Thursday, September 1, 2011

WPIAL A Preview

In anticipation of WPIAL games starting on Friday, we conclude our look at WPIAL with our Class A preview.

Big Seven Conference

1. Rochester

Some are calling Sto-Rox the favorite in this conference, but I'll believe it when I see it. The last time they lost to a team not named "Clairton" was October 24, 2008 at Monaca. Since 2008 the Rams are 20-1 in conference play with a 14-game winning streak and 34-4 overall, with 3 of the 4 losses coming to Clairton in the playoffs, the last two on Heinz Field turf. Sto-Rox gave them their toughest test last year, a 35-32 shootout. The two face off in Week 4 this season and that should set the tone for the conference title chase for the rest of the season.

2. Sto-Rox

With 3 Division 1 recruits on the roster, many are predicting the Vikings as the preseason favorites in the Big Seven Conference. They have a ton of talent this season and should contend for the title, but until we actually see someone not named "Clairton" beat Rochester, everyone else is just fighting for second.

3. Western Beaver

This is a very good team with all of their offensive skill position starters returning and 3 returning starters on the offensive line. On the other side of the ball, 9 of 11 starters return from a defense that held 4 teams under 10 points last season. The Golden Beavers have a ton of weapons and could be dangerous once November comes around.

4. Cornell

The Raiders made the playoffs for the first time since 2001 last season and return a handful of talented players that should enable them to make a push for the postseason once again.

5. Neshannock

The Lancers are stacked with sophomores and juniors that saw time on the field last season. This returning experience should bode well for Neshannock as they look to make their first playoff appearance since 2004.

6. Shenango

The Wildcats are another young team that looks to battle for the last playoff spot in the Big Seven Conference. They return some starters at offensive skill positions, but their success will be determined by their defense, which was the 3rd worst in the conference last year.

7. South Side Beaver

17 starters return from a team that had the 2nd worst offense in Class A last year, putting up only 78 points on the season.

8. Union

It looks to be another long season for the Scotties who had the 11th worst defense in Class A last season and have suffered a few injuries in the preseason. They will start a sophomore at QB, which bodes well for the future but there will certainly be some growing pains this year.

Black Hills Conference

1. Clairton

Yeah, this one isn't even close. Since conference realignment 3 years ago when the Bears entered the Black Hills Conference they have gone 21-0 in conference play with an average (yes average) margin of victory of 50 points.

2. Chartiers-Houston

This is one of the biggest under-the-radar programs in AA. The Buccaneers have made the playoffs 8 of the last 9 years and return QB Danny Lis who has been starting since he was a sophomore. Lis led the team in passing and rushing last season and is the all-around threat that will make this one of the better teams in the conference. This might finally be the year that the Bucs break through and win a playoff game after going 0-8 in their 8 appearances.

3. Fort Cherry

Senior QB Tanner Garry has been starting since his freshman year and has put together quite the career for the Rangers. They return a number of starters at offensive skill positions and should be competitive for the #2 spot in this conference this year. Fort Cherry played Clairton to their closest conference game last season, falling 42-7. Fort Cherry and Carlynton were the only two Black Hills Conference teams to score on Clairton last year. Yes, Clairton is that freaking good.

4. Brentwood

The Spartans finished in a 3-way tie for 2nd last year, but QB Corey Bauer, who was a 3-year starter, graduated. Brentwood will have a handful of running backs they can lean on and some returning starters on the offensive line which should make this more of a run-oriented attack this season.

5. Serra Catholic

Jamie Eckels enters his second year as head coach, trying to install the McKeesport wishbone here at Serra. A number of players return on offense, but some of them will get shuffled around as Serra looks to return to the playoffs after missing out for the first time in 5 years.

6. Carlynton

The Cougars have their 3rd new coach in as many seasons and things look to be heading in much the same direction for a school that was rumored to be investigating merging over the summer. They haven't made the playoffs since 2001 and probably won't again this year.

7. Avella

A few years ago, this program was in danger of folding and had to suit up kids from the band and a cheerleader just to put 11 players on the field. Now, they have tripled their roster size and look to do more than just take the field. They won a game last year and might be able to build on that this season.

8. Bentworth

The Bearcats had the 5th worst offense and 3nd worst defense en route to a winless season last year. Not much will change this year for a team that rides a 12-game losing streak and has only made the playoffs once since 1998. Their best chance at a win comes in the last game of the season against Avella, at which point their losing streak would stand at 20.

Eastern Conference

Another year, another under-ranking of the Eastern Conference. Writers at the PG and other local newspapers never seem to think too highly of Eastern Conference teams, until they go out and sweep the first round of the playoffs. Eastern Conference teams are 8-0 in the last two years in opening-round playoff games. Three different Eastern Conference teams have made the semi-finals the last two years, but none have been able to break the Clairton/Rochester stranglehold.

1. Springdale

The Dynamos just keep on doing their thing. As always, they have a slew of running backs to plug into their attack and should challenge for the conference crown once again.

2. Avonworth

The Antelopes have returning starters at quarterback and running back and along the offensive line. For a team that doesn't throw much, this will be another strong season built on running the ball and playing defense.

3. Bishop Canevin

The Crusaders 2010 campaign was marred only by a 35-0 defeat by Sprindale. A victory over Avonworth put them in a 3-way tie for the conference title. They will be competitive again with plenty of returning starters and a long-tenured coach that knows how to get it done.

4. North Catholic

Four-year starting QB Martin Long graduated and the Trojans now have a void to fill. Losing RB Julian Durden as a transfer to Montour (where he led them to the WPIAL title game last year) still stings. Rumor has it that J.C. Stone field, once the worst playing surface in all of WPIAL got turf this year, which could mean no more mud bowls for the Trojans. Too bad they don't have a band any more to march on the new field.

5. Riverview

Eleven starters return to a team that always seems to finish just out of the playoffs. I don't have the time to look back through all the stats, but for as long as I can think of Riverview seems to always be on the outside looking in, usually by just 1 game.

6. Northgate

Word is that the Flames plan to open things up with a spread offense led by senior QB Jon Girvin. The Flames had the second worst offense in the conference last year and need a spark to get things going (see what I did there?).

7. Wilkinsburg

The Tigers have struggled in recent years and will once again fight it out with Leechburg and OLSH in the basement of the Eastern Conference.

8. Leechburg

Um...yeah, not much to say here. The Blue Devils haven't had a winning season since before their current seniors were born.

9. Our Lady of the Sacred Heart

The Chargers did not win a conference game last year in their first season of WPIAL play. However, the team got better as the season went on and should continue to improve this year. The end of September might be their best shot as they get Wilkinsburg and Leechburg back-to-back.

Tri-County South

1. Monessen

The Greyhounds have been dominant in conference play for a half decade, losing only twice in conference since 2006. They return starters along the lines but have a new lalignment of players at offensive skill positions. That shouldn't preclude them from winning the Tri-County South crown once again.

2. Beth-Center

Since 2008, the only team to beat Beth-Center in conference play has been Monessen. These two are clearly the class of the conference and Beth-Center returns starters at offensive skill positions which should make them competitive once again.

3. California

QB T.D. Conway threw for over 1900 yards last season, leading California to a 3rd place finish in the Tri-County South.

4. Carmichaels

Carmichaels carries a streak of 13 consecutive playoff appearances into this season.

5. Frazier

Quarterback Rock Vargo, who has one of the best names in all of WPIAL, returns for his senior season after posting solid numbers as a junior. The veteran leadership should be enough to make Frazier competitive in this conference.

6. Geibel

14 starters return from a team that had the 10th worst defense in Class A last season. They will need to close up the holes on defense if they want to make a run at the playoffs.

7. Jefferson-Morgan

11 starters return from a team that was feast or famine last year, holding 3 teams under 14 points but giving up 30+ 4 times. The offense was not prolific, scoring over 14 points only twice, against bottom-feeders West Greene and Mapletown.

8. Mapletown

The bottom of this conference is a toss-up every year. Mapletown was winless last year after fielding the worst defense in all of Class A, giving up over 45 points per game. Over the past 3 seasons, Mapletown has beaten West Greene twice one else.

9. West Greene

West Greene ended a 26-game losing streak when they beat Mapletown last year. That was their only win in a season that included a loss to a school in its first year playing WPIAL football (OLSH)

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