When Pete Wagner was hired in February as the new football coach at Baldwin High School, he took over a Highlanders team that was 12-25 over the past four seasons and hadn't had a winning season since 2003.
As he tries to right the ship, he only needs to look across the field Friday night to see a model to follow.
Baldwin will play host to Peters Township, which has made three consecutive trips to the postseason after failing to reach the playoffs six seasons in a row.
"In some ways, we can look at what [Peters Township] has done," said Wagner. "They've improved little by little and Rich Piccinini has done a really good job with that team."
Piccinini took over after the 2010 season in which the Indians made the playoffs for the first time since 2003. He has led Peters Township to the playoffs in each of his two seasons, despite playing in a conference that has traditional powers Upper St. Clair, Mt. Lebanon, and for the first time last year, Woodland Hills.
The main key for the Indians under Piccinini has been the ground game. In Andrew Erenberg (2011) and Mike Minjock (2012), the Indians have had two running backs rush for at least 1,200 yards and 19 touchdowns in his two seasons at the helm.
"We want to establish the running game and control the ball," Piccinini said. "Last year, we got off to a good start with Mike Minjock rushing for 275 yards and four touchdowns in the first game to set the tone."
Minjock is now at Carnegie Mellon University, so Marcus Ubinger will get the bulk of the carries. He averaged 13.5 yards per carry on 30 attempts last season. Mark Minjock, Mike's brother, will also see time in the backfield.
Piccinini doesn't expect there to be much, if any, drop-off.
"We like to think the system has something to do with it, as long as the work ethic is there for the players," Piccinini said. "And I've mentioned before our assistant coach Rick Pavlisko. He's been coaching more than 40 years and where he goes, all-conference and leading rushers end up."
The inexperienced running backs will be helped with the return of junior quarterback Cory Owen and three returning starters on the offensive line.
Wagner's goal is to force the Indians into long second and third downs.
"We have to stop the run," said Wagner. "Traditionally, they've been very good at moving the football. For us to be successful, we have to force them into tough down and distances."
Senior Jake Elk, a returning starter at linebacker, will play a big role in trying to limit the ground attack.
Meanwhile on offense, the Highlanders are counting on big things this season from quarterback Doug Altavilla and receiver Luke Smorey.
Altavilla has started since his freshman season and threw for 843 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Smorey, the WPIAL Class AAA javelin champion, had 294 yards receiving in 2012.
Altavilla will also have the luxury of being protected by one of the top linemen in the WPIAL in junior Sterling Jenkins.
Friday night's game will be key for both teams if they want to reach the playoffs. Upper St. Clair, Bethel Park, Woodland Hills and Mt. Lebanon are all expected to be strong again this season, meaning that once again, Southeastern Conference wins will be tough to come by in 2013.
"It's not like it used to be where you had four non-conference, almost exhibition, games before you got into the conference schedule," said Piccinini. "Every game counts and this week is big for everyone. If you lose, you're already one game back and fighting an uphill battle.
"We want to get off on the right foot."hsfootball