Monday, August 27, 2012


It's that time of year again in Western Pennsylvania - high school football season. And there isn't anything quite like it. We kick off our previews today with the big boys, the AAAA schools. North Allegheny has won back-to-back championships and looks poised to make a run for a third consecutive title. The sections were realigned this year as AAAA moved from 4 conferences down to 3. Previews are listed in my predicted order of finish. Not that my prediction means a whole lot. Don't forget to check out our WPIAL Standings page during the season for updated standings.

All helmet images from PA Helmet Project.

Foothills Conference

View AAAA: Foothills in a larger map

The Foothills Conference is stratified into three tiers. There's probably a 99% chance that someone in the top tier (Gateway, McKeesport, Penn-Trafford) will win the conference title. The next tier (Latrobe, Connellsville, Altoona) will likely be competing for the last two playoff spots and the rear will be brought up by the last three (Kiski, Hempfield, Norwin).

This is likely the last year for coach Terry Smith and he as a load of returning starters including QB Thomas Woodson (1100 yards, 11 TDs, committed to Arizona), leading rushers Darin Franklin (800 yds, 18 TDs) and Andre Martin (400 yds 9 TDs), leading receivers TE Jaymor Parrish (Pitt commit) and WR Delvon Randall (JR). All in all 9 starters on offense and 10 on defense return for a team that lost to North Allegheny in the Semi-Finals last year and had the best defense in Quad-A.

The Tigers boast the best QB in AAAA in Eddie Stockett (1700 yds, 17 TD), who has committed to Akron. They lost their top 2 receivers, and no one returns who had more than 6 catches last year. Stockett will rely on 6'3" JR Jaquan Davidson (6 rec, 207 yds, 6 TDs, 34.5 YPC according to the PG stats). LB Hodari Christian might be one of the best defensive players in WPIAL and has committed to WVU.

The defending conference champions have lost some starters from last season, including all of their offensive skill players TE Brian McDonough and WR Dorian Stevens (combined 30 catches). The biggest losses were 1400-yd rusher Manny Simpson and 1400-yd passer Zach Emerick. That's a lot of offense to replace. They dominated on the offensive and defensive lines last year and will need to do that again if they're going to challenge Gateway and McKeesport for the league crown. They also return the best kicker in WPIAL Matt Lughnane, who made 11 FGs last year.

The Wildcats finished 5-4 overall last year but were 2-4 in conference play, missing the playoffs on a 16-0 loss to Connellsville. Dual-threat Sophomore QB Logan Carns started some games which gave him good experience for this year (90 pass att, 97 rush att). He will need to improve his completion percentage (24% last year) as a Junior this year. Leading rusher Robert Vasinko (68 car, 500 yds, 6 TD) also returns.

The Falcons made playoffs for the first time in 6 years last season, but they graduated 20 seniors from that team. Their biggest addition is transfer Jordan McCrae, who led Greensburg Central Catholic in rushing last year with 1167 yards.

Leading receiver Rafeeq Barnes (12 rec 267 yds, 3 TD) returns for a Lions team that missed the playoffs by just 1 game last season. Their top 2 RBs graduated but Avery Howasare (56 car, 235 yds, 2 TD) figures to be the feature back and they should be able to make a run at the last playoff spot in the new Foothills Conference.

Kiski Area
After starting last 0-8, they ended on a high note with a 20-0 shutout of Plum. They lost their quarterback to transfer to Central Catholic, but return WR Joe Brungo who had 23 receptions for 444 yards as a sophomore last year. They were one of 4 AAAA teams to give up over 300 points last season and will have to improve the defense if they're going to make a run at the playoffs.

16 Seniors graduated from a team that went 1-8 last season. They figure to start Junior QB Ty George, who built some experience playing as a sophomore last year. The only returning skill player is RB Joey DeFloria (33 carries, 152 yards) and they will need to find some offense somewhere after being one of five Quad-A teams not to score 100 points last season.

It was a forgettable season for the Norwin Knights after going 0-9, having the worst defense, and 2nd worst offense in AAAA. They were shut out 4 times and lost their quarterback and leading rusher to graduation. Only three starters return on offense and two on defense, but really things can't get much worse than they were last year.

Northern Eight Conference

View AAAA: Northern Eight in a larger map

This conference is stacked. There are seven teams that could make the playoffs...and Butler.

North Allegheny
The two-time defending WPIAL champions beat Upper St Clair in OT last year and went on to lose in the State semi-finals. OT Patrick Kugler is one of best OTs in nation, and has committed to Michigan. He has fantastic pedigree as the son of Steelers OL coach Sean Kugler. QB Mack Leftwich (122/216 2149 yds, 19 TD, 122 car, 715 yds, 14 TD) returns with 2 of his top 3 WRs and leading rusher Alex DeCiantis (151 car, 806 yds, 14 TD). This team is loaded. Expect to see the Tigers in Heinz Field again on Thanksgiving weekend.

Seneca Valley
This team is stacked with returning talent from an 8-3 season a year ago where 2 losses came to NA, the 2nd in the Quarterfinals. If McKeesport's Eddie Stockett isn't the best QB in WPIAL, Seneca Valley's Jordan Brown (2100 yds, 16 TDs) certainly is. Brown's older brother CJ was slated to be the starter at Maryland this year before suffering an injury in camp. Jordan is being recruited by the Terps as well as some other D-1 schools. All around threat Forrest Barnes (172 car, 1161 rush yds, 43 rec 551 yds, 19 total TD) led the team in rushing and receiving last year and is also garnering some attention from D1 schools. Seneca Valley had a top 5 offense last year but needs to improve on defense where they were 16th in AAAA.

Central Catholic
The Vikings will be strong once again but after graduating leading rusher Damian Jones-Moore and their top 3 receivers, there will certainly be some transition. JJ Cosentino, who transferred in from Kiski where he saw some time as a backup last year as a sophomore, figures to be the starting quarterback.
Junior RB Luigi Lista-Brinza figures to step in to feature back role after running for 363 yards and 5 TDs last year. Another transfer, Junior Niko Thorpe, led Shaler in rushing last year and should help the Vikings backfield.

Leading rusher Brock Baranowski (153 car, 1079 yds, 231 rec yds, 16 total TDs) returns to a team that lost 6 of its first 7 games then flipped a switch and beat two playoff teams soundly - Woodland Hills at the Wolvarena 26-7 then pounded Shaler 51-7 in the season finale. There were a lot of juniors on the team that saw significant playing time last year and if they can get the QB position figured out, this is a team that could make some noise.

North Hills
The Indians ended last season on 3-game losing streak that sunk them to 4-5 and caused them to miss the playoffs for the first time since 1998. Leading receiver Jordan Blackmon (19 rec, 346 yds, 22 car, 306 rush yds, 8 total TDs) & leading rusher Tyler Reddick (98 car, 650 yds) return as Jack McCurry should have enough weapons to get North Hills back in the hunt in November.

Fox Chapel
The Foxes made the playoffs with a 3-6 record then got run over by North Allegheny in the opening round. Alex Romango seems to have the build for a solid QB (6'4" 200lbs) and the Foxes return their top skill position players from last year in WR Nathan Huwar and RB Nigel Garnett.

Shaler limped into the playoffs last year after losing their last 3 games, including a 51-7 thumping at the hands of Pine-Richland. They lost all of their skill position players to graduation or transfer, including TE JP Holtz (graduation) and leading rusher Niko Thorpe (transfer to Central Catholic). They have a few returning starters on the line but will need to find skill position players to be competitive in a very strong conference.

Butler won 2 of its first 3 games of the season (both against non-conference opponents) then fell flat on their face in conference play, not scoring over 10 points for the next 5 weeks. Butler struggled on both sides of the ball as they were one of only 4 AAAA teams to surrender over 300 points. JR QB Thomas Jendesky figures to take the reigns of an offense that was one of only 5 in AAAA that failed to score 100 points all year. Leading receiver Canan Roskovski and leading rusher Bob Vernick are also back for the Golden Tornado.

Southeastern Conference

View AAAA: Southeastern in a larger map
Upper St. Clair
The Panthers won their conference last year and made it all the way to Heinz Field where they fell to North Allegheny. When QB Dakota Conwell got hurt, junior Pete Coughlin did the impossible - started his first game ever and beat Central Catholic to earn a trip to Heinz Field. Coughlin should be the starter this year, and will take over an entirely new offense as the Panthers had all their starting skill players graduate. Reloading has never been a problem for legendary coach Jim Render and the Panthers should be right at the top of the conference once again this year.

Woodland Hills
The Wolverines started last year on a 6-1 tear but dropped their last 3, including 2 home losses to Pine-Richland and rival Penn Hills that dropped them into the bottom half of the playoff bracket. They played a close game in the first round but ultimately fell to Mt. Lebanon. Cody McClelland figures to be the starting QB and the team will have to find replacements for all their starting offensive skill position players.

Penn Hills
The Indians rebounded after a 1-4 start to win their last 4, including a victory over rival Woodland Hills at the Wolvarena to secure 2nd place in their conference. Penn Hills returns SR QB Darius Holloway, despite loing most of their primary skill players from last year.

Dorian Brown (1200 yds, 11 TD) might be the best RB in the conference. The Highlanders started freshman Doug Altivella at QB last year, and looks to improve on his 50% completion percentage. With the best RB in the conference, they should push for a playoff spot but they will have to start and close strong. Baldwin opens with Peters Twp and Plum and finish with Canon-Mac and Bethel. If they want to make the playoffs, they have to beat all 4 of these teams.

Mt. Lebanon
The Blue Devils lost RB Luke Hagy, who accounted for over 2100 yards of total offense. They have a new coach this season, and lost most of their offensive skill position players. All told, they only return 2 starters on offense and 3 on defense. This might be a "down" year by Lebo standards, but they should be in the playoff mix once again.

Peters Twp
The Indians made playoffs last year thanks to a victory over Baldwin. RJ Pfeuffer (54 completions, 535 yards) split time at quarterback as a Junior last year but figures to be the starter this season. They lost most of their offensive skill players but return starters up front. All in all, 5 offensive and 7 defensive starters return.

Bethel Park
The Black Hawks have new players at all the offensive skill positions but return the star of their defense, John Mascaro who will start for 3rd year at linebacker.

The Big Macs finished 0-10 and faded badly as the season went on. They started with a close 19-18 loss to rival Trinity and 9-7 loss to Latrobe. When the dust had settled, they had the 3rd worst offense in AAAA, one of 5 teams to score under 100 points all season. The Big Macs will need to find offense somewhere this season or it will be another long year in Canonsburg.

The Mustangs had the worst offense in AAAA (2nd worst in all WPIAL) last year, scoring just 50 points all year). They were shut out 4 times and their only win was against a AAA school (Kittanning) that is now playing in AA. RB Jake Diguilio scored 30 of the team's 50 points last year and returns for his senior year. On top of being bad on offense, they had the 2nd worst defense in AAAA, giving up 328 points. The Mustangs return 6 offensive starters and 7 on defense and only have one senior on the offensive line. This could serve as a solid building year for this team, but they simply don't have enough to compete in this conference this year.

Playoff Predictions

Foothills - Gateway, McKeesport, Penn-Trafford, Latrobe, Connellsville
Northern Eight - NA, Seneca Valley, Central Catholic, Pine-Richland, North Hills, Shaler
Southeastern - USC, Penn Hills, Woodland Hills, Baldwin, Mt Lebanon

Predicted Championship: Gateway over North Allegheny

1 comment:

silicasandra said...

I am really impressed by the maps! (I'm sure the analysis is good too, but I spent more time studying the maps, haha.)