Wednesday, November 6, 2013

WPIAL Playoff Preview: Quarterfinals

As we move into the quarterfinals, games move to neutral site locations. MSA Sports has a fantastic set of game recaps for the first round games which featured upsets of the #3 seed Kittanning and #5 seed Shady Side Academy in AA. It was a bad opening week for the Allegheny Conference in AA and Tri-County South Conference in A, which both went 0-4. The Game of the Week in the opening round was the clash between West Mifflin and Moon where RBs Jimmy Wheeler and Cole Blake traded punches until the end. When the dust settled, Wheeler's 359 yards and 6 TDs topped Blake's 305 yards and 4 TDs and propelled West Mifflin to a 47-42 victory. On a broader scale, 6 schools extended lengthy streaks of consecutive years reaching the Quarterfinals. Thomas Jefferson has reached the quarterfinals in 19 straight seasons, Gateway in 12 straight years, Central Catholic in 11, and North Allegheny, Aliquippa and Clairton in 8 straight seasons.


1. Upper St Clair (10-0) vs 9. North Allegheny (7-3)
Location: Baldwin

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Forget about the teams and the records, this is Jim Render vs Art Walker, two of the best coaches in the WPIAL. If there is one coach that has been able to get the best of Render, it has been Walker. The top-seeded Panthers got to this point with a stifling defense that pitched 6 shutouts during the regular season. In the first round of the playoffs they did it on the ground with RB Trever Morrow rushing 11 times for 157 yards and scoring 5 times. It was the second straight year Upper St Clair started their playoff run with a victory over Kiski. North Allegheny knocked Bethel Park out of the playoffs for the second consecutive year and the 3rd time in 4 years with a 28-0 shutout where neither team's starting quarterback played. Senior RB Isaac Weaver led the Tigers with 6 carries for 121 yards and 3 TDs. This figures to be another defensive struggle between two good teams with legendary coaches that last met in the 2011 Championship Game.

4. Woodland Hills (8-2) vs 5. Seneca Valley (9-1)
Location: North Allegheny

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After starting the season 0-2, Woodland Hills has run off 8 straight victories and the Wolverines look better and better each week. The Wolverines were not phased by Pine-Richland's high-powered offense last week and even though they surrendered almost 250 yards passing, they held the Rams to just 14 points. Woody High boasts a dangerous offensive attack with 1000-yard rusher Miles Sanders, the explosive Art Thompkins (who ran for 136 yards and 3 TDs in the first round) and dual-threat QB Harry Randall. Seneca Valley was a bit of a surprise this year, but their only loss was to Central Catholic and they posted big wins over North Allegheny and Bethel Park. The Raiders are led by dual-threat QB TJ Holl who threw for over 1800 yards and rushed for over 700. All told, Holl put up over 2500 yards of total offense and 27 TDs this season.

2. Central Catholic (10-0) vs 7. Gateway (8-2)
Location: Fox Chapel

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Another week, another dominating performance on the ground for Central Catholic as the Vikings dismantled Baldwin 56-10 to reach the quarterfinals for the 11th straight season. The Vikings ground game has been so good this season that their Florida State recruit at QB has only had to attempt 61 passes. In the opening round he only attempted 3 while Central rushed for over 400 yards as a team, led by Luigi Lista-Brinza's 119 yards and 1 touchdown. Gateway stopped their losing streak at 2 games to get past North Hills after the Indians took a 1-point lead with under 7 minutes to play. The Gators were led by QB Jimmy Moore who threw for 289 yards and 4 TDs to 4 different receivers. Gateway easily has the best receiving corps in Western Pennsylvania with at least 3, possibly 4 players who will play at the D1 level.

3. McKeesport (10-0) vs 6. Penn-Trafford (7-3)
Location: Norwin

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The Tigers remained undefeated by trouncing Peters Twp 54-28. McKeesport's flexbone offense was back in vintage form with three players finding the end zone at least twice against Peters. In their first meeting, McKeesport did much of the same, running out to a 34-14 win over Penn-Trafford. The Tigers can hit you in a variety of ways out of the flexbone with RB Mikell Moore shouldering the primary workload, but QB David Queen and RB Allen Wright can also be dangerous. Penn-Trafford didn't have much of an answer the first time these two teams met. The Warriors have a balanced offense with a 1200-yard passer in sophomore Brett Laffoon and a 1100-yard rusher in Devin Austin.


1. West Allegheny (10-0) vs 9. Indiana (5-5)
Location: North Hills

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The defending AAA champions handled Hollidaysburg in convincing fashion in the opening round. West Allegheny might have one of the deepest teams in the WPIAL and feature a stable of running backs that can all get the job done. Chayse Dillon and Tory Delmonico have been the primary workhorses this season and QB Andrew Koester has thrown for over 1000 yards. The Little Indians topped Ringgold 28-14 in the opening round, reaching the quarterfinals for the 3rd time in their last 4 playoff appearances. DeQuan West scored twice and posted over 100 yards on Ringgold in the opening round. Indiana is not a great defensive team, but they have relied on their defense to keep them in games this season. The Little Indians are just 1-5 when an opponent scores over 20 on them. The bad news for Indiana is that aside from their 13-7 win over Central Valley, West Allegheny has not been held under 38 points all season.

4. Franklin Regional (9-1) vs 5. West Mifflin (9-1)
Location: East Allegheny

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The Panthers muscled their way past Montour, doubling up the Spartans 42-21 in the opening round. Dual-threat QB Charan Singh, who entered the playoffs as the leading passer and the second leading rusher, ran for two scores and threw for two. The Panthers were once again a stifling defensive unit, posting 5 shutouts during the regular season. They will have their hands full with Jimmy Wheeler, the WPIAL's leading rusher. In the opening round, Wheeler put the Titans on his back, rushing for 359 yards and 6 TDs as West Mifflin held off Moon. Wheeler has posted 35 touchdowns on the season, and the Titans fate has been tied to his ability to produce. If Franklin Regional is going to have any hopes of advancing to the semi-finals for the second time in four years, they will need to find a way to copy Thomas Jefferson's defensive scheme and stop Wheeler.

2. Thomas Jefferson (10-0) vs 7. Highlands (7-3)
Location: Chartiers Valley

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If two things are synonymous in the WPIAL playoffs, it's Thomas Jefferson and the quarterfinals. TJ has advanced past the first round for 19 straight seasons, reaching the semi-finals in 14 of the last 15 years. They have a team built to go the distance again this year with QB/LB Chase Winovich who has verbally committed to play linebacker at Michigan. TJ blew out Hampton in the opening round 39-0 getting 4 touchdowns from Austin Kemp and holding Hampton to just 10 yards rushing and 40 yards of total offense in the Jaguar defense's 5th shutout of the season. Highlands rebounded from a loss to Knoch in the season finale to earn a surprising victory over New Castle in the opening round. The Rams got two touchdown passes from QB Blake Leri and got a 100-yard performance from their feature back, 1000-yard rusher Elijah Jackson.

3. Central Valley (9-1) vs 6. Mars (9-1)
Location: Ambridge

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For the second consecutive year, Central Valley beat Belle Vernon in the first round. This year, the Warriors did it with defense and special teams, scoring their first 3 touchdowns off short fields created by turnovers then adding a pick-6 and a punt return in the second half en route to a 40-7 victory. Central Valley boasts the best scoring defense in AAA, giving up only 53 points on the season with 5 shutouts on their resume. No team has scored more than 14 points against them, including top-seeded West Allegheny (who beat Central Valley 13-7). Mars got a big performance in the opening round from 1500-yard rusher Josh Schutheis, who ran for 102 yards and 2 touchdowns in the Planets 38-21 victory over Elizabeth Forward. This should be a good matchup as the best defense in AAA meets the second best offense. Mars has only been held under 38 points once this season, and that was in a 20-13 loss in the opening week to Franklin Regional.


1. Aliquippa (10-0) vs 8. Quaker Valley (8-2)
Location: Moon

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The Qupis continued their stifling defense, pitching their 4th shutout of the season against South Park in the opening round to reach the quarterfinals for the 8th consecutive season. Their two-headed beast of Terry Swanson and Dravon Henry combined for almost 200 yards and two scores each against the Eagles. The duo has combined for nearly 2000 yards on the ground this season and QB Darrien Fields has yet to throw an interception. The defense has been fantastic all season and forced 5 turnovers against South Park. Quaker Valley, in the playoffs for the first time since 1999, got two big rushing touchdowns from QB Dane Jackson to lift the Quakers over New Brighton. The Quakers spread the attempts around and have 3 players with 70+ carries on the season with Jackson accounting for over 1400 yards of total offense and 18 TDs between rushing and passing.

4. Mt Pleasant (10-0) vs 12. Beaver (7-3)
Location: Plum

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Mt Pleasant won a battle of the Vikings by trouncing Valley 49-14 in the opening round. Mt Pleasant has been carried by RB Tyler Mellors, who broke the school's rushing record this season with over 1300 yards, to an undefeated season. Mellors continued his hot streak, running for 228 yards and 4 touchdowns against Valley. This is a game that features a contrast of styles as the ground-and-pound Mt Pleasant will be tasked with trying to stop the WPIAL's leading passer. Alex Rowse led the Bobcats with over 2100 passing this season and had a monster game of 294 yards and 3 TDs against Shady Side Academy.

2. South Fayette (10-0) vs 10. Seton-La Salle (8-2)
Location: Peters Twp

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South Fayette continued their absolute domination of every team with a 49-0 drubbing of Greensburg Central Catholic in the first round. It was the Lions 4th straight shutout and their defense has yet to give up more than 15 points in a game. The Lions offense has been equally dominant, scoring 41+ in every game this season with QB Brett Brumbaugh throwing for over 1900 yards and RB Grant Fetchet rushing for over 900. South Fayette tallied 366 yards of total offense against GCC with Brumbaugh throwing 3 touchdown passes and Fetchet adding two TDs on the ground. Seton-La Salle held off Washington, holding off a late charge from the Little Prexies and ending their tumultuous season. The Rebels built a 35-14 lead after 3 quarters but two fourth quarter touchdowns gave Washington hope before an interception in the final minute ended their comeback bid. All told, the Rebels defense forced 6 turnovers and they got another strong performance from 1800-yard passer Tyler Perrone who threw for 353 yards and 4 TDs. In their first meeting, South Fayette dominated their conference rivals 45-3.

6. Beaver Falls (8-2) vs 14. Yough (6-4)
Location: Canon-McMillan

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The Tigers are laced with Division 1-caliber talent, including Akron recruit Elijah Cottrill and WVU recruit Sage Curry. Cottrill missed most of the season with a knee injury, but his return for the playoffs has boosted the Tigers into serious contenders for the WPIAL title. He gives 1100-yard passer Dan Stratton another weapon on the outside while 1000-yard rusher Damian Rawl continues to grind away behind a solid offensive line that has paved the way for 5 different backs to average over 8 yards per carry. The Tigers blasted Summit Academy in the first round to reach the quarterfinals for the 6th time in 7 years. Yough battled out an upset against Allegheny Conference Champion Kittanning, pulling out a 57-42 victory in the third highest scoring game in WPIAL playoff history. Cougars QB Tyler Donahue led the team to their first playoff win in school history with 244 yards and 2 TDs through the air, 141 yards and 2 TDs on the ground and a kickoff return for a touchdown. Yough and Beaver Falls were two of the top 5 scoring teams in AA this year, but Beaver Falls was much stronger on defense than the Cougars. There will be plenty of points scored in this one.


1. Sto-Rox (10-0) vs 9. Apollo-Ridge (8-2)
Location: Deer Lakes

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In the first round we had a battle of the Vikings between Mt Pleasant and Valley in Class AA. In the quarterfinals we get another Viking showdown between Sto-Rox and Apollo-Ridge. Both teams feature explosive passing attacks with Sto-Rox boasting the WPIAL's all-time leading passer in Lenny Williams. Williams has thrown for over 2000 yards this season with almost 900 of those going to Mallory Clayborn. Senior RB Brendan Blair led the way in the opening round with two rushing touchdowns and a receiving touchdown. Apollo-Ridge has relied heavily on QB Jesse Zelonka all season. Zelonka has over 1400 yards passing and leads the team in rushing with over 700 yards, topping 2200 yards of total offense and 27 total touchdowns. He single-handedly beat undefeated Tri-County South Champion Beth-Center in the opening round by rushing for two scores and throwing for three more, two of those going to standout junior WR Tre Tipton. Zelonka finished with 183 passing yards and 3 TDs and 156 rush yards and 2 scores for a total of 339 yards of total offense and 5 total touchdowns.

4. Clairton (9-1) vs 12. Fort Cherry (9-1)
Location: Elizabeth Forward

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In a rematch of two teams that tied for the Black Hills Conference Title with Monessen, the Bears and the essential 5th seeded Rangers will square off. It seems strange that the WPIAL would put this game at Elizabeth Forward, which is basically in Clairton's back yard, rather than at a location more centrally located like Dormont Stadium or Mt Lebanon. Clairton ended Frazier's season for the second straight year and advanced to their 8th consecutive quarterfinals as they search for their 6th straight WPIAL title. The Bears are brimming with young talent, led by sophomore Aaron Matthews who scored 4 times in the opening round and had 194 yards of total offense between rushing and receiving. Fort Cherry is led by senior do-it-all superstar Koltan Kobrys who rushed for over 2000 yards this season, including 199 in the opening round against Carmichaels. The Rangers got a scare from the Mighty Mikes, who had a pass into the end zone at the end of the game that fell incomplete. Clairton beat Fort Cherry 36-28 in their first meeting and while the Bears don't have their typically-dominant offense, they have only been held under 30 points once this year (in their 42-24 loss to Monessen). Fort Cherry and Monessen were the only two teams to score more than 13 points on the Bears defense.

2. North Catholic (10-0) vs 7. Avonworth (9-1)
Location: Hampton

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The Eastern Conference Champion Trojans methodically took apart Western Beaver in the opening round with a stout defensive effort that forced two turnovers and held the Golden Beavers to just 7 first downs. The Trojans have adapted to life without QB Adam Sharlow and used a combination of RB PJ Fulmore and WR Ryan Kirby to fill in. Both Fulmore and Kirby threw touchdown passes to TE Ronny Meder and a balanced Trojan attack rushed for 192 yards and threw for 199. Avonworth has a deadly offense when all of its weapons are functioning, which they did against Laurel in the opening round. 1000-yard passer Matt Donovan threw for 228 yards and two touchdowns while star receiver Jesse Zubik had 95 yard rushing and a touchdown along with 79 yards receiving and a score. In the first meeting between these conference rivals, Avonworth missed two extra points which allowed the Trojans to carry a 13-12 lead into the waning minutes of the game. Avonworth had the ball with under a minute to play but threw a pick-6 that ultimately resulted in a 21-12 victory for North Catholic. This will be the third meeting between the Lopes and Trojans in the playoffs in the last 6 years, as North Catholic looks to settle the score for 2008 and 2010 defeats.

3. Monessen (9-1) vs 6. Neshannock (8-2)
Location: Chartiers-Houston

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The Black Hills Conference Co-Champion Greyhounds handled West Shamokin in the first round thanks to a stellar effort by RB Clintell Gillaspie. Gillaspie rushed for 274 yards and 3 touchdowns, adding a fourth on a reception. Monessen has featured a well-balanced attack this year with Gillaspie rushing for over 1100 yards and QB Noah Rullo throwing for over 1200. This is a rematch of the quarterfinal matchup last year where Neshannock prevailed 24-21. Neshannock returns most of their talent from the team that beat Monessen last year, including dual-threat QB Ernie Burkes who threw for over 900 yards and 14 TDs and rushed for over 900 and 16 TDs this season. RB Eli Owens rushed for over 1300 yards and added 12 scores. In the opening round, Burkes carried the Lancers past Brentwood, rushing for two scores and throwing for another as Neshannock piled up 378 rushing yards with Burkes and Owens both going over 140.

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