South Allegheny hoping to end 26-year playoff drought
On the surface, it might have seemed like another routine upset when South Allegheny pulled off a nonconference victory at Ford City last season.
But for a program that hasn't qualified for the playoffs since 1986, a win of that nature could be a turning point for the Gladiators.
South Allegheny had not beaten a team that eventually qualified for the WPIAL playoffs since it knocked off Class A Clairton, 29-28, on Sept. 3, 1999.
South Allegheny was certainly a lot more competitive than it had been in recent years. Though the Gladiators did not win another game, they lost four of their final eight games — they played a 10th game against South Park — by three points or fewer.
“They haven't had good success in the wins and losses department, but they've been playing good football and just haven't been able to get the victories,” South Allegheny coach Pat Monroe said. “They really want to complete the process, which is why they're so excited about the upcoming season. They've been working hard for the last couple years, and now they just want to get it done.”
It has been a long time coming. Though Monroe got the team to .500 (5-5) in 2008, South Allegheny has backslid a bit, going 3-27 the past three seasons. South Allegheny has not had a winning season since 1993 when the team finished 5-4-1, has not won a conference title since 1986 and captured its only WPIAL Class AA crown 35 years ago in 1977.
Trying to overcome that history has been a problem, but keeping the team in so many games will only help in the long run as the program builds for the future. And the players have certainly bought into what Monroe and his coaching staff are trying to do.
“These kids are playing good ball, and they're realizing that a thing here and there and it's a completely different picture,” Monroe said. “They just want to make sure that they're all focused together and … they want to be the ones to get those victories.”
South Allegheny is benefitting from an influx of talent. Last season the Gladiators had a dominating presence up front in Penn State freshman Jesse James, while this year the team has another Division I prospect in senior nose guard Ryan Bednar, who is being looked at by Syracuse, Navy and Pitt and is projected the be a defensive tackle at the next level.
South Allegheny senior Dustin Anderson, who will anchor the team's defense at linebacker and will be an integral part of the offensive scheme, is also being recruited by Syracuse and Pitt. Another garnering interest is junior Ty Cook, who is battling Anderson for the starting quarterback slot.
Also chipping in will be sophomore running back DaVonte Johnson.
Having players of this caliber will only help South Allegheny as it tries to finish in the top four in the Century Conference and end its 26-year postseason drought.
“We're just continuing to eliminate mistakes and take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves,” Monroe said. “We just have to finish the games. We know there will be times in the games where we will have opportunities and we have to seize them.”