Experienced Peters Township ready to challenge for Allegheny Six title
Tuesday, August 8, 2023 | 11:51 PM
There’s one giant benefit when a high school football team has a small senior class — experience for the underclassmen.
Peters Township’s youngsters got plenty of it last season, and the Indians’ coaching staff is hoping those reps pay dividends this season.
“We’re a lot more experienced than we were last year,” coach TJ Plack said. “We played three seniors all season, and one got hurt. The last five games, we were playing two seniors. We started two freshmen on defense, a bunch of sophomores.
“We’re excited about that. Those guys have a lot of playing experience.”
Peters Township graduated three starters and a specialist — all-conference running back Richie Woods, all-conference wide receiver/defensive back Brendan McCullough and all-conference center Roman Costanza, along with all-conference punter and kicker Joey Bedillion — who helped the team finish 6-4 overall and 3-2 in the Class 5A Allegheny Six.
But that leaves a bevy of Indians who won’t be intimidated by the hard-hitting foes in the conference or the bright lights on Friday nights. The group includes 10 players with starting experience on defense and nine on offense.
Peters Township entered training camp with a quarterback competition between senior incumbent Chris Cibrone and sophomore Nolan DiLucia. Cibrone completed 119 of 219 passes for nearly 2,000 yards and 19 touchdowns last season. In limited duty, DiLucia threw for 384 yards and three scores. He also started at safety as a freshman.
“(Nolan) and Chris battled all summer, very competitive, very spirited, they’ve worked well together,” Plack said. “We’ll figure out who it is. They’re both going to play. They’re both very good ballplayers.
“Chris absolutely understands what we’re doing on offense. This will be his fourth year. We rely on the quarterback’s intelligence, and he understands why we’re doing things. Nolan makes unscripted plays. When it breaks down, he can pull the ball down and make us look good as coaches.”
They will have plenty of playmakers to get the ball to, including seniors Ethan Wertman (29 catches, 269 yards, 4 TDs), Carter Shanafelt (27 receptions, 354 yards, 6 TDs), Nate Miller (14 catches, 212 yards), Thomas Aspinall (12 catches, 185 yards, 3 TDs) and sophomore Reston Lehman (9 catches, 221 yards, 3 TDs).
Shanafelt is entering his third season as a starting receiver. Juniors Mickey Viccarello and Nick McCullough also will be in the mix.
There will be a committee of running backs trying to replace Woods, who ran for 652 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2022. Junior Nick Courie ran for 116 yards on 28 carries last season.
“Ricky went down halfway through the season last year with a dislocated elbow, so we had an opportunity to look at some guys,” Plack said. “We’ve moved guys from the receiver position. They’ve had some experience playing running back in the past. Our inside run periods during this camp are going to be extremely important to see who has the vision, the explosiveness. We got about five guys we are looking at. It will be by committee. We will find the right guys to get in there.”
Up front, Peters Township will look to senior Matt Miller, who is moving from tackle to center, as well as seniors Paris Fishell and Tanner Mindach and junior Franco Muscatello.
Senior Jake Velgich, a three-year starter, was an all-conference selection on the defensive line last year and will be joined there by Muscatello and Fishell, as well as sophomore Tanner Shaw and senior Dante Recker.
The Indians expect to be strong at linebacker again with Courie in the middle and Lehman and Viccarello at edge.
The secondary will feature seniors Eliot Schratz and Preston Blair and junior Nick McCullough at cornerback, as well as Wertman and senior Justin Tornatore at safety, along with either DiLucia, Shanafelt, Miller or Aspinall. Tornatore, who Plack called “the leader of the defense,” was all-conference last season.
“We don’t have any Division I players, but we have a ton of Division III football players. You can win a lot of football playoff games with them. We have some pieces in the younger classes,” Plack said.
“We always look to win the conference, get in the playoffs and go from there. We want to be the best we can out there each and every night. We’re looking forward to challenging for the conference championship.”
Peters Township finished third behind Bethel Park and Upper St. Clair in the Allegheny Six last season, just a game short of a playoff berth. The Indians lost to USC, 17-10, and Bethel Park, 27-21, in the season finale. Plack expects another strong showing from those teams, along with South Fayette, Moon and Baldwin.
“All good teams. All good coaches. All good programs,” he said. “South Fayette returns a lot. They compete at a high level. They are well-coached. Bethel Park and Upper St. Clair graduated a ton of seniors. Both are well-coached and have guys coming up who were juniors with experience.
“Baldwin has a new head coach. They are an upstart program with a lot of enthusiasm. They are always one of the hardest-hitting teams we play. With Moon, they had a bunch of young guys last year and have experience. Ryan (Linn) will get that program back where it needs to be. I think 5A is extremely difficult, and our conference is right up there with all of them.”
Coach: TJ Plack
2022 record: 6-4, 3-2 in Class 5A Allegheny Six Conference
All-time record: 268-336-16
Date, Opponent, Time
8.25 Fox Chapel, 7
9.1 Seneca Valley, 7
9.8 at Trinity, 7
9.15 at South Fayette*, 7
9.22 Upper St. Clair*, 7
9.29 at Baldwin*, 7
10.6 Moon*, 7
10.13 at Mt. Lebanon, 7
10.20 Canon-McMillan, 7
10.27 Bethel Park*, 7
Passing: Chris Cibrone
119-219, 1,963 yards, 19 TDs
Rushing: Richie Woods*
99-652 yards, 10 TDs
Receiving: Brendan McCullough*
40, 886 yards, 7 TDs
• Peters Township outscored conference opponents 171-93 last season. The Indians’ 305 points scored was fifth most in Class 5A.
• Plack has a 54-25 record in seven seasons at Peters Township, including five playoff appearances.
Bill Hartlep is the sports editor of the Tribune-Review. You can contact Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BHartlep_Trib.
Tags: Peters Township
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