Cornell, Quaker Valley co-op paying dividends for 4-0 Quakers
When a group of student-athletes from Cornell traveled across the Ohio River to start playing football with Quaker Valley as part of a cooperative agreement last season, they didn't know what to expect.
The teams had played one another every year since 2005 and many of the Cornell athletes were concerned with the potential hard feelings from the Quakers.
To their surprise, they were welcomed with open arms.
“We didn't think they would be like that,” sophomore Jakel Anderson said. “We thought there would be hard feelings. But after a few practices, we knew we would be friends. We became allies.”
The decision was made to begin the cooperative sponsorship agreement after the 2011 season. Cornell had just finished a 5-5 season in which it earned a spot in the WPIAL Class A playoffs.
But 13 members of that 22-player squad were seniors and concerns of how to fill a roster led to the co-op.
“At first it was kind of shocking,” QV junior fullback Aaron Cunningham said. “It was always a big rivalry. But as things went along, we realized it was the best thing for both teams. Both teams came into it with open minds.”
The unity that began from the early practices didn't surprise coach John Tortorea as he expected the Quaker Valley players to be welcoming of the Cornell players in the first year. It was the first step in making the process work.
“We had our ups and downs,” Tortorea said. “But the Quaker Valley guys had no complaints. They wanted guys who could play football and thought the Cornell guys could help make us a better football team. There was no animosity.
“If anything, there was hesitation from the young men from Cornell. They didn't expect us to welcome them as fast as we did.”
The players went into the practices realizing it was almost a new team and any position was open. And while some players may have been used in a different spot than they were expecting — this season's quarterback Dane Jackson was used as running back while Burke Moser completed his senior year — there was no complaints due to the team-first mentality.
“Everyone wanted to make the team better,” Jackson said. “We all came in with the same goal of trying to win a conference championship.”
The new-look Quakers did have their growing pains in year one. The team recorded a 3-6 mark while the players began to mesh and learn the playbook. Tortorea said in year two, there still are some areas they are working on, as several new faces from Cornell have made the trek across the river.
“Year two is almost like year one,” Tortorea said. “We are trying to (integrate) the new players. But we are beginning to smooth it out. We now have players who really want to be here and play football.”
After the transition season, the two school's players have become one unit with one focus — claiming a Century Conference title.
“Last year was kind of like two teams playing as one,” Quaker Valley student Trewon Marshall said. “This year, there are no questions about it. We don't think of it as Cornell and Quaker Valley. We're just one team.”
Quaker Valley is 4-0 to start the season for the first time since 1983 after routing Keystone Oaks, 52-0, last week.
“I wouldn't say we have turned the corner,” Tortorea said. “But we are turning it. It is really a good mark for us. Starting 4-0 (means) the players' work from the offseason has paid off. It means we earned it and we deserve it.”
After a scoreless first quarter, the Quakers rattled off an 18-point second frame that saw Marshall score on passes of 14 and 13 yards from Jackson and Cunningham pound it in from 2 yards out. Quaker Valley added 28 points in the third quarter, including three rushing scores from Gennaro Trovato.
Trovato led the squad with 133 yards on the ground. Marshall added 103 yards.
After having no problems with the Golden Eagles, Quaker Valley will start what is easily its toughest stretch of the season with a road trip to Steel Valley (2-2, 2-2).
The Ironmen are coming off a 28-7 loss to Seton-La Salle. Junior running back Tyrone Freeman had a strong night against the stingy Rebels defense, picking up 102 yards on 11 carries — including a 60-yard touchdown run.
The Ironmen lost senior running back D'Andre Pickens to a sprained ankle on Sept. 13 in a loss to South Fayette. He could return this week and be a true test for the Quaker Valley 3-5-3 defense.
Pickens already has more than 600 yards this season.
The Quakers will return home after the showdown with the Steel Valley to take on South Fayette (4-0, 4-0) on Oct. 4 and Seton-La Salle (4-0, 4-0) on Oct. 11. The next three games will go a long way in determining the conference title contenders.
“The community is really involved and excited about the team,” Cunningham said. “The past couple of seasons we felt like we have let them down. But we are winning games now and everyone is excited. We want to keep it going.”
Kickoff against Steel Valley is set for 7 p.m. Friday at Campbell Field in Munhall.