Short-handed Avella football team returns experienced skill group

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Tuesday, August 20, 2019 | 4:24 PM


The conversation has taken place many times over the past decade. Avella football coach Ryan Cecchini, in his ninth season, and longtime Mapletown coach George Messich often talk numbers — or lack thereof.

The Eagles, like the Maples, fight a yearly battle with roster size. Cecchini said as long as he has at least 20 players, he is happy.

Probably no surprise, then, that neither Avella nor Mapletown played many close games in 2018. The closest for either was the season-opener against each other, when the Eagles (2-8, 1-6 Tri-County South) pulled out a 14-12 decision.

Avella had only one other game decided by fewer than 27 points: a 14-7 loss to Chartiers-Houston in October.

Cecchini is expecting better this season. He lost only four seniors to graduation — though that number constitutes one-sixth of his current roster — but still returns a team dominated by its sophomore and junior classes.

While many of the players are young, they come into 2019 battle-tested after getting plenty of playing time a year ago.

“This group has a lot more experience than the group last year,” Cecchini said.

Three juniors will anchor what Cecchini believes will be a stout offensive line: Robbie West, Blaze Allen and Dylan Gzikowski. Senior Rydge Appleby also is expected to start on the line.

“We’ve gotten a lot bigger and stronger,” Cecchini said. “Our line has been together for a while now, and that is going to be one of the stronger units.”

The line will need to be on its game to protect an inexperienced quarterback. Last season’s starter, Noah Taylor, who threw for 400 yards and three touchdowns, graduated, and sophomore K.J. Rush and senior Derek Tarolli are competing for the job.

Whomever gets the nod, he will benefit from an experienced skill group led by senior Justin Dryer. He was the Eagles’ leading receiver in 2018 with 16 catches for 209 yards and a touchdown.

Junior Tanner Terensky and sophomore Brandon Samol will complement Dryer on the outside.

“It’s nice for the quarterback to have a pretty experienced group of wide receivers,” Cecchini said. “That’s a nice safety blanket they can have.”

Senior Anthony Georgetti will start at tailback. He steps in for the graduated Owen English, who ran for 839 yards and eight touchdowns in 2018.

English carried the bulk of the load for the Eagles’ offense last season. But Cecchini said his attack will be much more diversified.

“I think we are going to try to be more balanced this year right out of the gate,” he said. “The last few years, we haven’t been able to throw the ball too much. This year, we’re going to spread the ball around more and get those guys involved from the beginning.”

While Avella’s offense finds its footing, the defense will be expected to keep opponents at bay. Nine starters return, led by West, Dryer and Allen. Dryer said he expects Georgetti, a linebacker, to have a breakout year after being slowed by an injury last season.

“We definitely have higher expectations with all the experience we have this year compared to last year,” Dryer said.

Said Cecchini: “I think we got better on defense as (last) year went on. … If we lean on anything from the start, it will be our defense.”

But Cecchini knows his best defense could be a better offense. The Eagles had trouble moving the ball and sustaining drives, and if they can put more points on the board, they can close the gap on some of their Tri-County South foes.

“It’s really important for us to all work together,” Dryer said. “Everyone just has to step up and play together.”

Schedule

Coach: Ryan Cecchini

2018 record: 2-8, 1-6

All-time record: 346-464-26

Date, Opponent, Time

8.23, at Mapletown, 7

8.30, Bishop Canevin, 7

9.6, at California*, 7

9.13, at Jeannette, 7

9.20, Jefferson-Morgan*, 7

9.27, at West Greene*, 7

10.4, at Bentworth*, 7

10.11, Chartiers-Houston*, 7

10.18, Mapletown*, 7

10.25, at Monessen*, 7

*Class A Tri-County South Conference

Statistical leaders

Passing: Noah Taylor*

400 yards, 3 TDs

Rushing: Owen English*

839 yards, 8 TDs

Receiving: Justin Dryer

16-209 yards, 1 TD

*Graduated

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