Penn-Trafford football found its footing after 1981 conference championship

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Sunday, October 3, 2021 | 11:01 AM


Penn-Trafford High School is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Here’s a look at the Warriors’ first conference championship football team as part of a series on the school’s athletics’ success:

When Ron Smith took over as football coach at Penn-Trafford in 1979, he felt there was a still a division that existed between the players from Trafford and Penn Joint.

Penn-Trafford was a merger of Trafford and Penn Joint in 1972, and the first team played well. But it took 10 years for the merger to be accepted.

During the first two years of his tenure, the Warriors were a combined 2-18.

But members of the 1981 squad decided to halt the bickering.

Penn-Trafford finished 9-3, captured the school’s first Class AAA Keystone Conference title and won the school’s first WPIAL playoff game.

“They set the path for future success at Penn-Trafford in sports,” Smith said. “We were pretty pathetic my first two years, but the kids came together and put forth a great effort. They were a super bunch of kids.”

Things didn’t start off well for Penn-Trafford during the 1981 season. The Warriors fell to eventual Class AA champion Jeannette, 13-7, and two weeks later lost to rival Norwin, 26-7.

Sandwiched between those loses was an inspiring, 38-7 thrashing of Burrell.

Once in conference play, Penn-Trafford ran off seven consecutive wins.

The Warriors defeated Derry (40-14), Mt. Pleasant (26-7), Yough (14-0), Southmoreland (34-0), East Allegheny (4-0), Johnstown (34-13) and Greensburg Central Catholic (20-0).

Smith coached at GCC prior to coming to Penn-Trafford.

While Mt. Pleasant finished second in the conference, the Warriors’ biggest win came against East Allegheny when J.P. Sarsfield scored the game’s only touchdown in the fourth quarter.

“That was a great game,” Smith said. “Early on, they were our biggest rival.”

In the first round of the playoffs, running back Glenn Klingensmith rushed for 177 yards, and the Warriors’ defense kept a Uniontown offense in check in a 21-10 victory.

“Sonny Thomas set up a ‘Crazy 8’ offense that we ran against Uniontown,” Smith said. “Sonny is a great coach, and we basically told the quarterback (Jeff Filkovski) to count the players in the defense and run to the area with the fewest people.”

The Warriors then dropped a 14-0 decision to Knoch in the semifinals to finish the season 9-3.

Smith earned conference Coach of the Year honors, and Rob Cortazzo was the conference’s Most Valuable Player.

“We had a lot of great players,” Smith said. “Jeff was a very good quarterback, Glenn was an outstanding running back and Dave Richards was a very good end.

“They all did a great job. They ended the division within the district. It was a rewarding season.”

And while the program became competitive after that, it wasn’t until 1993 when they won their second conference title under the late John Yaccino.

Paul Schofield is a TribLive reporter covering high school and college sports and local golf. He joined the Trib in 1995 after spending 15 years at the Daily Courier in Connellsville, where he served as sports editor for 14 years. He can be reached at pschofield@triblive.com.

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