With big-play weapons back, Shaler enters season with confidence

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Thursday, August 10, 2023 | 11:15 PM


Keegan Smetanka feels comfortable that he can make the right read when he scans defenses.

The senior quarterback demonstrated the Shaler offense is capable of producing plenty of big plays last year.

Smetanka completed 54.7% of his passes, throwing for 2,151 yards with 21 touchdowns and six interceptions. While the Titans missed out on the playoffs by finishing 5-5 overall and 2-3 in the Northeast Conference, Shaler laid a solid foundation for what it hopes can be a successful 2023.

While the Titans lost 1,000-yard rusher Luke Cignetti to graduation, Shaler brings most of its top skill players back on offense. Smetanka hopes to capitalize on those weapons to win games.

“I want to be in the 60-65 percent range for completion,” Smetanka said. “The receivers help a lot with that. Before the games, we are able to look at the defense and see what they give us. Then we try to pick out areas we can pick on and tear defenses apart.”

Shaler has its top three receivers — Joe DeSabato, Kaden Orga and Brandon London — returning. All three are seniors. DeSabato led the team with 821 receiving yards, while Kaden Organ finished with 604 and London had 442.

Peyton Planz is another target from last year who will return.

“There are in-game adjustments and in-scheme adjustments throughout the week that they adapt to well,” Shaler coach Jim Ryan said. “They are capable of handling high-level stuff.”

With the skill players on offense up to speed, the Titans will have to work on getting right in the trenches. Shaler only returns two starters from last season on the offensive line.

Ben Yeckel and Jace Eswein will help anchor the unit, which will see plenty of players in competition for the other spots.

Shaler will need to find competitive players on both sides of the ball along the line to stay competitive in the playoff race in what should be a difficult conference race.

“That’s the one area we need to work on,” Ryan said. “We want to put together a solid line and get those guys to work. We want to add as many extra people as we can to the guys who are currently there. We don’t want the guys sitting in those spots to get too comfortable. We want to raise the level of competition as much as we can.”

Linebackers Carson Pierce, Joe Rispoli and Ryan Barnhart will all return for Shaler. Nathan Rozzo will also return at outside linebacker and will play in the backfield.

Smetanka said that while Shaler didn’t make the playoffs last season, the Titans did score an important win. Shaler upset Woodland Hills, which later went on to make the playoffs.

“Last season, I think we made a huge step forward,” Smektanka said. “We’re definitely not finished. Beating Woodland Hills allowed us to gain confidence we can compete with any of the powerhouse teams. It gave us a huge amount of confidence.”

Believing in themselves will be important for the Titans, who will face an uphill battle to make the playoffs in a competitive conference.

“We’re capable of doing things that people think we aren’t capable of doing,” Ryan said. “There are a lot of great teams we are looking forward to competing with this year.”

Shaler

Coach: Jim Ryan

2022 record: 5-5, 2-3 in Class 5A Northeast Conference

All-time record: 368-444-30

SCHEDULE

Date, Opponent, Time

8.25 Butler, 7:30

9.1 at Hampton, 7

9.8 Plum, 7

9.15 at Hempfield, 7

9.22 at Franklin Regional, 7

9.30 Woodland Hills, 1:30

10.6 North Hills*, 7

10.13 at Pine-Richland*, 7

10.20 Penn Hills*, 7

10.27 at Fox Chapel*, 7

*Conference game

STATISTICAL LEADERS

Passing: Keegan Smetanka

145-265, 2,151 yards, 21 TDs

Rushing: Luke Cignetti*

148-1,110 yards

Receiving: Joe DeSabato

52-821 yards

*Graduated

FAST FACTS

• The Titans’ 5-5 finish last season matched their best record since 2011.

• Shaler last made the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs in 2019.

• Shaler will play former section rival Butler, which now plays in District 10, in the season opener.

• The Titans will host Woodland Hills in their annual Saturday homecoming game Sept. 30.

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