Tuesday, August 30, 2011


The WPIAL season is upon us once again, with games starting this Friday. Today we're going to take a look at AAA.

Big Eight

1. Thomas Jefferson

As weird as it is to say that TJ as suffered through two "down years" as they were forced into starting underclassmen at skill positions, nothing has really changed at the top of this conference. TJ hasn't lost a conference game in 5 years (31 games) and has gone undefeated in the conference in 8 of the last 9 years. They have won 10 of the last 11 conference titles.

2. West Mifflin

The Titans bring back QB Jordan McClung and RB Shamar Greene and other offensive skill players which could lead them to the playoffs for a second straight year. They have plenty of talent on both offense and defense this season and get TJ at home the last week of the season.

3. Chartiers Valley

Last year, Char Valley was like the Houston Texans. Everyone was picking them to finally be the team to unseat TJ from the conference title. However, a torn ACL to starting QB Wayne Capers derailed their season and sent them spiraling to a 3-4 record in conference play. After beating McGuffey in Week 7 they were 3-2 in conference play, but double digit losses to West Mifflin and South Park sent the Colts packing for the first time in eight years.

4. Trinity

The Hillers will go to a triple option attack this year to highlight their stars in the backfield, but only 1 returning starter on the O-line could spell trouble for a run-oriented offense with a new quarterback. Five starters return on defense to a squad that had the 8th best unit in AAA last year.

5. Belle Vernon

After making the playoffs for two straight seasons, the Leopards face a tough task of making it back after losing a plethora of skill players to graduation. The young guys on the team will have to step up big-time if Belle Vernon wants to play into November again this year.

6. South Park

South Park was a struggling AA team that was forced to move up to AAA. The results went about as expected. This season, junior QB Nick Yobbi, who enters his second full season as a starter, will lead the Eagles.

7. Elizabeth-Forward

The Warriors return 9 starters from a team that posted a goose egg last year. They should be a little better this year but aren't in position to make a playoff run. Three of the 9 returning starters are juniors which means they have some groundwork to build on for next season.

8. McGuffey

Moving up in classification is always difficult and McGuffey struggled with the promotion to AAA ball last year. On top of that, they lose their top runner to graduation, which could lead to another long season for the Highlanders.

Greater Allegheny

1. Mars

For as consistent as TJ has been in the Big Eight, Mars has been almost as good. In the 3 years since moving up from AA, Mars has finished no worse than 2nd in the conference. Even though the Fighting Planets lost star RB Austin Miele and QB Eric Gozak, they return 7 starters and should be a force atop the Greater Allegheny conference once again.

2. Knoch

The gap between Mars and neighbor Knoch has shrunk over the past few seasons, with the Knights only loss last season coming to the Planets in the last game of the season. Knoch returns star RB Andrew Rumberg-Goodlin who had a 1,000 yard season last year and QB Kyle Kenyon. Knoch returns starters at all the offensive skill positions and is primed for another showdown with Mars the last week of the season for the conference crown. Knoch may get a boost from having the game on their home grass this year and not on Mars' track-like turf.

3. Highlands

A few years removed from the 2009 team that bottomed out after almost their entire roster graduated in 2008. The 2008 team came 1 win short of Heinz Field, and the Golden Rams have been rebuilding ever since. They don't quite have the talent at skill positions yet to put them on par with Mars or Knoch, but they should build on their success from last year and return to the playoffs this season. OL Jake Witucki is a Division 1 recruit.

4. Kittanning

If there was a season for the Wildcats to break through since their move up from AA, this is the year. They have a senior QB and 3 senior RBs. They have returning starters on both lines and should be able to make a run at the playoffs this season.

5. Indiana

The Little Indians have made the playoffs two of the last 3 seasons but lost QB Kyle Edgar to graduation. They had the 7th best offense in AAA last season but will need to find a quarterback to continue their string of playoff runs.

6. Hampton

The Talbots, not to be confused with the department store or some douchebag who plays for the Flyers, enter the year with a quarterback battle between two seniors. They have a lot of young guys on the roster who will see significant playing time, and are trying to reclaim the magic that took them to the AAA semi-finals two years ago.

7. Valley

The Vikings return 9 starters from a team that was downright abysmal last year. They have a sophomore QB which bodes well for the future, but leaves some questions in the present. They averaged less than 6 points per game last season, getting shut out 5 times, including the last 3 games of the season.


1. Franklin Regional

A transplant from the Greater Allegheny Conference when realignment happened last year, Franklin Regional looks to break the losing ways of the Keystone Conference in the postseason. Keystone teams are 1-43 in first round games in the last 11 years in the AAA playoffs. Franklin Regional is a former WPIAL Champion and they return 9 starters from a team that lost to Hopewell in the first round last year.

2. Greensburg Salem

The Lions return 12 starters, including RB Michael Kizzie who ran for a hair shy of 1500 yards last year and QB Josh Falatovich who broke the 1000-yard mark through the air last year. They have a ton of talent at the offensive skill positions, and should be poised to make a run for the conference title.

3. Ringgold

If I was comparing teams to movies, Ringgold would be Cool Runnings. Three members of Ringgold's relay team will be amongst the featured skill players on offense this year. The defending conference champs lost a boatload of players to graduation, but have enough speed to be contenders in the conference once again.

4. Hollidaysburg

It honestly might be a 4-team shootout for the last playoff spot in the Keystone Conference. Only 1 of the 4 (Laurel Highlands) has a returning quarterback. Hollidaysburg gets the pre-season nod for the #4 team because they have a returning RB and experience on both lines.

5. Derry Area

The Trojans return 5 starters, but finding a quarterback will be the key to them making a run for the playoffs. They have a new coach and some experience in the trenches, which should enable them to grind out some victories against the bottom half of the conference.

6. Laurel Highlands

The Mustangs return just 3 starters on offense and defense, but one of them is QB Jake Riddell who threw for over 1700 yards last year. They have a new coach and a young team, but with an experienced quarterback they might find their way out of the Keystone basement.

7. Uniontown

Uniontown doesn't have a lot of depth or talent at the skill positions and will start a bunch of players this year who only saw spot time as starters last year. If the team comes together they could make a run at the last playoff spot.

8. Albert Gallatin

Not a whole lot to say here. They had the 3rd worst offense and 2nd worst defense in AAA last year and lost a ton of players to graduation.


1. Montour

This might be the hardest conference in all of WPIAL to predict, as it is stacked top-to-bottom. Montour returns RB Julian Durden who put up 1500 yards last year and led the team to Heinz Field. They also return 1500-yard passer Dillion Buechel and his top receiving targets. All in all, the Spartans return 12 starters from last year, including all their key playmakers on offense. This is a team we could very well see at Heinz Field again this year.

2. Hopewell

Rushel Shell. Rushel Shell. Rushel Shell. The kid is simply amazing. Coming off a 2100-yard season as a junior, he is 880 yards short of the all-time WPIAL rushing record. Shell is a four-star prospect, ranked one of the Top 50 in the nation and has numerous Division 1 offers. The Vikings have some other talent on this team as well, with juniors and seniors at all the other offensive skill positions.

3. Central Valley

It seems weird to have the defending AAA champions as 3rd in the conference, but this just goes to show how deep the Parkway Conference is this year. Parkway teams have played in the last 5 AAA Championship games, with 4 different teams (West Allegheny-Hopewell, Central Valley-Montour) reaching Heinz the last 2 seasons. The Warriors return their starting QB and their offensive renaissance man Robert Foster who will play RB, WR and KR. The Warriors had the 4th best defense in AAA last year and the best in the conference. They rode that defense to a AAA crown and will look for a repeat performance this season.

4. Blackhawk

It seems unfair to have to pick just 4 teams to make the playoffs in this conference. Blackhawk hasn't been to the playoffs since 2008 when they lost to TJ in the title game, but have the skill players to make a run for the playoffs again this year. Sophomore QB Chandler Kincade will get help from a trio of returning RBs and has 2 returning starters at WR.

5. New Castle

The Red Hurricane were initially penciled in as contenders in the Parkway Conference entering the season, but an ACL injury to senior RB Justin Fleo could derail their playoff hopes before the season even starts. That said, they still have a plethora of talent in their high-flying offense with QB Johnny Matarazzo who threw for 1650 yards last season leading the offense and his primary targets at WR.

6. West Allegheny

After losing two running backs to graduation, the onus will be on QB Dylan Bongiorni to lead the offense. Coach Bob Palko is one of the best in AAA, with multiple WPIAL titles under his belt. This team is capable of competing for the conference title but could miss the playoffs entirely. There are 6 teams in this conference capable of making the playoffs, and it seems unfair that only 4 can make the playoffs.

7. Ambridge

The Bridgers return 14 starters from a team that won just 1 game last season. They have a quarterback battle entering camp, but with all the returning starters they should have a better year this year.

8. Moon

It's a rebuilding year for the Tigers who bring in a new coach and new offensive coordinator. The change was needed, as Moon has won just 1 conference game in the last 4 seasons. It will likely be another year at the bottom, but former Aliquippa defensive coordinator Mark Washington should bring a new regimen to the Tigers and get them competitive in a few years.

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