WPIAL Football Team of the Week: Week 9
Tuesday, October 29, 2019 | 12:03 AM
From 2012-17, the Shaler football program had five winless seasons and suffered through losing streaks of 34 in a row and 24 straight, going a combined 2-55 during those six years.
Last year, the Titans broke through to finish 4-7 and earned a WPIAL playoff berth for the first time since 2011. Shaler lost to West Allegheny in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs, 37-0, but the program was relevant again.
This fall, Shaler was 3-6 heading into Week 9 and facing a win-and-in, lose-and-out scenario.
Remember these Titans, as they knocked of a Fox Chapel team that had won three straight, 27-20, to earn a second straight trip to the district postseason.
“This is extremely important on so many levels for the program overall,” third-year Shaler coach Jim Ryan said. “This generates an excitement about football, which adds to the confidence of players for years to come.”
The visiting Titans trailed the Foxes 6-0 in a defensive struggle at halftime.
“I pulled the boys in in the front of the locker room at the half and talked to them about how football is a mental game and if you don’t believe in what you are capable of, then you can’t accomplish the goals you wish to achieve,” Ryan said.
His speech ignited the Shaler offense. After both teams exchanged third-quarter touchdowns, the Titans scored 20 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.
“There were two huge plays that added to the importance of the fourth quarter,” Ryan said. “A Shayn Skelley interception and the Sam Bens squib kick recovered by Sam Stayduhar.”
Senior quarterback Darin Mizgorski hit on 13 of 20 passes for 167 yards and a 22-yard touchdown to top target Joey Impavido to put Shaler up for good.
“Darin leads our team in so many ways,” Ryan said. “His commitment never waivers and when his teammates lose focus and confidence, he is always the first to be a leader vocally and with his actions.”
With the lead, the Titans turned to senior running back Jake Miller and his physical running style to pound the ball on the ground and add to the lead. Miller scored fourth-quarter touchdowns on runs of 14 and 22 yards.
“Jake is a difference maker for sure,” Ryan said. “He also has that ability to lead with his actions, which is a big booster for the rest of the boys.”
Heading into Week 9, the 5A Northern Conference was a mess. Four teams had clinched with one or two spots up for grabs. Only one game separated five teams in the fight for third place behind Penn Hills and North Hills.
“We were very aware of the playoff scenarios,” Ryan said. “Our main concern was the outcome we could control, which was beating Fox Chapel.”
With the win, Shaler clinched and even with a loss, Fox Chapel also qualified as the sixth-place wild-card team.
In a conference that was so tight with plenty of close results, how does Ryan think he and his fellow Northern teams will fare in the postseason that kicks off this Friday?
“I really believe it is anyone’s opportunity to make some waves in the playoff picture,” he said. “We have the most competitive conference top to bottom given how the win-loss columns have worked out. It’s what high school football is all about.”
2019 Trib HSSN football teams of the week:
Week 8 — Cornell
Week 7 — Pine-Richland
Week 6 — Baldwin
Week 5 — McGuffey
Week 4 — Canon-McMillan
Week 3 — Freedom
Week 2 — Central Valley
Week 1 — Moon
Week Zero — New Castle
Don Rebel hosts the Rebel Yell podcasts for HSSN.