It has been a challenging season for the East Allegheny football team.
The Wildcats are 1-5 under new coach Jason Ruscitto and have lost five games in a row since defeating Summit Academy, 29-12, in its opener.
Ruscitto has been forced to play a number of sophomores and freshmen earlier than he planned because of a rash of injuries. The inexperience, especially defensively, has hurt East Allegheny as it has given up an average of 30.2 points a game during the losing streak.
Kyle Whipple has been shining brightly for East Allegheny through all the adversity, however. A junior quarterback, he has been one of the top players in the Allegheny Conference and makes the Wildcats a difficult team to face despite their record.
"He's having a really good year," Ruscitto said. "He's doing a great job for us."
Ruscitto put together some high-powered offenses during his time as the coach at Sto-Rox when he had Paul Jones, one of the top recruits in the nation, as his quarterback. Jones signed with Penn State but never played a down at quarterback for the Nittany Lions, was moved to tight end earlier this season then recently left the program.
Whipple is not quite in Jones' category and Ruscitto has tailored his offense to suit East Allegheny's players.
"We're probably running the ball more than we're throwing it, probably more than 50 percent of the time, which is different the way we did it at Sto-Rox," Ruscitto said. "I'm a big believer, though, in not trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. As a coach, I feel you need to adjust to your personnel rather than the other way around."
Even if Ruscitto ratcheted the offense down a notch, Whipple is still putting up impressive passing numbers. He has thrown for 1,131 yards and 12 touchdowns while completing 60 of 107 passes for a 56.1 completion percentage in six games.
What has impressed Ruscitto about Whipple beyond his throwing ability is his studious nature. Whipple was unable to take part in offseason workouts during July because of an injury, yet he used the downtime wisely.
"We spent a lot of time together at the chalkboard talking about the offense," Ruscitto said. "He was like a sponge. He really picked up on things very quickly.
"It would have been easy for him to miss some workouts when he was injured, but he's developed into a great leader. He doesn't miss a practice. He doesn't take a play off. He sets a great example for every kid on the team."
Whipple has a big-play receiver in senior Shawn Adair, who is averaging 22.9 yards a catch as he has 21 receptions for 481 yards and eight touchdowns.
Coincidentally, Adair began last season as East Allegheny's starting quarterback before yielding to Whipple in the second game. Whipple went on to throw for 814 yards and 11 touchdowns as East Allegheny qualified for the playoffs and finished 5-5.
East Allegheny won't be going back to the playoffs this season as it has already been eliminated from contention.
Nevertheless, Ruscitto would like to see his team finish strong. That will be a challenge, though, as the Wildcats have conference games at home against Freeport (5-1, 5-1) on Friday and at Burrell (5-1, 4-1) on Oct. 19 then finish with a non-conference home game against playoff-bound Mount Pleasant (5-1) on Oct. 26.
Those three teams are a combined 15-3. Still, with Whipple, East Allegheny always has a chance to be dangerous.
"Our kids are still working hard and they want to be the type of team that makes our school and our community proud," Ruscitto said.