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Sophomores coming into their own for Quaker Valley

| Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012, 9:56 a.m.
Sewickley Herald
Quaker Valley's Aaron Cunningham, a sophomore, is brought down by Seton-La Salle players during a game at Chartiers Valley High School Stadium in Collier Township Friday, Oct. 12, 2012. Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald
Sewickley Herald
Quaker Valley's Burke Moser, a senior, looks for an open man against Seton-La Salle at Chartiers Valley High School Stadium in Collier Township Friday, Oct. 12, 2012. Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald
Sewickley Herald
Quaker Valley's Tre'won Marshall, a sophomore, tries to get past a Seton-La Salle player during a game at Chartiers Valley High School Stadium in Collier Township Friday, Oct. 12, 2012. Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald
Sewickley Herald
Quaker Valley's Chris Conlan, a sophomore, tries tobreak through the Seton-La Salle defense during a game at Chartiers Valley High School Stadium in Collier Township Friday, Oct. 12, 2012. Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald
Sewickley Herald
Quaker Valley's Dane Jackson, a sophomore, is tackled in mid-air after passing to another player during a game against Seton-La Salle at Chartiers Valley High School Stadium in Collier Township Friday, Oct. 12, 2012. Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald
Sewickley Herald
Quaker Valley's Chris Conlan, a sophomore, almost intercepts the ball during a game against Seton-La Salle at Chartiers Valley High School Stadium in Collier Township Friday, Oct. 12, 2012. Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald

The Quaker Valley football team is relying heavily on sophomores to contribute this season.

Though the team's youth has led to some growing pains, coach John Tortorea believes he's beginning to see where it will benefit the program moving forward.

That belief solidified even in a losing cause last week, as Tortorea said the sophomores turned in a big effort in the Quakers' 35-6 loss to Tribune-Review No. 5 Seton-La Salle.

“(Sophomore Chris Conlan) played a phenomenal game (Friday) night,” Tortorea said. “My five sophomores that we count on — they led the way. ... We were in the game with them. We had sophomores making big plays, and what I was so proud (of) about them is they matched the physicality. Seton-La Salle's probably the most physical team in our conference, and we matched them physically.”

That physicality impressed Tortorea more than anything Friday night. The Quakers (2-5, 2-5) entered the game allowing more than 220 rushing yards per game, but they held their ground against Seton-La Salle.

Offensively, Quaker Valley's physicality showed as the team piled up 135 rushing yards against a Seton-La Salle team allowing 91 yards per game on the ground. Sophomores Dane Jackson and Aaron Cunningham led the way there, rushing for 54 and 49 yards, respectively.

But the Quakers' youth still led to some lapses. With the Quakers down, 7-0, in the first half, Conlan dropped an interception that could have turned into a touchdown.

Then, with the Quakers driving for a possible tying score in the second quarter, Jackson threw an interception that was returned 76 yards for a touchdown by Seton-La Salle's Dequay Broadwater.

“Last year, we expected bad things to happen to us,” Tortorea said. “This year, we don't expect the bad things — we're just trying to figure out how to make the big plays happen in the big moments. We're just tied down to a learning curve ... and it'll come.”

Tortorea said he sees young players already stepping up as leaders, mentioning Cunningham and junior lineman Matt O'Neill as examples. Cunningham caught a 21-yard pass from Burke Moser for the Quakers' only score against Seton-La Salle, and he plays a key role at linebacker as well.

The Quakers also count on sophomores Conlan, Jackson and Tre'won Marshall to make plays on offense and defense.

Though the loss to Seton-La Salle officially knocked Quaker Valley out of playoff contention, Tortorea believes there's still a lot to play for in the final two weeks of the season.

This week, the Quakers will celebrate Homecoming by hosting Burgettstown in their final Century Conference game of the season. The game is scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Chuck Knox Stadium.

Burgettstown (0-7, 0-6) has struggled this season and lost 31-12 to McGuffey last week, but Tortorea said the Quakers won't take the Blue Devils lightly.

“I told the boys (Friday) night that if they play with that determination and the approach that they had on Friday night, Saturday will take care of itself,” he said.

Mostly, Tortorea is hoping to close the 2012 season on a high note in order to build some momentum for next season, when all those sophomores have more experience.

“Winning cures all,” he said. “Once they win, they believe that they can take care of things and they can actually do it. So we desperately need to be successful the last two weeks and see where that takes us.”

Doug Gulasy is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at dgulasy@tribweb.com.

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