Trib HSSN Football Team of the Week for Week 3

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Monday, September 28, 2020 | 11:08 PM


Twelve years ago, these Eagles were an endangered species.

It was so bad near the end of the 2008 football season, one of the cheerleaders had to suit up to guarantee the team would have enough players.

Avella has seen better times since then, but it is a Class A program that has traditionally struggled. The Eagles had a total of three wins the last two seasons combined and no more than two wins in a season since 2014.

However, for the first time in seven years, these Eagles are flying high as Avella heads into Week 4 with a 3-0 record, tied for first place in the Tri-County South Conference.

“I don’t think anyone saw this coming,” Avella coach Ryan Cecchini said. “We thought we would be a much-improved team that would be able to compete with eight returning starters on offense and 10 returning on defense.

“I think what really brought this team together was the bond they formed during summer workouts in July and August. This is one of the closest-knit teams I’ve ever coached. They play for each other. That’s what makes this group special.”

Avella opened the season with wins over Monessen and Jefferson-Morgan before visiting two-time defending conference champion West Greene on a Thursday in Week 3.

The Eagles fell behind early and trailed 14-6 in the third quarter when they rallied for a pair of scores, then stopped a 2-point conversion after a Pioneers fourth-quarter score and held on for a huge 21-20 victory.

Junior quarterback K.J. Rush threw for 165 yards and two touchdown passes, plus he ran for a score and connected on a big 2-point conversion pass play that turned out to be the difference in the game.

“K.J. has been really solid for us so far,” Cecchini said. “He can make all the throws and at 220 pounds, he runs like a fullback. He also spreads the ball around well to our wide receivers. Brandon Samol, Tanner Terensky, Gabe Lis and Matt Kidwell all have five or more receptions so far this season.”

A couple of players who were late comers to the party a year ago are playing huge roles for Avella.

Seniors Tyler Cerciello and Lis were basketball players who didn’t come out for the team until midseason last year. Cerciello leads the team in tackles from his linebacker spot while Lis is tied for the team lead in receiving touchdowns.

Defense has been a big part of Avella’s early success. The Eagles have limited opposing teams to 35 total points through three games, a far cry from the 37.5 points per game they allowed in 2019.

“Robbie West, Blaze Allen, Dylan Gzikowski and Brian Humensky have also led the way with their strong play up front,” Cecchini said. “Tanner Terensky is an explosive playmaker who has also caught two touchdowns and returned an interception for a TD as well.

“If our defense is playing well, we feel that we can compete with anyone.”

Now in his 10th season as Eagles head coach, Cecchini loves the support his team is getting.

“The support from the district and the community has been amazing,” he said. “The reactions on social media have been great and the amount of texts of support and congratulations I have gotten has been awesome. People are clamoring to see the games, but with the limited amount of tickets because of the pandemic, I wish they could all be there with us and enjoy it in person.”

Having cleared one large obstacle in West Greene, another Tri-County South power comes to Avella on Friday as the Eagles square off with 2-0 California.

“Cal has a great team that is well-coached,” Cecchini said. “Every year, they are either one or two in the conference. They always have a very good line and excellent skill position players who are very explosive. This will be another big test for us.”

2020 HSSN Team of the Week

Week Two – Peters Township

Week One – Chartiers Valley

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