By NATE HECKENBERGER
TREDYFFRIN -- Conestoga coach John Vogan can’t prove it, but he has a theory on when his prolific quarterback-wide receiver combo’s connection was spawned.
“I bet they were in the nursery together and Joe threw a pass to Andrew,” Vogan surmised. “And Andrew probably caught it.”
While that hypothesis is probably a few years premature, Conestoga quarterback Joe Viviano and wide receiver Andrew DeStefano have been connecting on passes since weight ball. Nowadays, no duo connects more frequently.
And if the Pioneers are to get back to their first postseason since 2009, it will be over a decade of practicing for it, fulfilled.
“It’s huge,” DeStefano said. “Coach Vogan reminds us that no one on this team has made the playoffs. It motivated us throughout the offseason and we’re working hard to get there.”
The Pioneers do things a little differently than teams around Chester County. They are just over 50 percent with running plays, using the short to intermediate passing game as a way to move the chains and get their talent out in space.
Vogan and offensive coordinator Chris Gicking have had some good QB-WR tandems -- Billy Flately and Dexter Bridge for one -- but Viviano and DeStefano are about to blow any previous numbers away.
Through four games, DeStefano has 40 catches for 459 yards and six touchdowns. As a junior he led the Pioneers with 51 for 799 and seven scores. Bridge, in 2010, had 55 catches and 12 TDs.
“We’ve gotten a lot from practicing it a lot,” Viviano said. “We really started in our eighth-grade year, and we worked with each other every year to get better. Sophomore year we could hardly complete a pass together. And now it’s really hard to stop us.”
Viviano, who’s heading to Harvard next fall to continue his football career, went the final three games last season and the first two this fall without throwing an interception. He currently has 892 passing yards, nine TDs and two picks after passing for 2,072 yards as a junior.
With his recognition and decision-making getting better each game, Viviano relishes toting the burden of leading his squad back to the postseason.
“I like that the coaches trust me to do that,” said Viviano of his ability to throw so much. “It puts the game in my hands. If it’s complete, it’s because of me or if it’s incomplete, it’s because of me. I like that excitement.”
Vogan credits Gickling for all his work done with Viviano and DeStefano, as the trio worked tirelessly during the summer. Viviano, who is listed at 6-foot-5, has little trouble finding DeStefano (5-foot-10) thanks largely in part to all the outside drilling.
Things will have to go the way it was practiced the final six weeks, however, after starting 2-2. With Garnet Valley and Ridley getting the better of the Pioneers in weeks two and three, Conestoga faces a schedule with its toughest tests behind it. But trips to Strath Haven and an improved Haverford High are still on tap.
If 7-3 didn’t get the Pioneers in last fall, it might not this year. And Vogan is confident he has the type of kids to get ‘Stoga back into the spotlight.
“With those two kids, and our other two captains Riley Pritchett and Nick Prestipino, we have four very strong kids to lead our football team,” Vogan said. “All of them have the same attitude. They want to see the team succeed and are willing to sacrifice to make that happen.”
That brings us to DeStefano and his torrid pass-catching pace. At this point he’s on pace for exactly 100 through a full season. Last year, Mike Brown of West Chester East led the area with 49 receptions. DeStefano might beat that mark next game, let alone in 10 regular season games. But the latter number is really all the senior cares about this season.
“I don’t really think about the catches much,” DeStefano said. “I’m hoping we’ll be playing a little longer than a 10-game season. I don’t care about stats. I care about extending our season as long as possible.”
Yet another thing Viviano and DeStefano can unite on.