Coach optimistic Fox Chapel can make strides in Class 5A

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Monday, September 7, 2020 | 10:45 PM


Tom Loughran has a keen appreciation for the competition in WPIAL Class 5A.

“Let me say first that 5A has the best collection of teams where anyone can beat you on any given night. You have to come ready to play,” the veteran Fox Chapel coach said.

“Everybody in our (Northeast) conference, from Kiski, Shaler, Penn Hills, North Hills and Pine-Richland, is good. There is no one there who is considered a weak link.”

Loughran hopes his team can make strides this fall and improve on last year’s 4-6 record and 3-4 mark in a competitive Northern Conference. Fox Chapel earned a trip to the Class 5A playoffs and lost to No. 1 Penn-Trafford in the first round.

“The guys have been good about focusing on getting ready to play and not worrying about any uncertainties with the season,” Loughran said of the conditioning and individual and team skills workouts leading up to preseason practices.

“We’ve had some good weeks of work since we got back together (in early July).”

Thanks to the WPIAL’s coronavirus-related schedule changes, a Week Zero matchup with 2019 WPIAL Class 5A runner-up Peters Township was canceled and a Sept. 4 game against Hampton became a scrimmage.

The new season opener is against Pine-Richland, last year’s WPIAL Class 6A runner-up, on Sept. 11. Nonconference matchups with Franklin Regional (Sept. 18) and Moon (Sept. 25) remain.

“We have a great opportunity to prove ourselves this year, and we want to continue to control all the things we can control with getting better and getting ready for the season,” junior wide receiver and defensive back Lorenzo Jenkins said.

Senior Justin Rice, Loughran said, has emerged as the leader of a group of quarterbacks competing to replace multiyear starter Shane Susnak. Rice threw passes in three games last year, but he was featured more prominently in the secondary, where he made 52 tackles.

“Shane was more of a thrower, while Justin and the others are more dual threats, runners and throwers,” Loughran said. “We are going to go back to some things we did when we had (Nick Gizzo) a couple of years ago.”

Junior Zidane Thomas picked up 71 carries at running back last year, and he leads the backfield group that also includes returnees in junior Maurice Sampson and sophomore Roman Mason.

Jenkins led Fox Chapel receivers last year with seven touchdowns, and he earned first-team all-conference honors.

“Lorenzo is such a solid receiver for us,” Loughran said. “He’s as good as I’ve ever had. He’s worked hard and is ready to take that next step for us.”

Junior Khi’Lee Patterson scored two touchdowns last year. He and Jenkins combined to catch 60 passes for 759 yards. Senior Ben Wilk (14 catches, three touchdowns) and junior Colin Kwiatkowski also are expected to be a factor at receiver.

The offensive line, Loughran said, will be anchored by senior Thomas Golembiewski and junior Caleb Kulikowski.

Defensively, Kulikowski returns at nose tackle, and Kwiatkowski is back at one of the outside linebacker spots.

The secondary is experienced with Jenkins, Rice, Patterson and senior Dorian Gomez. Jenkins picked off a team-best three passes last year.

“Every year, you have to reload at certain positions, and there are younger guys competing to get on the field,” Loughran said.

“They are working their way up as we played with a number of freshman and sophomores last year. We only had five seniors who were with us for four years. We were going up against teams like Penn Hills and Penn-Trafford with 25 to 30 seniors. We’re just plugging away and trying to get better every year.”

Schedule

Coach: Tom Loughran

2019 record: 4-7, 3-4 in Class 5A Northern Conference

All-time record: 219-351-8

Date, Opponent, Time

9.11, at Pine-Richland*, 7

9.18, Franklin Regional, 7

9.25, at Moon, 7

10.2, at Shaler*, 7

10.9, Kiski Area*, 7

10.16, at Penn Hills*, 7

10.23, North Hills*, 7

*Class 5A Northeast Conference game

Statistical leaders

Passing: Shane Susnak*

158-245, 1,935 yards, 15 TDs

Receiving: Lorenzo Jenkins

36-511 yards, 7 TDs

Rushing: Sam Brown*

118-468 yards, 1 TD

*Graduated

Fast facts

• Fox Chapel will face Pine-Richland for the first time since 2015 when both were members of the WPIAL Quad-A Northern Eight Conference.

• The Foxes were 2-2 last year in games decided by seven points or less.

• Tom Loughran owns 204 career victories over 37 years of coaching, including 18 over the past five years at Fox Chapel.

• The Foxes won four of five after an 0-4 start last year to clinch a spot in the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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