitive with the teams on our schedule,” McDonald said.

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