Motivated Penn-Trafford focuses on Central Catholic
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Before the 2013 season began, the Penn-Trafford football team set winning a WPIAL championship at Heinz field as one of its ultimate goals for the year.
As they prepare to play Pittsburgh Central Catholic in the WPIAL Class AAAA semifinals, the Warriors are halfway to their goal.
Not that the team is thinking about that.
“You can't get caught dreaming this week,” coach John Ruane said. “We're playing the best team we're going to see all year in Central Catholic, who does everything good. So we've really got to be focused. More than (getting to) Heinz field, we just want to extend our season another week. That's what we've talked about week to week to this point, is just extending it another week and not letting the seniors' careers end. Ultimately, we know that's the goal and we know that's what happens if you win this week, but we just can't get caught up in that.”
Penn-Trafford (8-3) will play Pittsburgh Central Catholic at 7:30 p.m. Friday at West Mifflin High School.
The Vikings (11-0) enter Friday's game as the No. 2 overall seed in Class AAAA, a distinction Ruane said is well-deserved. Central Catholic boasts a Florida State recruit at quarterback in J.J. Cosentino, while running backs Luigi Lista-Brinza and Riley Redman have combined for nearly 2,200 yards and 26 touchdowns. The Vikings outscored their first 11 opponents 488-58 — an average of 44.4-5.3 per game.
“They're just good,” Ruane said. “They're flat-out a really good football team in every phase. Their special teams are really good. Their defense flies to the ball, and they've got a lot of guys making tackles at the same time. And then offensively, they impose their will on you. They run straight at you. It's not flashy; they're just so far better than all 11 teams that they've played in that department. We definitely have our work cut out, but we're not going to play in awe of them, either.”
Penn-Trafford and Central Catholic met in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs last season, with the Vikings emerging victorious by a 30-27 margin.
“You want to think about it because it is a sour taste in your mouth, knowing that they are the team that ended your season last year,” Penn-Trafford junior running back Devin Austin said. “But also, it is a different season and different team, so on that aspect you can't always think about that.”
Ruane said the game last year should help somewhat because Central Catholic runs a similar scheme, but he said the Vikings' key players are also a year older and stronger.
“The familiarity of playing them before is nice (because) we know what to expect and how they approach things,” he said. “But last year is last year. Although it's a lot of the same players, they're just better. But likewise, I think we are, too, with a lot of guys who are back and have experience.”
Penn-Trafford enters the semifinals on a four-game winning streak after defeating previously unbeaten McKeesport, 35-20, in the quarterfinals last week. The Warriors rushed for more than 400 yards, with Tom Stinelli piling up 159 yards and a touchdown and Austin adding 136 yards and two touchdowns.
“When you have those long, time-sustaining drives where you run the ball 10 straight plays, it really kills the defense and kills the (opposing) team's morale knowing that that just happened,” said Austin, who credited the offensive line for the running game's success. “It's definitely a positive being able to do that.”
Defensively, Ruane said the Warriors played much better against McKeesport's triple-option attack — particularly after the first quarter. McKeesport scored two touchdowns in the first quarter but just one the rest of the game.
Penn-Trafford also overcame the loss of several key players, including Austin, senior Fred Cook and junior Sam Guzik. Stinelli also left the game in the first half but returned after halftime.
“They showed that they don't want this season to end,” Ruane said. “I've seen in the past when a key guy gets hurt, the team kind of slumps. I think we did the opposite, where everybody decided to pick it up a little bit more. Everyone just did that one extra step, that one extra push, that one extra tackle, whatever. They responded to the adversity.”
Ruane said he expected the injured players to return this week against Central Catholic.
While winning a WPIAL title — the first in school history — remains the goal, Austin said the Warriors are thinking only about Central Catholic.
“We still need to win this week and next week,” Austin said. “But we're focused on this week. We're still focused on our goals ahead and definitely not satisfied with anything we've done so far.”
Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-388-5830, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.
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