Friday, November 23, 2012

WPIAL Championships Preview

Is there anything better than waking up from a turkey-and-pie-induced coma to a full day of High School Football? Probably not. If you're spending Black Friday out shopping, you're going to miss a heck of a day of football with some of the best players in the WPIAL on the Heinz Field grass. This year's championship games are all about streaks. Clairton has won the last four Single-A titles and is riding the nation's longest winning streak of 59 games. In AA, Aliquippa will be appearing in their 5th consecutive championship game. The Parkway Conference in AAA is looking for their third straight title after West Allegheny, Central Valley, and Montour won the last three years. Finally, North Allegheny is going for the three-peat in Quad-A. All four games will be televised live on ROOT Sports.

Class A Championship

1. Clairton (9-0, 12-0) vs 2. Sto-Rox (7-1, 11-1)

In a rematch of last year's Class A Championship, Clairton and Sto-Rox square off again in the first game of the day. Clairton is riding the nation's longest winning streak of 59 consecutive games and can break Central Bucks West's state record with a win. At the rate Clairton is winning WPIAL championships, we might as well rename Black Friday "Black and Orange Friday." The Bears have won four consecutive Class A titles and five of the last six. They are once again stacked with D-1 recruits, led by RB Tyler Boyd who is 3rd in the WPIAL with 1979 rushing yards and has scored 40 total touchdowns. The Bears also feature Pitt recruit Titus Howard who plays both WR and CB and is being recruited as a defensive back. Clairton has the best defense in Class A, giving up only 75 points through 12 games. On the other side, Sto-Rox is led by junior QB Lenny Williams who had the worst game of his career last year in the championship against Clairton. Williams has the size and athleticism to take a game over, as he did in the semi-finals against North Catholic.Williams has thrown for over 2100 yards this season with 26 touchdowns and no interceptions. He throws one of the tightest spirals you'll see from a high school quarterback and has a big arm that can make throws down the field and deep down the sidelines. He was also the Vikings leading rusher with over 1000 yards on the ground this season. This is the best offense Clairton has seen all season, and the matchup of Titus Howard on Sto-Rox's leading receiver Ben Shackelford will be one to watch. At the end of the day, Clairton is simply too good. Bout Dat Nation rolls on. Prediction: Clairton

Class AAAA Championship

1. North Allegheny (7-0, 12-0) vs 7. Woodland Hills (6-2, 10-2)

In a strange decision by the WPIAL, the Quad-A championship game (usually the last game of the day) is being played second on the schedule. The game features two of the most dominant Quad-A teams over the last decade. North Allegheny is the two-time defending Quad-A champion and has run the table this season on their way to a three-peat. The Tigers are led by QB Mack Leftwich, who has committed to Stephen F. Austin and reportedly has clocked a 4.4 40-yard dash. Leftwich is 3rd in the WPIAL in passing with over 2400 yards, 32 touchdowns and no interceptions. Leftwich is also a threat on the ground, rushing for over 400 yards and 8 touchdowns this season. His leading receiver, Gregg Garrity, is 53 yards away from 1000 with has 47 receptions and 13 touchdowns. Leading rusher Alex DiCiantis is also closing in on 1000 and has also found the end zone 13 times. North Allegheny has the best offense and best defense in Quad-A. This is primarily a result of being downright dominant up front behind Michigan recruit Patrick Kugler and DT Jeremy Gonzales who were both named to the Post-Gazette's Fabulous 22 Team. Woodland Hills has a much different look this season than in years past when they featured dominant running backs. This Wolverine's team has done it through the air on the arm of Cody McClelland who has thrown for over 1600 yards and 20 TDs. Woodland Hills is no stranger to Heinz Field, and will be playing there for the 6th time since the stadium opened. After upsetting the #2 seed Gateway in the quarterfinals and #3 seed Upper St Clair in the semi-finals, it would not be a surprise to see the red hot Wolverines give the Tigers a run for their money. At the end of the day, North Allegheny is the better team and Woodland Hills is going to have to force turnovers - like they have done in every round of the playoffs - to win the title. Prediction: North Allegheny

Class AA Championship
1. Aliquippa (8-0, 12-0) vs 3. Washington (8-0, 12-0)

The AA Championship is literally a showcase of the stars of tomorrow as some of the top juniors in the state will face off. Aliquippa is led by a pair of junior running backs that both broke the 1000-yard mark and the best defense in the entire WPIAL. Dravon Henry ran for 1300 yards and 23 touchdowns while Terry Swanson broke 1000 and added 18 scores. Henry's real talent is in the secondary where he has multiple offers from D-1 schools as a defensive back. The Quips defense has been downright incredible this season. They have only allowed more than 7 points once and have pitched 6 shutouts in 12 games - including two shutouts in the playoffs. To complement their outstanding defense, they have the top offense in the entire WPIAL, the only team in any classification to average over 50 points per game. Only twice this season were the Quips held below 40 and they have scored 55, 43, and 56 in three playoff games so far. Washington is no stranger to facing teams with dominant offenses. In their four games this season against teams averaging over 30 points per game, the Little Prexies held each of their opponents under 18 points. In fact, Seton-La Salle's 17 points in the quarterfinals was the most anyone has scored on the Prexies all season. The Little Prexies strength is their ground game, led by the leading rusher in the entire WPIAL, junior Shai McKenzie. McKenzie has over 2600 yards and 42 touchdowns this season, both tops in the WPIAL. His 12.4 yards per carry is second only to Clairton's Tyler Boyd amongst backs with more than 30 carries. In the semi-final against South Fayette, McKenzie put the team on his back, rushing for 293 yards and 4 touchdowns. Washington's ground-and-pound offense dominated time of possession and kept South Fayette's stellar offense on the sideline. The Little Prexies will need a similar effort if they are going to challenge Aliquippa, who is playing at Heinz Field for the fifth consecutive season. Taking a moment to pat myself on the back, I called this championship game matchup back in my preseason AA preview post. Not going to change the prediction now. Prediction: Aliquippa

Class AAA Championship
4. West Allegheny (7-1, 11-1) vs 7. West Mifflin (7-1, 11-1)

The AAA Championship is a matchup of two teams that no one expected to be here. West Allegheny rode a dominant defense through the season and to the Championship - but not without some luck. In the opening week of the season after giving up a go-ahead score to Blackhawk with under a minute to play, the Indians scored a last-second touchdown to win the game and get the season off on the right foot. After that game, West Allegheny only gave up more than 14 points once - to Central Valley in their only loss of the season. Since the calendar turned to October, West Allegheny hasn't allowed more than 7 points to any team and has held the top offense in AAA (Thomas Jefferson) to just 7 points and another top 5 unit (Montour) to just 5 points in two meetings. West Mifflin rode an undefeated record to the last week of the regular season when they fell to rival Thomas Jefferson. The Titans are led by junior RB Jimmy Wheeler, the second leading rusher in all the WPIAL who has over 2100 yards and 28 touchdowns. Wheeler got his start in track and was one of the top sprinters last year as a sophomore. That speed has translated onto the football field and he has been dominant this season. The Titans also feature a dual-threat quarterback in Derrick Fulmore that provided over 1640 yards of offense this season between rushing (over 900) and throwing (over 700). Fulmore threw for 7 touchdowns and rushed for 17. For West Mifflin to win, they are going to need another strong performance from both Fulmore and Wheeler. I'm a firm believer that defense wins championships, but I don't think West Allegheny has seen a 1-2 punch this season as good as Wheeler and Fulmore. This one will be close, but don't be surprised if the Parkway Conference's streak of three consecutive championships comes to an end. Prediction: West Mifflin

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