By Pete Chiodo
November 9, 2012 7:00 a.m. MEADVILLE —
The Cochranton football team will be looking to relive a little bit of history when it takes on Sharpsville in the quarterfinal round of the District 10 Class A playoffs today at 7 p.m. at Slippery Rock University’s N. Kerr Thompson Stadium.
Tonight’s game will be the Cardinals’ first playoff appearance since 2003. And in that prior appearance, the Redbirds notched their first-ever playoff victory.
Over which opponent? Sharpsville. Cochranton bumped off the Blue Devils 38-17 in that year’s D-10 semifinal round. The Cards would later fall to West Middlesex in the championship game, 7-6 in double overtime.
Here we are nine years later.
Cochranton got a new start with first-year head coach Nate Liberty. And the Cardinals managed to finish the regular season with a 6-3 record, good enough for third place in Region 2 and a playoff berth.
“Pretty exciting,” said Liberty. “They deserve it. It’s been a long time. They worked really hard for it and I’m excited for them.”
Sharpsville, on the other hand, is no stranger to the postseason. It’s the Blue Devils’ fifth straight playoff appearance and ninth out of the last 10 years. They’ll be going for the program’s eighth district title, the last of which was picked up just one year ago when the Devils beat West Middlesex 21-13 in the 2011 championship tilt.
The Blue Devils come into tonight’s game with a record of 8-1, finishing in second place in Region 1 behind Middlesex.
Devils head coach Paul Piccirilli said he’s pleased with how far his team has come this year after graduating eight seniors from last year’s squad.
“Yeah, very much,” he said, “especially after we lost two of our better players in the first game of year.”
Those two players were running back Joey Flynn and linebacker/tight end Greg Popatak, who were both injured in a season-opening 35-0 win over Moniteau.
“We had to regroup and ended up doing pretty well for the year,” Piccirilli said.
The Devils certainly made do in the backfield without Flynn. Although their wing-T system hasn’t produced a standout rusher. Instead the Devils boast a trio of guys that can get the job done, like fullback Ross Llewellyn (654 yards, seven TDs rushing) and halfbacks Derrick Odem (596 yards, five TDs) and Joey Pagliaroli (406 yards, nine TDs), each of whom are seniors.
“We don’t have a big breakaway runner,” said Piccirilli. “We’re usually three yards a crack. We try to grind out a 15-play drive and score.”
The Devils’ rushing game is also set up by a consistent passing attack. Senior Bryan Stafford has completed 53 of 90 pass attempts for 785 yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions.
“Well you have definitely got to do your job, stay disciplined,” Liberty said about the mindset that his defense has to have tonight. “You can’t over-pursue, can’t give any cutback lanes. And with Sharpsville playing as physically as they do, you’ve got to be ready to hit. You’ve definitely got to have no fear.”
Cochranton’s offense also has to find a way to score some points. Sharpsville is allowing just 12.0 points per game, putting them third in the district in team defense this year behind only Cathedral Prep (9.6 ppg.) and Hickory (11.8 ppg.).
Cochranton’s ‘D’ isn’t too shabby either, allowing 18.1 points per game. And the Cards certainly have some offensive tools to work with.
Junior quarterback Chad Eisenhooth, for example, has had a stellar campaign in 2012, emerging as one of the top passers in District 10.
This year, he’s completed 79 or 145 passes for 1,290 yards and 16 touchdowns and has only been picked off four times.
“Chad is a very, very tough kid,” said Liberty. “As a coach you always hear, ‘Quarterbacks are fragile. You’ve got to watch what you do with them.’ Chad’s the total opposite. He performs. He wants the challenge. He asks for the challenge.”
Some of Eisenhooth’s top targets are senior receiver A.J. Nageotte (20 catches, 320 yards, two TDs), junior Jesse Staudt (17 catches, 310 yards, five TDs) and senior tight end Garrett Adams (17 catches, 230 yards, five TDs).
The Cardinals also have a top-notch running back in Austin Andrews, who has 880 yards and 15 touchdowns on 116 carries.
Andrews is one of a small but dedicated group of seniors that, according to Liberty, are responsible for getting the team to this point in the season.
“One thing that we’ve been lucky with is our senior leadership this year has been outstanding,” he said. “We have five outstanding seniors. And they have heard enough, they have taken enough on their shoulders, and they wanted to turn it around their senior year. And they did. I’m very proud of these seniors that stuck with the program and never quit. They had Cochranton pride all the way through.”