East Xtra: Surprising Penn-Trafford shares Foothills lead
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From the outside looking in, it appeared the Penn-Trafford football team was in for a rebuilding season this year.
The Warriors lost a 1,425-yard passer in Zach Emerick and a 1,397-yard rusher in Manny Simpson from a team that went 10-1 in 2011, its dreams of an undefeated season dashed by a 34-9 loss to Gateway in the WPIAL Class AAAA semifinals.
In fact, just four starters returned.
Penn-Trafford coach John Ruane, however, is as inside of the program as one can get and rebuilding was never on his mind.
"I knew we didn't have a lot of experience but I also knew we had a lot of talented kids who just didn't get to play much last year because we had so many seniors starting," Ruane said. "I knew we had the talent to be pretty good. I was confident we could put a good team on the field."
Ruane has been proven correct.
Penn-Trafford is 5-1 overall and 5-0 in the Foothills Conference, where it is tied for first place with Gateway (5-1, 5-0). The Warriors and Gators hold a two-game lead over Kiski Area and McKeesport, which are both 3-3, 3-2.
Helping lead the way for Penn-Trafford is senior Dorian Stevens, one of its few returning starters. Stevens, though, is making his contributions at a new position as he is the Warriors' quarterback after playing wide receiver last season.
"He didn't get any game action at quarterback last year but used him there in practice and we felt he could do a good job," Ruane said.
Stevens won the starting job in a training camp competition and has thrown for 536 yards and six and added 347 yards rushing. In addition to being the starting quarterback, he also plays cornerback and is a return specialist.
"He gives us an added dimension because he can both throw and run," Ruane said.
"He is really best suited to play running back but we need him at quarterback and he's done well at that position."
Penn-Trafford already has two quality running backs in sophomore Devin Austin and junior Tom Stinelli. Austin has 491 yards on the ground in 61 carries and Stinelli has rushed for 303 yards on 64 attempts.
Austin has had back-to-back 100-yard games and went for a season-high 172 yards on 14 carries in last Friday's 38-17 victory against Connellsville while also scoring two touchdowns.
Stevens, Austin and Stinelli are putting up solid numbers behind an interior line that has five first-year starters but has jelled quickly.
"They really complement each other," Ruane said. "Tom Stinelli is kind of an old-fashioned back, a bruiser who runs hard and gets the tough yardage. Devin Austin is 165 pounds but he tries to run like he is a 250-pounder because he has no fear."
Penn-Trafford's defense has been solid as the Warriors are giving up an average of 11.8 points a game during its five-game winning streak, which comes after a 28-14 non-conference loss to North Hills on opening night.
"We're making steady progress on that side of the ball," Ruane said.
While Penn-Trafford has all but clinched a playoff spot, it finishes the regular season with back-to-back home games against Kiski Area on Friday and Gateway on Oct. 19 before visiting Hempfield Area (3-3, 3-3) on Oct. 26.
"We're happy with the season so far but we have a tough schedule from here on out," Ruane said. "We know we have our work cut out for us these next three weeks."