Bethel Park football sets foundation for future, makes playoffs in successful season

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Saturday, November 18, 2023 | 11:01 AM


The Bethel Park football team advanced to the WPIAL playoffs for the third consecutive season.

The Black Hawks tied for second with Moon and Upper St. Clair in the Class 5A Allegheny Six Conference with a 3-2 record in league play.

The Bethel Park gridders lost to defending WPIAL champion Pine-Richland, 51-6, in the quarterfinal round of the playoffs.

Last year, Bethel Park won the conference title with a 5-0 record and finished as a WPIAL semifinalist at 10-2. The Black Hawks took third place in league play in 2021 and ended up 5-5 overall.

Despite a 4-7 record this season, coach Phil Pekich is upbeat about his team’s chances in 2024.

“I’ve very optimistic due to a lot of young guys playing this year,” Pekich said. “I think the experience we got this year will be a big help for next year.

“We had nine seniors on this year’s team. On offense, we will return starters at nine of 11 positions, and on defense, we will return starters at 10 of 11 positions, which is huge.”

Bethel Park was one of the top offensive teams in Class 5A this season, averaging 27.6 points per game. But the Black Hawks also allowed 32.7 ppg defensively.

Two of the team’s biggest wins were a 50-13 decision against Baldwin and a 49-29 decision against South Fayette. All four Bethel Park victories were home games.

“Definitely, this season was not a failure,” Pekich said. “I think we understood where we were going to be coming into the season after losing 22 seniors from a conference championship team. We had some obstacles coming into the year.

“We had to develop players to be in a position to make the playoffs and make a run. We were able to beat St. Clair, our big rival.”

Pekich is in his first year as Black Hawks coach. He was promoted from offensive coordinator after working five seasons as an assistant at his alma mater, Montour, and three on the Bethel Park staff of Brian DeLallo, who resigned.

“I feel much more comfortable now. I don’t think confidence was ever an issue,” Pekich said. “When you get a new group together, there’s a special cohesion that you build. That was modified (somewhat) this year.”

The Black Hawks were led in 2023 by three players with 1,000-plus yards offensively.

Quarterback Tanner Pfeuffer passed for 1,888 yards and 21 touchdowns with seven interceptions.

Ryan Petras, a wide receiver/defensive back, accounted for 1,143 total yards and 12 scores.

Running back/linebacker Ja Vaughn Moore rushed for a team-high 936 yards and eight touchdowns and caught 10 passes for 123 yards and one score, giving him 1,059 total yards and 11 TDs.

One thing Pfeuffer, Petras and Moore have in common — all three are juniors.

Pfeuffer completed 115 of 226 passes and ended the regular season with 738 yards in the final three games against Moon (285), South Fayette (221) and Peters Township (232).

The 6-foot-6, 185-pound signal caller had four games of 200-plus yards and three games of 100-plus yards to his credit. Pfeuffer threw only four interceptions in the regular season.

“Our team this year fought through a lot of adversity and never gave up,” Pfeuffer aid. “We were a young team, but we didn’t use that as an excuse and battled every week. We came up short, in the end, of a conference title and a deep playoff run, but I am proud of our team for battling.

“Some things I want to work on this offseason are being able to make people miss in the pocket and to make big plays with my legs.”

Pfeuffer has thrown for 2,297 yards and 35 touchdowns over the past two seasons, connecting on 230 of 405 attempts.

Evan Devine, a sophomore quarterback, also contributed to the Black Hawks’ passing total by completing one toss for 36 yards against Baldwin.

The versatile Petras (5-10, 175), who has made a verbal commitment to Northwestern to continue his baseball career, led Bethel Park in receiving with 52 catches for 734 yards and nine touchdowns.

Petras nabbed four receptions for 137 yards and two scores versus Peters Township and averaged 14.1 yards per catches on the season.

He also ran for 409 yards and three TDs, averaging 7.5 yards per rushing attempt.

“Obviously, we didn’t have the outcome we were hoping for, a deep playoff run, but we grew together as a team and learned a lot from that,” Petras said. “I thought it was a great season, and we learned many lessons, and I’m just looking forward to coming back stronger next year. Personally, I would like to work on my route running and overall strength.

“I feel like next year we will be an improved team with all the seniors we (will) have. I think we have a great chance to win the conference and even the WPIAL championship.”

Petras is looking forward to playing Big Ten baseball.

“I chose Northwestern because of the new coaching staff, the amazing campus and facilities they have, and the people on and around campus,” Petras said, “and the great education.”

Petras plays shortstop and was Bethel Park’s leadoff hitter last season when he batted .427 with a .549 slugging percentage and .495 on-base percentage. He led the club in stolen bases (19) and runs scored (26).

He also led the Black Hawks football team in receiving as a sophomore, reeling in 44 passes for 578 yards (13.1 average) and scoring 17 touchdowns.

Petras ranked second in rushing as a sophomore with 610 yards on the ground, giving him 1,188 total offensive yards in 2022. For his efforts, he was named co-player of the year in the conference and was an all-state selection.

Junior WR/DB Jack Bruckner complemented Petras in the receiving department this season with 20 catches for 485 yards and four scores. Bruckner averaged a sensational 24.2 yards per catch.

Bruckner caught five passes for 197 yards and a touchdown against Moon.

Eight players caught passes this season for the Black Hawks. Along with Petras, Bruckner and Moore, they were junior WR/DB Mitchell Paschl (14-49-3), sophomore TE/DL Jovian Smith (7-123-3), sophomore RB/DB David Dennison (7-37-0), junior TE/DL Randall Bergia and junior TE/DL Clancy Orie.

Paschl had five receptions for 125 yards and one score in the season opener against North Hills.

In the rushing department, Dennison complemented Moore and Petras with 358 yards and six TDs on 74 carries.

Moore’s top rushing performance came in Week 2 when he rambled for 213 yards on 24 carries and scored twice against Central Catholic.

Petras and Dennison combined for 264 yards and three TDs against rival Upper St. Clair. Petras ran for 146 yards and one TD on just five carries; Dennison added 118 yards and two scores on 29 attempts.

Defensively, the Black Hawks intercepted seven passes in 2023, led by Petras with three. Bruckner, senior RB/LB Nick Howrylak, sophomore WR/DB Kahanuola Kuewa and freshman WR/DB Santino Nowozeniuk all had one.

The three leading tacklers were Orie, Christian Davis and Kuewa.

The 6-4, 235-pound Orie registered eight tackles for a loss and four sacks. Davis, a junior TE/LB, accounted for six tackles for a loss, three fumble recoveries and two sacks.

Seniors Kaden Wetzel (RB/LB) and Nathan Tietz (TE/LB) were key players in the linebacking corps. Wetzel posted seven tackles for loss.

Junior WR/DB Jeremy Whitling also saw action in the secondary late in the season.

Other instrumental linemen on defense included senior Dylan Prindle (6-4, 260) and Jake Brown (5-11, 285), juniors Adi Meder (6-3, 240) and Denzel Meyers (5-10, 285), sophomore Bryan McGuire (6-1, 225) and freshman Ryan Bergia (6-0, 285).

Three other starters on the offensive line were juniors Hunter Goelz, at center, and Frank O’Mara, at guard, and sophomore tackle Santino LaMolinare.

The Black Hawks were well-represented on the all-conference team with 15 players being selected.

Petras and Orie were first-team honorees.

The second team included Pfeuffer, Paschl, Moore, Bruckner, Davis, Kuewa, Goelz and Prindle.

Dennison, Smith, Brown, Medar and LaMolinare received honorable mention status.

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