Friday, November 2, 2012

WPIAL Playoffs First Round Previews

After the nine week regular season, the playoffs are finally upon us here in Western Pennsylvania. In Quad-A, top-seeded North Allegheny aims to win their 3rd straight WPIAL title. In AAA, a team from the Parkway Conference has played in the last 6 championship games. There was a 3-way tie atop the conference this season between Central Valley, West Allegheny, and Montour.  In AA, Aliquippa is the top seed this season and has reached the championship game in Heinz Field in each of the last 4 seasons. In Class A, Clairton carries a 56-game winning streak into the playoffs, the longest streak in the nation. Possibly the most incredible stat is that Clairton has defeated Rochester in the playoffs in each of the last 6 seasons.


1. North Allegheny (7-0, 9-0) vs 16. Altoona (4-4, 4-5)
North Allegheny is the 2-time defending WPIAL champs and is the only remaining undefeated team in Quad-A. Altoona won the "wild card" spot to get in, but NA should run away with this game. Prediction: North Allegheny

8. McKeesport (5-3, 5-4) vs 9. Bethel Park (6-2, 6-3)
McKeesport had a disappointing season that still saw them finish 3rd in the Foothills Conference. The Tigers suffered through injuries and a down year from highly touted QB Eddie Stockett. Bethel Park was the only team to beat Upper St Clair this season, and they did so in a game where they only managed 3 first downs. Prediction: McKeesport

4. Seneca Valley (6-1, 8-1) vs 13. Hempfield (4-4, 4-5)
Seneca Valley dominated their opponents this year, averaging almost 40 points per game behind 1300-yard passer Jordan Brown and 1300-yard rusher Forrest Barnes. Hempfield's Week 1 victory over McKeesport made up for their losses to Altoona and Connellsville and got them into the playoffs. Prediction: Seneca Valley

5. Mt Lebanon (7-1, 7-2) vs 12. Butler (3-4, 4-5)
The Blue Devils saw success under a new coach this season and their only losses were in the season opener to North Allegheny and in the season finale to Upper St Clair. Butler made the playoffs for the first time in decades. Prediction: Mt Lebanon

2. Gateway (8-0, 8-1) vs 15. Peters Twp (4-4, 5-4)
The Gators were widely considered one of the best teams in Quad-A, and they will likely have the opportunity to avenge their loss to North Allegheny if they can reach the championship game. Peters Twp started fast but cooled off as the season went on. Prediction: Gateway

7. Woodland Hills (6-2, 7-2) vs 10. North Hills (4-3, 6-3)
This matchup is getting press for the legendary coaches involved. This game has all the makings of a defensive struggle at the Wolvarena. Prediction: Woodland Hills

3. Upper St Clair (7-1, 8-1) vs 14. Kiski Area (4-4, 4-5)
Don't doubt Jim Render in the playoffs. Prediction: Upper St Clair

6. Penn-Trafford (7-1, 7-2) vs 11. Central Catholic (5-2, 7-2)
The WPIAL tried to "help" Central Catholic by giving them a lower seed since they had to be seeded in the bottom half of the bracket. I'm not sure how much sense this makes, but the Vikings are a sound defensive team who should be able to shut down Penn-Trafford's mediocre offense. Prediction: Central Catholic


1. Thomas Jefferson (8-0, 9-0) vs 16. Hollidaysburg (3-5, 3-6)
TJ beat West Mifflin to remain the only unbeaten team in AAA and earn the #1 seed. Hollidaysburg got into the playoffs by winning a 3-way tie with Highlands and Indiana on Tiebreaker Points. Prediction: TJ

8. Franklin Regional (6-2, 7-2) vs 9. Elizabeth Forward (5-3, 6-3)
Franklin Regional is led by RB Dane Brown and has relied on the best defense in AAA (6.8 points per game) to get them this far. Elizabeth Forward has also excelled on the defensive side of the ball, giving up only 11.2 points per game and holding the best offense in AAA (TJ) to 21 points, their lowest output of the season. Prediction: Elizabeth Forward

4. West Allegheny (7-1, 8-1) vs 13. Ringgold (4-4, 4-5)
West Allegheny was in tight games every week this season, from the season opener against Blackhawk when it took a last-second touchdown to pull off the victory, to their 5-3 defeat of then-#1 Montour. West A is used to close games and this will come in handy in the playoffs against an average Ringgold squad. Prediction: West Allegheny

5. Montour (7-1, 8-1) vs 12. Trinity (5-3, 5-4)
In another confusing twist by the WPIAL, Trinity finished 3rd in the Big Nine Conference and beat Elizabeth Forward head-to-head yet is seeded 3 spots below them and has to face the defending champion Montour. The Spartans don't have a dominant running back like they did last year when they won the title, but they play smothering defense and still had the 4th best offense in AAA. Don't be surprised to see Montour playing in Heinz Field again this year. Prediction: Montour

2. Mars (7-1, 8-1) vs 15. Blackhawk (3-5, 3-6)
Mars beat Hampton in the regular season finale to win the Greater Allegheny Conference. Blackhawk came within a score of beating Montour in Week 7 then won their last two games to sneak into the playoffs on a 3-way tie with Ambridge and New Castle. The Cougars are explosive and feature an 1800-yard passer (Pitt recruit Chandler Kincade), a 1000-yard receiver and a 1400-yard rusher. Their biggest problem is on the other side of the ball where they allowed over 30 points per game. This has all the makings of a shootout and the biggest question will be if Blackhawk's defense can actually come up with a stop. Prediction: Mars

7. West Mifflin (7-1, 8-1) vs 10. Knoch (6-2, 7-2)
In a bit of a confusing seeding decision by the WPIAL, West Mifflin (who has the 2nd best offense and 5th best defense in AAA and whose only loss was to TJ) was seeded 7th, below a Hampton team that lost to an awful Greensburg Salem squad. This is the ROOT Sports game of the week, and we'll get to see the 3rd leading rusher in all of Western Pennsylvania, Jimmy Wheeler, who ran for 1672 yards. Knoch has a sound defense and they did topple Mars this season after losing to Hampton and Franklin Regional. Prediction: West Mifflin

3. Central Valley (7-1, 7-2) vs 14. Belle Vernon (4-4, 4-5)
Central Valley was considered by many the best team in AAA, and their only conference loss was by 1 point to Montour in overtime. The Warriors dropped a non-conference game in the last week of the season to AA Beaver Falls, but you have to wonder how much effort they were giving. The bigger issue for Central Valley is the lack of star players - one of the top recruits in the nation, Robert Foster, is suspended for this game and their leading passer and leading rusher are injured. Much like Blackhawk in the Parkway conference, Belle Vernon turned around a disappointing season and won their last two games to earn the AAA "Wild Card" spot. Prediction: Central Valley

6. Hampton (6-2, 7-2) vs 11. Hopewell (4-4, 4-5)
As I said earlier, it's a little confusing how Hampton was seeded above West Mifflin, and they may have gotten the better draw. Hopewell was a middle-of-the-road team that won enough games to get in but dropped some downright awful games against Chartiers Valley (CV's only conference win) and AA Freedom. Hampton is a good team that could easily make it to Heinz Field. Prediction: Hampton


1. Aliquippa (7-0, 9-0) vs 16. Steel Valley (4-4, 4-5) at Moon
For the second year in a row, the Quips start their quest for Heinz with the Ironmen. Unfortunately this matchup of old steel towns is going to be one-sided once again as the Quips are just that much better. Prediction: Aliquippa 

8. Burrell (7-1, 8-1) vs 9. Mt. Pleasant (6-2, 7-2) at Valley
The Bucs only loss came to Freeport which cost them the conference title, and Mt Pleasant can expect a handful trying to stop 1700-yard rusher Cole Bush. The Vikings had a very solid season and came within a point of beating Jeanette. Prediction: Mt Pleasant

4. Jeanette (7-1, 8-1) vs 13. South Allegheny (6-2, 7-2) at Norwin
South Allegheny is back in the playoffs for the first time in over a decade and they get rewarded with a trip to Jeanette to play a very good Jayhawks team. Jeanette almost beat Washington but also almost lost to Mt Pleasant and GCC. Prediction: Jeanette

5. Beaver (6-1, 8-1) vs 12. Valley (5-3, 6-3)
Beaver's only loss came in the season finale to Aliquippa and they were without their leading rusher. Valley carried a 22-game losing streak into this season but beat conference champion Freeport and made the playoffs in their first season in AA. I nailed Valley as a sleeper early in the season but they're just not good enough to beat Beaver. Prediction: Beaver

2. South Fayette (8-0, 9-0) vs 15. Freedom (3-4, 4-5)
It's somewhat of a disservice to South Fayette to have a 2 next to their name as it could easily be "1B." Of all the teams that could beat Aliquippa, South Fayette might have the best chance behind the WPIAL's leading passer Brett Brumbaugh. Freedom made the playoffs after being a perennial bottom-feeder in the Midwestern conference. Prediction: South Fayette

7. Freeport (7-1, 7-2) vs 10. Beaver Falls (5-2, 6-2) at Highlands
These are two teams with utterly confusing results on their schedule. Freeport beat Burrell to win the tiebreaker for the conference title but also dropped a game to Valley and got annihilated by Washington two weeks ago. Beaver Falls squeaked by two bad teams (Keystone Oaks and New Brighton) and got smoked by Aliquippa but also beat Central Valley, one of the best teams in AAA. Prediction: Freeport

3. Washington (8-0, 9-0) vs 14. Shady Side Academy (6-2, 6-3) at Washington & Jefferson College
The leading rusher in all the WPIAL was Washington junior Shai McKenzie who rumbled for over 1900-yards this season. The Little Prexies beat Allegheny Conference champion Freeport 60-6 two weeks ago, so SSA could be in for a long night. Another strange seeding decision by the WPIAL was to seed SSA below Valley. SSA beat Valley head-to-head and finished ahead of them in the conference standings. Prediction: Washington

6. Seton-La Salle (7-1, 8-1) vs 11. Greensburg Central Catholic (5-3, 6-3) at Chartiers Valley
Seton-La Salle might be the most under-the-radar team in AA. They lost to South Fayette early in the season, but utterly dominated their opponents this season with smothering defense, pitching 4 shutouts and not giving up more than 7 points to anyone but South Fayette (who scored 51 on them). That should tell you more about just how good South Fayette is. GCC is not a dominant offensive team but has an excellent defense and they won a close game against Yough in Week 8 to earn the last playoff spot in the Interstate Conference. Prediction: Seton-La Salle


1. Clairton (9-0, 9-0) vs 16. Frazier (6-2, 7-2) at Belle Vernon
Bout dat 56-game streak... Prediction: Clairton

8. Springdale (6-2, 6-3) vs 9. Brentwood (6-3, 6-3) at Fox Chapel
The Dynamos are led by the 4th leading rusher in the WPIAL, Sean Dugan who ran for over 1600 yards this season. The WPIAL obviously has it out for the Dynamos, sticking them right next to Clairton on the bracket for the second consecutive season. Brentwood will need to stop Dugan if they're going to have any hope of beating Springdale. Prediction: Springdale

4. Jefferson-Morgan (6-2, 7-2) vs 13. Neshannock (7-1, 8-1) at Waynesburg High School
This is a "flipped" matchup where the WPIAL "rewarded" Neshannock (who in their eyes is the "true" #4 seed) by dropping them to 13 and giving them the easiest matchup of the first round. From a bracketology standpoint, this makes no sense, but it is what it is. See my Playoff Brackets post for a rant on this. Neshannock should dominate the Rockets. Prediction: Neshannock

5. Monessen (8-1, 8-1) vs 12. Apollo-Ridge (6-2, 6-3) at Charleroi
Monessen is led by WVU recruit Chavaz Rawlins and their only loss was to Clairton. Apollo-Ridge had an up-and-down season with big losses to North Catholic and Springdale and close wins over Northgate and Avonworth that got them in the playoffs. Prediction: Monessen

2. Sto-Rox (7-1, 8-1) vs 15. Carmichaels (6-2, 7-2) at North Hills
The Vikings were somewhat overlooked after they dropped a game to Neshannock early in the season but they stormed back to beat Rochester in the season finale and force a 3-way tie for first where they held the tiebreaker. Sto-Rox is looking to get back to Heinz Field and get another shot at Clairton. Prediction: Sto-Rox

7. Beth-Center (7-1, 8-1) vs 10. Union (5-3, 6-3) at California High School
Beth-Center won the worst conference in the WPIAL and was rewarded by being seeded below a team they beat 38-7 and finished ahead of in the standings because of WPIAL's screwy bracket logic. Union is a good team and should give the Bulldogs a run for their money. Prediction: Union

3. Rochester (7-1, 8-1) vs 14. Avonworth (5-3, 5-4) at Ambridge
These two teams played a close game in Week 1 with Rochester coming out on top 21-7. Avonworth saw downfall and redemption on 2-point conversion defense the last two weeks - Wilkinsburg converted a 2-point conversion to pull off a shocking upset in Week 8 but Avonworth got redemption and stopped rival Northgate on a 2-point try in overtime to win a Casket Match for the playoffs. Prediction: Rochester

6. North Catholic (7-1, 7-2) vs 11. Bishop Canevin (6-3, 6-3)
The Catholic Bowl should be a tight game between two teams with contrasting styles that played in the same conference the last few seasons. North Catholic was led by sophomore RB PJ Fulmore who ran for almost 1300-yards while Canevin QB Nico DiPaolo threw for over 1000 yards. The good news for the Eastern Conference champion Trojans is that they don't have to play Neshannock again and aren't on Clairton's side of the bracket. Prediction: North Catholic

No comments: