Building a New Tradition

By: Kate Hondru, Staff Writer

Article printed in Smoke Signals (PTHS Student Magazine) – Volume 9, Issue 2 – December 2017

If you were fortunate enough to experience the thrill of Friday Night Lights with the Rowdy Red cheering on the Peters Township High School football team this fall, then you were a part of the Indians’ exciting and historic 2017 season. The team had their best season since 2003, posting a record of 7-3 in the regular season. However, this did not come easy. They have endured many seasons with just two, three or four wins and their last playoff appearance was in 2013. Peters Township plays in the 6A football conference, which includes major powerhouse teams like Pine Richland, Bethel Park, Mt. Lebanon, and Central Catholic.

This season the Indians were led by captains Conor Pederson, Angelo Quarture, Jake Cortes, and Andre Williams, along with 12 other seniors. This is the second year for the current coaching staff, led by Coach TJ Plack. According to Coach Plack, the senior leadership was an important part of why this year was so successful.

“One of the keys to building a successful football program is having older players model how to practice, how to train in the weight room and how to react when a little bit of adversity hits. When team leaders exhibit good characteristics, the younger players will follow their example,” said Plack.

The Indians’ starting roster included seniors, juniors, sophomores and even freshmen. Having both older and younger players being so impactful on both offense and defense is not the norm, especially in 6A where starting rosters are usually mostly seniors and juniors, and occasionally sophomores. PT’s future football teams will benefit from the amount of varsity playing experience that this team’s underclassmen gained by playing on Friday nights. The mix of older and younger players created a positive team chemistry that the players often referred to as a brotherhood.

“There’s a good mix of seniors who understand what we want to build the program on. We are also blessed with a lot of young ball players, sophomores, freshmen, and our junior linemen have really provided a lot of good support for us,” said Plack.  “During the course of this season, the older and younger players came together as brothers, and it was truly a family atmosphere. That close bond helped this group to win important section games and fight back to win those close, three-point games. That’s something we can build on in years to come,” said Coach Plack.

Building a new tradition is not easy. It requires changes in all parts of the game, including mental toughness. To help them stay focused, the team had two phrases: “Next man up” and “1-0”. Since injuries are a part of football, players needed to be ready for when they hit, which they inevitably did. “Next man up” helped to ensure that the players were mentally prepared to go in at any point. “1-0” helped them focus on the task at hand and give 100 percent each week to get the win. Getting a key win against a tough team early in the season led to another significant aspect of building the Indians’ new tradition: Belief.

“Seneca Valley was our first section game and that victory against a team that we lost to last year enabled our guys to see themselves as a good football team, one that could beat teams from successful programs. For me, this was the most memorable win of the season because it gave our guys the belief that we could compete and be a top tier program,” Coach Plack said.

Belief and confidence were important changes for the 2017 team.

Senior defensive end and tight end, as well as PT Football’s All-Time Sack Leader, Angelo Quarture said, “Our success came from us being confident. We had good players, we just needed to realize we could compete and beat any team.”

Fast forward to the end of week nine, the team’s hard work paid off with their first winning season record since 2003 and earning a spot in the 6A playoffs. The task ahead of them would not be easy. They were set to play Central Catholic, who was heavily favored to win, but not by the Indians. Central has a long record of success with numerous WPIAL and state championship titles.

“Going into the Central game, we weren’t satisfied with what we had already achieved; we were striving for more. After going 4-6 last season to this season being 7-3, we felt we were capable of more,” senior left tackle and defensive tackle Kyle Schinosi said.

The playoff game was at home for Central Catholic at Cupples Stadium in the South Side of Pittsburgh. From opening kickoff to the final onside kick, the game was truly a battle. During the first half, the Indians made their presence known. When the teams went into the locker room at halftime, only one point separated the Indians and the Vikings, as the Indians trailed 6-7.

In the third quarter, the Vikings pulled ahead by one touchdown but neither team was anywhere near done scoring. In an eventful fourth quarter, both teams scored two touchdowns. Peters scored last but still trailed by seven points with less than a minute in regulation. The onside kick was put into motion, but Central recovered it. Although the Indians didn’t come out on top, they refused to give up and earned a lot of respect. The final score was Peters Township 20 – Pittsburgh Central Catholic 27.

“They competed until the last play,” said Coach Plack. “The guys played their hearts out and the Central Catholic coaches said that we outplayed them. We just fell a little short on the scoreboard. As disappointing as it was to come so close and not win, we have a lot to be proud of. The team accomplished a lot this season and we plan to build on this for next year and years to come.”

In addition to new team milestones, there were personal records and milestones for senior quarterback Jake Cortes. As the PT varsity starting quarterback since his sophomore year, Cortes has racked up over 5,000 passing yards during his varsity career. Coach Plack estimated that only about 30 quarterbacks in WPIAL history have surpassed 5,000 career-passing yards. Cortes is the first quarterback in Peters Township football history to throw for over 5,000 career passing yards, and he also holds multiple PT season passing yardage records.

Although the loss of Cortes and all 16 seniors next year will be a big hit for the Indians, the team has a number of players ready to step up and fill their positions. This season, the Indians were able to compete with teams they have struggled with in the past. These teams include Seneca Valley, Norwin, Mt. Lebanon, and Central Catholic. This is the Indian’s first winning season since 2003 when they went 8-3. Throughout the historic 2017 season, the team proved that together they could overcome major obstacles that came their way.