Derry seniors pass the torch to underclassmen
A loss, not even a defeat in the WPIAL Class 3A Championship game to Aliquippa, does not diminish the season for Derry football.
Derry’s senior class just finished an impressive run, going 31-5, winning three conference titles and reaching the WPIAL playoffs three consecutive seasons. They made the semifinals in 2016 and lost in the final Saturday at Heinz Field.
After the loss to Aliquippa, Derry coach Tim Sweeney told his players to hold their head up high. He was proud how far they’ve come as a program since he took over in 2014.
“Sure there were some tears,” Sweeney said. “But they should be proud of what they achieved.”
Derry senior running back Justin Flack said winning a WPIAL championship wasn’t the main goal.
“We were shooting for Hershey,” said Flack, who scored three touchdowns against the Quips and finished with 38 this season. “We came up short., but it was a joy playing with these guys. We’re family.”
Sweeney has engineered a dramatic turnaround at Derry. The year before Sweeney took over, Derry went 0-10 and allowed more than 50 points in every game.
This year’s groupd came a long way late July.
Injuries in the summer to Colton Nemcheck and Justin Huss, the team’s top retuning scorers, and the team’s lack of focus concerned Sweeney.
“I didn’t like where we were in the summer,” Sweeney said. “We had kids missing practice and not do the things we wanted. We didn’t have that commitment.
“We’re winning football games Monday through Friday. I told one of my assistants that if we don’t get things going, Latrobe will beat us by 30 points (in the season opener).”
So Sweeney put it on his seniors and captains to step up, and they did.
“This wasn’t just about the seniors, it was about everyone in the locker room,” senior linebacker Dom DeLuca said. “It was a total team effort.
“Most of us have been playing since we were in midgets. It’s crazy. I’m sure we’ll get together after this.”
Senior running back Onreey Stewart, who eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the season in the WPIAL title game, said it’s been a crazy season and feeling.
“The team, the fans, everyone was behind us,” Stewart said. “All the seniors mean so much. Everyone in the locker room fighting to make everyone better, making me better. These guys mean so much to me.”
Derry showed its mettle against North Catholic in the WPIAL semifinals. The Trojans trailed 29-8 and rallied for a 36-29 victory.
DeLuca said he told the underclassmen in the locker room after the title game that it was their job to keep it going.
“We played for each other and love each other,” DeLuca said. “We told the younger guys in the locker room after the game to make this torch burn brighter. Listen to what these coaches say. They know what they’re talking about. Work hard and you can achieve big things.”
And if the players do what is expected, Derry could be a contender again.
Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Schofield_Trib.