With deep roster, California sets sights on playoff run

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Wednesday, August 17, 2022 | 12:01 AM


The California football team intends to use strength in numbers to climb the ranks in the Tri-County South Conference.

Class A teams are usually lucky to have 30 players on the roster. Cal will enter this season with a roster size of 46.

“We love our numbers,” veteran coach Ed Woods said. “We take a lot of positives out of having that many kids on our team this season. As a program, we must be doing something right. The numbers have definitely provided a lot of excitement and competition in camp.

“The only negative about having so many kids is we don’t have enough eyeballs from our coaches on every single kid. We have had to record our practices and watch more of our practice film than ever before. I do truly believe that this is one of the fastest and strongest teams I have had here at Cal.”

Woods, who enters his fourth season with the team, is 20-8 overall and 17-3 in the conference with California. Woods will be assisted this season by Royce Sofran, Zach Keefer, Jason House, Will Pierce and Scott Faieta.

Last year, Cal went 7-3 overall and finished third in the Tri-County South at 5-2. The Trojans saw their season end with a first-round exit against Leechburg. They lost six seniors from that team.

“Our expectations are always the same,” Woods said. “We want to win our conference and make it to the playoffs. But we just don’t want to make it to the playoffs, we want to win playoff games.

“I think the whole Tri-County South is sick of losing in the playoffs. I really don’t know why this conference has struggled lately. I really don’t think the gap is that big. I think there is better competition week in and week out in those other conferences. I just know for us, we have to do better and expect more.”

The conference is similar for the Trojans this season, as they will again be joined by Bentworth, Carmichaels, Jefferson-Morgan, Mapletown, Monessen and West Greene. Avella is out of the conference, and Beth-Center takes its spot dropping down from Double-A.

“The conference will be interesting,” said Woods, who coached at Beth-Center for a couple of decades. “I always see California near the top and that’s just our expectations. These kids have been truly dedicated to the program in the offseason. I think there will be five teams battling for the top four spots. But every team has to avoid injuries and start playing their best ball near the end of the regular season.”

Junior Jake Layhue will see snaps at quarterback and will be backed up by sophomore Nico Georgagis.

“Jake is 6-foot-4, but he plays with a lot of quickness and burst,” Woods said. “He didn’t start at quarterback last year but was one of our starting cornerbacks. He knows what varsity football is like. I think he is ready to be our leader and be productive under center. He runs well, and he is a mentally tough kid. He wrestles too, and I think he has developed that hard-nose, tough edge from wrestling.”

The backfield has a lot of depth as well, headlined by junior tailbacks Zach Geletei and Spencer Petrucci and senior fullback Addison Panepinto (5-9, 254).

“We like those top three, but we also have a lot of kids battling behind them for more playing time,” Woods said. “It’s a healthy competition and I think we are going to have more balance with our running game this season. We are not going to rely on one guy. It’s going to be a running back by committee.”

Senior wideout Caden Powell returns as the big-play threat, as he is coming off a junior campaign in which he hauled in 11 balls for 345 yards and a team-high five touchdown receptions. Other skilled guys on offense are senior tight end Aidan Lowden and sophomore Vinny Manzella.

On the line, Cal brings back some experience with the likes of senior Tanner Pierce (6-3, 278), senior Cole Wolpink (6-3, 230), senior Brody Todd (5-11, 221), senior Cameron Mickulicz (5-9, 202) and junior center Dylan Henry (6-0, 272).

“We have a lot of size and experience in the trenches,” Woods said. “These guys have either started or played significant minutes for us last year. They have a lot of chemistry and cohesiveness. Coach House has been a great fit for our line and our overall line is constantly getting better day in and day out.”

Pierce and Wolpink will look to be stalwarts on the defensive line this season, and behind them will be a strong linebacker unit that includes Lowden, Panepinto, Petrucci and junior Fred Sherman.

“Lowden has a great motor and is a complete linebacker,” Woods said. “He has great instincts and just runs to the ball every play. He has really absorbed everything coach Keefer has taught and is an intelligent player.”

The secondary will be led by Layhue and Geletei.

The kicking game will be a valuable asset for the Trojans this year as they will have multiple kids handling the duty. Woods have always stress the importance of special teams, and likes what he has seen so far from those units.

Cal will match up against Frazier in a Week 0 contest August 26 and then later on will open up conference play at home versus Jefferson-Morgan Sept. 16.

California

Coach: Ed Woods

2021 record: 7-3, 5-2 in Class A Tri-County South

All-time record: 437-435-14

SCHEDULE

Date, Opponent, Time

8.26 at Frazier, 7

9.2 at Charleroi, 7

9.9 Waynesburg, 7

9.16 Jefferson-Morgan*, 7

9.22 at Monessen*, 7

9.30 Mapletown*, 7

10.7 at West Greene*, 7

10.14 Carmichaels*, 7

10.21 at Beth-Center*, 7

10.28 Bentworth*, 7

*Conference game

STATISTICAL LEADERS

Passing: Hunter Assad*

59-119, 1,139 yards, 13 TDs

Rushing: Damani Stafford*

148-1,042, 14 TDs

Receiving: Ethan Fike*

19-374, 3 TDs

*Graduated

FAST FACTS

• Cal has qualified for the playoffs the last six seasons, but its last playoff win came in 2017.

• The Trojans have made the postseason in 14 of the last 19 seasons.

• Linebacker Aidan Lowden led the team last year in total tackles (106) and sacks (5).

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