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Fast-starting Canon-McMillan hoping for better finish

Coach Larry Fingers and the nine returning starters for the Canon-McMillan High School boys soccer team know playoff heartbreak.

Having back-to-back seasons end in the WPIAL semifinals will do that to you. The Big Macs were hammered in the 2017 semis by North Allegheny, 9-0. Last year, it was a 3-2 loss to Seneca Valley.

“We had kids balling after it was over,” Fingers said about last season’s playoff loss. “We felt we deserved better. Last year was the hardest because we felt poised and ready to get (to the championship). We felt like we left a little on the table.”

Now, considered the favorite by many in Class 4A, Canon-McMillan is hopeful a clean mind continues to lead to clean sheets. Through five games this season, Canon-McMillan (2-0, 5-0) has leaned on experience and diversified its lineup to outscore its opponents 27-0.

All three goalkeepers, starter Alex Hilbert along with Jeremiah Beaver and Dan Yarosh, each have pitched in on shutouts. The scoring in the first five games has come from a variety names.

“I think we are a lot of different things that you have to deal with,” Fingers said. “We can score by possessing the ball. We can score directly off set pieces. It’s all been very fluid. We have so many guys who can do so many things that it’s just hard to plan against.”

Joey Fonagy and Nino Civitate are players at the top who provide a lot of scoring for the Big Macs. The goals have had a trickle-down effect to Anderson Jones, Luke Gladden and Tommy Samosky to make Canon-McMillan the balanced team that Fingers envisioned when 62 players tried out at this year’s camp.

Fonagy had 21 regular-season goals last year but the Big Macs were edged out by Upper St. Clair for the Section 2-AAAA title. They finished the season with a 16-3 record.

Samosky provides a threat with his height to win headers and an ability to throw the ball into the box from the sideline, which can create havoc around opposing goalkeepers.

Fingers called Gladden “the glue that holds everything together” from his midfield spot.

The defense that has kept shutout streak going consists of Kyle Katreeb, Aiden Walsh, Mason Le and Aarik Yetter. Owen Maher and Mike Hillebrand have provided solid minutes.

“We are pretty deep in terms of talent and ability,” Fingers said. “I couldn’t be happier with the results that we’ve had.”

The results have primarily been positive since Fingers took the Canon-McMillan job nine years ago. It has provided the Big Macs with an annual goal of being in the mix for a WPIAL championship, something that has eluded the Big Macs for the last three seasons.

Fingers admits how important it is for things to fall into place to make a long postseason run.

“It takes a lot to happen for any team to win, whether that’s being good, having a little luck or avoiding injuries,” he said. “It’s normally all three of those things. We are not unbeatable.

“When you get to the playoffs it’s one and done. These kids know that. There are no “rah-rah” speeches. The sting of losing resonates with a lot of them. They remember what it feels like. Our goal is just to continue to get better, and when the dust settles hopefully things go your way.”

Not ready for prime time: Steelers struggle without Brown, Bell

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The post-Antonio Brown era is off to a bad start for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Pittsburgh struggled to generate offense in a 33-3 loss at New England on Sunday night in its first game since parting with the four-time All-Pro wide receiver. Without Brown to throw to, Ben Roethlisberger finished 27 of 47 for 276 yards and an interception.

This time, unlike last season when he publicly criticized Brown’s performance after a Week 12 loss at Denver, the Steelers quarterback shouldered the blame.

“I wasn’t good enough,” Roethlisberger said. “Wasn’t giving guys the balls where they needed to catch ‘em. Putting them in front (of them), behind, things like that. I wasn’t good enough.”

Pittsburgh’s only points came on Chris Boswell’s 19-yard field goal early in the second half. Roethlisberger had 161 passing yards through three quarters before dressing up his stats in the fourth, and the Steelers went just 3 for 12 on third down conversions.

“We’ve just got to make more plays for No. 7 (Roethlisberger),” new Steelers receiver Donte Moncrief said. “It starts with the whole receiver’s room, everybody on offense. We’ve got to be better.”

The disgruntled Brown was traded to Oakland last March and signed a three-year extension with the Raiders. He requested and was granted his release by Oakland on Saturday after a tumultuous offseason and training camp.

A few hours later, Brown was headed to the Patriots, the Steelers’ top AFC rival.

“My professional reaction is I really don’t have one,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin told NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” broadcast before the game. “We’ve been emotionally detached from him for some time now.”

Brown’s ex-teammates didn’t take the bait on his move to New England, either.

“You know, that (decision’s) up to him,” said cornerback Mike Hilton, who played with Brown for two seasons. “That has nothing to do with these guys in the locker room.”

Brown wasn’t the only loss to leave a void in the offense. Two-time All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell held out all of last season over a contract dispute and signed with the New York Jets during the offseason.

Bell’s replacement, third-year back James Conner, had 21 yards on 10 carries and the Steelers managed only 32 rushing yards. Bell rushed for 60 yards and a touchdown for the Jets against Buffalo on Sunday.

“No need to sugarcoat it – man, we weren’t ready for prime time,” Tomlin said. “All of us, not a good enough plan. Not a good enough execution of that plan. . We won’t go undefeated. We’re 0-1.”

Steelers trade QB Dobbs to Jaguars for 5th-round draft pick

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville Jaguars have acquired quarterback Josh Dobbs in a trade with Pittsburgh, giving them a backup while Nick Foles recovers from a broken collarbone.

The Jaguars gave up a fifth-round pick in the 2020 draft for Dobbs, who was in his third season with the Steelers. He was a fourth-round pick in 2017.

He has played in five career NFL games, completing 6 of 12 passes for 43 yards and an interception.

He will back up rookie Gardner Minshew, who completed 22 of 25 passes for 275 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception, in his NFL debut Sunday.

Foles broke his left clavicle on the team’s 10th offensive play of the season. He was hit and landed on while throwing a 35-yard touchdown pass to DJ Chark.

Belle Vernon standout quits Leopards to prep for college soccer

Izzy Laurita, a talented junior soccer player at Belle Vernon High School, committed to the University of Memphis two weeks ago.

On Saturday, Laurita made the decision that she has played her last game for Belle Vernon and will instead focus on preparing for her collegiate career by training at the Pittsburgh Riverhounds Development Academy.

“It has always been a thought in my head ever since my first year in high school,” Laurita said about training fulltime with the Riverhounds. “But I never made the decision until my commitment to Memphis.”

The training regimen will be a combination of soccer and strength training to get ready for collegiate soccer.

“I will be working on my technical abilities with my staff and speed and strength with Mike Whiteman,” Laurita said.

Whiteman is the Director of Speed and Strength for the Riverhounds.

First-year Belle Vernon girls soccer coach Tracy Lovett spoke about losing the talented Laurita from her team, which is 2-0 in Class 3A Section and 3-1 overall entering a match Monday night at Albert Gallatin.

“I wish Izzy nothing but good luck in her future soccer career,” she said. “Izzy and her family are doing what they feel is best for her career.

“I have faith in my team and we will keep working to improve daily and move forward.”

In three matches this season, Laurita scored a total of four goals.

According to Belle Vernon statistics, she scored 15 goals as a freshman and 33 as a sophomore and has 52 career goals.

“I will miss playing with my friends and I love my coaches,” she said. “But I had to do what was best for me and my future.”