In time the sting of defeat might abate but on a rainy, cold Nov. 23 evening in North Huntington, this one-point loss to Gateway, 21-20, hurt because the Peters Township Indians dearly wanted to be the first WPIAL football champions in school history.
“No words that anybody writes down to say at this moment will matter,” said T.J. Plack as he clutched the Class 5A runner-up trophy and addressed his players after the disappointing outcome in the championship contest played at Norwin High School.
“I love you guys,” he added, “and I am so proud of you. The entire coaching staff is extremely proud. The athletic director. Your community. Your friends and everybody.”
Indeed, the Indians had a season to remember except for the bitter ending. In rolling up a 12-2 record, they captured a second straight conference championship and they reached the WPIAL finals for the first time in program history.
It’s been quite the turnaround and it started with Plack’s arrival in 2016. Until then, Peters Township had only won one playoff game in 21 years. After some growing pains in his first season at the helm–a 4-6 campaign—Plack has guided the Indians to a 29-9 record, including five playoff triumphs.
Plack, who began his head coaching career at his alma mater, South Fayette, and served assistant stints at Bethel Park and Ringgold, reached the pinnacle by molding youthful, enthusiastic and certainly talented players into winners.
The 2019 roster featured nine seniors that emerged as leaders, statistically as well as emotionally. Those big guns included: Josh Casilli, Ryan Magiske, Aidan McCall, Adrian Williams, Zach Magnotti, Scott Reed, Ryan Clark, Ryan Moore and Keller Sloan.
A Penn recruit, Casilli led the Indians with 635 receiving yards on 49 receptions as well as scoring with 22 touchdowns. He also ranked second in rushing with 335 yards on 31 carries for a 10.8-yard average.
Magiske spearheaded the ground game, rolling up 1,319 yards rushing. With two touchdown runs of 16 and 10 yards against Gateway, he finished with 19 scores on the year.
McCall and Williams ranked behind Casilli and Magiske. McCall, who had a 32-yard reception against the Gators, finished with 25 catches for 396 yards and six touchdowns. He also averaged better than 10 yards a carry. Williams, who had five rushes and two receptions against Gateway, finished third on the team in the rushing department with 228 yards on 28 carries.
Magnotti was the anchor of a newly constructed line as the Indians had graduated all of their veterans from last year’s 10-3 club.
Yet, the future is bright for the Indians as they do return key components from this year’s successful club.
Logan Pfeuffer will return for this third year as starter at quarterback. This fall, the 6-1, 170-pound signal caller completed 145 aerials for 2,352 yards and 24 scores. Against the Gators, he completed nine of 19 attempts for 231 yards.
Andrew Massucci, who kicked two field goals of 24 and 33 yards as well as both extra points against Gateway, was just a sophomore. He kicked six field goals and had 44 extra points to finish as the team’s third-leading scorer with 62 points.
Along with key linemen such as David Dicio, Ethan Spangenberg, Dylan Wente and Austin McKinnon, all juniors, the Indians return their leading tacklers Donovan McMillon and Corban Hondru. Both are also two-way starters. A junior, Hondru played tight end on offense and also punted. McMillon ranked as the team’s No. 3 receiver.
As the Indians move forward, they will remember the 2019 campaign and use the loss to Gateway as motivation long into the future.
“The good experiences. The bad experiences. Almost being there,” said Plack. “Whatever it is, use this to fuel you. In the off season. On your way to college. In your family life. With your wife and kids. I don’t care what it is, just use this. Use this as a stepping stone for anything you do in life.”
And, as sad and dejected as the Indians were after the Gateway game, Plack also reminded his players how special they are.
“You are the best. Please remember that. Not a lot of teams get this,” he added cradling the runner-up trophy in his arms. “You guys did a great job.”