Friday, November 4, 2011

WPIAL Playoffs: First Round Preview

Tonight begins the four-week trek that begins with 64 teams and ends on November 26th on the Heinz Field turf. Here's a quick preview of the first round matchups.


1. North Allegheny (6-0, 9-0) vs 16. Fox Chapel (3-3, 3-6) - The defending AAAA State Champions got the #1 seed in the bracket and should have no problem with the Foxes, who have the worst offense of any team in the WPIAL playoffs (13.1 points per game). Prediction: North Allegheny

8. Penn Hills (5-1, 5-4) vs 9. Seneca Valley (4-2, 7-2) at Plum - Penn Hills rebounded after a 1-4 start to earn a second place finish in the Big East Conference. Seneca Valley is led by the leading passer in all of WPIAL, Jordan Brown, who has racked up 1828 yards through the air this year. Prediction: Seneca Valley

4. Penn-Trafford (6-0, 9-0) vs 13. Bethel Park (3-2, 4-5) - The Warriors surprising run to their conference title came on the backs of a strong offensive and defensive line. Bethel has played in a lot of close games this season, so don't be surprised if this is a low-scoring affair. Prediction: Penn-Trafford

5. Gateway (5-1, 7-2) vs 12. Shaler (3-3, 5-4) - Gateway is a last-second field goal away from being conference champs. They held nationally-ranked Central Catholic to only 13 points. Shaler has lost 3 in a row and looked progressively worse with each game. Prediction: Gateway

2. Central Catholic (6-0, 9-0) vs 15. Peters Twp (2-3, 4-5) at Fox Chapel - Many people (myself included) thought Central was the best team in AAAA and was surprised to see them draw the #2 seed.  Prediction: Central Catholic

7. Mt. Lebanon (4-1, 6-3) vs 10. Woodland Hills (4-2, 6-3) - This might be the best first round matchup on the slate, but both teams are reeling entering the game. Mt. Lebanon got pounded by rival Upper St Clair and Woodland Hills has lost two straight to Pine-Richland and Penn Hills. Prediction: Mt. Lebanon

3. Upper St. Clair (5-0, 8-1) vs 14. Connellsville (3-3, 5-4) - Statistically, the Panthers have the best offense in AAAA (43.2 points per game) and a top-5 defense that have pitched 5 shutouts this year. Connellsville is improving after a last place finish last season. Prediction: Upper St Clair

6. Erie McDowell (4-2, 7-2) vs 11. McKeesport (4-2, 6-3) - Two teams with top 10 offenses in AAAA match up. Have to think McDowell has the advantage given McKeesport's 2+ hour bus ride up I-79. Prediction: Erie McDowell


1. Central Valley (7-0, 9-0) vs 16. Laurel Highlands (3-4, 4-5) - The defending AAA champions out of WPIAL's toughest conference gets the team with the worst scoring margin (-15.1 points per game) of any of the 64 WPIAL playoff teams. Prediction: Central Valley

8. Ringgold (6-1, 7-2) vs 9. Highlands (4-2, 7-2) - Think the WPIAL board has a sense of humor? They matched up the Ringgold Rams and the Highlands Golden Rams in the first round. Even though Ringgold put up a crapload of points this year (35.6 points per game, 5th best offense in AAA), Highlands has had one of the best defenses (12.1 points against per game, 4th best defense in AAA). Also, the Keystone Conference is 1-43 in first round games over the last 11 years. Prediction: Highlands

4. West Mifflin (6-1, 8-1) vs 13. Mars (3-3, 6-3) - West Mifflin ended TJ's conference winning streak to claim the conference crown. The Titans have a top 10 offense and defense in AAA. On the other side, the Planets haven't been as explosive as in years past. Prediction: West Mifflin

5. Montour (5-2, 7-2) vs 12. Chartiers Valley (4-3, 5-4) - The Spartans have one of the most explosive offenses in any classification, led by 1200-yard rusher Julian Durden and 1600-yard passer Dylan Buechel. Char Valley has struggled since losing QB Wayne Capers to injury and his status for this game is uncertain. Prediction: Montour

2. Franklin Regional (7-0, 9-0) vs 15. Belle Vernon (4-3, 3-5) - If any Keystone Conference team has a chance to win a game this year, it's Franklin Regional with the WPIAL's second leading rusher Dane Brown (1673 yards). The Leopards have struggled on offense, scoring under 10 points 5 times this year. Prediction: Franklin Regional

7. Indiana (5-1, 7-2) vs 10. Hopewell (4-3, 6-3) - The Little Indians aerial attack put up the 4th most points of any AAA team, but this game is all about WPIAL leading rusher Rushel Shell. Shell is about 500 yards short of the state rushing record, and he'll probably get 30+ carries in this game, which should get him about halfway there. Prediction: Hopewell

3. Knoch (6-0, 9-0) vs 14. West Allegheny (4-3, 5-4) - The Greater Allegheny Conference Champions get a horrible draw with the 4th place team from the Parkway Conference. West Allegheny is battle-tested, and should give the Knights a run for their money. Prediction: West Allegheny

6. Thomas Jefferson (6-1, 6-3) vs 11. Greensburg Salem (5-2, 7-2) - TJ has some unreal streak of semi-finals appearances going. Two of their three losses were to Quad-A teams. Prediction: Thomas Jefferson


1. Aliquippa (8-0, 9-0) vs 16. Steel Valley (3-4, 5-4) at Ambridge - The Pit at Aliquippa is one of the great high school football venues of the region, but due to bad field conditions, this game was moved across the river to Ambridge. This matchup pits two old steel towns against each other, and the defending AA Champion Quips should have the edge on the field. They have playoff experience, having been to Heinz Field every year since 2007 when Terrelle Pryor and Jeanette knocked them off in the semi-finals. Prediction: Aliquippa 

 8. Washington (6-1, 7-2) vs 9. Mt Pleasant (6-2, 6-3) - The Little Prexies are back in the playoffs for only the second time since 2005. Both of these teams have a lot of young starters and could contend for conference titles next year. But for now, you have to like Washington's offense (30.5 points per game), which ranks 7th in AA. Prediction: Washington 

 4. Freeport (6-1, 7-2) vs 13. Ellwood City (5-3, 6-3) - I was a bit surprised the Yellow Jackets were awarded the #4 seed in the AA bracket. Yes, they were the Allegheny Conference Champions and they rode their defense (8.9 points against per game) and running back Damon Smith (1206 yards, 15th in WPIAL) most of the season. Ellwood City has a good offense but suspect defense (22.2 points against per game), which could be their downfall against the run-oriented Jackets. Prediction: Freeport 

 5. Greensburg Central Catholic (7-1, 8-1) vs 12. Ford City (5-2, 6-3) - GCC played one of the best games of the regular season against Jeanette for the conference crown. The Centurions should roll against the offensively-challenged Sabres (15.9 points per game). Prediction: GCC 

2. Jeanette (8-0, 9-0) vs 15. Burrell (5-2, 6-3) - Jeanette has stormed through their opponents on the back of QB Demetrious Cox, winning the conference title by beating GCC last week. Burrell is better than people give them credit for with an offense averaging over 30 points per game. The Bucs downfall is on defense where they rank 16th out of 34 AA teams. Prediction: Jeanette 

 7. Shady Side Academy (6-1, 7-2) vs 10. Beaver (6-2, 7-2) - There is a very good chance that less than 10 passes will be thrown total in this game. Both teams are in the top 10 in AA in offense and defense, with Beaver posting 5 shutouts this season. Prediction: Beaver 

 3. Seton-La Salle (7-0, 9-0) vs 14. East Allegheny (5-3, 5-4) at Chartiers Valley - Seton-La Salle rode 1200-yard rusher Kevin Hart to a series of blowouts this season. The Rebels have put up at least 28 points in every game and won every game by at least 20. They pitched 4 shutouts this year and the offensively-challenged East Allegheny (19.1 points per game, 24th in AA) could be a candidate for a 5th shutout. Prediction: Seton-La Salle 

 6. Beaver Falls (6-2, 7-2) vs 11. South Fayette (5-2, 6-3) - This is easily the best game on the AA slate and it will be worth the price of admission. Beaver Falls is a traditionally strong playoff team with 1200-yard rusher Trey Hall leading the way. South Fayette is the defending WPIAL champs and might start freshman QB Brett Brumbaugh, younger brother of Christian Brumbaugh who led WPIAL in passing last year and carried the Lions to the state championship game. Prediction: Beaver Falls 


 1. Clairton (7-0, 9-0) vs 16. Cornell (4-3, 5-4) - Has there been a more impressive team than 2-time defending state champion Clairton this season? Not only did they extend their winning streak and can tie the WPIAL record for longest winning streak if they win the state title again. The Bears are averaging 47 points for and 2 points against this season. Let that number sink in. they only gave up 18 points all year. 12 of those came to Washington, the #8 seed in the AA playoffs, in a game they still won by 30. The only other team to score on the Bears was Fort Cherry (#11 seed in A), who still lost 35-6. Prediction: Clairton 

 8. Monessen (6-2, 6-3) vs 9. Springdale (6-2, 7-2) - The typically powerful Monessen offense has struggled this season, scoring only 182 points this season (20.2 points per game). On the other side, the Dynamos high-powered rushing attack has put up 294 points this year (32.7 points per game). Monessen's one out-of-conference test came against North Catholic, who finished 6th in the Eastern Conference) and they got shut out. Prediction: Springdale 

 4. Rochester (6-1, 8-1) vs 13. Northgate (4-4, 5-4) - The Eastern Conference is 8-0 in the first round over the last two years, but that undefeated streak will end tonight. Even though Northgate has the second leading passer in WPIAL in QB Jon Girvin, the Rams will simply be too much on both sides of the ball. Rochester is averaging 36.4 points per game and has been to the Class A Championship game the last two seasons. It seems like punishment to put the Rams in the same side of the bracket with Clairton, who has ended their season 5 consecutive years. Prediction: Rochester 

5. Avonworth (7-1, 8-1) vs 12. California (6-2, 7-2) - The Antelopes put up another solid season in the Eastern Conference. They are riding an 8-game winning streak after losing their opener to conference champion Bishop Canevin. California has been the epitome of a hot-and-cold team this year, ranking 10th in both points per game and points against per game in Class A. They have scored over 35 points 5 times but been held to under 20 in the other 4 games. Prediction: Avonworth

 2. Sto-Rox (7-0, 9-0) vs 15. Frazier (6-2, 6-3) - Sto-Rox handed Rochester their first loss to a team not named Clairton since 2008 and turned that 21-point victory (their closest game of the season) into a conference title. The Vikings boast three Division 1 recruits and have scored 40+ points six times. Only once (a 29-0 victory over Cornell) have the Vikings been held under 38 points. Prediction: Sto-Rox

 7. Brentwood (6-1, 8-1) vs 10. Western Beaver (5-2, 5-4) - Brentwood's only loss was a 32-0 defeat by Clairton. Western Beaver had a tough schedule and went 1-4 against playoff teams. Their only victory over a playoff team was a 38-36 win over Cornell. In their four losses (Fort Cherry, Clairton, Rochester, Sto-Rox), they were outscored by an average of 35.3 points per game. Prediction: Brentwood 

 3. Bishop Canevin (8-0, 9-0) vs 14. Chartiers-Houston (4-3, 6-3) at Dormont Stadium - The Crusaders (which is an awesome name for a Catholic school) boast the 3rd best offense (347 points, 38.6 points per game) and 2nd best defense (52 points against, 5.8 points against per game) in Class A. Chartiers-Houston is in the playoffs for the 9th time in the last decade, but are 0-8 in the playoffs during that span. Prediction: Bishop Canevin 

 6. Beth-Center (8-0, 8-1) vs 11. Fort Cherry (5-2, 6-3) - Beth-Center ran through a bad Tri-County South Conference, putting up the 3rd best Margin of Victory in all of WPIAL (39.7 points per game). They were one of 3 WPIAL teams to score over 400 points (Clairton and Franklin Regional the others). Their only loss came in non-conference play to Avonworth. Fort Cherry might have the best chance of any Class A teams to pull an upset. They have played well against quality opponents, beating Western Beaver by 15 and Chartiers-Houston by 24. The Rangers only lost to Brentwood by 1 and hold the distinction of being the only Class A team to score against Clairton this season. Prediction: Fort Cherry

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