Faces of Alle-Kiski Valley headed to Heinz for title games
When Burrell won the WPIAL Class AA football championship in 1995 at Three Rivers Stadium, J.J. Cosentino was just a newborn baby.
His father, Mark, was the team's diaper-changing defensive coordinator.
“They said I was the lucky baby,” said Cosentino, who, in addition to becoming a water boy for the Buccaneers, went on to play quarterback at Kiski Area before transferring to Pittsburgh Central Catholic.
Now Central hopes Cosentino still has some of that championship luck left.
The senior who left Kiski Area after his sophomore year will look to lead the highly-regarded Vikings (12-0) to Quad-A glory when they face Woodland Hills (10-2) around 2 p.m. Saturday in the WPIAL final at Heinz Field.
Cosentino's two-year playing career at Central started with baby steps, but he's grown into a proficient leader of a team that's popped up regularly in national rankings.
MaxPreps' preseason Mr. Football for Pennsylvania has accepted a scholarship to Florida State, another perk that's made this season pleasurable. But the 6-foot-5, 220-pounder knows there's only one way to roll credits on his WPIAL career: win the whole thing.
“It's a great opportunity to finally get to play at Heinz Field,” Cosentino said. “We knew we had the potential for a big year, but we've handled it well. We always say, it's all about us and what we think; not about what's happening on the outside. We stay loose and joke around. We're not always super-serious about football all the time.”
Cosentino's last feel-good memory of playing quarterback at Kiski Area is an opening scoring drive against Franklin Regional when he completed his first four passes against the favored Panthers.
“My last touchdown pass (at Kiski Area) was to Shane (Kuhn) and I threw a 40-yarder to Joey Brungo on that drive,” Cosentino said. “We had sophomores all over the field.”
Kuhn and Brungo are current seniors at Kiski Area.
Cosentino suffered a season-ending knee injury on the next drive and wasn't heard from again until he resurfaced at Central, sudden acclaim by his side.
Although he's done more managing of the offense than slinging for yards this season — he's passed for 649 yards and 11 touchdowns — Cosentino has a familiar target in junior wideout Johnny Petrishen, another local product.
The pair played youth football together in the Lower Burrell Flyers. Cosentino's first touchdown pass went to Petrishen, who hauled in his initial scoring catch.
“All the coaches give us a hard time,” Cosentino said. “They call me Lower Burrell and him Upper Burrell.”
Petrishen has started at Central since his freshman season. He went to school at Burrell until the eighth grade.
“Me and J.J. grew up together,” Petrishen said. “We started playing football together when we were 8. We still have a ton of friends at Burrell.”
Petrishen also saw a much crisper and dependable chance to make an impact in football at Central.
“Growing up, I saw Central win WPIAL and state titles when I was in middle school,” he said. “It always was a big stage; the big fish playing in Quad-A. It means a lot to be in this position.”
Petrishen has had a bumpy junior season. He missed four games with a pair of fractured ribs and a punctured lung, but came back recently against Gateway.
But he's back and ready to contribute to a potential championship.
North Catholic (12-0), which will play for the Class A title Saturday, also has local ties.
Fullback/linebacker Jarred Fragapane left Deer Lakes two years ago in hopes of bolstering his recruiting options while also playing for a winning team. Once a pipe-dream, celebrating a WPIAL championship at Heinz Field suddenly is within reach for the 6-foot-3, 235-pound senior who's made the most of his new digs.
“It's been almost overwhelming the way things have worked out,” Fragapane said. “I never imagined it would turn out this good.”
Fragapane, who has committed to play at Division-I Lafayette, attended St. Mary's of the Assumption in grade school but played two years for the Deer Lakes High School team before transferring. He isn't alone among locals on the roster. There are four others from the Deer Lakes area: senior tight end Ronnie Meder, senior lineman Mike Blackwell, freshman running back Mario Latronica and freshman Mario Fragapane, Jarred's brother.
Meder left for North Catholic after his freshman year at Deer Lakes. He starts at outside linebacker and tight end.
Blackwell, who also attended St. Mary's, plays middle linebacker and left guard.
Latronica has seen quality playing time for the Trojans, rushing for more than 200 yards.
Fragapane has been an efficient blocker in an offense fueled by junior tailback-turned-quarterback P.J. Fulmore. Fulmore has become the offense of late, rushing 42 times for 216 yards in a semifinal win over Neshannock.
“It's something I've gotten used to,” Fragapane said. “P.J. is a crazy-good athlete. I like my role. I like looking to make a block.”
Sto-Rox (12-0), which plays North Catholic, also has a former local player in senior two-way lineman Dom Dorsey. He is a Valley transfer.
South Fayette (12-0) head coach Joe Rossi, who will lead his team against Aliquippa (12-0) in the Class AA final, held the same position at Riverview from 2002-06.
Rossi guided South Fayette to a title in 2010.
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at email@example.com.