McKeesport football team left it all on the field this season
There were a number of question marks surrounding the McKeesport football team in the preseason.
•Could the Tigers come close to matching last year’s success?
•Who would be playing where?
•Would the new players be able to adapt to a complicated offensive scheme — the multifaceted flexbone?
Those were just some of the concerns.
Even before the Tigers had fallen to top-seeded Pine-Richland on Friday in the WPIAL Class AAAA semifinals, McKeesport coach George Smith had known the answers, though he came away from the decisive 42-7 loss to the Rams as disappointed as ever.
“Our kids played their hearts out,” he said. “They were overachievers this year, and I’m very proud of them.”
After all, maybe McKeesport wasn’t really supposed to be in the final four teams to fight for a spot in the WPIAL championship game this week at Heinz Field.
Apparently, the Tigers had reached their ceiling with 10 victories, achieved in the previous week in a 20-5 decision over Plum in the quarterfinals.
McKeesport’s lone losses were to Pine-Richland (12-0), which meets Central Catholic on Friday at Heinz Field for the Class AAAA title, and second-seeded Penn-Trafford (11-1), which lost its first game of the year in the semifinals to Central Catholic.
“In reality, only one team can be a champion,” McKeesport athletic director Charley Kiss said.
Maybe, just maybe, Smith’s latest team gave him everything it had in finishing with just the third loss in his two seasons back after a three-year absence as coach.
“I plan on being back next year,” Smith said quietly after the dust at North Allegheny High School had settled last Friday night.
Smith’s players — even those outgoing — were sullen and businesslike, as they changed from their uniforms for the final time in 2014.
“A lot of schools would love to be in a position to play in the final four teams,” Kiss said. “I believe this is the toughest football league (WPIAL) in Western Pennsylvania. That, in itself, is an accomplishment for this program.”
There has been gradual improvement in Smith’s teams since his return. The Tigers were 2-1 in the playoffs in 2014 and 1-1 in 2013. Before that, McKeesport lost four consecutive first-round games extending from the final season of Smith’s first stretch as coach through three seasons under former coach Jim Ward.
There is a sizable list of returning players — a core of experience for next year — bolstered by a 25-man junior class.
Among the returnees are running back/defensive back Khaleke Hudson, the team’s leading rusher; running backs Mark Cromerdie, Kyreek Sayles and Jahsai Allen; linemen Lyle Petrosky, Curtis Harper and Davon Brown; and steady kicker Caleb Schork.
Smith’s biggest challenge in the early going might be to find a capable quarterback to run the flexbone. When senior TyWann Smith was injured against Plum, junior Tymar Sutton took over under center. Sutton’s main positions, however, are fullback and linebacker.
Sophomore Jayvaun Shears was third on the Tigers’ depth chart at quarterback this season and is among 16 players expected back for their junior year.
Meanwhile, David Queen, in 2013, and Smith, in 2014, were adequate at running the offense, which could be another way of saying the Tigers “overachieved.”
With a familiar and veteran coaching staff to lead the way, that’s just about where McKeesport has been these past two years.
Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at [email protected].