In another groundbreaking season for the Peters Township football program, it seems fitting that a record number of its members earned Almanac post-season honors. Seven players and the Indians’ head coach T.J. Plack headline the 36th edition of the Premiere Pigskin Performers.
Since taking over in 2016, Plack has created a Class 5A powerhouse that captured two straight conference championships as well as advanced to the WPIAL finals for the first time. The Indians dropped a one-point decision, 21-20, to Gateway in the championship contest played Nov. 23 at Norwin High School to finish with a 12-2 record. That’s an impressive turnaround as Plack’s first season at the helm resulted in a 4-6 campaign. Under Plack, the Indians have won five playoff games.
Plack, who has been named The Almanac’s Coach of the Year for his efforts, reached the pinnacle by utilizing the talents of four outstanding seniors as well as a pair of juniors, who are already garnering Division I offers.
Josh Casilli and Ryan Magiske were the Indians’ powerful 1-2 punch, particularly on offense.
A Penn recruit, Casilli hauled in 49 passes for 635 yards and 15 touchdowns. He also ranked second in rushing with 347 yards on 34 carries for a 10.2-yard average. Casilli finished with a school-record 22 touchdowns, seven of which measured 50 yards or more.
A cornerback, he registered four interceptions on defense. A special-teams phenom, Casilli returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown and a punt 80 yards for another score.
When it came to the ground game, Peters Township put the ball in Magiske’s mitts. The senior rolled up 1,319 yards rushing, third-best in program history for a single season. With two touchdown runs of 16 and 10 yards against Gateway, he finished with 19 scores on the year. With one receiving TD, he broke his own record of 19 set in 2018.
Magiske, who averaged 5.8 yards per carry, also excelled on defense. He registered 41 tackles, picked off two passes and recovered a pair of fumbles, including one for a pivotal score in PT’s semifinal win against Penn-Trafford.
“Ryan’s one of the toughest young men I’ve been around. A phenomenal player with good vision,” Plack said. “He has a nose for the goal. He knows how to get the ball into the end zone. He’s a breakaway guy, too. Only caught once last year.”
Corban Hondru, Aidan McCall, Donovan McMillon and Adrian Williams caught all those opponents attempting to score on the Indians, as they joined forces on a defense that limited opponents to 9.4 points per game. While Casilli and Magiske earned All-Conference first-team honors on defense, this foursome earned first-team acclaim on defense.
A three-year starter, Hondru racked up 69 total tackles, including 16 for losses, from his middle linebacker slots. An “instinctive blitzer,” he also rolled up 10 quarterback sacks.
“Corban is as solid as they come,” Plack said. “He makes all our calls. He’s typical of the kids we have: intelligent, a leader, athletic, physical at the point of attack and has a knack for getting to the ball.”
Akron, Ball State, Dartmouth and Penn are interested in Hondru, who also started at the H-back position on offense.
Just a junior too, McMillon is gaining the attention of recruiters as well. Already he has offers from Purdue, Pitt and Miami (Ohio).
The safety forced four fumbles, one of which he returned for a touchdown in the WPIAL semifinals. In addition to two interceptions and two fumble recoveries, McMillon led the Indians with 84 tackles, including seven for losses.
McMillon, who is a standout wrestler for the Indians, also ranked third on the team as a wide receiver.
While both were standouts in the secondary, too, McCall and Williams also excelled on offense.
McCall finished with 27 catches for 456 yards and six touchdowns. He also averaged better than 10 yards a carry. Williams finished third on the team in the rushing department. He averaged 8.3 yards per carry.
PT could not muster all that offense were it not for Plack rebuilding a line decimated by graduation. Ethan Spangenberg emerged as one of the Indians’ leaders. The junior guard earned first-team all-conference honors. He helped, not only pave the way for Magiske to rush for more than 1,000 yards, but provided the protection Logan Pfeuffer needed to pass for more than 2,300 yards.
BP follows PT
For the second season in a row, Bethel Park finished runner-up to Peters Township in the Allegheny Eight Conference, and for another year the Hawks followed the Indians with a handful of all-stars. Sean McGowan, Jehvonn Lewis, A.J. Dudowski, Brandon Cole and Nathan Currie gained all-conference first-team acclaim as well as Almanac recognition.
McGowan powered the Hawks’ potent offense. He led the squad in both rushing and receiving. The senior gained 956 yards on 186 carries for a 5.1-yard average. He hauled in 28 passes for 336 yards for a 12-yard average. McGowan also led the team in scoring with 11 touchdowns.
“Sean is simply one tough son-of-a-gun,” said BP skipper Brian DeLallo. “For his size, he plays as physical as anyone I have ever coached.”
Lewis followed McGowan in all three categories. He rolled up 519 yards on 68 carries for a 7.6-yard average, hauled in 19 passes for 370 yards and a 19.5 average and reached the end zone 10 times.
Lewis also excelled on defense. He earned all-conference honors as a defensive back.
“I believe that Jehvonn was the best corner in our conference,” DeLallo said.
McGowan and Lewis didn’t succeed on their own. The duo had plenty of help up front as A.J. Dudowski, Brandon Cole and Nathan Currie paved a path to success. They also provided the protection that enabled Anthony Chiccitt to pass for more than 1,000 yards.
In the process, the trio gained all-conference, first team laurels on the offensive side. A tackle, Currie earned the distinction for the second straight season. A guard and center respectively, Cole and Dudowski, like Currie, are seniors.
The three drew high praise from DeLallo.
“Brandon was team captain and one of our leaders,” he said. “He’s big, fast and athletic,” DeLallo added.
“Nathan constantly demanded a double-team at the nose, which allowed our linebackers to run and make plays.
“AJ plays with tremendous effort. His motor is always going. He is smart, tough, and mean, which is a great combination.”
Quintet shines for SF
South Fayette posted its eighth straight undefeated season in conference play and reached the semifinals in the WPIAL Quad-A playoffs. The Lions finished 11-2 overall.
Raman Alameda, Quentin Franklin, Nolan Lutz, Charley Rossi and Keon Johnson played significant roles for the Lions. All earned first-team Northwest Eight All Conference laurels as well as Almanac all-star acclaim.
In his first year as a starter, Alemada established himself as one of the premier quarterbacks in the WPIAL. He was one of only two district signal callers to throw for more than 3,000 yards. He completed 194 of 293 aerials for 3,004 yards and 32 touchdowns.
While Alemeda connected with four different receivers for five or more scores, Rossi was his primary target. The junior hauled in 53 receptions for 820 yards and eight TDs. He had four, 100-yard plus games and had game-high 11 and 14 receptions against Upper St. Clair and Montour.
A two-way player, Rossi garnered all-conference acclaim on both sides of the ball (first-team as a wide receiver and second team as a defensive back). As a safety, Rossi recorded 35 tackles, picked off four passes and forced two fumbles.
Lutz anchored an impressive defense. A first-team all-conference selection, Lutz ranked second on the squad with more than 50 tackles. A versatile performer, he also helped out offensively as a wide out that averaged nearly 18 yards a catch and registered three touchdowns.
Franklin and Johnson anchored the defensive line. While Franklin ranked fifth on the team in tackles, Johnson led the Lions in sacks. Just a sophomore, Johnson gained Almanac Rookie of the Year for his efforts.
Two excel for Lebo
Evan Jones and J.B. Nelson make their first appearances on The Almanac All-star list. The seniors also were first-team all-conference performers at running back and defensive end respectively.
A three-year, two-way starter, Nelson developed into one of the best linemen in the WPIAL this season. A two-time all-conference performer, the 6-5, 300-pound senior dominated enough that Mt. Lebanon advanced to the semifinals in the WPIAL Class 6A tournament. He helped the Blue Devils post a 5-3 league record and 7-5 overall mark.
A versatile player, Jones also shone as quarterback and receiver for the Blue Devils. He passed for more than 1,300 yards. He completed 77 of 141 of his attempts for 16 scores. He rushed for more than 500 yards on less than 100 carries for a 5.2-yard average. He also led Lebo with 27 receptions for more than 400 yards and a 15-plus average. Jones, who scored five touchdowns in a playoff game against Seneca Valley, also led the team in scoring with 17 touchdowns.
USC’s record breakers
In the first year of the Mike Junko-era of coaching, long-time marks fell at Upper St. Clair. The Panthers finished 7-5 overall after falling to Penn-Trafford in the quarterfinals of the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs.
Ethan Dahlem and David Pantelis led the assault on the record books. Both are juniors.
Pantelis set the single season receiving record at the school with 77 catches for 1,169 yards this fall. He scored eight touchdowns. The all-conference wide receiver accounted for 1,879 all-purpose yards.
A standout on defense, the cornerback picked off five passes. He notched 35 tackles.
“David comes to practice every day with a great attitude and a desire to improve,” said USC field general Mike Junko. “We are looking forward to having him back in the line up next year.”
Junko is also thrilled that Dahlem returns. The signal caller passed for 2,218 yards and 17 touchdowns. Additionally, he rushed for nearly 1,000 yards (951) and picked up 15 more scores.
“Ethan loves to play the game of football and is a tremendous competitor,” said Junko. “He is a great decision maker and great leader in the locker room. “We are excited to see what the future holds for him.”
USC, meanwhile, will miss Brandon Shearer. The four-year letter winner dominated the middle of the defense and garnered all-conference honors. He registered 91 total tackles and added 14.5 for losses. As an H-back, he picked up 11 receptions for 183 yards and two touchdowns.
“Brandon is throwback middle linebacker. Tough, talented, and instinctual on the football field,” said Junko. “He made plays all over the field for us this year while serving as a captain on our team.”
Banas completes list
Sean Banas completes The Almanac all-star list. The Chartiers Valley senior gained all-conference laurels for the second season in a row. A defensive end, he was a bright spot in an otherwise lackluster season where the Colts finished 2-8 overall.
Of his position change in 2019, CV head coach Dan Knause said, “It was impressive how quickly Sean adjusted. We needed him to do a lot of things and he responded.”
Banas indeed did plenty for the Colts. He led the team in tackles with 66, including eight for losses. He also was a leading receiver with 175 yards and two scores.