High expectations for Class 6A Seneca Valley after WPIAL title-game run

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Thursday, August 15, 2019 | 1:51 PM


Seneca Valley used mainly its experience and size to reach last year’s WPIAL Class 6A title game.

This year, the Raiders are adding speed to the mix.

“We’re not as experienced as we were last year, but we are going to be really athletic,” said coach Ron Butschle, in his second stint at the school spanning eight combined seasons. “We have some athletes who are rising juniors who are probably some of the best athletes I’ve coached since I’ve been here.”

Seneca Valley returns a three-year starter at quarterback, a beefy front line anchored by a 6-foot-5, 290-pound Purdue recruit and a speedy, aggressive defense in its bid to reach Heinz Field for the third time in four years.

Seneca Valley’s most recent trips to the title game ended in losses, to Pine-Richland last year and Central Catholic in 2016. But last year’s stirring playoff run — the Raiders avenged regular-reason losses to Central Catholic and North Allegheny — is replaced with a focus to win the school’s first WPIAL football title.

“Last year, I feel like we were happy to be there,” senior backup quarterback Caden Smithco said. “This year, we’re trying to win it all. We’ve put in a lot of time to just get better. I don’t really see a weakness. I feel we’re strong at every position.”

Said junior reserve linebacker Zaire Agrate, “Last year, we had strength. Now, we have strength and speed. We should have a good team.”

Senior dual-threat quarterback Gabe Lawson threw for 1,331 yards and 12 touchdowns and added 341 rushing yards last season. The 6-2, 190-pounder is one of six returning starters on offense and also will play defense for the first time, joining seven returning starters on a unit that allowed only 11.8 points per game, 11th-best in the WPIAL.

Senior Matt Stanger rushed for a team-high 568 yards last season to lead a balanced rushing attack. He and Lawson work behind an offensive line that features Josh Kaltenberger, a Purdue recruit and one of the top interior linemen in the WPIAL, Kevin Meeder (6-5, 285) and Don Kreisberg (6-2, 270). The Seneca Valley offensive line averages 6-3, 262 pounds.

The talented 35-man junior class includes running back Ethan West, wide receiver Connor Lyczek, tight end Mehki Gay, lineman Jim Royal and linebacker Mitch Curran.

A lot has changed since Butschle arrived in 2004 for the first of two stints at the Butler County school. The Raiders went 1-9 in each of his first two seasons and lost 29 of 34 games in the old Quad North in his five-year stay from 2004-08.

Butschle returned to Seneca Valley in 2017 after a pair of stops at Sto-Rox and, after a 3-6 first season, took the Raiders to the last year’s WPIAL finals.

“We’re a program now,” he said. “We don’t just hope to go out and win some games.”

Seneca Valley had about 80 players on the field during heat camp and experienced “95-100%” participation during offseason workouts. The Raiders will need the dedication to build on last season’s 9-4 team, which lost 10 players who achieved some level of all-WPIAL Class 6A distinction.

Butschle said the reloading should take care of itself.

“We’ve got to fill their shoes, but that’s the natural progression,” he said. “That’s why having a program is so important. The expectation is that those shoes just get filled.”

Schedule

Coach: Ron Butschle

2018 record: 9-4, 5-3

All-time record: 248-288-11

Date, Opponent, Time

8.23, at McDowell, 7

8.30, Central Catholic*, 7:30

9.6, at Canon-McMillan*, 7

9.13, at Mt. Lebanon*, 7

9.20, Butler*, 7:30

9.27, North Allegheny*, 7

10.4, at Hempfield*, 7

10.11, at Woodland Hills, 7

10.18, Pine-Richland*, 7:30

10.25, Norwin*, 7:30

*Class 6A Conference game

Statistical leaders

Passing: Gabe Lawson

95-181, 1,331 yards, 12 TDs

Rushing: Matt Stanger

159-568 yards

Receiving: Josh McLean*

31-590 yards

*Graduated

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