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Connellsville football faces another tough test

| Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013, 11:21 p.m.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Christopher Russell and Connellsville will try for their first win when they host Seneca Valley in a nonconference game Friday, Sept. 20, 2013.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
The Padres' Andrew Cashner celebrates after scoring past Pirates catcher John Buck during the ninth inning Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013, at PNC Park.

Connellsville has not been afforded the opportunity to ease into the 2013 season.

Through three games, the Falcons have played three strong opponents and are about to meet their fourth when they host No. 5 Seneca Valley, the Quad North leader, in their lone nonconference game of the season.

“Including this week, our first four opponents are (a combined) 10-2,” Connellsville coach Dave McDonald said. “We're playing quality opponents and I'm excited about it because it will prepare us for the back half of the schedule.”

Connellsville (0-3) has shown flashes of promise in each of its games. In their past two games, the Falcons have combined for over 900 yards of total offense, yet they have hurt themselves with turnovers and penalties.

Last week, a critical fumble resulted in a Hempfield touchdown in the Spartans' 42-28 Quad East victory.

“A lot of our wounds are self-inflicted,” McDonald said. “When you watch us on film, you see great things, but our mistakes have been huge. We have to walk that tight rope and our margin for error for winning games is very small.”

The Falcons have developed the habit of starting games poorly. Last week, they fell behind 21-0 in the opening minutes, and despite rallying to make it a one-score game in the second half, the Falcons couldn't overcome a sloppy first quarter.

McDonald said he and his staff have been emphasizing better ball protection, which could go a long way in the team achieving some success as the season draws nearer to the halfway point.

“We need to continue the process of getting better,” McDonald said. “Being out of conference or in conference doesn't matter to me. We just have to play better. We had 511 total yards of offense against Hempfield and 400 yards of offense against Gateway. We're executing and we're balanced and we're playing well up front. I'm happy with the way the offensive line is coming together.”

Connellsville, which featured strong performances from quarterback Jade Maher (24 of 36, 228 yards, 2 TDs), running back Christopher Russell (26 carries, 166 yards, 1 TD) and wide receiver Darrell Ross (15 receptions, 155 yards) against Hempfield, will be tested against a stout Seneca Valley defense.

“Defensively they have two standout linemen (Steven Gaviglia and Dan Miller),” McDonald said. “They are very good and well-coached. They are strong on defense and we'll have to drive the ball to beat them.”

The Raiders are led by quarterback T.J. Holl, son of Seneca Valley coach Don Holl. The younger Holl threw a touchdown pass in last week's 20-6 win over North Allegheny.

“He is a heck of an athlete,” McDonald said of Holl. “He played wide receiver for them last year and from Week 1 to Week 3, he has gotten better. T.J. kind of makes them go. Their offense runs through him.”

For the Falcons, it will be another tough test, but one McDonald hopes will pay dividends.

“If we can get through this week healthy, I think the level of competition we have been facing will help us later in the year,” he said.

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