Make no mistake, Derry Area head coach Tim Sweeney is excited that his team is in the WPIAL Class 3A semifinals this week.
He’s just focused on the opportunity to take his Trojans back to the WPIAL championship game at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
That sort of in-the-moment-type thinking is just one of the reasons why Sweeney has enjoyed unparalleled success when he agreed to take over a woebegone football program in 2014 and transform it into a Class 3A powerhouse.
Sweeney has all of his energy focused on the No. 4-seeded Trojans and their WPIAL semifinal-round clash with No. 1 Central Valley today (7 p.m.) at North Allegheny High School in Wexford.
If the Trojans win on Friday, they will advance to the WPIAL Class 3A championship game at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh for the second straight year, facing No. 2 Aliquippa again or No. 6 South Park.
“It’s hard to come up for air right now,” Sweeney said. “All of our attention is turned to our prep work for Central Valley. To sit back and look at last year, 2017, or any of the previous seasons...it’s hard to get into that mindset.
“Maybe that’s something after the season, or 10 years from now, people can look back and say that these were special teams, but right now, there’s really no coming up for air.”
Sweeney’s Trojans have rewritten the football record books at Derry Area.
Derry Area is in the playoffs for the fourth-straight year, continuing the school record three-year run that started in 2016.
The Trojans have won 40 of their last 47 games, including 29 of the previous 35 and six straight, currently.
“I’m sure everybody in the community is pulling for us and are equally proud of us as we are of all of our other teams at Derry,” Sweeney said. “Everybody’s proud of each other at Derry, and it’s great that the football team means so much to so many people.”
Sweeney would know how much the football team means to the Derry community. He used to play at Derry Stadium.
Sweeney, a 1985 Derry Area graduate, improved his record to 49-17 overall with a 28-27 overtime victory against Beaver Falls during the WPIAL Class 3A quarterfinals last Friday at Derry Stadium.
He will go for his 50th win as head coach at his alma mater today against Central Valley, a win that would send his team to the WPIAL Class 3A championship game at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh for the second straight year.
Sweeney is more concerned with advancing to the district championship game than his 50th win as coach.
“I don’t think those things mean anything to anybody,” Sweeney said. “I care about how well the kids are playing on Friday night.
“Just because I’m the head coach, I happen to get credit for the wins. I think everybody knows that it’s the kids who are deserving of the credit and it’s their wins, not mine. Sometimes head coaches get too much credit when credit should go to our staff and certainly our players.”
Regardless of who gets the credit, the Trojans went from a winless group in 2013 — a team that allowed 56 points per game, the most in the WPIAL — to runners-up in the WPIAL five years later.
Sweeney, a defensive contributor to Penn State’s 1986 national championship team, helped transform the Trojans using a brand of hard-nosed, smash-mouth football that incorporates a bruising running game and a dominate defense. His defenses and rushing attacks have regularly ranked among the best in Class AAA the last four years.
Last season, DA played for a WPIAL championship in football for the first time since Derry Township and Derry Borough merged to form Derry Area in 1956. The Derry community also played for a WPIAL championship in football in 1945 — when Derry Township lost to Dormont — until last year’s group helped to rewrite the record books again.
“The emotion of it is that you never become calloused to winning a football game, let alone a playoff football game,” Sweeney said.
When Sweeney and his staff initially took over in 2014, Derry Area was in the midst of an 18-game losing streak and a 21-game conference slide at the time.
Since then, the Trojans have lost 17 games total in six years. They haven’t lost consecutive games in more than four years, since back-to-back defeats against Washington and Mount Pleasant to begin the 2015 season.
The Trojans are 40-7 overall and 27-3 in conference play during the last four seasons. Derry Area is 34-12 in conference play overall under Sweeney.
“I’m getting too old and senile to remember some of the stuff in 2014 and ‘15 and those years,” Sweeney said. “Everything starts to run together.
“Maybe those types of conversations should be had in the off-season. I can’t get caught up thinking about years and teams past. There’s a lot of people out there who remember more things about those early teams my staff and I coached than I do.
“The brain power I can generate has to go into preparing for Central Valley. Our attention is onto Central Valley and our preparation.”
The Trojans emphatically snapped a wretched 20-game win streak at Derry Stadium with a blowout victory against Charleroi Area on Sept. 12, 2014, Sweeney’s first win as head coach, and DA’s first win in more than two years.
There was plenty more to come from Sweeney and the Trojans.
During a magical 2016 run, Derry Area advanced to the WPIAL Class 3A semifinals for the second time in school history, and first since 1995, before falling to tradition-rich Aliquippa.
In 2016, Derry Area reached the playoffs for the first time since 2009, becoming the first football team in school history to complete an undefeated regular season and set a new program record for victories in a season at the time.
Those Trojans also clinched sole possession of the WPIAL Class 3A Interstate Conference, the school’s first conference championship in 33 years since the historic 1983 Keystone Conference championship team, a team that Sweeney played on. Derry Area also recorded the first home playoff win in school history in 2016, a 13-point victory against a highly-touted and now-familiar Central Valley group.
In 2017, Derry Area qualified for the playoffs for a second straight season, won nine of 10 games in the regular season, and entered the post-season on an eight-game winning streak before Quaker Valley, the eventual state champions, ended the Trojans’ run in the WPIAL Class 3A quarterfinals.
It was the first time DA qualified for the playoffs in consecutive seasons since 2000-01. The Trojans also won at least a share of the conference title in consecutive years for the first time in school history.
The run continued in 2018, and intensified into a fever pitch all the way to Pittsburgh.
The Trojans enjoyed an 11-win season — tied with the 2016 team for the best in school history — and advanced to the WPIAL Class 3A championship at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh for the first time.
That 2018 team won a third straight conference championship and made three consecutive playoff appearances, both for the first time in school history. The Trojans finished off a 20-game home win streak, capped by a second-ever home playoff win, which was a 46-point rout against Central Valley.
The Trojans also advanced to the district semifinals for the second time in three years — their third trip in school history until this year’s team makes the fourth today — and topped it off with a first-ever appearance to Heinz Field for the WPIAL Class 3A championship game.
Sweeney’s 2019 Trojans have continued the legacy, with nine wins in 11 games this season, and could become the second team in school history to advance to the WPIAL Class 3A championship game with a win today against Central Valley, the third time in four years Derry Area has met the Warriors in the playoffs.
In true Sweeney form, the Trojans’ highly-successful head coach isn’t looking ahead to Heinz Field just yet.
“Anything beyond Friday night (against Central Valley) is not on our radar,” Sweeney said. “Those things that go on after you advance in the semis, we can discuss if we’re fortunate enough to win on Friday night. Right now, those things are so far out of our mindset that it’s not even worth mentioning.”