Talented California lineup in position to defend conference title

Thursday, August 26, 2021 | 5:01 PM

As California enters the 2021 season, the Trojans and veteran coach Ed Woods face a lot of juicy storylines.

Can the Trojans win back-to-back titles in the Tri-County South? Can they get over the hump and win in the playoffs after losing their last two postseason games by a combined 12 points? How will the new quarterback and new running back look? Can the defense still be opportunistic?

Woods is eager to answer some of those questions as the new season begins.

“This team faced a lot of adversity last season,” he said. “I was very proud of how well our kids adapted to all the changes and never used that as an excuse. We only had one home game in the regular season, and I did feel bad for our seniors. But this team never complained, and I learned a lot of about these kids thanks to the covid-19 season.”

Cal went 6-1 last year, including a 6-0 mark in the Tri-County South, and claimed its third conference title in the last four seasons. The Trojans fell in the quarterfinals against Shenango, 28-21, and are still searching for their first postseason win since 2017.

Woods, who has a 13-5 record at Cal and has won 12 of his 13 conference games over the last two seasons, is encouraged for this fall because of his team’s dedication to the weight room.

“Throughout my years of doing this at the high school level, I always stress the importance of the weight room in the offseason,” said Woods, who formerly coached at Beth-Center for a couple of decades. “These guys have really bought into the weight room and I love the turnout over the winter.

“That type of participation has really carried over to the week of conditioning and the first couple of days of camp. The energy and the understanding of what we are doing has been really impressive to me.”

Damani Stafford will make the switch from quarterback to the featured runner in the backfield, while Brownsville transfer Hunter Assad will take over duties under center.

“Both of these guys will be key for us,” Woods stated. “They have to be productive for us on the field and also display some senior leadership. Both are very coachable and they lead by example.”

Other vital pieces to the Trojans offense will be senior tight end Ethan Fike, wideouts Connor Vig and Caden Powell, as well as tailback Zach Geletei and fullback Addison Panepinto.

“We are really happy with our skilled guys on offense,” Woods expressed. “Ethan is an athletic kid and he is a really good blocker at the point of attack. We like what we have seen from Connor and Caden at catching the ball consistently. Zach is going to be an option in the backfield, and Addison is one of our hardest workers. He lost about 60 pounds from last year and he is going to be a versatile weapon for us running and catching the ball.”

Cal will be anchored by three returning starters on the offensive line in senior Donovan Davis (6-1, 270), junior Tanner Pierce (6-3, 302) and junior Gaege Gosney (6-0, 236). The other two spots on the line were still up for grabs in camp.

The Trojans return six starters on defense with Fike as the linchpin at inside linebacker. He led Cal in tackles per game last season with 9.2.

Stafford will line up at either linebacker or defensive end, while Panepinto, Pierce and Davis are going to be a force on the defensive line. Senior Mason Sholock and sophomore Jake Layhue will play important roles on defense this fall.

“It’s pretty simple with our defense; we preach being aggressive and having all 11 guys running to the ball,” Woods said. “We have to play fast and rally to the ball. I don’t necessarily think we are the biggest team, but I love our quickness and instincts when it comes to playing defense. It’s about being reactive.”

Vig will handle the punting and kicking duties, while Cal has a lot of depth in the return game.

As for the Tri-County South, Woods thinks its going to be extremely competitive.

“I don’t think there is a favorite in the conference,” he said. “I look at West Greene as a really good team because of their two backs and their line. Carmichaels has a good quarterback and they are always ready to play. Avella is coming off making the playoffs, and I think Mapletown is going to make a huge leap this season. We have to be ready to play every Friday night and be effective in all three phases of the game.”


Coach: Ed Woods

2020 record: 6-1, 6-0 in Class A Tri-County South

All-time record: 430-432-14


Date, Opponent, Time

8.27 at Uniontown, 7

9.3 Bethlehem-Center, 7

9.10 at Waynesburg, 7

9.17 at West Greene*, 7

9.24 Mapletown*, 7

10.1 Avella*, 7

10.8 at Jefferson-Morgan*, 7

10.15 Carmichaels*, 7

10.22 at Monessen*, 7

10.29 Bentworth*, 7

*Conference game


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