Tom Loughran has seen his South Park High School football team go through some trying experiences as the squad heads into the final two weeks of the regular season.
Despite some nagging injuries, the Eagles are assured of a spot in the WPIAL Class AA playoffs with an overall record of 5-2 and are 5-1 in the rugged Class AA Century Conference and, in fact, the Eagles still have a mathematical shot to win the conference title outright.
They finish the regular season, however, with successive games against two of the conference's tougher opponents.
The first game is at 7 p.m. Friday when the Eagles visit South Fayette for a game against the Lions -- the No. 3-ranked team in the Post-Gazette's WPIAL Class AA rankings who lead the conference with a 6-0 record and are 7-0 overall.
"I'm happy with our progress," Loughran said.
One of the veterans of the WPIAL football campaigns, he has been the team's coach since 1983 and has led the Eagles to WPIAL and PIAA Class AA championships in 1997 and 2005.
"We started out searching for an identity on offense and defense, and that included not having our starting quarterback, Nick Scholle, for our first two games. But he came back in the third game, and some of our other players have started coming back, too."
One of them is defensive back/receiver Harry Zaremba, a 5-foot-10, 150-pound junior. Another is tight end J.P. Stribik, a 6-4, 247-pound senior who has been unable to play since the team's second scrimmage back in August.
"He broke his leg in that scrimmage," Loughran said. "It wasn't a big-time break because he was walking around in a boot. He was cleared to play last week, so he'll practice this week and be able to play Friday night. The kids have picked up the slack with our injuries."
Loughran hasn't had any complaints with the team's effort.
"They are committed to playing better individually and as a team," he said. "They've bought into the things that we were coaching them on, and they know that if they do those things, they will achieve their first goal and that's to make the playoffs."
Following losses to Quaker Valley, 47-27, and to No. 1 Aliquippa, 45-14, in the first two weeks of the season, the Eagles have been, uh, flying under the radar, so to speak. They have run off five consecutive victories, games where Scholle, a 6-1, 194-pound junior, has played the entire game.
"He was also hurt in one of our scrimmages and missed our first two games," Loughran said. "Since he came back, we were able to move [fill-in starter] Mike McLaughlin to receiver. We're comfortable with Mike there, and Nick gives us the opportunity to run the option. He does a nice job when he's called upon to run."
The team's leading scorer is Ryan Mino, a 5-7, 140-pound junior, who has caught five touchdown passes and kicked 17 PATs for a team-high 47 points. Scholle has rushed for six touchdowns and is tied with Greg Pantuso for second in points scored with 36.
"Another young man who was going to kick got injured, and Ryan said he could kick," Loughran said. "He was not projected to be a kicker, but we're happy with what he's done."
Mino's only field-goal attempt was blocked, but the coach said he wouldn't hesitate sending him out to kick another one.
"His range is about 30 to 35 yards," he said.
South Park's most recent, victory, a 22-0 conquest of Steel Valley on the Ironmen's Campbell Field last Friday, clinched a playoff berth.
If the Eagles were to pull a big upset Friday against South Fayette and defeat Seton-LaSalle in the regular-season finale, they would win at least a share of the Century championship.
First Published October 16, 2013 8:00 PM