JACKSON TWP — Making the WPIAL Class 6A football playoffs will be more difficult in 2020 than in years past.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Raiders' season has been shortened from nine games to six, with only the top four of eight teams reaching the postseason.
Seneca Valley lost its season opener against North Allegheny Sept. 11 because a player was closely exposed to someone with the coronavirus. That forced the school to shut down football practice.
With a shortened schedule, there is little room for error and fewer chances to make the postseason.
Previously, the top six teams made the playoffs.
Still, that hasn't changed the outlook at Seneca Valley.
“We've had to deal with a lot of uncertainty over the offseason, but we're going to control what we can control,” said Raiders' coach Ron Butschle. “Our goal is to contend as one of the top teams in the conference.”
With that in mind, the Raiders will rely heavily on senior running back Ethan West, who, despite missing the last 2½ games with a dislocated kneecap last year, led the team in rushing yards (512), receptions (20) and receiving yards (357) while also starring as a linebacker.
“He's the cornerstone of the team and we need to find ways to get him the ball,” said Butschle. “He's going to get a lot of carries, but he can be a perimeter player as well.”
West played basketball last winter. He said he felt restricted at first by his healing knee, but is now “ready to go.
“I've been working to get back on the field with my brothers,” added West, who has attracted interest from several Division I schools, including Duquesne, Colgate, Lafayette and Army, among others. “I'm more comfortable in the passing game coming out of the backfield. I'm more of a running back at heart.”
Leading the offense will be senior quarterback Dustin Horn, a 6-foot-1, 188-pound first-year starter. He saw limited action last year as a backup to Gabe Lawson, a three-year starter who combined for 20 touchdowns (rushing and receiving) in 2019.
“He was an under-study, but now it's his time to shine,” Butschle said of Horn. “He's an athlete with a good arm and can run, too.”
Aiding Horn's progression will be an experienced group of passing targets. Along with West, receivers James Sprentz, Connor Lyczek, Seth Baic and H-back Marciano McCowan all return after combining for 49 catches worth 728 yards and seven touchdowns last season.
Josh Miller returns at tight end and should provide another option.
The left side of SV's line will have the experience. Center Chase Nething, left guard Donny Kreisberg and left tackle Jim Royal are returning starters.
Guard Owen Moran and tackle Bady Martin look to move into starting roles on the right side.
“The line has to jell,” said Butschle. “We have some guys who are raw, but they bring a lot of energy. There's pressure on them to know their assignments and the other guys will hold them accountable.”
SV's defense seems to have the pieces in place to have a very strong season. Nine starters return, including: tackles Royal and Alex Johnson, ends Nething and Miller, linebackers West and Mitch Curran, cornerback Lyczek and safeties Sprentz and Cole Mrkonja.
“When we finally got together back in June, I was worried about what kind of shape our guys would be in,” said Butschle. “But they were ready to go ... the team in general, but especially our top guys on defense. You could tell they had worked out a lot. It was tremendous.”
The Quad County Conference underwent several changes in the offseason. Pine-Richland, which shared last year's conference title with North Allegheny and Central Catholic, has dropped down to Class 5A. Butler pulled out of the WPIAL to join District 10.
Baldwin is the one Quad County newcomer.