Penn-Trafford reflects on strong closing kick
Late during the 2013 regular season, the Penn-Trafford football team made a conscious decision to change its performance — and its fortunes.
After a 34-14 loss to Kiski Area dropped the Warriors to 4-3 with two regular-season games remaining, the team had a heart-to-heart the next day about turning the season around.
And the Warriors did that, responding with a four-game winning streak that propelled them to their best postseason run since 1997.
“The kids said enough is enough, and let's go play the way we're capable of playing,” Penn-Trafford coach John Ruane said. “It was impressive from the kids' perspective to take that on and do what they did.”
Penn-Trafford (8-4) saw its 2013 season come to an end with a 49-10 loss to Pittsburgh Central Catholic in the WPIAL Class AAAA semifinals last week at West Mifflin. The No. 2 Vikings (12-0) advanced to the WPIAL Class AAAA championship game, which will be played at 2 p.m. Saturday at Heinz Field.
“They were outstanding in every element of the game,” Ruane said of Central Catholic. “We struggled to get anything going offensively, which ultimately led to some problems in the other phases of the game. We'd run the ball well all year and didn't do a good job of it on Friday. Our special teams struggled to cover, (which) put Central in good field position all night and put our defense in a bind. The defense, I thought, played pretty well considering the circumstances, but ultimately we played a better team.”
Central Catholic held Penn-Trafford to 36 rushing yards, including 31 on the final drive of the game. The Vikings never started a drive in their own territory.
“They did a job on every team they've played this year, so they're a very high-quality team,” Ruane said. “They're very well-coached, and they showed it Friday.”
Despite the loss, Ruane said the 2013 season was a memorable one for the Warriors — particularly during the four-game streak that included must-win victories over Gateway (35-34) and Hempfield (42-14) to close the regular season and Penn Hills (22-16) and McKeesport (35-20) in the playoffs.
“Their resiliency and their ability to perform under pressure was really something to watch,” Ruane said.
Some of those wins were especially memorable for Ruane, as the Warriors came back in the final seconds to beat both Gateway and Penn Hills. John Guzik caught the final touchdown pass against Gateway — the first and only catch of his high school career. In the McKeesport game, running back Tom Stinelli overcame bruised ribs to carry the Warriors' offense in the fourth quarter.
That type of “gritty” performance was one that several players showcased throughout the season, Ruane said.
“Adam Polakovsky plays all year with a broken hand, Tom Stinelli runs the ball in the second half (against McKeesport) with bruised ribs, Ryan Marasti plays all year on a bad ankle,” he said. “And there were no excuses; there was no letdown. They came and did the work every day, and I think that's something (underclassmen) can learn from this senior group. And there's way more examples than that.”
Penn-Trafford will graduate a senior class that finished 25-8 over the past three seasons.
“The best part about coaching is that we're together from January until the season starts, and that's when you get to know a lot about these guys,” Ruane said. “You get to know a lot about their work ethic, you get to know a lot about who they are outside of the sport. They're just great kids. They're great academically, they're great for the school, they come from great families — they're the type of kid you want to coach.
“But then you add the football element of it ... they played with a lot of heart. They're just really good high school football players.”
Ruane hopes the current underclassmen will continue the program's upward trend.
“I know we're at the point where the kids expect a certain performance on the field, and the direction the program's headed,” he said. “I hope they have high expectations going into next year.”