South Xtra: South Allegheny a playoff contender
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Pat Monroe had a highly successful run in his 15 years as the head football coach at Duquesne High School, going 118-51, winning two WPIAL titles and the 1993 PIAA championship.
But the school closed after the 2006-07 school year, and Monroe was hired by South Allegheny in 2008. After South Allegheny went 5-5 in Monroe's first season, the Gladiators won just three of 30 games over the next three seasons.
But five games into the season, South Allegheny has already won more than it had the past three seasons combined.
The Gladiators are 4-1 overall, 3-1 and in third place in the Century Conference after their 40-7 thrashing of Burgettstown Friday night. The team has won four games in a row since a 35-0 loss to Seton-LaSalle in its season opener, outscoring its opponents in those four wins, 129-35.
Monroe said his team's start doesn't come as a shock to the players and coaches in their locker room.
"We're not surprised," Monroe said. "We were a good 1-9 football team last season. We just didn't put it all together. We competed in the last half of the season; we just couldn't close out games. We knew we would have most of these guys back this year."
To Monroe's point, four of South Allegheny's final six losses last season were by three points or fewer. The Gladiators were able to keep games close despite many key players missing time with injury.
Wide receiver Josh Roundtree missed the entire season with a torn labrum; middle linebacker and center Justin Yarbrough missed half the season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament; tight end Tym Burkholder missed all but two games last year with a shoulder injury; and running back Brandon Murn sustained a fractured ankle in the first quarter of the first game and missed the rest of the season.
All four are back and making big contributions for the team this season, none more so than Murn. A 6-foot-1, 195-pound senior, Murn has been hampered by injuries his entire high school career, missing almost all of his sophomore and junior years and half of his freshman year because of various injuries.
Completely healthy this year, he has run for 422 yards on 49 carries, caught three passes for 55 yards and scored eight touchdowns. He's been exceptionally good over the past three games, rushing for 383 yards on 37 carries and scoring six total touchdowns.
"He's a kid who has worked and did all we've asked the past four years, but has continuously been disappointed," Monroe said. "Now he's healthy.
"He's a natural runner, strong, with great vision. He's only going to get better."
Murn is far from the only offensive weapon the Gladiators have.
Quarterback Dustin Anderson has rushed and passed for more than 200 yards each. He is coming off his best passing game of the season, throwing for 106 of his 218 season total in Friday's win against Burgettstown.
"We have to be a well-rounded team," Monroe said. "We have to have in our repertoire a counter to whatever the defense is doing. We would like to do every phase of the game well. Friday was the best we've thrown all season."
The defense has helped out as well, giving up fewer than 10 points per game during the four-game win streak. It has even put points on the board, as cornerback DaVonte Johnson has returned two of his four interceptions for touchdowns this season.
Despite the team's early success, Monroe is careful not to look too far ahead.
"It's nice to win four games in a row, but you don't want to feel like we've already accomplished something," he said. "We're doing well, but only through [last] Friday. We have to get ready for a solid McGuffey team with a veteran coach."
The Gladiators play host to the Highlanders (2-3, 1-3) Friday night, with kickoff slated for 7:30 p.m.
First Published October 4, 2012 12:00 am