Penn-Trafford striving for successful encore
The last time Penn-Trafford won a conference football title, the next season ended with a 4-5 record and the Warriors missing the playoffs.
While this year's Penn-Trafford team is young, there are plenty of signs indicating that sort of drop-off won't happen again.
As the defending champions of the Quad South Conference — now renamed and slightly realigned as the Quad East — the Warriors are a team lacking in varsity experience, but that isn't diminishing expectations for a program that has been to the top.
“We're happy to be back out on the field, especially after last year,” senior lineman Eric Swope said. “Everybody is fired up and ready for the season after eight months of working hard to get ready and get the pads on.”
Penn-Trafford returns just four players who started last year — linebackers Brian McDonough and Zach Diable, wide receiver Dorian Stevens and defensive back Dom Cima — all of whom are seniors this season.
Along with seniors such as Swope, who steps into a starting position on the line this year, the Warriors' elder statesmen are trying their best to help P-T's younger players prepare to contribute at the varsity level.
“The young guys are coming along great,” Stevens said. “It seems like there's about 10 times more juniors than seniors this year, but we're looking good so far.”
“There's a lot of guys stepping into key positions,” Warriors coach John Ruane said. “I will say this: Defensively, I'm pleased with where we are. Every practice, we've been physical, and in the scrimmage against Plum, there were guys flying to the ball and a lot of sure tackling.”
The defensive side of the ball is where most of P-T's experience is concentrated, and it's that side of the ball that the Warriors hope will shine this season, especially as an offense replacing its entire backfield and offensive line finds its footing.
“Our defense is definitely the heart and soul of the team, and it's going to be really important this year,” Stevens said. “We're going to need the defense to win some games because we lost a lot of offensive weapons.”
Between the strength of the defense and having all-state kicker Matt Loughnane back, Penn-Trafford will try to seize an edge in field position most games. Short fields to drive would be a big help to the offense, which will be putting the ball in the hands of many different players.
Ruane and his staff have offensive sets installed to use both senior Matt Arzenti and Stevens at quarterback, while the running back position will feature junior Tom Stinelli, senior Shawn Knox and sophomore Devin Austin at different times. McDonough will be the starter at the H-back position for P-T, but a broken finger in the preseason has limited his action while allowing some younger players to work with the first team at that spot, too.
“Brian will be our starter for sure, but maybe it's a blessing in disguise that we got some more guys playing time, as well,” Ruane said. “Matt Arzenti and Dorian Stevens have both been playing quarterback with the first team, and they both bring something different to the table, so we'll end up utilizing both of those guys, as well.”
The Warriors got as good a test they could have hoped for to end the preseason on Friday, as they hosted the two-time defending WPIAL champs and a team ranked in multiple national top-100s, North Allegheny.
“We're getting everyone to pick up the tempo and pick up the physicality,” Swope said. “We're getting everybody playing as one and flying to the football.”
That scrimmage set the stage for the Warriors' first contest, which comes against North Allegheny's biggest rival, North Hills.
A perennial power, North Hills is coming off an uncharacteristic losing year and hopes to rebound this season, which begins Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the Indians' Martorelli Stadium in West View.
The Warriors, on the other hand, hope to mirror their season of a year ago, when big nonconference victories over Peters Township and Mt. Lebanon propelled the team into conference play.
“It helps to start against a good team like North Hills because it gets everyone fired up for the season,” Swope said.
“Definitely, beating them would get the season going for us and have everyone fired up coming off of a win. It's a very important game for us, even if it's not against a conference team.”
Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or firstname.lastname@example.org.