Thursday, November 28, 2013

Gameday: Baltimore Ravens

M&T Bank Stadium
Radio: WDVE and other affiliates

What To Watch For

1. Thanksgiving

It's Thanksgiving. Spend the day with your family. Because the night is all about one thing: The Steelers and the Ravens.

2. Who wants to be 6-6?

The Steelers and the Ravens enter this week tied at 5-6 and in a 6-way tie for the last Wild Card spot. With five weeks left in the season, every game becomes the biggest game of the season. This week's matchup is intensified as heated rivals collide in Baltimore. One team will take control of their destiny. The past does not matter any more, all that matters is this game and the present. Get to 6-6 and seize control of the wild card race.

3. Steelers. Ravens.

Is there anything more you need to hear to get pumped up for this game? Seriously, it doesn't matter who is under the uniforms, what matters is the logo on the helmet.

4. Have A Happy Thanksgiving

Just don't eat too much turkey that you're lethargic and can't focus on the task at hand: beating our hated rivals and securing our spot in the AFC Playoff Race. Who would've thought we would be here after starting 0-4 or after the disgraceful performances against Oakland and New England that landed us at 2-6. But now, we sit right in the thick of the

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

PIAA Enrollment Cutoffs Announced

This week, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) sent a letter out to school districts regarding the cutoff points for sports classifications. Every two years, schools must submit their enrollment of 9th through 11th graders, which determines how schools are classified by sports. The PIAA then places every school involved in a sport in a list and the top 25% become AAAA schools, the next 25% AAA, the third 25% AA and the smallest 25% Single A schools. Since there are different numbers of schools that participate in different sports (some play football, but not lacrosse for instance), each sport in the PIAA has different cutoff lines.

Schools are realigned every two years, which then trickles down into a realignment of the WPIAL conferences. Since Football is a boys sport, the classifications are based on the enrollment numbers of 9th-11th grade boys in each participating school. Schools had to submit their enrollment figures earlier this year, which the PIAA will make public in the coming weeks.

The new enrollment cutoffs for football, which will impact the 2014 and 2015 Classifications are:

Class A: 1-174
Class AA: 175-299
Class AAA: 300-492
Class AAAA: 493 and up

Schools are not permitted to "play down" in a lower classification, but school districts are permitted by majority decision to vote to "play up" in a higher classification. In the past, Aliquippa, Jeanette and Greensburg Central Catholic have had enrollments that would have put them in Class A but have chosen to play in AA. Recently, the Jeanette school board reversed their past decisions and decided to move down to Class A in 2014. At the time of the last realignment (2012) there were 579 schools that played football statewide with 123 of them residing in District 7 (WPIAL).

Class A saw a decrease in their cutoff point from the previous realignment when the cutoff was at 185. The current enrollment numbers are not public, but based off the 2011 numbers, this change of just 11 students could impact 2 or 3 WPIAL schools (Apollo-Ridge and Carlynton were 182 and Laurel was at 174). Aliquippa, GCC and Jeanette all had Class A-sized enrollments in 2011 but chose to play up in AA. Jeanette will be moving down and rumors have swirled about GCC following suit.  According to the Trib, Riverside will be moving down from AA to A in 2014. Other schools that could be on the boarderline are Shenango (172 in 2011), West Shamokin (169 in 2011) and Neshannock (169 in 2011), though none of those schools have reported an expected change in classification.

There has been a lot of talk about North Catholic/Cardinal Weurl North Catholic's enrollment as it pertains to the PIAA/WPIAL Realignment. The 2013 Class A Champions had an enrollment figure of 98 in 2011, making them the 6th smallest school in the WPIAL. Even though some of the enrollment projections that have been publicized in the alumni newsletter say that the school will double its enrollment in the first year at the new school, the enrollment figures submitted to PIAA were done this year. This means that the school will likely have a low enrollment number as it pertains to the realignment, which should land North Catholic back in Class A for the next two-year cycle.

Another story in Class A will be Geibel Catholic, who had the smallest enrollment in 2011 and had to forfeit games in both 2012 and 2013 due to a lack of players. The popular opinion in the WPIAL media is that the school should take a hiatus from football and focus on playing JV football for two years to build up their program with the goal of returning to WPIAL play in 2016.

The cutoff for Class AA stayed relatively the same (up to 299 from 298). The biggest story in Class AA is that 2013 Champion South Fayette, which had an enrollment of 294 in 2011, and was thought to be moving up to AAA, but their enrollment figures would still put them in AA. South Fayette could voluntarily decide to play up in AA. It was reported in the Trib that Yough will be moving up to AAA while Highlands and Derry will be dropping down to AA.  Aside from that, schools like Valley (294 in 2011) and Keystone Oaks (290 in 2011) could move up to AAA if they saw an increase in enrollment over the last two years, but no reports have come from either school about an expected change in classification.

The cutoff between Class AAA and Quad-A went from 505 in 2011 to 492. The biggest story here is perennial Quad-A disappointment Gateway has seen a decline in enrollment that would move them down to AAA. The school has until December 10 to decide if they are going to play up in Quad-A or move down to AAA. Besides Gateway, there aren't many WPIAL schools that are in danger of having to change classifications here. Albert Gallatin (490 in 2011) and Franklin Regional (482 in 2011) would be the most likely candidates to move up if their enrollment increased. It seems unlikely that many schools will drop from Quad-A to AAA, especially since the cutoff line was decreased. In 2011, the smallest Quad-A schools were McKeesport (515), Plum (517) and Kiski (525) and reports say that their enrollments have stayed above the cutoff line.

The PIAA will likely announce the schools in each classification in mid-December. In the last realignment cycle, the WPIAL announced the football conferences in mid-January. Looking at the structure of the classifications, it seems likely that Quad-A will remain at 3 conferences as the WPIAL prefers schools playing more conference games and it seems unlikely that Quad-A will gain enough schools to necessitate a move to 4 conferences. If no other schools move classifications than those that have been reported, AAA will most likely stay at 3 conferences as well as they are losing 2 from their current 27 schools and gaining 1 for sure with Gateway and South Fayette up in the air. If Gateway and South Fayette both go to AAA, it seems more likely that the conference alignment will be 9-9-10 than 7-7-7-8.

Class AA will likely be a wash with three schools leaving (Riverside and Jeanette to A and Yough to AAA) and two schools coming in (Highlands and Derry). Assuming GCC and Aliquippa stay in AA, this would give AA 34 schools (33 if South Fayette moves to AAA). The conferences would probably see some minor shuffling in order to get at least 8 teams in the Midwestern Conference (which is losing Riverside). Geographically, Quaker Valley would make the most sense. East Allegheny will likely move back to the Interstate Conference to take the place of Jeanette and to make room for Highlands in the Allegheny Conference. Derry will also likely land in the Interstate Conference, taking the place of Yough. These changes would keep 8 teams in the Midwestern Conference, 9 in the Interstate, 9 in the Allegheny and drop the Century Conference to 8. If South Fayette chooses to play up, Washington could be moved from the Interstate back to the Century, which they have ping-ponged between over the last few realignment cycles.

The realignment in Class A will be the most intriguing as Jeanette and Riverside will be joining and (at least according to initial reports) there don't appear to be any schools leaving. Vincentian Academy has been a PIAA member the last two seasons and played a WPIAL schedule (against the Tri-County South) but have not been members of a conference. I believe that their "exhibition" period is now over and they are eligible to join a conference. Imani Christian did not play football this season and will likely be out while Geibel Catholic, as noted earlier, is on the fence. With Imani out, all four Class A conferences had 9 teams last year. Adding in Jeanette, Riverside and Vincentian means that Class A will have either 39 or 38 teams, depending on Geibel's participation. Given the WPIAL's track record of preferring teams to play more conference games, it seems likely that there will still be 4 conferences in Class A next year and we won't get into the quagmire that would be a 5-conference alignment (which the WPIAL has done in the past). Riverside would most naturally fit as the 10th team in the Big Seven Conference while Jeanette will likely be added to the Black Hills Conference. Circle the Jeanette-Clairton game on your calendar for years to come. Despite playing the Tri-County South over the last two years, Vincentian's best geographic fit would probably be as the 10th member of the Eastern Conference. This would give the Big Seven and the Eastern Conference 10 members and eliminate the head-to-head non-conference games the conferences had played the last two seasons. The Black Hills would also have 10 under this format with the Tri-County South having 9, though California has been seeking to return to the TCS since they were moved two years ago. This would be a good contingency for the WPIAL to consider, even if Geibel plays next year. If Geibel doesn't play, then California's move would give both the Black Hills and the TCS 9 schools.

The 4-conference model is the best for Class A, but just for the fun of speculation, here's a look at how a 5-conference alignment could look. Back in 2004 and 2005, Class AA had 5 conferences, with the fifth being the Tri-County North which included Laurel, Neshannock, Riverside, Shenango and Union. All of those teams are in Class A now, so they could easily be grouped back together in a realignment of the Tri-County North. Here's a look at what I came up with (remember, this is purely speculation):
Big Seven (7): Avella, Bishop Canevin, OLSH, South Side Beaver, Sto-Rox, Vincentian, Western Beaver
Black Hills (8): Brentwood, Carlynton, Chartiers-Houston, Clairton, Fort Cherry, Jeanette, Monessen, Serra Catholic
Eastern (8): Apollo-Ridge, Avonworth, Leechburg, Northgate, Riverside, Springdale, West Shamokin, Wilkinsburg
Tri-County North (7): Cardinal Weurl North Catholic, Laurel, Neshannock, Riverside, Rochester, Shenango, Union
Tri-County South (8): Bentworth, Beth-Center, California, Carmichaels, Frazier, Jefferson-Morgan, Mapletown, West Greene

The way I see it, Bishop Canevin, Vincentian, Avonworth, and Northgate are interchangeable between the Big Seven and the Eastern Conference. Canevin and Avonworth have played in both the Big Seven and Eastern Conferences, and they would be geographic fits for both. If Geibel decides to play, the only geographic fit for them is the Tri-County South, but this could easily be changed by keeping California in the Black Hills and moving Carlynton to the Big Seven Conference with Bishop Canevin, as they are relatively close geographically. As I said, the 4-conference model is preferable, but it's a fun mental exercise to try to realign the teams into 5 conferences.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Another Day at the Office: Steelers Win


Prior to this game, a lot of the talk was about how the Browns had built their defense on the Steelers model, even hiring Ray Horton to essentially run Dick LeBeau's defense.

The Browns won the toss but were more interested in the wind than the ball so the Steelers got it first. Ben got things rolling right off the bat with a quick-hitter to Sanders that shockingly picked up some yards. The running game didn't do anything spectacular, but it was effective all day. Heath got in on the action with a big catch over the middle to move us into the edge of field goal range. Bell would chip away a few more yards, but Haley makes a bizarre play call on 3rd and 7 and calls a run, which goes nowhere.

Suisham from 47 into the wind.


The Browns came out throwing, because their key to success was obviously to put the ball in Jason Campbell's hands. He was able to convert one third down on a shallow cross to Josh Gordon (get used to that name) that went for 25 yards but that was pretty much all the Browns did. Former Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff made some field goal with the wind at his back.


Will Johnson got his requisite catch and it was back to the No Huddle, which stalled out when Ben threw a WR screen to Le'Veon Bell on 3rd and 8. Bell made some moves and almost picked up the first down, but for those keeping score at home that's a run on 3rd and 7 and a WR screen on 3rd and 8. Neither is a high-percentage conversion play-call.

The Browns started mixing in the run and moved the ball a little bit, edging into Steelers territory as the first quarter ended. Steve McLendon was hurt on the last play of the first. Enter Al Woods

Second Quarter

The Browns have a running back named Fozzy Whittaker. Not sure whether to make a Fozzy joke or a Whittaker joke.
Fozzy it is.

Cam Heyward made a play on third down and ate Jason Campbell for lunch. Big sack on the edge of field goal range.

Pinned back against their goal line, the Steelers went to the motif offense and dodged a big bullet when a pass that was going to be picked off was batted down at the line.

Cleveland got it back near midfield but went backwards thanks to a false start from Alex Mack.
Not that one, I don't think.

The Steelers finally decide to get the ball in the hands of Antonio Brown, and he does some serious work on Cleveland's defense. Almost single-handedly Brown moves us out of the shadow of our own goal posts, mixing in crossing routes, sideline routes and slant routes. The Steelers try something else when they get across midfield and it doesn't work. Brown had 4 catches for 42 yards on that drive alone.

Fozzy Whittaker makes another appearance. In the box score he just shows up as F. Whittaker, but he shouldn't be confused with Forest Whitaker who won an Oscar for playing Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland.

Jason Campbell gets injured on a relatively routine pressure by Worlids, maybe he just fell weird when Worlids tripped him up. Weeden comes in. All the LOLs.

The Steelers waste no time in striking back. Ben goes to Sanders to move us into Browns territory then goes up top to Antonio Brown streaking past Joe Haden.

All Antonio Brown Does Is Make Big Plays.


Antonio Brown has more Touchdowns against Haden than Calvin Johnson, AJ Green and Torrey Smith, combined.

Jason Campbell comes back in and hits Josh Gordon a few times to get things moving in the two minute drill, but the Browns try a bizarre run near midfield that Troy absolutely blows up. What a play. Troy came on an A-gap blitz, bounced back off the center, got into position in the middle of the field and attacked the runner, stripping the ball and recovering the fumble.

I've been pimping Troy for the Pro Bowl a lot on Facebook and Twitter, because I'm in a contest and can win stuff if people RT (on Twitter) or Like and Comment (on Facebook), but seriously, that's the kind of play that Pro Bowlers make.

The Steelers take over at midfield with 1:43 left on the clock. Somehow, even with the no huddle, it takes them 45 seconds to run two plays. Their "hurry-up" offense is just maddeningly slow, and it puts them in situations where they have to use an unnecessary timeout.
Which is exactly what happened here. The Steelers had to burn their second timeout after a completion to Heath got them inside the 30. After another completion to Heath, Ben spikes the ball to kill the clock with 20 seconds left. For the record, it took 17 seconds to get off one play and a spike. Two incompletions later it's fourth down and the kick team is out.


We got points, but really poor clock management by the offense makes this one feel like a missed opportunity.


My Alma Mater, North Catholic High School, won their first ever WPIAL football championship on Saturday.

They rang the bell.

Third Quarter

Brad Whitaker was the name of one of the villains in The Living Daylights. Yes, that was a Bond movie. 
Timothy Dalton was in it. It wasn't the best Bond movie, but it would be better than watching the Browns offense. The Living Daylights was really only memorable for this scene where Bond led a snow chase with a cello case.

That tangent took longer than the Browns drive. Ben almost throws a pick to Haden on the first play, but AB breaks it up. The Prescripton gets things moving then a few passes get us across midfield. Bell comes up just short of the sticks on a second down in Browns territory and Dwyer can't convert on two opportunities, so the Browns take over.

The Browns move it back into Steelers territory but LeBeau dials up a blitz from the corner and William Gay knocks the ball out of Campbell's hands. Will Allen scoops it up and takes off down the sideline. I speak to soon and mention that the Steelers are one of two teams without a defensive touchdown this season, so of course he gets tackled at the four.

The Steelers waste no time after their missed opportunity in the red zone at the end of the first half. Sanders and Brown run a double cross with Brown cutting outside and Sanders cutting in. Ben hits Manny in the end zone for the score.


Jason Campbell got injured again, somehow, so Brandon Weeden gets to come back in. 

The defense seemed to have forced a 3-and-out but the Browns keep their offense on the field and Weeden sneaks for the first down. Weeden completes a few passes to move the Browns into field goal range, but Cundiff misses badly with a hard pull to the left.

Cundiff gonna Cundiff

The teams exchange punts to close out the quarter. Not much happening with the Steelers up by 3 scores.

Fourth Quarter

The Steelers got the ball determined to get out of Dodge as quickly as possible. Because it was cold n'at. The Prescription just took the game over. He didn't to anything fancy or flashy, but solidly consistent running ate up a bunch of clock. Bell ran 8 times for 25 yards with a pass to Sanders mixed in there and the Steelers found themselves on the edge of the red zone. Haley tried to get cute with an end-around to Brown that went for a big loss. With the ball on the 29, Tomlin elects to send the offense out for a 4th and 18 rather than try a field goal into the wind. Ben left-foot pooches a punt that Sanders gobbles up at the 1.

Sanders celebrating a downed punt more than his touchdown. Ben with the coffin corner kick. Man.

That great punt gets pretty much nullified when Weeden hits Gordon down the sidelines and he takes it all the way out to midfield. But three plays later, Troy gets in on the act and strip-sacks Weeden. Cam Heyward picks it up and bowls a few guys over before getting knocked out of bounds.

Sometimes, Cleveland is still Cleveland.

The Steelers go 3-and-out on three runs that are pretty much just designed to chew up clock. McBriar punts it into the end zone. Put Ben back in?

Brandon Weeden's Gaydar must be broken, because on the first play from scrimmage William Gay jumps a short crossing route and takes it back to the house.

First defensive touchdown of the season

Gay Island all day.


Exclusive reaction of Weeden when being told he had to go back in the game and throw the ball some more:

Weeden had pretty much had enough with throwing to other guys so he decided he was just going to throw to Josh Gordon exclusively. The Steelers were sitting back in soft coverage which let Gordon pretty much run free. Three catches later, Gordon had gobbled up 77 yards of real estate. Two plays later Weeden finds Gordon in the end zone. The Browns go for two.

There's a poop joke in there somewhere.


The Browns try an onside kick that goes straight to Dwyer. Tomlin apparently likes seeing the ball in Dwyer's hands, because he lets him carry it 3 times to make the Browns burn their timeouts.

Cleveland gets the ball back with just over 2 minutes to go. Their drive summary is hilarious. It's basically two incomplete passes to Fozzy Whittaker, a 3rd down pass to Gordon, wash, rinse, repeat. Al Woods had two sacks along the way. 

The Steelers got it back after the Browns crapped their pants on fourth down and threw a check-down pass. 

Victory Formation.


Tied for the last Wild Card spot. Everything we needed to happen this week did.

Baltimore in like 2 days. With a playoff spot essentially on the line. On Thanksgiving Night.

Final Thoughts

  • Brandon Weeden wanted nothing to do with the Steelers defense. We got an exclusive interview with him after the game:

  • 4 turnovers, 5 sacks. The defense is getting its swag back

  • Three in a row for the Steelers. Whatever you've been doing, keep doing it.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Beware the Cleveland Browns

Since their reincarnation in 1999, the Cleveland Browns have been the second-worst team in the NFL with an overall record of 77-158. The Browns are ahead of only the Detroit Lions who are 76-160 in that span. They have only two winning seasons in that span and have had double-digit losses in all but 3 seasons. Aside from a 3-game winning streak in September, the Browns are just 1-6 this season.

So why should Steelers fans be wary of this game, aside from the fact that the Browns defense is playing very well? Look no farther than the Steelers history against the Cleveland Browns. Since 1999, the Steelers are 23-5 against the Browns, which one wouldn't think should be any cause for concern. But let's take a look at the Steelers five losses to the Browns.

The Steelers opened the 1999 season with a 43-0 shellacking of the Browns in their first game back as a franchise. The Steelers entered the second meeting that season with a 5-3 record right in the thick of the AFC playoff race. Tim Couch led the Browns back from a 15-7 fourth quarter deficit and Phil Dawson kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired. That Dawson kick is still the stuff of nightmares. The Steelers never recovered, losing their next 5 games and finishing 6-10 on the season.

On the heels of their 6-10 season in 1999 the Steelers dropped their first three games of 2000, including a 23-20 loss to the Browns in their second game. That was the Browns first win in Cleveland since their reincarnation. The Steelers turned it on after their 0-3 start and finished the season 9-7, one game shy of the playoffs. The Indianapolis Colts won the last Wild Card spot with a 10-6 record and an 8-4 conference record. The Steelers finished 9-7 with an 8-5 conference record. If Pittsburgh had beaten Cleveland, they would have finished 10-6 and with a better conference record than the Colts and would have made the playoffs as the third Wild Card.

From there, the Steelers went on a 5-game winning streak that lasted until 2003 when the Steelers had their most forgettable season of the 2000s. After a 2-2 start, the Steelers dropped an utterly embarrassing home game to the Browns 33-13. The Steelers went on to finish the year 6-10, but got a high enough draft pick that they were able to take Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers weren't even close to the playoffs in 2003.

Once Ben Roethlisberger took the helm, he utterly dominated the Browns until a fateful night in 2009 when offensive coordinator Bruce Arians shouldn't have even been allowed on the bus back to Pittsburgh. The Browns entered the game with the worst run defense in the league and the weather was in single-digits with a negative wind chill. The Steelers responded by attempting 40 passes and only 22 rushes. Ben was sacked 8 times and the Browns came out on top with a 13-6 win. The loss to Cleveland was the Steelers 5th in a row and dropped their record to 6-7. They won their last three to finish 9-7 but missed out on the playoffs. The two Wild Card spots were won by the Jets and Ravens who both also finished with 9-7 records. As in 2000, if the Steelers had simply beaten the Browns, they would have made the playoffs.

Last season, the Steelers entered the game in Cleveland with a 6-4 record and despite being without Ben Roethlisberger, were still very much alive in the AFC Playoff race. Byron Leftwich had been injured in the loss the prior week to the Ravens and Charlie Batch was under center in Cleveland against a 2-8 Browns team. The game couldn't have started better for the Steelers as Lawrence Timmons returned an interception for a touchdown on the Browns opening drive, but that was pretty much all the Steelers would be able to muster. The offense would commit an absurd 8 turnovers, with Batch throwing 3 interceptions and the Steelers fumbling 8 times with the Browns recovering 5 of them. The Steelers took a 14-13 lead into halftime but tallied only 90 yards and 4 first downs in the second half while turning the ball over 5 times. The Steelers finished the season at 8-8 with the loss to the Browns being the second in a string of games where they lost 5 of 6 to fall from 6-3 to 7-8. The Bengals were the last Wild Card team at 10-6, clinching the spot after they beat the Steelers in Week 16. A win over the Browns would not have put the Steelers in the playoffs, but the loss put them in a do-or-die position against the Bengals.

Since the Browns reincarnation in 1999, the Steelers have lost to the Browns five times and missed the playoffs in all five of those seasons. In fact, the Steelers have only missed the playoffs once in the past 14 years when they swept the Browns (2006). Losing to the Browns is a bad omen for the rest of the season, and at this point the Steelers can't afford another loss. Looking back at the five losses to the Browns, in two of the instances the Steelers would have made the playoffs if not for a loss to Cleveland. Last season the loss to the Browns put them in a bad position in the divisional standings when they faced a do-or-die game against Cincinnati later in the year. The other two seasons were 6-10 years where we didn't even sniff the playoffs. The Steelers are currently sitting at 4-6 but just one game behind the Jets and Dolphins in the race for the last playoff spot. The Browns are also 4-6, so the winner of this game will put themselves in position to make a run at the second Wild Card.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

WPIAL Championship Preview

This is it.  Eight teams will do battle on the Heinz Field turf for the right to be called WPIAL Champions. Six of those teams enter Championship Saturday with unblemished records, looking to maintain their perfect seasons. The top classifications feature battles of traditional powerhouses with Central Catholic and Woodland Hills squaring off in Quad-A. Between the two they have won eight of the 17 Quad-A Championships since 1996. In that same time span, West Allegheny has been the dominant program in AAA, winning 6 championships. The Indians are the defending AAA Champions and look to repeat against Central Valley who is quickly becoming the AAA version of Woodland Hills. In AA, two powerhouses collide when Aliquippa meets South Fayette. Like West Allegheny, the Quips have won the title 6 times since 1996, and like Woodland Hills are making their 10th title game appearance in that time. Single-A is the only classification with an entrant to the title game that has never hoisted the trophy before as my alma mater the North Catholic Trojans make their first Championship Game appearance in school history.

2. Central Catholic (12-0) vs. 4. Woodland Hills (10-2)
Location: Heinz Field
Time: 2:00pm

View AAAA Championship in a larger map

Playoff History: Since the incorporation of Woodland Hills High School, the Wolverines are 3-1 against Central Catholic in the playoffs

Since the WPIAL playoffs expanded to 4 rounds in 1996, Woodland Hills has been the most dominant program in the region's highest classification. The Wolverines have won 5 Championships in that time, trailing only West Allegheny, Aliquippa and Clairton who have hoisted the trophy 6 times. This will be Woody High's 4th trip to Heinz Field in the last 5 years, though they have not won it all since 2009. This will be Central's first trip to Heinz Field since they won it all in 2007 which ended a dominant span where the Vikings won 3 titles in 5 years.

Central Catholic was the Northern Eight Conference Champions and ran through their schedule with one of the most dominant defenses in Quad-A . Talented linebacker Niko Thorpe led a defense that pitched 6 shutouts on the season and only surrendered more than two scores once (21 points to Gateway in the quarterfinals). On offense, the Vikings running game has been so good that they have not needed to use their Florida State-recruit QB JJ Cosentino much at all this year. Senior RB Luigi Lista-Brinza has run for over 1200 yards and 14 TDs while battling injuries all season. Lista-Brinza was injured in the second quarter of the semi-final game against Penn-Trafford, but backup Riley Redman stepped in and ran for 81 yards and 2 TDs, giving him over 1000 yards on the season.

Woodland Hills was a team that many pegged in the preseason as the best Quad-A team in the state, but that attitude cooled after the Wolverines dropped their first two games. Since then, Woody High has not lost and avenged their Week 1 loss to Upper St Clair in the semi-finals. In the regular season, Woody High did it on the ground with sophomore RB Miles Sanders rushing for over 1000 yards. In the playoffs, dual-threat QB Harry Randall has carried the team with Sanders missing time due to injury. Randall rushed for 160 yards and 2 TDs in the quarterfinals then followed up with 85 yards and a touchdown in the Semi-Finals to go with 117 passing yards and another score. The Wolverines got two big plays from senior Trevon Mathis to lead them past Upper St Clair: an 80-yard touchdown reception from Randall to tie the game at 7 then a kickoff return for a touchdown to start the second half and extend the lead to 28-7. Mathis also batted down a pass into the end zone on 4th and goal from the 2 at the end of the game as the Panthers were trying to tie the game.

1. West Allegheny (12-0) vs. 3. Central Valley (11-1)
Location: Heinz Field
Time: 8:00pm

View AAA Championship in a larger map

Playoff History: This is the first playoff meeting between West Allegheny and Central Valley

Central Valley has only been in existence for four seasons (since the merger of Center and Monaca school districts) but they have been a dominant program in AAA. This is their second trip to the Championship Game (having won it all in their school's first year in 2010) and reached the semi-finals in 2011 and 2012. West Allegheny has been a dominant force in AAA since the playoffs expanded in 1996. As hard as it may be to believe, West Allegheny's first ever appearance in the WPIAL playoffs came in 1993, the 44th year of the school's existence. West A moved up to AAA in 1994 and returned to the playoffs in 1997, winning their first of 6 AAA Championships in a 16-year span where they missed the playoffs only once. Between the two, they have appeared in 7 Championship Games and have never lost.

West Allegheny is the defending AAA Champions and have not lost to a WPIAL team since September 2012 when Central Valley topped them 28-14, carrying a 20-game WPIAL winning streak into the Championship Game. The schools have split their four meetings with only that 2012 contest being decided by more than 4 points. This season's game proved to be a defensive struggle with West Allegheny coming out on top 13-7. The Indians have been dynamic on offense this season with leading rusher Chayse Dillon running for 172 yards and 3 touchdowns in the semi-finals. Dillon has rushed for over 1100 on the season and QB Andrew Koester has thrown for over 1300 and 19 touchdowns. The Indians third weapon on offense has been Tory Delmonico who is the leading receiver, second leading rusher, and leads the team in scoring with 18 touchdowns.

These teams have been almost mirror images of each other this season. Both have been dominant on defense and outstanding on offense. West Allegheny was held under 38 points only twice (to 13 in the first meeting with Central Valley and to 21 in the semi-finals by Franklin Regional) while they have only allowed one team (New Castle) to break 17 points. Central Valley was only held under 29 points twice (7 by West Allegheny and 23 by Thomas Jefferson in the semis) and only Mars in the quarterfinals scored more than 14 against the Warriors defense. For most of the season, Central Valley relied on their own two-headed beast in the backfield of Jordan Whitehead and JaQuan Pennington. Whitehead and Pennington led the team in both rushing and receiving, totaling over 2000 yards of total offense and 30 TDs. In the semi-finals, it was QB John George who led the team to victory with 146 passing yards and being involved in all 3 touchdowns - throwing for 2 and rushing for another. Both of these teams are run-the-ball-and-play-defense squads and the game could hinge on a key defensive or special teams play.

1. Aliquippa (12-0) vs. 2. South Fayette (12-0)
Location: Heinz Field
Time: 5:00pm

View AA Championship in a larger map

Playoff History: Since 1980 the Quips and Lions have met twice in the playoffs, each winning once.

Aliquippa enters the Championship game as the two-time defending Champions, their last loss to a WPIAL team coming on the Heinz Field turf to Christian Brumbaugh and the South Fayette Lions. Three years and 38 WPIAL wins later, the Quips find themselves in a familiar scenario, this time against a South Fayette team led by Christian's younger brother Brett. This marks the Quips sixth consecutive trip to Heinz Field and their ninth since 2000 where they have won 5 titles. They are in search of their 16th title in school history, which would extend their WPIAL record. Both teams enter the game with undefeated records and a string of utter dominance this season with both averaging over 47 points per game.

The defending Champion Quips have throttled everyone this season, scoring over 40 points in every game except their rivalry matchup with Beaver Falls where they scored 34. Led by running back duo Dravon Henry and Terry Swanson, the Quips have literally run over everyone they faced this year. Henry and Swanson became the first running back duo in WPIAL history to both rush for over 4000 yards in their career. This season, Swanson leads the way on offense with over 1500 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns while Henry has over 1100 yards and 26 touchdowns. With all the strength on the ground, it would seem easy to stack the box against the Quips, but QB Darrien Fields has been efficient this year, throwing for over 1000 yards and 14 TDs on just 94 attempts. The Quips have 4 players with D-1 offers, led by Henry (a 4-star defensive back who is down to Pitt, WVU and Alabama) and DT Jaleel Fields who has offers from numerous Big Ten schools. Terry Swanson and Jyler Turner have offers from MAC schools and Donovan Cobb has drawn some interest from Kansas State.

If there is one team in AA that could match the resume of the Quips, it is South Fayette. Led by junior QB Brett Brumbaugh who has thrown for nearly 2800 yards this season, the Lions weren't held under 40 points until the quarterfinals. Since then, their offense has "slumped," only putting up 31 in the quarters and 35 in the semis. Only two teams have scored more than once against South Fayette (McGuffey with 14 in Week 1 and Quaker Valley with 15). The Lions reached the title game by topping Beaver Falls for the 4th straight season and have gotten contributions from a plethora of playmakers on offense. In the backfield, Grant Fetchet has run for over 1100 yards and 19 TDs but it was backup RB JJ Walker who got the Lions out in front of Beaver Falls, scoring two first half touchdowns. On the outside, Brumbaugh's favorite receiver has been Connor Beck who has 60 catches for over 700 yards and 9 TDs while Justin Watson has been the big playmaker, averaging over 23 yards per catch with 51 receptions for 1205 yards and 15 TDs. This game should prove to be a matchup of strength on strength as South Fayette's dynamic passing attack with butt heads with the Quips secondary that is stacked with D1 talent.

1. Sto-Rox (12-0) vs. 2. North Catholic (12-0)
Location: Heinz Field
Time: 11:00am

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Playoff History: Since 1980 the Vikings and Trojans have met twice in the playoffs, each winning once.

Sto-Rox is appearing at Heinz Field for the 3rd consecutive season and the fourth time since 2003. Even though this will be the Vikings fourth appearance, they have never won a game on Heinz Field turf. Sto-Rox does have two WPIAL Championships in their school history in 1966 and 1987, both coming when they played in AA. North Catholic won championships in the once-formidable Catholic League, which disbanded in 1974 and has never played in a WPIAL Championship Game. These two teams are familiar with each other as they met last year in the semi-finals. Last year, Trojan sophomore PJ Fulmore carved up the Vikings defense to the tune of 204 yards and 2 TDs and had drawn within 2 points at 14-12 but could not overcome 3 interceptions and a stellar performance by Sto-Rox QB Lenny Williams who threw for two scores and ran for two more.

Sto-Rox's senior quarterback broke the WPIAL career passing record this year and enters the championship game with 2506 passing yards and 34 TDs on the season. In the semi-finals, Williams single-handedly carried the team to a victory over Clairton, who had toppled Sto-Rox in the previous two title games. Williams ran for 120 yards and two scores, including the game winner with just under two minutes to play. He also added an interception return for a touchdown on the defensive end to carry the Vikings back to the title game. Sto-Rox can attack in a variety of ways, with bruising back Brendan Blair (747 rushing yards, 239 receiving yards, 14 total TDs) and big-play receiver Mallory Claybourne who is averaging over 25 yards a catch with nearly 1000 yards and 16 TDs on the season.

The Trojans have been able to overcome the injury bug all season and carry an unblemished record into the first Championship Game in school history. Last year, North Catholic's offense almost exclusively featured PJ Fulmore out of a wildcat set. The Trojans set out to be different this season and installed junior Adam Sharlow at quarterback. This paid off when Fulmore went down with an ankle sprain in the opener against Apollo-Ridge, which the Trojans were able to pull off by a point in overtime. Fulmore would miss the next 4 games but fellow junior Jerome Turner would step up and carry the load, rushing for 568 yards and 14 TDs and averaging 10 yards per carry in Fulmore's absence. Turner ran for four scores against Springdale in Week 2 and five against West Shamokin in Week 5. Fulmore was able to return in Week 6 against Avonworth but just two weeks later the Trojans would lose QB Adam Sharlow to a season-ending knee injury in their first meeting with Neshannock. At the time of his injury, Sharlow had thrown for 877 yards and 8 TDs while rushing for 660 yards and 6 scores. With Sharlow out, coach Bob Ravenstahl went back to the formula that had worked last season, putting Fulmore in as the Wildcat quarterback.

In the playoffs, Fulmore has been an absolute workhorse, running behind a senior-laden offensive line, he has rushed for 496 yards on 94 carries in the playoffs. Last week, he shouldered the load with 42 carries for 216 yards and 4 touchdowns to lead the Trojans past Neshannock and into the title game. Unlike Sto-Rox's offense with the WPIAL's all-time leading passer, North Catholic has a run-heavy offense that is capable of controlling the clock for long periods of play. Against Neshannock in the semi-finals, the Trojans opened the game with a 6-minute touchdown drive then opened the second half after Neshannock fumbled the kickoff with another 6-minute touchdown drive. That's essentially an entire quarter of the game that North was able to take off the clock while putting 14 points on the board. Against an explosive offense like the Vikings, the Trojans will need to continue their dominance on the ground, which all starts up front with what Coach Ravenstahl has called "the best line in the state" where two linemen (Ryan Long and Dylan Grieco) were named to the All-Conference team. The Trojans are loaded with talented players at the offensive skill positions with senior receiver Ryan Kirby (who also has seen time at quarterback since Sharlow's injury) and tight end Ronnie Meder. Meder, Long and linebacker Josh Churchin (who were all first-team all conference) anchor a defense that has been absolutely lights out this season. The Trojans have only pitched one shutout this season, but they have also only allowed two teams (Apollo-Ridge in the opener and West Shamokin after the mercy rule was in effect) to surpass 14 points. Most impressively, the Trojans held Avonworth's explosive offense to just 19 total points in two games (the Lopes averaged over 39 per game in their other 9 outings) and Neshannock to 14 points twice. The Lancers had averaged 43.5 points against all other opponents, including Sto-Rox who they scored 31 against.

Sto-Rox does have a crack in their armor on the defensive side. They gave up 30 points to Western Beaver who was the only team North Catholic shut out this year. The Vikings narrowly escaped Neshannock 34-31, using a goal-line stand at the end of the game to seal the victory. Sto-Rox may have improved since their mid-September game against Neshannock, but one aspect that stood out to me when I watched the game on ROOT was that Neshannock's line was able to push the Vikings around in the trenches. In the semi-finals, the Trojans absolutely dominated the Lancers up front as the line plowed the way for Fulmore's big day. If the Trojans are able to control play at the line of scrimmage and keep the ball out of Lenny Williams' hands, they will have a chance to win their first WPIAL title in school history and make the short trip back up to Troy Hill and ring the bell.
For ages the old bell has sat in the corner of the gym-ecclesia-torium with the promise to the students that walked the halls that it would ring when a Championship was won. During my four years on Troy Hill, the football team reached the semi-finals once (losing to Beaver Falls), they didn't let the band ring it when we won regionals and we never placed in the Top 10 at Nationals. The bell is something that every North Catholic student has always wanted to ring. These young men have a chance to do something that many before them have dreamed about and to accomplish something no football team in the history of North Catholic High School has done. As an alum of North Catholic, I couldn't be more proud of what this team has accomplished already this season. They have already done something that no Trojan team has done in the past, but they are also good enough to take the next step and close out the school on Troy Hill with one last resounding clang.

Ring. The. Bell.