The nine-win season included a first-round WPIAL Class A playoff victory against Sto-Rox and ended in the quarterfinals with a loss to Clairton.
Heading into this season, the goal for the Rangers is simple: Win the Tri-County South Conference title and make another playoff run.
Fort Cherry won its first seven games last season before losing at eventual section champion Carmichaels. That’s something Rangers’ head coach Jim Shiel hopes to avenge this time around.
“We just need to keep things rolling,” said Shiel. “We lost a lot of seniors but I have a lot of confidence in the young guys.”
Getting off to a good start will be big for the Rangers as Shiel knows they will have their hands full early.
“Our first four games are going to be brutal,” Shiel said. “California could be the team to beat this year. We open with them and they were solid last season and didn’t lose much. Greensburg Central Catholic will be very tough and both Monessen and Shenango should be much improved. We are going to have our work cut out for us right out of the gate.”
Fort Cherry will have a chance to be even better on offense and possibly eclipse the 33.2 points per game they averaged in 2016.
A big reason for that is the return of senior quarterback Ryhan Culberson.
Last season, Culberson rushed for 1,128 yards and 22 touchdowns. He also added another 763 yards and 13 touchdowns throwing the football.
“He just needs to keep on keeping on,” Shiel said. “He’s a threat to break it every time he touches the ball. We will move him around a lot of different places this season, but mostly he will be at quarterback so the ball is in his hands every play.”
When it comes to who will get the ball at running back, the Rangers have a pair of backs returning in Zachary Vincenti and Matthew Staley.
“We have a couple of good backs who got a lot of touches last season,” added Shiel. “We should be strong there.”
The Rangers lost their starting receivers from last year so they will be looking at youngsters to step up and make plays.
One person Shiel is especially excited about is sophomore Noah Babirad.
“Noah was ready to start last season as a freshman,” Shiel said. “He’s got size and good speed. The only reason he didn’t start last season as a freshman is because we had a lot of seniors.”
If there is a question mark for Fort Cherry on offense, it could be the line. While the Rangers do return three starters, there isn’t much depth.
While Culberson and the offense snagged a lot of the headlines last season, the Rangers’ defense also was pretty good.
Fort Cherry allowed just 16.2 points per game in 2016. That number was actually at 13.2 prior to allowing 46 points to powerhouse Clairton in their playoff loss.
For Shiel, it all starts with the linebackers, which should be the strength of the defense.
Returning there are starters Vincenti, Staley and Brady Whalen.
“We should be good defensively,” said Shiel. “I really like our linebackers. We have some experience and they can get to the football.”
A lot will have to go right for Fort Cherry to meet its ultimate goal, but with Culberson under center and some playmakers on both sides of the ball, the Rangers will have a chance to win every Friday night.
“The goal is simple,” Shiel said. “We want to win the section, obviously, and make a deep run into the playoffs.”