Winning season ramps up excitement at South Allegheny

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Monday, August 16, 2021 | 6:01 AM


Interest in football returned to a high level last season at South Allegheny, and with it the Gladiators are intent on keeping the good times rolling.

Even if the team’s best player has moved on.

Former two-way star Antonio Epps, who powered SA to just its 11th winning record (5-2) in the school’s more than 50 years on the gridiron, is in his freshman year as a defensive back at Duquesne, which opens its season Sept. 4 at TCU.

While Epps’ presence in the SA lineup offered a sense of joy for the program’s long-suffering fans, second-year coach Frank Cortazzo III said his absence now doesn’t mean the team will regress.

“We’ve seen the past struggles and we’re hoping to be moving past all that,” Cortazzo said. “We’ll have to do it without Antonio, who was our clear-cut leader. We rode him as far as he would take us.”

A total of 14 South Allegheny seniors return this season, with 17 starters back — eight on offense and nine on defense.

“I’m so excited about these seniors,” Cortazzo said. “They’ve really stepped up. It’s hard to pinpoint one or two guys. They’re all doing their part. We are having some really good workouts with 30-some kids. I think they’ve really bought in after the success we had last year.”

Before ending the year with a pair of victories, South Allegheny nearly upset Elizabeth Forward, losing in double overtime. The Warriors went on to lose in the WPIAL Class 3A championship game to eventual PIAA champion Central Valley.

“We had them on the ropes,” he said, referring to the EF game. “Hey, that could have been us against Central Valley. Who knows?”

Cortazzo expects another good season behind such players as wide receiver/defensive backs Dillion Hynes and Ethan Kirkwood, two-way lineman Will Hynes, tight end/defensive end Dashawn Carter and quarterback/defensive back Eric Wehrer, among others.

“These kids are doing what it takes to give yourself a chance to be successful,” Cortazzo said. “If I said, ‘Run through a wall,’ they would run through a wall. We’re just trying to turn this thing around.”

Beyond expecting another good year, SA fans will be keeping an eye on the construction progress of a new stadium on the school’s Liberty campus, which will serve as the Gladiators’ home beginning in 2022.

Ground was broken June 1 for the $7.4 million project.

South Allegheny currently plays its home games at nearby Glassport Memorial Stadium.

“I live in the community and I grew up here,” Cortazzo said. “A lot of people, when I see them, and guys I remember playing in the past, the first question they ask is, ‘How’s the team?’ I tell them for starters, ‘We’re building a stadium.’”

Cortazzo’s father, Frank Jr., is a former SA coach himself, and Cortazzo III, 43, has been around for the good times and mostly the bad.

“I was the team’s waterboy in 1986, the last time we won a conference championship,” Cortazzo III said. “We kind of want to get back to that. Last year was a start.”

South Allegheny

Coach: Frank Cortazzo III

2020 record: 4-3, 3-3 in Class 3A Interstate Conference

All-time record: 183-344-6

SCHEDULE

Date, Opponent, Time

8.27 at Serra Catholic, 7

9.10 Ringgold, 7

9-17 at Southmoreland, 7

9.24 Yough, 7

10.1 at Brownsville*, 7

10.8 Elizabeth Forward*, 7

10.15 at South Park*, 7

10.22 Deer Lakes*, 7

10.29 Mt. Pleasant*, 7

*Conference game

STATISTICAL LEADERS

Passing: Eric Wehrer

15-30, 212 yards, 1 TD

Receiving: *Antonio Epps

7-215, 3 TDs

Rushing: *Antonio Epps

126-1,215, 16 TDs

*Graduated

FAST FACTS

• South Allegheny hasn’t won a WPIAL conference championship in football since 1986.

• The Gladiators claimed their only WPIAL title by winning the 1977 Class 2A championship. That team was led by current Duquesne University assistants Dave Opfar, who played tight end and defensive end, and Darnel Richardson, a former running back/defensive back.

• South Allegheny in 2020 posted a 2-1 record in home games and was 3-1 on the road, including a forfeit victory over Southmoreland.

• Coach Frank Cortazzo III lists three of South Allegheny’s current players as potential Division I prospects: Senior twins WR/LB Dillion Hynes and OL/DL William Hynes and junior TE/DE Dashawn Carter.

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