Football team finishes season with best record in 12 years


JM Weber Photography

Titans RB Luke Cignetti carries the ball against Pine Richland.

The Titan football team had its best season in recent history with a 5-5 record, being .500 for the first time in 12 years. This success was no surprise to head coach Mr. Jim Ryan.

“We had high expectations. We went into the season knowing we had a lot of talent and great leadership,” he said. “We believed we were going to turn some heads.”

And turn some heads they did. The Titans had excellent individual play and some great team successes.

Senior RB Luke Cignetti started the season on a tear. He was leading the WPIAL in rushing yards and had 11 touchdowns through the first three weeks of the season, including a monster game at Plum where he scored 5 touchdowns and rushed for 283 yards.

The Titans started the season off with an away loss to Butler, but they were ready for a week 2 rivalry game, with Hampton coming to Shaler to play. Hampton controlled the game through three quarters, and then something clicked for the Titans. They stormed back in the fourth quarter, recovered an onside kick, and won 28-24. This was a huge momentum swing, which they would carry into the next week.

“The win showed the resilience we had on that team. To come back from 24-7 and win was huge,” junior QB Keegan Smetanka said.

The Titans visited Plum in week 3, and were underdogs in the game. They certainly didn’t play like it. On the back of Cignetti and a turnover-hungry defense, the Titans blew Plum out 47-14.

I’m going to have to go with Woodland Hills because of what it meant to the program. We had never beaten them, and we did it in one of the most storied venues in WPIAL history.

— Coach Jim Ryan

After a loss to undefeated Hempfield, the Titans took on Franklin Regional in the homecoming game.

The game went back and forth, and both offenses looked unstoppable. Junior wide receiver Joey DeSabato looked unguardable, and when the defense its attention to him, junior WR Kaden Orga and junior TE Brandon London stepped up. The game went into overtime where both teams scored on their first drives. The Titans didn’t want to play for a second. They lined up to go for the two-point conversion and the win. Smetanka hit a wide open London in the back of the end zone for a 42-41 win.

“”It was great to get a big win for the community,” London said, “It really helped to show the rest of the WPIAL that we were for real.”

Opening up section play, the Titans traveled to Woodland Hills to play in the storied Wolvarena. Everyone anticipated the Wolverines to win, as Shaler had never beaten Woodland Hills in school history.

After a back and forth game, Woodland Hills had possession with under a minute left in a tie game, 21-21. Their quarterback rolled out looking for a comeback route, but junior defensive back Kaden Orga picked it off. This gave the Titans a shot at winning, and they took it. With 20 seconds left, Smetanka heaved one up to Joey DeSabato who came down with it, broke a tackle and waltzed into the end zone with 10 seconds remaining. For the first time ever, Shaler had defeated Woodland Hills by a score of 28-21.

“It was a huge win for us and for the program moving forward. It really set the tone for the rest of the season, and set us up 1-0 in section play,” Orga said.

That win stood out to Ryan as the best game of the year.

“I’m going to have to go with Woodland Hills because of what it meant to the program. We had never beaten them, and we did it in one of the most storied venues in WPIAL history, the Wolvarena,” he said.

The Titans had three tough matchups in a row, visiting North Hills and Penn Hills and hosting Pine Richland. In all three they battled hard, but lost all three and fell to 4-5 overall.

On senior night, Shaler hosted Fox Chapel. Whatever frustrations they were holding were let loose on the Foxes. It was a dominating performance that the Titans won by a landslide, 55-25.

QB Keegan Smetanka ended the season with 2,151 passing yards and 21 touchdowns. Sophomore linebacker Joe Rispoli led the defense with 75 tackles, 6.5 sacks, and had a nose for the ball forcing 2 fumbles, recovering 3, and a blocked punt TD.

The Titans had nine players receive post season accolades from Big 56. Fist teamers include Luke Cignetti, Joey DeSabato, and Brandon London. Keegan Smetanka, Kaden Orga, and Joe Rispoli were named to second team. Ethan Gross, Zach Hartung, and Dom Battaglia were honorable mentions.

“We’re in good shape for next year. We have a lot of talent and experience, and we’re looking forward to next season,” Ryan said.