West Xtra: Progress not always rewarded
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Although qualifying for the WPIAL playoffs is ostensibly the goal for any district team entering the season, sometimes, for some programs, there are other ways to measure success.
For teams such as Ambridge Area, South Side Beaver and Quaker Valley that have struggled mightily over the past several years, this season did not produce a coveted spot in the playoffs, but the teams displayed signs of tangible progress.
The Bridgers, Rams and Quakers went a combined 4-24 last season and entered this season with myriad questions, but each was able to have its best season in the past few years, as the trio went 8-19.
Even with its success, none of the three teams felt a sting by season's end more than Ambridge. As one of several teams vying for the final playoff spot in the Parkway Conference, the Bridgers fell short in their final game, a 34-20 defeat to Blackhawk that cost them a postseason appearance.
Nonetheless, Ambridge had a two-win improvement from last season's 1-8 team and its three wins were the program's most since 2009. A 3-6 record also gave it its best winning percentage since 2007, when it went 4-5.
South Side Beaver went winless last season and entered this season with a new coach in Glenn McDougal -- well sort of a new coach. McDougal had coached at South Side Beaver from 1992 through 2000.
The Rams responded by going 2-7, eclipsing their win total from the previous two seasons, a span in which they went 1-18.
Time proved to be an ally of South Side Beaver this season, as it improved as the season moved along. After losing their first six games by an average of 24.2 points, the Rams won their next two contests, games in which they averaged 34 points per game. The team lost its final two games, but only by an average of 11 points.
Youth, too, played a factor. Altogether, the Rams have 17 sophomores on their roster (of their 31 total players), something which made it difficult to win this season, but also something that will help the program down the road.
"There's nothing like experience," McDougal said. "The problem with us is that we have some good kids, but a lot of them are sophomores and freshmen. It makes it difficult to compete."
Like Ambridge, Quaker Valley was still in the hunt for a playoff spot entering its final game, but it suffered a surprising 54-41 defeat to Ellwood City. The Quakers finished the season 3-6, which matches their win total from last season, but marked their best winning percentage in a single season since they went 5-4 in 2008.
All three teams have rosters with a significant number of players returning next season, meaning that the improvement the trio has seen this season may just be the beginning.
"I think we're making progress," McDougal said.
Though his team lost last Friday to Monessen, 52-10, that did not stop Carlynton running back Isiah Canton from having another strong game this season, as he rushed for 121 yards and his team's only touchdown.
Although the Cougars went just 1-8 this season after going 5-5 in 2011, there is a silver lining -- Canton is just a freshman.
Much like how it has been for Carlynton, wins have been few and far between for Moon in the competitive Parkway Conference this season, as the team went 2-7, losing all but two of its games by double digits.
In the Tigers' 42-21 loss at Montour last Friday, however, senior quarterback Caleb Jakiel ended his high school career on a strong note, completing 15 of 23 passes for 162 yards, a season-high, and two touchdowns.
Notably absent from the Beaver football team in its 39-7 loss at Aliquippa last Friday was running back Darian Bradley, who was out with a knee injury.
Without their star rusher, the Bobcats had a season-low in points with seven and struggled running the ball for much of the game, albeit against a standout Quips defense.
Beaver coach Jeff Beltz described Bradley's status as "week-to-week," noting that he and his coaching staff decide whether to play Bradley based on how he says he feels before the start of the game.
For a team that enters the Class AA playoffs with the Midwestern Conference's No. 2 seed, Beaver certainly needs its star running back if it hopes to go far. In eight games this season, Bradley has rushed for 756 yards and accounted for 988 yards of total offense.