Monday, August 26, 2013


The High School football season kicks off on Friday. In keeping with annual tradition, we're going to look at each classification of the WPIAL. Today's preview starts with Quad-A, the biggest of the schools in the WPIAL. North Allegheny has won the last three Quad-A championships, but graduated most of their star players, leaving the field wide open this season. Teams are listed by my predicted order of finish. Don't forget to check out the WPIAL Standings page, which I will be updating throughout the season.

All helmet images from PA Helmet Project.

Foothills Conference

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The Gators return their top two wide receivers from a passing attack that racked up 2400 yards last season with Akron recruit Thomas Woodson under center. Woodson has graduated, along with the Gators top rushers, but this team is stacked with Division 1-caliber talent once again (including 3 Temple recruits and a WVU recruit) and should steamroll their way through the Foothills Conference. Gateway will roll through September, but their October schedule is challenging with a non-conference game against 3-time defending champion North Allegheny and games against rivals Penn-Trafford and McKeesport to close out the season.

The Warriors have quietly built a competitive program in the Foothills conference that has finished in the top two the last two seasons. Penn-Trafford has made the playoffs each of the last 10 years but only reached the second round once (2011). The Warriors return their top two rushers from last season, including junior Devin Austin who led the team with 626 yards as a Sophomore.

After a 1-3 start to the 2012 season, the Tigers rebounded to close out strong and make the playoffs. Two of the four leading rushers will return, along with the team's second leading receiver. If the Tigers can get their Quarterback situation sorted out, they should be right at the top of the Foothills conference once again.

Kiski Area
Early season wins over Connellsville and Altoona were enough to send Kiski to the playoffs for the first time since 2006 last season. Chad Kuhn saw time at quarterback as a freshman last year and should take the reigns this season. Two of the top three receivers (WR Joe Brungo and TE Shane Kuhn) return, along with the top two rushers from last season. Kiski didn't overwhelm anyone, but with this much talent returning at the offensive skill positions, expectations are high for a return trip to the playoffs.

Hempfield was the surprise team of Quad-A last season, dropping McKeesport and Kiski in the first month of the season then turning around and losing 4 of their last 5 and barely hanging on to a playoff spot. Leading passers Ty George and DeLorian Day are both back from last year's team, and if this group can find some consistency they should compete for a playoff spot once again.

The Falcons made the playoffs in 2011 for the first time in 6 years and came up one game shy last season. Connellsville fielded a young team last year with a junior quarterback and sophomore leading receiver, so they should be an improved squad this season. Their biggest problem will be keeping opposing teams out of the end zone after giving up almost 300 points last season.

Norwin's coaches made the gutsy decision to start Freshman Nicholas Amendola at quarterback last year. The team struggled through a 2-win season, but Amendola accounted for over 1100 yards (670 passing, 490 rushing). The Knights lost their leading receiver, and senior RB Zach Tinsley will have to help shoulder the load. Amendola led the team in carries (111) and had 124 pass attempts last season. It'll be his team for the next 3 years and the Knights will go as far as he takes them.

Latrobe was in the bottom 5 of Quad-A in both offense and defense last season. Logan Carns enters his third season as the starting quarterback. As a junior, he led the team in both passing and rushing. Junior Lucas Monteparte was the team's second leading rusher last season and will need to take some of the load off of Carns for this offense to succeed.

After starting 1-4, the Lions won 3 of their final 4 games to sneak into the playoffs as the last team in. It could be another long September for Altoona as they return only two players that were in the top 3 of rushing or receiving on last year's squad. Once this team starts to put it together, they could make a run at the end of the season for a playoff spot once again.

Northern Eight Conference

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Central Catholic
The Vikings had a "down year" by Central Catholic standards last year - losing twice in the regular season and falling to Upper St Clair in the quarterfinals. Central has made the playoffs each of the last 10 years and has not lost in the first round. The Vikings are loaded this season with Florida State recruit JJ Cosentino at quarterback and leading rusher Luigi Lista-Brinza returning. Leading receiver Shafer Swann also returns, giving the Vikings an absolutely loaded lineup that should make a run towards Heinz Field.

North Allegheny
The three-time Quad-A Champions haven't lost a WPIAL game since October 2010. However, the Tigers will have to find replacements for 3000-yard passer Mack Leftwich, 1200-yard receiver Gregg Garrity and 1200-yard rusher Alex DeCiantis. The Tigers will reload behind Pitt recruit WR/DB Elijah Zeise (son of Post-Gazette beat writer Paul Zeise). Josh Bergman and Sean Idowu both had over 50 carries and 400 yards last year and should take over the backfield responsibilities. The Tigers lost a lot of talent, but should be right in the thick of the conference race despite the toughest non-conference slate in all WPIAL (Mt Lebanon and Gateway).

The Rams Quad-A struggles continued last season as they missed the playoffs for the third time in the 5 years since they jumped to the highest classification. This season should see a turnaround with juniors Ben DiNucci and Connor Slomka returning to lead the offense. DiNucci threw for over 1200 yards and 11 TDs last season while Slomka had 192 carries for over 1000 yards. The Rams also return starters on the offensive and defensive lines and should be primes for a run at the playoffs this season.

North Hills
The Indians returned to the playoffs last year after missing in 2011, their first season without a playoff appearance since 1998. It is a season of change for North Hills as long-time coach Jack McCurry retired after 35 years on the job and defensive coordinator Pat Carey takes over. North Hills lost most of their skill position players from last season to graduation but should be right in the thick of the playoff mix once again with some returning talent on the offensive and defensive lines.

Seneca Valley
The Raiders made a run to the semi-finals last year behind a senior-heavy squad. They will have to reload this year without much experience at any of the offensive skill positions. There is enough talent here to compete for a playoff spot for the 3rd straight season but they don't have enough to replicate their semi-final run from last season or to compete for the section title.

Fox Chapel
The Foxes return their leading rushers and passers from a team that struggled through the 2012 season. Aside from their 49-14 stomping of Shaler, the Foxes didn't surpass 20 points and gave up 25+ in every game. Fox Chapel had the 4th worst defense in Quad-A last season and was one of 5 teams to allow more than 300 points. They will need to tighten up on the defensive end if they are going to make a run at the last playoff spot this season.

After making the playoffs 7 straight years in the mid-2000s, Shaler missed the playoffs in 2 of the last 3 years. The 2012 campaign was one the Titans would soon like to forget. They return a majority of their defensive starters from a unit that finished dead last in Quad-A by a mile, giving up almost 400 points.

The Golden Tornado were the surprise of 2012, making the playoffs for the first time since 1998. Butler was carried by a senior-laden roster and will need to replace their quarterback, top receiver and top 3 rushers. If they are going to return to the playoffs this season, they are going to need to find offense somewhere. The Golden Tornado had two breakout games last year (60-26 over Shaler and 49-7 over Fox Chapel) but averaged only 8.7 points per game (including being shut out 3 times) in the other 7 games.

Southeastern Conference

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Bethel Park
After a 1-2 start, the Blackhawks won their last 5 conference games (including an upset of conference champion Upper St Clair) to finish tied with Woodland Hills for third place in the conference. Quarterback Levi Metheny threw for 1000 yards and ran for 375 last year as a freshman. Running back Zachary Enick returns for his senior season after compiling 1000 yards of total offense and 7 touchdowns last year when he led the team in rushing and receiving. With their top two rushers and receivers returning, paired with a sophomore quarterback and an offensive line that features Pitt recruit Mike Grimm, the Blackhawks will make their 13th consecutive playoff appearance and could very well make the trip to Heinz Field.

Upper St Clair
The Panthers made a run to the semi-finals last season, and will have to find a way to replace do-everything Quarterback Pete Coughlin who had 120 rushing attempts and 121 pass attempts last season. The good news is that the Panthers should be dominant up front again and return two of their top three rushers and receivers from last season. Never bet against Jim Render, ever.

Woodland Hills
The Wolverines came from the #7 seed to reach the Championship Game for the 3rd time in the last 4 years and played North Allegheny to their closest game of the season. This year, the Wolverines will have to replace an 1800-yard passer and 800-yard receiver. Sophomore Miles Sanders led the team in rushing with 738 yards last season and figures to be the focal point of the Woodland Hills attack. Fellow sophomore Jeremiah Jones could be the starting quarterback this season, setting up the Wolverines for the future as well.

Mt Lebanon
The Blue Devils came within a half of winning the Southeastern Conference crown last season. They must find a replacement for QB Tyler Roth, but return WR Troy Apke, who has given a verbal commitment to Penn State after tallying 54 receptions for over 1000 yards last season. Jake Rolfsen led the team in carries as a Sophomore and should be the feature back this year.

Peters Twp
The Indians rode 1300-yard rusher Mike Minjock to the playoffs last season, and look to reach the postseason for a 4th consecutive year. Junior QB Cory Owen threw for over 700 yards last season and should claim a bigger role in the offense without a workhorse back like Minjock. Seven starters return on both sides of the ball for Peters Twp, making this one of the most experienced teams in the conference.

Penn Hills
Penn Hills dropped 5 of their last 6 games and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1997 last year. They will have to replace their leading passer, receiver and rusher. Junior Denzel Sherrill will be the primary focal point in the backfield and sophomore Billy Kisner figures to take over at quarterback. The Indians will need to find points somewhere this season after finishing with the 4th worst offense in Quad-A last season.

The Highlanders have only made the playoffs once in the last seven years, but there is some reason to believe in 2013 with the return of multiple offensive skill players. Thousand-yard rusher Dorian Brown graduated, leaving a void in the backfield that should be filled by rising seniors Stephon Harris and Nicholas Barca, both of whom saw less than 40 carries last season. Junior QB Doug Altavilla led the team in passing last season and leading receivers Luke Smorey and Gary Jackson return, along with Junior offensive tackle Sterling Jenkins who has D1 potential.

The Big Macs had the worst offense in Quad-A last season, but still found a way to eek out a victory against Plum, which was only their second win in the last three seasons. There is a new coach in Canonsburg this season, and with senior returning starters at Quaterback, Runningback and Receiver, there is some hope for the Big Macs. Canon-Mac also had the third worst defense in Quad-A and will need to show significant improvement on both sides of the ball if they want to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

2012 was a brutal season for Plum, who suffered through a stagnant offense and a porous defense. Both units finished next-to-last in Quad-A. Their 3-point loss to Canon-Mac was the only game in which Plum finished within 28 points of their opponent. This will likely be another rebuilding year for the Mustangs under new coach Matt Morgan. Plum carries a 16-game losing streak into 2013, not having tasted victory since September 2011.

Playoff Predictions
Foothills: Gateway, Penn-Trafford, McKeesport, Kiski, Hempfield
Northern Eight: Central Catholic, North Allegheny, Pine-Richland, North Hills, Seneca Valley
Southeastern: Bethel Park, Upper St Clair, Mt Lebanon, Woodland Hills, Peters Twp, Penn Hills
Championship: Central Catholic over Gateway

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