Successful season falls short of ultimate goal for Penn-Trafford

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Saturday, November 23, 2019 | 8:01 AM


The Penn-Trafford football team has high standards, and with that comes championship aspirations.

So, when the clock hit zeros Nov. 15 and a 28-10 loss to Peters Township in the WPIAL Class 5A semifinals marked the end of the road for the Warriors, it provided a tough ending to an otherwise spectacular year.

“We came up short,” Warriors coach John Ruane said. “The season overall looks like a success, but to us, it was a disappointment. We had higher expectations.”

Part of that high standard came from this year’s senior class. Though they were denied their ultimate goal, they brought home a Big East Conference title against tough competition and finished with an 11-2 record through adverse conditions.

The Warriors lost standout senior running back Caleb Lisbon for the season to a knee injury in a Week 3 win over McKeesport, and fellow senior running back/linebacker Sam Fanelli also went down with a knee injury.

Fanelli returned for the playoffs, but it left the Warriors without two key players for the majority of the regular season. The team responded by winning five of its six remaining regular-season games with the lone loss coming at Ohio powerhouse Massillon.

For Ruane, it was tough to see a dynamic player like Lisbon, who has several college offers, sidelined with injury, but he was proud of how his team responded to the situation.

“Caleb Lisbon is a unique football player and one of the best ever at this school,” Ruane said. “Losing him was detrimental, but it showed the character of our kids. They didn’t feel sorry for themselves. They rallied around it and everyone played a little bit better. Ultimately, we had some success, even without him.”

The Warriors were the top seed in the Class 5A bracket and scored wins over Fox Chapel and Upper St. Clair in the playoffs before the semifinal loss. It was the second consecutive year Peters Township ended Penn-Trafford’s season.

“We played pretty well in the first half other than our lack of execution on third- and fourth-and-short,” Ruane said. “Peters Township made some big plays in the second half and pulled away. I wish we could’ve and I could’ve done a better job in the first half in getting some points on the board.

“They are a terrific football team, and Coach (T.J.) Plack is doing great things. Schematically, they are very different than teams we play, and I mean that in a good way.”

The team Peters Township played in the championship game, Gateway, is one of the foes Penn-Trafford topped in Big East Conference play. Another Big East team, McKeesport, also made the semifinals.

“Our conference is up there with the best in the state,” Ruane said. “It seems like we have a team that goes to the finals every year. To win the conference is an accomplishment. We’d love to be playing Gateway again (in the championship), but it didn’t work out.”

Another senior who will be departing is quarterback Gabe Dunlap.

Dunlap passed for more than 1,500 yards and eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing. Aside from the ability to post big numbers, the two-year starter at quarterback brought a leadership presence to the huddle.

“Gabe is as high character a kid that you can get,” Ruane said. “He’s a stand-up guy for everything he does, good and bad. He won 20 games as a starting quarterback in two years and brought a whole different dynamic to our team with his ability to run by design and run when things broke down. He obviously could throw the ball well, too.”

Penn-Trafford returns several key players next season, led by standout do-it-all junior Ethan Carr.

Carr led the team in receptions, returned punts and kicks and ran the Warriors’ wildcat packages.

“The term ‘all-around player’ gets thrown around a lot, but he truly was,” Ruane said. “He had a phenomenal year and seemed to provide a spark every time we needed. He’s a Division I football player, in my opinion. I’m just hoping that colleges catch on here now.”

Several players in this year’s senior class will go on to play in college. They were WPIAL runners-up in 2017 and had a memorable impact on the program.

“I told those guys thank you for their leadership and how much fun they made coaching,” Ruane said. “You couldn’t call it work, because it was fun. It was a hilarious group and everyone got along really well. They changed the program in their own way and made their mark. They’ll be very successful men in life.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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