Baldwin football looks to build off competitive campaign
A WPIAL playoff berth was a realistic goal for the Baldwin football team this season.
Secure a ticket to the postseason and anything can happen.
Baldwin went from a one-win season in 2017 to a 3-1 start this year. The Fighting Highlanders averaged a lofty 40.3 ppg through four games.
After defeating Chartiers Valley, 21-14, at midseason, Baldwin was 2-2 in the conference and 4-2 overall.
But the month of October wasn’t kind to the Highlanders.
They suffered four straight October losses -- against West Allegheny, Bethel Park, Penn Hills and Peters Township -- to end up 4-6 overall and 2-5 in conference play.
“I thought our kids competed hard, and some of our losses could have went either way,” said Loran Cooley, Baldwin’s second-year coach. “I felt we were a good football team this year. However, in order to win in our extremely competitive conference, it takes a great football team.”
Growing pains can be tedious and, at times, painful.
Baldwin finished sixth in the Class 5A Allegheny Eight Conference, behind Peters Township (8-2, 6-1), West Allegheny (7-2, 6-1), Upper St. Clair (8-2, 5-2), Bethel Park (6-3, 5-2) and Woodland Hills (4-6, 3-4). Moon (2-8, 1-6) and Chartiers Valley (3-7, 0-7) rounded out the standings.
The top-ranked teams in Class 5A entering the WPIAL playoffs were Gateway, Penn Hills, Peters Township, Penn-Trafford and West Allegheny.
“Hats off to Peters Township. They are a great football team,” Cooley said. “Our mission for next season is to take the next step and become great. Our goals for next season are just like everybody else’s: conference championship, WPIAL championship and state championship.
“This offseason, we will work to compete for 48 minutes to put us in position for those goals.”
Three defeats -- USC, Woodland Hills and West A -- proved costly for the Fighting Highlandes.
USC rallied to a 28-21 win at Baldwin thanks to a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns. Antonio Orsini tied the score 21-21 on a 35-yard TD run, then Chris Pantellis returned a punt 60 yards to break the stalemate with 7 minutes, 15 seconds to go.
Baldwin held a 21-7 halftime lead on the strength of three big scoring plays.
C.J. Robbins, a sophomore, returned an interception 32 yards for a touchdown to get things started for the Fighting Highlanders.
Junior QB Mason Stahl then hooked up with junior receiver Jarren Kelly on a 52-yard touchdown pass, and to senior Dre Howell on a 57-yard TD bomb.
At the Wolvarena, Woodland Hills only scored one touchdown against the Highlanders, who had a touchdown called back because of a penalty.
The Wolverines added a field goal and a safety to claim a 12-0 victory.
West Allegheny edged Baldwin in early October, 29-26, as Drevon Baldwin scored on a 39-yard touchdown pass from Kam Kruze with 49 seconds remaining.
Robbins scored on a 75-yard interception return. Howell had 24- and 67-yard TD receptions; and Stahl, on a 2-yard run, provided more offense for the Highlanders.
The loss to Woodland Hills was the most damaging.
The Wolverines landed the final playoff berth in the conference, finishing a game ahead of Baldwin.
The Highlanders will have the majority of their skill-position players back next season, including Stahl, junior running backs Angelo Priore and Zach Pettit, sophomore running back Luke Loeffert, and receivers Kelly, junior Naseer Penn and sophomore Connor Lavelle.
“We made progress as a team but still fell short of our ultimate goal,” Pettit said. “That’s a bitter taste to have but will provide a lot of motivation heading into the offseason.
“We are going to dominate every team we play next year.”
Stahl passed for 1,481 yards, completing 106 of 207 passes with 16 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He averaged 148.1 yards passing.
Priore and Stahl combined for 1,231 rushing yards, with Priore going for a team-high 693 yards and four scores on 111 carries, an average of 5.6 yards. Stahl tacked on 538 yards and three touchdowns on 102 carries.
Kelly was the team’s leading receiver with 34 catches for 683 yards and seven scores. He averaged 20.1 yards per reception. Kelly also returned a kickoff and an interception for a touchdown.
The Highlanders will face a rebuilding project on the offensive line next season. Baldwin was senior-dominated with Jason Depretis and Elyon Phiri at guard, Lucas Perfetti at tackle and senior Harry DePetro at center.
Joey Pracel, a junior, rotated at left guard and right tackle because Phiri and Bourquin also played defense.
And Dorien Ford, a 6-foot-5, 270-pound sophomore, should make his presence felt next year.
Defensively, linebackers Pettit and junior Matt Bauman led the team in tackles. Robbins intercepted six passes and scored three times.
Kelly, Lavelle, Ford, Penn, Bourquin, Loeffert, freshman Nick Petrilli, junior Robbie Keefe and sophomore Riley Voelker also will return on defense.
Ford, Bourquin and Voelker are expected to anchor next year’s defensive line.