(This article was written and released by Brad Everett of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The original article can be found here.)
It has been 14 years since Canon-McMillan last finished with a winning record and 18 since its most recent playoff win, but there’s a considerable amount of excitement brewing at the Washington County school on the heels of a promising start that included a huge win last Friday.
It’s looking like the 2022 Big Macs are anything but chopped liver.
“People thought we were going to be the regular pushover Canon-Mac,” senior wide receiver-defensive back Austyn Winkleblech said. “We’re here to make a statement.”
That statement was heard loud and clear a week ago when Canon-McMillan went on the road and upset Seneca Valley, 33-21. The much-needed win followed a pair of narrow losses against strong programs (Penn-Trafford and North Allegheny) and evened Canon-McMillan’s record to 1-1 in Class 6A Tri-County Five Conference play. Seneca Valley had beaten the Big Macs each of the past four seasons.
“It was a really big win,” Canon-McMillan coach Mike Evans said. “I know it only counts as one, but we needed it badly. I’ve been coaching for a long time, and I’m not sure if I’ve had a team that needed a win as much as we did.”
Canon-McMillan has shown steady improvement under Evans since he took over in 2015. In the five seasons prior to his arrival, the Big Macs were an abysmal 3-43. But the Big Macs ended a 10-year playoff drought in 2018 and won at least three games in each of Evans’ first seven seasons. The high-water mark has been five wins, but based on their early play, it might not be a surprise if the Big Macs meet and possibly exceed that total this season.
“To me, we’ve been constantly getting better slowly,” Evans said. “I’m over celebrating close losses and so is the team in that locker room.”
This Canon-McMillan team has a nice mix of productive skill players and talented linemen. The Big Macs feature the leading passer (junior Mike Evans), leading rusher (senior Jake Kasper) and touchdown leader (Winkleblech) in Class 6A. The starting offensive line consists of seniors Noah Livesay (6 feet 2, 270 pounds) and Andrew Kocan (6-4, 280), juniors Liam Reamer (6-5, 310) and Mason Williams (6-2, 266), and sophomore Matt McMahon (6-2, 255). Senior John Talley (6-1, 275) sees a lot of time, as well.
Kasper is back healthy after missing a good chunk of last season with various injuries. He ran for 171 yards against Penn-Trafford, the defending PIAA Class 5A champion, and went for 153 yards and four touchdowns against Seneca Valley. He has collected 385 yards overall and is averaging 7 yards per carry.
Mike Evans, son of the coach, is a three-year starter who has passed for 854 yards and eight touchdowns, ranking him among the WPIAL leaders in both categories. Evans has a very talented receiver in the speedy Winkleblech, a Pitt baseball recruit who has amassed 309 receiving yards and has scored touchdowns on six of his 13 receptions.
“We’ve probably been as balanced as we’ve ever been,” the elder Evans said. “We’ve got a couple of running backs, a quarterback that has had some success, an O-line that is getting the job done most of the time, and we’ve got Winkleblech on the outside who is getting more attention than any receiver we’ve ever had.”
Canon-McMillan now hopes to keep that momentum going, and that will start Friday when it hosts Bethel Park (2-1), which is ranked No. 5 in Class 5A and hung with Class 6A No. 1 Central Catholic last week.
“I feel like 6A is up for grabs this year,” Winkleblech said. “There’s no dominant powerhouse.”