5 storylines from Week Zero of WPIAL football

September 16, 2018

Shaler senior Brennan Fugh competes during practice Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018.

Rarely is the water cooler dumped in celebration in Week Zero, but some of Shaler’s football players grabbed it Friday night and doused coach Jim Ryan.

“I didn’t even see it coming,” Ryan said, laughing.

That’s fitting since his Titans were celebrating a win few outside their locker room would have predicted. Shaler snapped a 24-game losing streak with a 34-21 victory at New Castle.

“The kids were so excited,” Ryan said, “and it was really nice to see them enjoy the reward of their work. That was the best part about it.”

The win was the team’s first since a 14-9 victory at Fox Chapel on Oct. 9, 2015. Shaler went 2-8 that season before consecutive 0-10 seasons in 2016 and ’17.

The victory was also the first under Ryan, a 2000 graduate promoted to head coach before last season.

“When I started coaching, I never said, ‘Someday, I want to be a head coach,’ ” Ryan said. “But as an assistant over the years, it was really hard to see the football program that I love struggle like that. When I look at those kids, I see myself. That’s not a selfish reflection, it’s just they’re in the shoes I was once in. All I want to see is them have the experience that I had, and all the Shaler players in the past had, because they deserve it.”

But Shaler wasn’t the only team that ended an extended losing streak Friday. Southmoreland defeated rival Mt. Pleasant, 18-14, to halt a 13-game losing streak. Southmoreland hadn’t won since a 23-15 victory over Waynesburg on Sept. 30, 2016.

Leechburg snapped a 10-game losing streak with a 28-13 victory over Apollo-Ridge.

Saturday’s film-study session at Shaler was more enjoyable than most, Ryan said.

Shaler hasn’t started a season 1-0 since 2009. That year, the Titans finished 9-2 and reached the WPIAL Class AAAA quarterfinals.

The Titans travel to Kiski Area next Friday for their Class 5A conference opener.

“I truly believe this is going to get our practices amped up a little bit more and get the kids buying into stuff,” Ryan said. “It could get kids out for football in years to come, it’s just a trickledown effect. But you can’t get ahead of yourself, just knock them down one at a time”

No film, no problem

A number of WPIAL teams faced opponents from another PIAA district, another state or another country this week, and some didn’t have much scouting materials to break down the opponent.

And on the scoreboard, it didn’t make much difference.

For example, Erie’s Cathedral Prep had its scrimmage cancelled last week, so Central Catholic wasn’t certain who the Ramblers would use at quarterback. Central won 24-21, snapping Cathedral Prep’s 28-game winning streak.

“My dad’s an old-school football guy, and he always says the best coaches don’t need film,” Central Catholic defensive coordinator Dave Fleming said. “So I called him this week and said: ‘Well, I guess we’re going to test my mettle this week because we don’t have any film.’ ”

Peters Township celebrated a 43-7 victory over West Toronto Prep despite not having much info on the program from Canada.

Wash High’s offense rolls on

The WPIAL’s leading rusher graduated, but Washington’s offense appears to be just fine.

Junior quarterback Zack Swartz led all WPIAL passers Friday with 375 yards, and two receivers each topped 100 yards in a 59-25 victory over Laurel Highlands. Zahmere Robinson had 136 receiving yards, and Dan Walker added 103 for the top-ranked team in WPIAL Class 2A.

The Prexies graduated running back Nick Welsh, who led all WPIAL rushers last season with 2,134 yards.

Washington’s 59 points were the third-highest total scored by a WPIAL team in Week Zero. Imani Christian scored 80 against Richard Wright Charter of Washington D.C., and Connellsville reached 64 against Uniontown.

Difficult debut for Zmijanac

Mike Zmijanac said there was much work ahead when he took over the Ringgold football program.

Friday maybe showed just how much.

The six-time WPIAL champion coach lost his Rams coaching debut to Chartiers Valley, 48-0, and it doesn’t get any easier next week.

Ringgold visits Thomas Jefferson, the three-time defending WPIAL Class 4A champion.

Connor Barrett led Chartiers Valley with 197 yards rushing.

QB stars in rare Lions loss

South Fayette saw its 57-game regular-season winning streak end with a 34-33 loss to Upper St. Clair, but quarterback Jamie Diven could lead them to a number of wins this year.

Diven, a transfer from West Allegheny, passed for 352 yards in his first start for his new team. The senior threw three touchdowns of 40 yards or more. He connected with Charley Rossi on scores of 54 and 49 yards, and threw a 40-yard touchdown to Peyton Tinney.

Diven replaces Drew Saxton, who graduated as the sixth-ranked passer in WPIAL history with 7,452 yards.

At West Allegheny, Diven passed for 194 yards last season.

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