Wednesday, November 13, 2013

WPIAL Semi-Finals Preview

One step away. One game, one win. From here that is all that it takes to reach Heinz Field. The field of 64 has been whittled down to 16 in the eight semi-final matchups that will kick off on Friday night at 7:30. When the dust settles by midnight on Friday, eight teams will have their tickets punched to Heinz Field on Championship Saturday. In AA, Aliquippa looks to extend their streak of 5 consecutive trips to Heinz Field while in Class A, the Clairton Bears also look for their 6th straight trip to Heinz. I looked back at my preseason predictions this week and amazingly 7 of the 8 teams I predicted to play in their respective championship games are still alive and have a chance to reach the title games. For the record, my preseason picks were: Central over Gateway in AAAA, West A over TJ in AAA, Aliquippa over South Fayette in AA, and Clairton over North Catholic in A.


1. Upper St Clair (11-0) vs. 4. Woodland Hills (9-2)
Location: Baldwin

View AAAA Semi 1 in a larger map
Playoff History: Since 1980, Woodland Hills is 4-3 against Upper St Clair

This will be the 4th meeting in the last two seasons between the Panthers and Wolverines. Upper St Clair won both regular season games with Woodland Hills winning in a 42-20 rout in the semi-finals last year. Woody High has won the last 3 postseason games against Upper St Clair and has not lost to the Panthers in the playoffs since 1992. Woody High has featured a dominant rushing attack this season with sophomore Miles Sanders racking up over 1000 yards during the regular season. In the playoffs, the Wolverines got 136 yards and 3 TDs from junior RB Art Thompkins in the first round then 160 yards and 2 TDs on the ground from senior QB Harry Randall. On the other side, the Panthers got a big game from QB Joe Repischak to top North Allegheny and reach the semi-finals. Repischak threw for 257 yards and two scores while adding two more on the ground. The Panthers will need another big game out of Repischak this week after losing 1000-yard rusher Trever Morrow to a knee injury against North Allegheny. Upper St Clair will be on familiar ground, having played their last 4 neutral site playoff games at Baldwin.

2. Central Catholic (11-0) vs 6. Penn-Trafford (8-3)
Location: West Mifflin

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Playoff History: Since 1980, Central Catholic is 2-0 against Penn-Trafford

This will be the third playoff meeting in the last 6 years. Central Catholic topped Penn-Trafford in the first round in 2008 and 2012. This is Central Catholic's third trip to the semi-finals in the last 4 years but they have not reached Heinz Field since 2007. The Vikings got another big performance from RB Luigi Lista-Brinza in the quarterfinals as he ran for 198 yards and 3 TDs, giving him 317 yards and 4 TDs in two playoff games. Gateway was the first team to score more than 14 points against the Vikings defense, which has been dominant all season. Penn-Trafford is making their first appearance in the semi-finals since the 1997 season where the Warriors went to the Championship Game. The Warriors avenged a 34-14 defeat to McKeesport with a 35-20 victory in the quarterfinals. The victory came at a cost as the Warriors lost 1200-yard rusher Devin Austin to injury after he ran for 140 yards and 2 scores. Senior RB Tom Stinelli stepped in and led the team with 154 yards and a late touchdown to put the game away. The Warriors also got two touchdowns (one passing, one rushing) from 1300-yard passer Brett Laffoon.


1. West Allegheny (11-0) vs. 4. Franklin Regional (10-1)
Location: North Allegheny

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Playoff History: Franklin Regional won the only playoff meeting between the two teams since 1980

The defending AAA Champions continued their run towards a repeat with a dominant 38-7 victory over Indiana in the quarterfinals. West Allegheny has excelled on both sides of the ball, scoring at least 37 points in all but one game (Central Valley) and holding opposing teams under 14 all but once (New Castle). The Indians have a balanced offense with 1200-yard passer Andrew Koester and RBs Chayse Dillon and Tory Delmonico who have combined for over 1600 yards and 28 TDs. In the quarterfinals, Koester threw for over 100 yards and 3 TDs and Dillon racked up 142 yards and a touchdown. Franklin Regional rode timely stands on defense performance against the WPIAL's leading rusher to victory in the quarterfinals. West Mifflin's Jimmy Wheeler ran for 226 yards and two scores, but was stopped three times when it mattered most: on 4th and goal in the first quarter, on a two-point conversion with the Titans trailing 14-12, and on a 4th and 2 late in the 4th quarter with the Titans driving in Franklin Regional territory. Only 17 total passes were attempted by both teams in the game with West Mifflin and Franklin Regional putting up over 430 combined rushing yards. The Panthers got an early touchdown from dual-threat QB Charan Singh, giving him 5 total touchdowns (3 rushing, 2 passing) in the playoffs. Singh leads the Panthers in both passing and rushing with Paul Emanuele and Brett Zanotto both adding over 600 yards on the ground.

2. Thomas Jefferson (11-0) vs 3. Central Valley (10-1)
Location: Chartiers Valley

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Playoff History: Central Valley won the only playoff meeting between the two schools in 2010

Central Valley is quickly becoming the Woodland Hills of Class AAA. In the four years the school has existed since the merger of Center and Monaca, they have reached the semi-finals every year with a WPIAL championship in 2010. The Warriors were carried in the quarterfinals by junior RB Jordan Whitehead who ran for 2 TDs and returned a kickoff for a touchdown. Mars was the first team to break 14 points against the Warriors defense, which as pitched 5 shutouts this season. Central Valley has a pick-6 and a special teams touchdown in both playoff games this year. Thomas Jefferson has been the dominant program in AAA for two decades and is appearing in the semi-finals for the 15th time in the last 16 years. The Jaguars were carried to the semi-finals by Michigan recruit Chase Winovich who ran for 228 yards and 3 scores to lead TJ past Highlands. Winovich is being recruited for his defensive abilities at linebacker and has been the leader of a TJ defense that pitched 5 shutouts and allowed only one team to break 14 points. The defensive stats between TJ and Central Valley are very similar and this figures to be a low-scoring, physical affair.


1. Aliquippa (11-0) vs. 12. Beaver (8-3)
Location: Ambridge

View AA Semi 1 in a larger map
Playoff History: Aliquippa won the only playoff meeting between the two teams since 1980

Midwestern Conference rivals meet again with a trip to the championship game on the line. Aliquippa has not lost to Beaver since 2008 and is seeking to reach the title game for the 6th straight season. The two-time defending champions thrashed Beaver 50-13 in the regular season finale. The Quips have only been held under 42 points once this season when Beaver Falls "held" them to 34. The Quips have a dominant one-two punch in the backfield with Dravon Henry and Terry Swanson who became the first running back tandem in WPIAL history to each rush for 4000 yards. Both Henry and Swanson had two touchdowns to lead the Quips over Quaker Valley and into the semi-finals. Beaver rode another outstanding performance from Alex Rowse, the WPIAL's leading passer to top a run-heavy Mt Pleasant team in the quarterfinals. Rowse threw for 220 yards and 3 touchdowns to give him 2665 yards and 40 touchdowns through the air this season. In the first meeting between these teams, the Quips defense held Rowse (who is averaging 242 yards per game) to just 110.

2. South Fayette (11-0) vs. 6. Beaver Falls (9-2)
Location: Montour

View AA Semi 2 in a larger map
Playoff History: South Fayette is 3-0 against Beaver Falls since moving to AA in 2002.

In what has become an inevitability, South Fayette and Beaver Falls face off in the playoffs for the 4th consecutive year. The Lions won 55-28 in the 2010 semis, 24-14 in the first round in 2011, and 35-21 in the quarterfinals last year. South Fayette has been dominant on both sides of the ball this season, featuring 2500-yard passer Brett Brumbaugh and 1000-yard rusher Grant Fetchet on offense while pitching 5 shutouts and not allowing more than 15 points to any opponent on defense. In the quarterfinals, Brumbaugh threw for 463 yards and 3 TDs with 1000-yard receiver Justin Watson finishing with 181 yards and 2 scores and favorite target Connor Beck finishing with 11 catches for 133 yards and a touchdown. If there is any team that can match up athletically with South Fayette it is Beaver Falls who gave Aliquippa everything they could handle in the regular season. Beaver Falls mercy ruled Yough thanks to 43 first half points in the quarterfinals and have tallied 93 points in two playoff games. 1500-yard passer Dan Stratton has thrown 5 TDs in two playoff games thanks to a passing attack boosted by the return of Division 1 prospect Elijah Cottrill. The Tigers have a balanced offense that can move the ball through the air or on the ground where 1100-yard rusher Damian Rawl has found the end zone 14 times.


1. Sto-Rox (11-0) vs. 4. Clairton (9-1)
Location: Chartiers-Houston

View A Semi 1 in a larger map
Playoff History: In 3 playoff meetings since 1980, Clairton leads 2-1

A rematch of the last two Single-A Championship Games will take place not at Heinz Field but at Chartiers-Houston High School. Clairton handily defeated Sto-Rox in the last two championship games and the 5-time defending Class A Champions must find a way to conquer the WPIAL's all-time leading passer if they want to make it back to Heinz Field. The Bears defense has given Lenny Williams fits in the last two championship games, but this young Bears team does not have the experience of its predecessors and is in for a challenge. Last week, the Bears showed they still had the same killer instinct of past Clairton teams, battling back from a 29-14 2nd quarter deficit by scoring 38 unanswered points to top Fort Cherry. Dual-threat QB Aaron Matthews has led the Bears, rushing for over 1000 yards and throwing for over 500 while splitting time at QB with Ryan Williams. The Vikings offense revolves around the Lenny Williams-to-Mallory Claybourne connection which has accounted for 974 yards and 16 scores. Vikings RB Brendan Blair leads the team in scoring with 17 touchdowns and over 700 yards on the ground. Despite throwing his first interception of the season in the quarterfinals, Williams was unstoppable, throwing for over 300 yards and 3 TDs while adding two rushing touchdowns.

2. North Catholic (11-0) vs. 6. Neshannock (9-2)
Location: Mars

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Playoff History: North Catholic and Neshannock have not met in the playoffs since 1980.

One school will reach the WPIAL Championship game for the first time ever. Until last year, Neshannock had never won a playoff game and now finds themselves in the semi-finals for the second straight year. North Catholic makes their third trip to the semi-finals in the last 6 years and their 5th since 1997 (the last year they played in AAA). The Trojans have adjusted to life without QB Adam Sharlow who was lost for the season in the first meeting between these two teams. In that game, Sharlow had led the Trojans to a 21-7 lead before a knee injury ended his season. North Catholic held on to beat the Lancers 21-14, avenging a 42-7 blowout last year. Junior RB PJ Fulmore has stepped in as the Wildcat QB and put the team on his back in the quarterfinals, rushing 38 times for 182 yards and going 7-for-14 through the air for 115 yards. Fulmore accounted for all the Trojans scoring with a touchdown pass, a touchdown run, and a 2-point conversion. The Trojans will need a similar performance from Fulmore if they are going to reach the Championship Game for the first time in school history. On the other side, Neshannock knocked Monessen from the playoffs for the second consecutive season due to a dominant rushing attack. The Lancers two-headed beast in the backfield of Eli Owens and Ernie Burkes accounted for all 5 of Neshannock's scores against Monessen. Owens (a 1400-yard rusher) ran for 136 yards and 1 score while Burkes (who has 1000 yards rushing and passing) ran for 108 yards and 2 scores and threw for 86 yards and 2 scores. The difference in this game could be the Trojans defense, which was the only unit to hold Neshannock under 30 points this season.

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