WASHINGTON, Pa. - For the 23rd time in the program's history, the Washington and Jefferson Presidents captured the Presidents Athletic Conference title when they topped then 13th-ranked Waynesburg, 31-14, to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III football playoffs.
This past weekend, the Presidents' season came to an end in the first round as Johns Hopkins prevailed, 42-10.
To many, this latest PAC title might very well be the most special of all.
OBSERVER?Photos by Lisa Monacelli
Above, B.J. Monacelli, left, and Andrew Pingitore, right, pose for a photo after helping the Washington and Jefferson Presidents to the Presidents Athletic Conference title. Monacelli and Pingitore are both Cassadaga Valley Central School graduates.
It's been just a little more than a month since the squad's top runner and captain, Tim McNerney, was tragically killed. Taking the field with heavy hearts two days later, the Presidents, understandably, suffered a lopsided defeat. Since then, however, they have worked hard at achieving McNerney's stated preseason goal: bringing the PAC Championship trophy back to the Washington and Jefferson campus.
Now, they have honored their friend by doing so.
Upon receiving the PAC Championship trophy two weeks ago, Coach Mike Sirianni, who for his efforts this season was named the PAC coach of the year for the fourth time, immediately handed the hardware to McNerney's family, for whom the title was dedicated.
"I am proud of these young men," Sirianni said shortly after McNerney's death. "There are more important things in life than football wins and losses. But they came out and played hard for their friend, teammate and captain. ... These players know that Tim will always be with them."
Washington & Jefferson was led, as it has been all season, by a number of area natives.
In addition to Sirianni, a 1990 Southwestern Central School graduate who sports a 90-23 record over his decade-long tenure at the helm and has now led Washington and Jefferson to four PAC Championship games and seven NCAA playoff berths, key contributors B.J. Monacelli and Andrew Pingitore will be taking the field on Saturday.
Monacelli (Cassadaga Valley/Cassadaga), a second-team All-PAC defensive choice, made a crucial interception in the end zone late in the first half for the squad during the title game, helping them preserve a comfortable 14-point advantage as they went into the locker room at the break. In addition to the interception, which was his team-leading third of the season, the 5-foot-11 defensive back made a pair of tackles and broke up two more passes.
This season, Monacelli is fifth on the team in tackles with 36 and has broken up or defended 31 passes, far and away the most of the group.
Pingitore (Cassadaga Valley/Cassadaga), meanwhile, a right guard who was a second-team All-PAC offensive selection, was pivotal in allowing quarterback Matt Bliss time to complete a whopping 21 of 26 passes for 256 yards and four touchdowns. The running game was similarly successful thanks to Pingitore's work in the trenches as they racked up 125 yards.
Also on the squad are Shane Smith (Fredonia/Fredonia), a freshman quarterback and and Sam Aults (Brocton/Brocton), a junior offensive lineman.
This marked the first time since 2009 that Washington and Jefferson reached the NCAA playoffs.