Quaker Valley football team has WPIAL playoffs in sight

Nathan Smith
| Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

The last time the Quaker Valley football team won a conference title, Ronald Reagan was in his first term as president, and Michael Jackson's “Thriller” was tearing up the charts.

If the Quakers have their way in 2013, the streak will come to an end.

Quaker Valley returns a stable of senior linemen and a flock of talented skill position players as the team's expectations are high. The Quakers have their sights on the Century Conference title, which would be the first in Leetsdale since 1983.

“That was my dad's junior season,” senior lineman Matt O'Neill said. “We finally have the skill level and personnel to compete for (a title). We just have to put it together.”

Coach John Tortorea's third season promises to be eventful. After finishing with consecutive three-win seasons, the players have a full understanding of the schemes, and with players from Cornell in their second year of a co-op, everyone should be familiar with the system.

“This is the first year we are putting juniors and seniors on the field,” Tortorea said. “The previous seasons, we would have only two or three seniors playing. This year, we have an entire offensive line made up of seniors, and our skill position guys are juniors.

“This is the first year I can say we can actually compete for a conference championship.”

The offensive line will be the strongest Quaker Valley has had in years. With six seniors — left tackle Sebastian Gordon, left guard Eric Kley, center O'Neill, right guard Garrett Ziegler and right tackle Marcus Coury as well as Tyler Krizan — providing protection, the offense is should be strong.

“They are the key to our season,” Tortorea said. “If we want to make the playoffs and compete for a conference championship, it will come down to if they do well. If they don't, we will be the same 3-6 team.”

The line should provide plenty of protection for quarterback Dane Jackson. The junior led the team in rushing last season with 534 yards, and had 233 receiving yards along with eight touchdowns while playing behind Burke Moser.

“It feels great,” Jackson said on taking over the quarterback role. “I think we will be a lot more explosive than last season.”

The explosiveness will be helped by junior fullback Aaron Cunningham and tailback Tre'won Marshall. Cunningham ran for 451 yards and eight touchdowns, and Marshall finished with nearly 250 combined receiving and rushing yards. Senior Jake Trovato will see time at running back.

The passing attack will be boosted by the presence of Chris Conlan. The junior led the team with 475 receiving yards and five touchdowns last season.

“When we first started getting ready for the season, our chemistry wasn't good,” Conlan said. “But we worked during the spring and at summer scrimmages and we did well. It helped our confidence.”

Senior tight end John Bernard will be an option in the passing attack.

Having a stronger defense will be essential in the Century Conference. The Quakers surrendered 30.7 points per game last year, better than only Keystone Oaks (30.8) and Burgettstown (40.9).

The biggest change for Quaker Valley will be a switch to a 3-5-3 defense. The defense toyed with the scheme last season and decided to make the switch due to the team's personnel.

“It was a pretty easy transition,” Zeigler said. “Our defense is pretty confident. We feel if everyone does their assignments, we can shut down any team in the conference.”

The benefit of switching to the 3-5-3 is the six senior linemen. This will allow three lineman to be on the field, while the other three rest. Tortorea hasn't had this kind of depth during his time at Quaker Valley.

“That will give them a break not having to go both ways,” Tortorea said. “And we won't lose anything switching the players out. In years past, we went juniors then had to put freshmen in. We now have a full rotation of seniors.”

The linebacker core will be led by Cunningham. He has been a key part of the defense the past two seasons. Tortorea doesn't expect this season to be any different.

“He will be a focal point,” Tortorea said. “We want to free him up to make plays. He has the instincts, heart and soul you want from a player.”

Seniors Tyler Krizan and Zeigler, and Marshal and junior Christian Notte will also fill in at linebacker.

The defense will look to shut down opponents' run game and force them to pass. With Jackson and Conlan at cornerback and Trovato at safety, Tortorea has confidence teams will shy from their passing games.

“The secondary might be the strongest part of the defense,” Tortorea said. “We have two potential Division I athletes in (Conlan) and (Jackson). It will be pretty hard to throw on those two.”

If the defense plays well, the Quakers could earn their first WPIAL playoff appearance since 1999.

“We have basically all the puzzle pieces and now we just have to put them together,” Cunningham said. “We want the end result to be a conference title. We just need to take care of what we need to on the field, and we can go from there.”

Nathan Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at nsmith@tribweb.com.

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