Playoff mainstay East Allegheny looking to take another step

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Tuesday, August 15, 2023 | 11:18 PM


Excuse Dom Pecora if he tends to fret at this time of year. Ultra competitive in nature, the East Allegheny football coach sizes up the demands of young players, many craving some proper direction.

As the Wildcats prepared for another season, their streak of seven WPIAL playoff appearances loomed large, tantalizing the coach and torturing his players.

“It’s got to be a total commitment,” said Pecora, who is entering his 11th season at East Allegheny, where his teams have managed to win one playoff game in each of the past three seasons. “We have as much talent this season as we’ve had since I’ve been here. If we do the right things off the field and in the classroom …”

Pecora stopped short of finishing his thought, but the message was clear.

“A lot of things have to happen for us to take the next step. We’re a long way away from that,” he said. “Our guys have got to be focused on 12 weeks. We’re not that good, so we can’t just go into a game figuring we can win without being mentally prepared. It doesn’t work like that.”

While the Wildcats’ 8-4 record represented the most victories in a season under Pecora, they were dealt a dose of reality against eventual PIAA Class 3A champion Belle Vernon in the WPIAL quarterfinals in 2022, watching an early lead quickly evaporate in a 55-7 thumping by the Leopards.

Yet, with a core of experienced players returning, led by all-conference quarterback/defensive back Mike Cahill, Pecora’s current group offers some hope for a special year.

East Allegheny has won at least five games in each of the past seven seasons, but the most had been seven on three occasions (2016, ‘17 and ‘19) before last year’s total of eight.

Can the Wildcats top it?

“I’m not making any predictions,” Pecora predictably said.

In Cahill, EA can assume it’s got another coach-of-sorts on the field. The 6-foot-1, 175-pound senior is coming off a season in which he was just short of 2,000 yards passing (1,874) and 1,000 yards rushing (917).

“Mike is one of the best, if not the best, player I’ve coached at EA,” Pecora said. “He’s a great example of the come-early, stay-late philosophy. He didn’t miss a practice all summer, and he’s taken way more of a leadership role this year, which is great. He’s doing a really good job of policing, and there’s no better motivation than your quarterback coming over and saying, ‘Where are you at?’”

Cahill welcomes back senior receivers Brennen Rutledge, Steve Yusko and Amir Rollins, all of whom joined him on the all-Allegheny 6 Conference team.

The backfield will include seniors Brandon Penn and Lorenzo Fancher and junior Kam Marshall.

“We’ve got a little depth there,” Pecora said.

Senior Justin Snyder (6-3, 225), who is receiving some interest from Division II schools, leads a group of five returning veterans on the offensive and defensive lines.

“It’s a veteran squad like we’ve never really had here before,” Pecora said. “Our defense will be the key to how well we play and will dictate a whole lot. How we tackle and block will decide our season. We have the skill. Up front is the last step.”

Penn, Fancher and Marshall will man the linebacker positions, with Cahill, Yusko, Rollins and Rutledge in the secondary.

“It’s going to be a hard schedule,” Pecora said.

East Allegheny opens the season Aug. 25 at South Park, the first of five consecutive nonconference games on the Wildcats’ schedule. The Allegheny 6 opener doesn’t come around until Sept. 29 at Valley.

“In our conference last year, we had three teams (East Allegheny, Freeport, Shady Side Academy) in the WPIAL quarterfinals and two (Freeport, Shady Side Academy) in the semis,” Pecora said. “We’ve got the team to compete, but how we commit to good grades and doing the right things in the building … the success will come if there’s ownership.”

He added: “As a coach, you always worry. So far, so good. Their commitment this offseason has been great. Our workouts have been good, and they’re doing things the right way. It takes that to take another step.”

East Allegheny

Coach: Dom Pecora

2022 record: 8-4, 3-2 in Class 3A Allegheny 6 Conference

All-time record: 330-259-23

SCHEDULE

Date, Opponent, Time

8.25 at South Park, 7

9.1 Jeannette, 7

9.8 at Elizabeth Forward, 7

9.15 at South Allegheny, 7

9.22 Greensburg Salem, 7

9.29 at Valley*, 7

10.6 Freeport*, 7

10.13 Deer Lakes*, 7

10.20 at Knoch*, 7

10.27 Shady Side Academy*, 7

*Conference game

STATISTICAL LEADERS

Passing: Mike Cahill

120-247, 1,874 yards, 16 TDs

Rushing: Cahill

89-917 yards, 9 TDs

Receiving: Brennen Rutledge

38-475 yards, 6 TDs

FAST FACTS

• The Wildcats have qualified for the WPIAL playoffs in seven consecutive seasons only to lose in the quarterfinals in the past three years to the eventual PIAA champion (Central Valley in 2020 and ‘21 and Belle Vernon in ‘22).

• East Allegheny won five of its first six games in 2022 by an average of 19.2 points per game. Its remaining three victories resulted in a pair of outcomes by an average of 22.5 points and a 42-39, first-round playoff decision against Mt. Pleasant.

• East Allegheny sported a 5-1 home record, the only loss a 42-7 setback against Elizabeth Forward.

• Quarterback Mike Cahill, while a 1,000-yard passer last season, averaged 10.3 yards per carry running the ball 89 times.

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