Connellsville readies for ‘year we’ve been waiting for’

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Thursday, September 3, 2020 | 12:01 AM


Connellsville’s Marko Thomas does not just sound like a coach giving lip service following a down season.

His inflection is proof he means what he says.

“This is the year we’ve been waiting for,” Thomas said. “I really think you’re going to see a much-improved team. We were extremely young last year.”

The fourth-year coach has reason to be optimistic as his top running back — the elusive Ky’ron Craggette — and a healthy line return to help the Falcons compete in the Class 5A Big East Conference.

The Falcons avoided ending the season on a nine-game losing streak by upending Albert Gallatin, 30-6, in Week 9 to finish 2-8.

Craggette ran for 1,010 yards as a junior, dashing to the perimeter to show his speed.

“A lot of that was what he did on his own,” Thomas said. “He makes things happen.”

Two key linemen missed last season but are expected to make a large impact this fall. Thomas brims when he thinks about seniors Chuck Wood (6-6, 360) and Cam King (6-1, 275) blocking for Craggette, a first-team all-conference back.

Wood missed time with mononucleosis while King tore his ACL in wrestling.

“It’s huge to have them back,” Thomas said. “Our line should average around 300 (pounds). We really think Chuck and Cam will help. We’re really going to rely on Ky’ron. He is so much stronger. He’s put together.”

Other top returnees on the line are senior Sam Shaffer (6-1, 300) and junior Cullen Lynch (6-0, 285).

“As long as we can avoid injury, we’ll be OK,” said Thomas, a former standout at Penn-Trafford and Geneva.

Connellsville hasn’t made the WPIAL playoffs — or won more than three games in a season — since 2012.

While the running game is packaged neatly, there is less consistency at other spots.

Before camp, Thomas had four quarterback candidates, one from each class, in senior Gage Gillott, junior Zak David, sophomore Beau Bigam and freshman Anthony Piasecki.

Gillot was the frontrunner to replace 6-6 Josh Maher under center. An interesting note on Gillot: Thomas said he is both a Division I prospect as a kicker and a baseball player.

“When Gage was a freshman, we used four kickers,” Thomas said. “Gage played a couple of games then for us.”

Junior Josh Marietta returns at wide receiver and cornerback, and senior Gabe McCrum is back at linebacker.

A few newcomers on the coach’s radar include junior Jason McBride at receiver and cornerback, and junior George Shultz at linebacker.

He also sees some promise in first-year player Colby Keedy.

Schedule

Coach: Marko Thomas

2019 record: 2-8, 0-6 in Class 5A Big East Conference

All-time record: 537-537-59

Date, Opponent, Time

9.11, at Woodland Hills*, 7

9.21, Kiski Area, 7

9.26, West Allegheny, 7

10.2, at Franklin Regional*, 7

10.9, Latrobe*, 7

10.16, at Penn-Trafford*, 7:30

10.23, Gateway*, 7

*Class 5A Big East Conference game

Statistical leaders

Passing: Josh Maher*

35-85, 406 yards, 2 TDs

Receiving: Ahmad Hooper*

13-186 yards, 2 TDs

Rushing: Ky’ron Craggette

141-1,010 yards, 8 TDs

*Graduated

Fast facts

• Longtime coach Sonny Thomas, who has been an assistant to his son and Falcons head coach Marko Thomas for the past three seasons, will coach one more fall, his 53rd in the business. He also coached at North Braddock, Woodland Hills, Penn-Trafford, Gateway, Hempfield, Yough, Southmoreland and Geneva College

• Connellsville averaged 202 rushing yards a game in 2019.

• The Falcons averaged a conference-low 16.1 points last season.

• Craggette had offseason inquiries from Pitt, Temple, Toledo and Miami (Ohio).

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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