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Gorman: Penn-Trafford shows character counts

| Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013, 10:24 p.m.

Penn-Trafford calls it, for lack of a better term, The Game.

The Warriors have off-season meetings to engage in discussions not only about football but being a better person.

“They've really bought into it and have been tremendous about it,” Penn-Trafford coach John Ruane said. “You have to be conscious, at all times, of things going on around you. These kids are second-to-none in terms of work ethic and character.”

The Game is a team-building exercise where players are divided into groups and rewarded points for grades, attendance and community service.

“It gives guys who usually wouldn't step up as leaders a chance to step up,” senior captain Tom Stinelli said. “It's a huge part of bringing us together.”

It was that accountability, The Game within the game, that turned around the season for Penn-Trafford. The Warriors are in the WPIAL Class AAAA semifinals for the first time since 1997.

It started with Ruane. He turned down a chance to coach at Gateway, his alma mater and where he teaches, to stay at Penn-Trafford.

Penn-Trafford responded with a postseason run that surprised everyone — except, perhaps, the Warriors.

This was the expectation all along, even after a 4-3 start that included a 34-14 loss at Kiski Area in Week 7.

After that defeat, The Game showed up, as senior captains Stinelli, Fred Cook, Ryan Marasti, Adam Polakovsky and John Wilkie spoke up in the locker room.

“Without a doubt, it was the turning point,” Stinelli said. “We weren't playing to our potential.”

The Warriors have played with a chip on their shoulders since, beating Gateway the next week on a scoring pass and 2-point conversion with 16 seconds left. They beat Hempfield in the finale, Penn Hills in the first round, then previously undefeated McKeesport.

“The seniors are why we're winning,” Ruane said. “They don't give up in big games.”

Now, Penn-Trafford (8-3) plays Central Catholic (11-0), which beat the Warriors in the first round last year.

Win or lose, they've already won The Game.

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