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Falcons set for Quad East opener

| Thursday, Sept. 20, 2001

Now the fun begins.

After battling through three tough non-conference games to start the season, the Connellsville football team will finally play a game that counts as it hosts Penn Hills in its Quad East opener this evening at Connellsville Stadium.

'This is a very important ball game for us,' Connellsville coach Dan Spanish said. 'You want to come out of your first conference game with a victory.'

Through three non-conference games, the Falcons managed a 1-2 mark and are coming off a tough 35-21 loss at home against North Hills on Saturday.

And now that the exhibition games are behind them, Spanish is hoping that those contests taught his team the importance of minimizing mental and physical errors on the field.

'I think we are a little disappointed,' Spanish said as he reflected on the three exhibition games. 'We felt we could have been a little better, but we hadn't learned to eliminate mistakes that lead to big plays. But I felt that this week in practice, we tried to focus on limiting those mistakes.'

The Falcons attention to detail in tonight's game will be vital. So far this season, the Indians are undefeated, including a 34-6 win over Hempfield in their conference opener last week.

Penn Hills has a powerful ground game, which is led by senior running back Brandon Anderson, who rushed for 1,320 yards and nine touchdowns in 2000.

'They are a typical Penn Hills team,' Spanish pointed out. 'They have a strong running game. They'll line up in a lot of formations, but they're going to run at you.'

Penn Hills can also throw the ball.

The Indians have a young, but experienced quarterback in sophomore Anthony Morelli. As a freshmen, Morelli tossed for 771 yards and five touchdowns. His favorite target is senior wide receiver Jeff Hancock.

Hancock caught 16 passes for 330 yards a year ago, including six touchdowns. Two of Hancock's scores came in a 21-7 victory over the Falcons at Penn Hills last year.

'They like to get the ball to Hancock,' Spanish said. 'He's got a lot of speed.'

Spanish also noted that the Indians are particularly strong on special teams and have plenty of quickness and aggressiveness on defense.

'Their defense is tough because they can create turnovers,' Spanish said. 'And their special teams can put a lot of pressure on you.'

The Falcons will counter with an offense that seems to continually get better. Last week, running back B.J. Straughters rushed for 105 yards and scored two touchdowns. The Falcons' 21 points were the first points given up by North Hills the entire season. The Connellsville ground attack should be bolstered by the return of running back Antonio Thomas to the lineup.

Defensively, Ben Benzio, Justin Marsinko and Rob Swink each provided a spark, while Cory Hixson and Anthony Smith were instrumental in shoring up the special teams.

The Falcons know that in order to win, they have to continue to play at a very high level, which in fact was sometimes seen in the loss to North Hills. And to be successful, Spanish emphasized again the importance of leaving the mistakes on the practice field.

'I think we've seen some positive things,' Spanish said. 'We played with aggressiveness and I think our conditioning is good. We just have to focus on eliminating mistakes and not turning the ball over. The rest is just making up your mind that you want to go out and win.'

Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.

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