Friday, August 29, 2014

WPIAL Week 1 Games of the Week

The opening night of the High School Football season is upon us. It has been 8 months since North Catholic and South Fayette lifted the giant Hershey's Bars that come with winning the State Championship. Now the task of defending their titles begins. If you want to get the low-down on every team, check out my WPIAL Season Previews for each classification.

If you're going to be at home tonight, keep an eye on the following hashtags on Twitter to follow along as people post score updates from games: #WPIAL #MSAscores #Skylights

Also, if you're not already, follow the @MSAsports twitter account which will post score updates and bookmark the MSA Scoreboard for quick reference at the end of the night. They get the final scores up faster than anyone. Also, MSA Sports broadcasts most games over the internet, here is their list of the 36 games they will be broadcasting tonight.

I'll update my WPIAL Standings Page at the end of the night. It's the only one available that includes all playoff tiebreakers (Gardner Points, WPIAL Points Tiebreaker and Head-to-Head wins).

AAAA Game of the Week
Upper St Clair at Penn Hills

There are a lot of good games on the Quad-A slate this week, including a monster matchup in the Northern Eight Conference between North Allegheny and Seneca Valley. However, the honor of Week 1 Game of the Week in Quad-A goes to Jim Render's Upper St Clair Panthers who have a lot of new faces starting on both sides of the ball against Penn Hills, who is loaded with talented returning starters. Penn Hills is led by dual-threat QB Billy Kisner who accounted for over 1500 yards of total offense last season. Upper St Clair typically gets off to a hot start and this will be an important game between two of the top teams in the Southeastern Conference. It is strange to say a Week 1 game has playoff implications, but the loser of this game may very well have to go on the road in the playoffs rather than having a first round game at home.

Honorable Mentions: Penn-Trafford at Kiski, North Allegheny at Seneca Valley, Bethel Park at Central Catholic

AAA Game of the Week
Ringgold at Thomas Jefferson

Not only does this game have playoff implications, it has conference championship implications. With Elizabeth Forward and West Mifflin reloading, the prevailing thought is that Ringgold and Thomas Jefferson are the top two teams in the Big Nine Conference. TJ has been a perennial powerhouse that you could write in sharpie on the top line of the conference standings at the beginning of the season and feel good about it. However, Ringgold returns Nico Law, one of the most exciting players in the WPIAL. Last year, Law threw for nearly 1500 yards and ran for over 1200. Thomas Jefferson is usually a defensive powerhouse under Bill Cherpak, but they will have their work cut out for them against Ringgold tonight. The winner of this game will be the clear favorite to win the Big Nine conference.

Honorable Mentions: Franklin Regional at Knoch, Mars at Indiana, Central Valley at Montour, West Allegheny at New Castle

AA Game of the Week
South Park at Seton-La Salle

This week doesn't have a great slate of games in either of the lower classifications. However, this Century Conference showdown between two teams that went to the playoffs last year is worth keeping an eye on. Seton-La Salle has openly spoke about their aspirations to be State Champions this year. The Rebels will have to get past South Fayette in conference play first, but they have a few weeks to prepare for that one. The Rebels are a good team with returning 2300-yard passer Tyler Perone and 800-yard receiver Danzel McKinley-Lewis. Similarly, South Park returns a number of starters from their 2013 squad that made the playoffs for the first time in 8 years. With Quaker Valley QB Dane Jackson's injury, the second spot in the conference is certainly up for grabs. Seton-La Salle certainly thinks they can challenge South Fayette for the conference crown, but that remains to be seen after the Lions beat them twice by 24+ points last year.

Honorable Mentions: Shady Side Academy at Freeport

A Game of the Week

Monessen at GCC

Are you surprised I didn't just shamelessly plug my alma mater by talking about the CWNC-Northgate game here? Maybe you should be, but in terms of games between teams that went to the playoffs last year, Monessen-GCC is a much better matchup. This will be Greensburg Central Catholic's debut in Class A after moving down from AA where they had a very successful run of 11 playoff appearances and 3 trips to Heinz Field (and 1 WPIAL title). GCC typically has a very stout defense which should get a good test against a high-powered Monessen rushing attack. The Greyhounds lost a lot of talented players from the team that beat Clairton last season but return 1300-yard passer Noah Rullo. This should be a good litmus test for both teams to kick off the season - will GCC dominate now that they have moved down in classification?

Honorable Mentions: Avonworth at Chartiers-Houston, Avella at Frazier

Final 53-Man Roster Prediction

The Steelers and Carolina Panthers played a game that mercifully ended the preseason last night. The Steelers now have until 4:00pm on Saturday to cut their roster down to 53 players. As we have seen in the past, this does not mean these are the final 53 players that will open the season on the roster. They have utilized the waiver wire in the last few years to make some changes to their roster and additional changes could be coming this year after the roster deadline. However, for now, we have to keep a relatively narrow view of the roster and just consider the 75 players who are currently on the roster before looking to the waiver wire.

Before I get rolling, I'll throw a bone out to my compatriots in blogging and their roster projections, just so you can get a sense for how fluid the last few spots can be:


QB (3): Ben Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski, Landry Jones

Like it or not, the Steelers are going to keep 3 quarterbacks. The prudent thing to do would be to sign a 3rd quarterback off the waiver wire (Thad Lewis? Tyler Thigpen?) and let Landry Jones fall through waivers to the practice squad. As it stands, the Steelers will likely keep Jones because they want to have 3 rostered QBs.

RB (4): Le'Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount, Dri Archer, Will Johnson

None of the depth RBs in camp made a push to be on the roster and all four of these guys clearly belong on the NFL squad. There's not much to say or discuss here. These guys are all making the team.

WR (5): Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Lance Moore, Martavis Bryant, Darrius Heyward-Bey

Bryant left the Panthers game early with an injury that was reported to be a separated shoulder. This makes Bryant a candidate for the IR-Designated For Return list. However, in order to be placed on the IR-DFR list, he has to first be placed on the 53-man roster then moved to IR-DFR status so he will occupy a spot on the 53 initially but once his status is changed, a spot will open up for another player to be added. Heyward-Bey showed enough in the last two preseason games that he deserves a spot on this team.

TE (3): Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth, Michael Palmer

Miller and Spaeth have the top two spots locked down. Behind them, no one has distinguished themselves as worthy of a roster spot. I put Palmer on the roster as the 3rd tight end because of his ability to play special teams and his ability as a blocker. The Steelers may keep an eye on the waiver wire for a 3rd tight end as Palmer's spot certainly isn't locked in stone.

Offensive Line (9)
OT: Kelvin Beachum, Marcus Gilbert, Mike Adams
OG: Ramon Foster, David DeCastro, Guy Whimper
C: Maurkice Pouncey, Cody Wallace, Wesley Johnson

I grouped the offensive line together because guys like Whimper, Wallace and Johnson are capable of playing multiple positions along the line and I didn't want to get bogged down in semantics. This should be what basically amounts to a "redshirt" year for 5th-round pick Wesley Johnson. Adams, Whimper and Wallace have shown enough to have the top 3 reserve spots locked down. This is a place where the Steelers could go hunting on the waiver wire if there is a lineman available that could replace Whimper or Johnson.


DE (5): Cam Heyward, Brett Keisel, Stephon Tuitt, Cam Thomas, Josh Mauro

With the signing of Brett Keisel, the defensive line is pretty much set. Heyward didn't play last night but the Steelers did show one interesting look in nickel with 4 down linemen (Keisel-McLendon-Thomas-Tuitt) and no outside linebackers (it was a bit of a 4-2-5 as opposed to their normal 2-4-5). At this point the top four are set in stone without question. I decided to keep Josh Mauro as my 5th defensive end because of the upside he showed in the preseason. He displayed an ability to bull rush and collapse the pocket as well as get pressure and get sacks. While he is still an unfinished product, I wanted some security in the defensive line rotation in case Cam Thomas is forced to play nose tackle.

NT (2): Steve McLendon, Daniel McCullers

There was some debate earlier in the preseason as to whether or not 6th round pick Daniel McCullers would surpass Hebron Fangupo for the 2nd nose tackle position. That discussion was quashed when Fangupo was released in the first round of cuts. For better or worse, McLendon and McCullers will be the two nose tackles with Cam Thomas also seeing some time in the rotation.

OLB (4): Jason Worlids, Jarvis Jones, Arthur Moats, Howard Jones

The last two roster spots were the hardest for me to decide. One of those decisions was the 9th linebacker to keep on the roster. It came down to Chris Carter vs Howard Jones vs Jordan Zumwalt. One of the things that stood out the most from the Carolina game was Chris Carter's inability to make a statement in the second half against Carolina's backups. I just haven't seen enough out of Carter to put him on the squad and Jones can be an equivalent contributor on special teams to Carter. Zumwalt's injuries have kept him out of every game except the opener against the Giants when he played well. Ultimately I decided on HoJo because of the splash plays he made during the preseason but the Steelers could look at the waiver wire (possibly a guy like Victor Butler who the Saints cut last week and the Steelers had interest in as a free agent a few years ago).

ILB (5): Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier, Sean Spence, Vince Williams, Terrence Garvin

In my eyes, these 5 guys have their roster spots locked down. Sean Spence is working through a knee sprain that should not be significant. Williams and Garvin have shown enough both in games and on special teams to secure their spots on the roster.

CB (5): Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen, William Gay, Antwon Blake, Brice McCain

Brice McCain suffered a groin injury against the Panthers, but none of the other corners on the roster showed enough to surpass McCain on the depth chart. Ultimately, I think the Steelers keep McCain over 5th round pick Shaq Richardson (who has been injured for most of camp). Richardson could be a candidate for the IR-Designated for Return distinction, but ultimately since he hasn't put anything on tape I think the Steelers will stick with the veteran McCain and try to slide Richardson down to the practice squad.

SS (2): Troy Polamalu, Shamarko Thomas
FS (3): Mike Mitchell, Robert Golden, Will Allen

The last roster decision I made was Howard Jones at OLB, but the secondary was second-to-last. Robert Golden showed enough in the preseason to secure his roster spot. Given Brice McCain's injury (which will probably make him inactive for the first few weeks) I decided to keep Will Allen for an extra body in the secondary and on special teams. In deciding between Allen and Shaq Richardson, I considered who could actually play in Week 1 if need be, which gave the edge to Allen. Richardson's injury has held him out of most of camp and I didn't want to keep 2 defensive backs that would automatically have to be inactive in the first week because of injuries.

Specialists (3)
K: Shaun Suisham
P: Brad Wing
LS: Greg Warren

Suisham, despite his struggles, signed a 5-year deal with the Steelers so his roster spot is secure. For now, Brad Wing is the only punter that we have on the roster so he makes it by default. However, as we have seen in the past, the punter spot is far from secure and the Steelers may opt to sign a punter off the waiver wire. Warren, reportedly, will practice this week and will be ready to go for the Cleveland game. This should put to rest any discussion of keeping two long snappers on the roster.

Week 1 inactives: Jones (QB), Bryant (WR), Johnson (OL), Mauro (DE), McCullers (NT), H. Jones (OLB), Spence (ILB) McCain (CB)

The Steelers can only dress 45 players each week which means that 8 players will be inactive.  Spence, McCain and Bryant will be working their way through injury (though Bryant may be placed on the IR-DFR list, which would open up another roster spot). If Bryant is moved to IR-DFR, I would slide the player the Steelers add to fill Bryant's spot to the Week 1 inactives list.

Practice Squad (10):
QB: Brendon Kay
WR: Justin Brown, Derek Moye
TE: Rob Blanchflower
OL: Chris Hubbard
DE: Nick Williams
LB: Jordan Zumwalt
CB: Shaq Richardson, Isaiah Green
S: Jordan Dangerfield

If these 10 make it through waivers, these are the 10 I would add to the practice squad. If Martavis Bryant gets placed on the IR-DFR list, Justin Brown would be elevated to the active roster and TE Eric Waters (who was one of the Steelers first cuts) would be signed back to the practice squad. Brendon Kay showed enough during the last preseason game to warrant a spot on the practice squad. However, if the Steelers opt to sign some players off of waivers then guys from the 53-man roster could fall down to the practice squad. I did put two draft picks that were injured for most of the preseason (Zumwalt and Richardson) on the practice squad. If the Steelers fear that either might not make it through waivers, they may opt to keep one of them on the active roster.

Positions to Watch on Waivers

Quarterback - Landry Jones was able to get the Steelers in and out of a huddle, but that was about it. The Steelers didn't pick up many first downs and never really threatened to drive the ball across midfield. The Steelers could look for a capable #3 QB on the waiver wire and move Landry down to the practice squad.

Tight End - As I mentioned, Michael Palmer's spot as the #3 TE is far from secure. He is a decent blocker and plays well on special teams but doesn't bring much offensive upside. If there is a tight end out there on the waiver wire that can block and provides some offensive upside, the Steelers may cut the veteran Palmer.

Wide Receiver -  I didn't expect to be writing about waiver-wire receivers, but with Martavis Bryant's injury, the Steelers will need to add a 5th receiver to the roster if Bryant is placed on the IR-DFR list. That receiver could be Justin Brown that they cut and then sign after Bryant's status is changed or another receiver that is cut by another team.

Offensive Line - The last two spots are the biggest question marks. The Steelers will definitely keep 8 linemen and there is some debate over whether or not veteran Guy Whimper or rookie Wesley Johnson should be the 8th guy. My projection has them keeping both players but if there is another veteran lineman placed on waivers who is better than Whimper, the Steelers could make a parallel move here.

Nose Tackle - The weakest spot in the starting lineup is at nose tackle where Steve McLendon has yet to show he can cut it as a starting NFL nose tackle. This is a diminishing market and there isn't a lot of value out there so I doubt the Steelers will find one on the waiver wire but it's still something to keep an eye on.

Outside Linebacker - As of right now, the Steelers have 3 capable outside linebackers. Chris Carter hasn't shown anything, Howard Jones is a project and Jordan Zumwalt has been continually hurt. My roster has the Steelers cutting Carter and keeping Jones but they could look for a veteran that can actually rush the passer for their 4th OLB spot on waivers.

Cornerback - Given Brice McCain's groin injury and Shaq Richardson's knee injury, the Steelers are a bit thin at corner heading into Week 1. This was one of the reasons why Will Allen made my 53-man roster. The Steelers could sign a corner off waivers to take McCain's spot on the roster or add more depth to the position as the 4th/5th corner behind the top three.

Punter - Brad Wing has not looked very good, despite what Mike Tomlin says. This might be the most obvious position for the Steelers to address on the waiver wire. There is precedent for doing so as the Steelers picked up Zoltan Mesko on waivers last year and made him their opening day punter.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

WPIAL A Preview

In the interest of brevity, I'm going to keep this introductory paragraph short. Given that my alma mater is the defending WPIAL and PIAA Class A Champions, I could probably write 2000 words about just North Catholic (I didn't, but here's my recap of last season). The defending champions are loaded once again with almost all of their offensive skill position players returning. After a "down" year where they lost a conference game and fell in the semi-finals, perennial powerhouse Clairton is stacked with talent once again. WPIAL realignment hit Class A the hardest, causing a major reshuffling of the conferences. The old Eastern and Black Hills conferences were hacked apart and spliced together with the addition of Jeanette and Greensburg Central Catholic to the Class A ranks. The Tri-County South remains largely unchanged, but the conference has not won a playoff game since 2010 when both Monessen and Beth-Center won their first round games. Geibel Catholic, who struggled with a lack of players and has forfeited 4 games over the last 2 seasons, is taking a hiatus from football. Vincentian Academy joins the WPIAL ranks this year after playing two seasons as an unaffiliated school.

Don't forget to bookmark my WPIAL Standings Page (the only one available with all tiebreakers listed!) I should note that teams are organized in Conference previews by my predicted order of finish.

Also, all helmet images courtesy of PA Helmet Project.

Big Seven

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After seven years of missing the playoffs, Neshannock has reached the semi-finals in each of the last two seasons. The burden of the offense will fall on Senior RB Eli Owens who ran for 1,469 yards and 13 TDs as a junior and 1,268 yards as a sophomore. With Sto-Rox gone from the Big Seven, this is the Lancers' conference to lose at this point. Neshannock had the 5th best offense in Class A last season and return their top two receivers in Jimmy Medure and Rocco Fazio. The key to their success will be finding someone to take over under center as dual-threat QB Ernie Burkes graduated.


The Rams missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 1996. Their 16-year run included 5 WPIAL titles and 9 trips to Heinz Field. The Rams biggest problems were on defense last season where they gave up 42+ points in each of their final 5 games after a 2-2 start to the season. The good news is that only four seniors graduated from last year's team so there is a lot of experience returning for Rochester. The two focal points - leading rusher Ishmal Tucker and quarterback Chase Long are both rising seniors that gained valuable experience last year.

Western Beaver

The Golden Beavers won their final two games last season to reach the playoffs for the third time in four years, though they have not made it out of the first round since 2008. Last year, turnovers doomed them in their playoff opener against eventual State Champion North Catholic. Leading rusher Hunter Roknich returns after rushing for 1208 yards and 14 TDs as a junior. Roknich figures to be one of the top running backs in Class A this season and his legs alone should be enough to put Western Beaver squarely in the hunt for a playoff spot.


The only saving grace to the Panthers 2013 campaign was a Week 9 victory over Freedom. Before that game, Riverside had only come within 30 points of an opponent once (a 20-12 loss to New Brighton) and had been shut out 3 times. They had the 4th worst defense in AA last year, but the move down to Class A should benefit them. Jason Dambach was the team's leading passer as a sophomore, throwing for 808 yards and 9 TDs. Junior Zach Gould also saw time at quarterback and WR. Leading rusher and receiver Marcel Cleckley returns for his senior season, giving the Panthers some experienced offensive weapons that should enable them to be competitive in the Big Seven if they can shore things up on defense.


After two unaffiliated seasons playing what amounted to a Tri-County South schedule, Vincentian has been officially added to the WPIAL ranks. The Catholic school in the North Hills boasts John Fedko as it's athletic director. Vincentian picked up 4 wins last season, highlighted by a 65-0 trouncing of Geibel and a 35-0 defeat of West Greene. They also finished the season with a 16-6 victory over Northgate. Only two seniors graduated from last year's team so they could be competitive in their first year as an officail WPIAL-affiliated school.


The Scotties made the playoffs in 2012 after a 9-year absense but took a step back in 2013, finishing in the middle of the pack in the Big Seven. RB Jordan Best was the team's second-leading scorer as a sophomore last season and should be the focal point of the offense this year. Union graduated most of their offensive and defensive linemen, and will have to find replacements up front if they are going to compete for a playoff spot again this season.

South Side Beaver

The Rams had another winless season last year and have lost 11 straight games dating back to October 13, 2012. Despite finishing without a victory, there is some hope for the future. The Rams were competitive in half of their games, losing 3 by less than 10 points and 5 by less than two touchdowns. Junior Nathan Block took over at QB in Week 6 and ended the season as the team's leading rusher and leading passer. Fellow rising Senior Jake Berger also saw time at QB.


The Wildcats spent another year struggling at the bottom of the Big Seven Conference. They have not reached the playoffs since 2006 when they played in AA. Most of their offensive skill position players have graduated and their coach left for cross-town rival Laurel (who moved up to AA).All in all, this does not look like a very promising season for Shenango.

Black Hills

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Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic

Ring The Bell Again. The hallowed halls of Troy Hill have shut their doors for the last time, but the Victory Bell and the PIAA State Champions trophy will make their way up 279 to their new home in Cranberry. Things will be different for my alma mater this year, which tacks "Cardinal Wuerl" in front of their name and finally gets air-conditioned classrooms! Some things will stay the same, including still playing their home games at Lt JC Stone Field in North Park. The reigning State Champions return leading rusher PJ Fulmore, who is one of the top prospects in the WPIAL and verbally committed to Duquesne. Fulmore ran for 1213 yards last year despite missing 6 games due to injury. Fulmore was forced into quarterback duty his second game back when QB Adam Sharlow (who also returns for his senior year) suffered an ACL injury. Fellow rising senior Jerome Turner ran for 1151 yards and 24 TDs last season. Keep an eye out for speedy Sophomore Mario Latronica who ran for 566 yards and 8 TDs as a Freshman. The Trojans are loaded with talent at the offensive skill positions, but will have to replace most of their offensive line which was the key in their run to the state title. Ring. The. Bell. Again.


Avonworth came closer than any other WPIAL team to defeating North Catholic last season. They will have to replace their quarterback and leading receiver, but rising Senior Josh Drwal and rising Junior Jamal Hughley should be up to the challenge. RB Moses Giles returns for his junior year after leading the team with 818 yards and 16 TDs last year. The Antelopes should be considered the top challenger to North Catholic, primarily because of their defense which was the best in Class A last season. The Lopes have made the playoffs each of the last 6 seasons and have only been knocked out in the first round once.


The Spartans have made the playoffs in 10 of the last 12 seasons, including each of the last 6. Senior QB Connor McWilliams is one of the best in Class A and comes off a junior year where he threw for 1745 yards and 14 TDs. Top rushers Pat Carr and Bill Madeja return. Madeja was also the team's leading receiver. 6'1" receiver Tyler Paranzino also returns for his senior season, giving McWilliams a full complement of weapons to work with. The Spartans should be right in the mix for the playoffs once again this season and could challenge some of the teams at the top of the conference.

Bishop Canevin

The Crusaders had a rare down year at the bottom of the Black Hills Conference last year, but get the opportunity to renew their Catholic school rivalry with North Catholic and OLSH thanks to realignment. QB Reed Relosky returns for his Senior season after throwing for 1203 yards and 11 TDs and leading the team in rushing. A Week 4 injury to RB Giovanni DeMarzo hurt Canevin's offensive output. Leading receiver Sean Fitzgerald returns for his junior year. Canevin had the 2nd worst defense in the conference last year, but the gap was not that great as they gave up 29.1 points per game and the 3rd best defense (Brentwood) was only a touchdown better at 22.3 points per game.

Fort Cherry

The Rangers split the Black Hills Conference title with Clairton and Monessen last season, but realignment has moved those two schools to the Eastern Conference. Fort Cherry had the best offense in Class A last season and their only losses were to Clairton in the regular season and quarterfinals. 2200-yard rusher Koltan Kobrys graduated and the Rangers will need to find someone to replace his production. The only returning starter at an offensive skill position is 6'2" WR Alex Babirad who had 607 yards and 9 TDs last season. The Rangers should be competitive again this season and will be right in the mix for a playoff spot for the 8th time in 9 seasons.


The Buccaneers just missed out on the playoffs last year after dropping their last two games to Monessen and Fort Cherry. Their leading passer and receiver have graduated, but a pair of rising Sophomores show that the future is bright. RB Spencer Terling led the team in rushing and was second in scoring last year as a freshman while WR AJ Myers was second in receiving and scored twice. This will likely be a rebuilding year for the Bucs with Terling and Myers as the focal points of the offense moving forward.


The Flames have only made the playoffs once in the last 10 years and will be hard-pressed to do so this year. Northgate suffered from the double-whammy last year of an anemic offense that failed to score 100 points total during the season and a porous defense that allowed over 300 points. QB Johnny Camello returns for his senior year after leading the team in passing and scoring last season. The Flames graduated only four seniors from last year's team, so their young players have a wealth of experience to build on for the 2014 campaign.


The Chargers just started playing WPIAL football a few years ago, but the Catholic school in Moon is already knocking on the door of the playoffs. They just missed by one game in the Big Seven Conference last year after winning 4 of their last 5 games. Their offense averaged just 12.9 points per game but they have some players returning. QB Joseph Sebes returns along with two of his top three receivers in Cedric Gray and Eric Hall. Junior John Truskowski figures to take over at running back after carrying the ball 63 times last year. There are only 6 rising seniors on the Chargers roster, which means this could be a challenging season for a young team that builds experience in a difficult conference.


View A Eastern in a larger map


The 2013 season saw Clairton's incredible 66-game winning streak come to an end in Week 4 against Monessen and their championship streak come to an end in the semi-finals. The offseason saw coach Tom Nola leave for Gateway and defensive coordinator Wayne Wade step in to take his place. The pipeline is strong in Clairton and they are one of the top teams in Class A. The Bears have won 6 of the last 8 Class A Championships and both of their playoff losses have come in the Semi-Finals. Realignment has returned them to the Eastern Conference this season, which should be one of the best in the WPIAL. The Bears are loaded with athletes including 6'5" Junior Aaron Mathews who ran for 1,010 yards and 15 TDs last season while also being the team's leading passer. Ryan Williams also saw time at quarterback as a junior and leading receiver James Hines returns. Rising Sophomore LaMont Wade has been pegged as a 5-star prospect at cornerback and was second on the team in rushing last season. Hidden amongst all this talent is rising junior Harrison Dreher who averged 40 yards per reception and 10.6 yards per carry last year. The Bears are brimming with talent and should find their way back to Heinz Field this season.

Greensburg Central Catholic

The Centurions move down from AA after an 11-year run of playoff appearances that includes 3 trips to Heinz Field and one WPIAL title. The hallmark of GCC football has been a lockdown defense and the unit was 3rd in their conference last year in AA. On offense, they lose their leading rusher and receiver but rising Junior Thomas Pellis was the team's leading passer last season after taking over in Week 2. GCC could push Clairton for the conference title and gets to maintain their rivalry with Jeanette.


After a hot 4-0 start to 2013, the Jayhawks missed the playoffs by virtue of an 0-5 finish. Julian Batts returns for his senior season under center after throwing for 900 yards last year. Most of his weapons have graduated and the burden of the offense will likely fall on Zack Altieri who averaged 8.3 yards per carry on just 30 carries and 17.7 yards per reception last season. Jeanette's usually strong defense showed some cracks last season, finishing as the 3rd worst in the conference. The drop down to Single-A should help them and their matchup against Clairton might be the best game on the conference slate.


The Dynamos saw their 11-year playoff run come to an end last season. Their biggest problem was their inability to find the end zone, scoring only 63 points all season. The Dynamos will need to improve on offense, which was the 3rd lowest-scoring in Single-A and the 5th-lowest in the entire WPIAL. Quarterback Daniel Franskousky returns for his senior year after leading the team in rushing and passing last season. Second-leading rusher Austin Kline and leading receiver TE Adam Lock return for their senior seasons as well. While they have never played in a conference with Monessen, there is a budding rivalry as Springdale has knocked Monessen out of the playoffs in 6 of the last 11 seasons.


The Greyhounds ran through the Black Hills Conference last year, splitting the conference title with Clairton and Fort Cherry. The highlight of their season was a Week 4 victory over Clairton which ended the Bears 66-game winning streak. QB Noah Rullo returns for his senior year after throwing for 1308 yards and 19 TDs. Only one of his top 4 receivers returns and one of his top 4 rushers. Junior Demond Jordan figures to take over the lead RB role as the Greyhounds try to replace the 14 seniors that graduated last year. They should be in the mix for a playoff spot and it could come down to a game with their recent nemesis Springdale to decide the last playoff spot.


The Raiders were one of the dominant programs in Class A in the late 90s, reaching the title game in Three Rivers Stadium 3 times and winning once, along with 2 semi-finals appearances. Since that 1998 semi-final loss to Monaca, Riverview has not made it past the quarterfinals and has missed the playoffs in each of the last 6 seasons. Last year was the bottoming out when they finished last in the Eastern Conference. QB Tyler Nigro returns for his senior season after a Week 3 injury derailed his junior year. Leading rusher Keir Barber also returns to a team that graduated only 6 seniors. Five of those 6 seniors were linemen, so the Raiders will need to build a new group in the trenches to support their returning skill players.


The Tigers have won 5 games in the last two seasons, which may not sound like much, but for a program that was the basement-dweller of the Eastern Conference, that's a step in the right direction. Leading scorer RB Montay Clancy returns for his senior season. The Tigers will be celebrating the 100-year anniversary of their victory in the first ever WPIAL Championship. There was a great article in the Trib about it. The biggest hurdle for Wilksinburg this year will be finding able bodies after they started camp with just 17 players on the roster.

Serra Catholic

The Eagles enter the season riding a 20-game losing streak, the longest in Class A and the 3rd longest in the WPIAL. They have not won since 2011. They can thank Derry for supplanting them as the worst defense in the WPIAL, but their 54.2 points per game allowed in 2013 was almost a touchdown worse than their 48.4 in 2012. Their offense did show some improvement, scoring in double-digits in 7 of their 9 games. Zac Quatrone returns for his senior season after rushing for 1047 yards and throwing for 1011. His primary target, WR Joe Satira also returns. Moving to the Eastern Conference with Wilkinsburg and Leechburg gives Serra a chance to break their losing streak this season.


The Blue Devils didn't quite make it out of the basement of the Eastern Conference last season, but did finish in a 3-way tie for next-to-last. They scored two victories over Northgate and Riverview and had the best offense of the non-playoff teams in the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately for the fans in Leechburg, who have not seen a playoff appearance since 1988, the team graduated most of their offensive skill position players and will likely spend another year at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.

Tri-County South

View A Tri-County South in a larger map


The Bulldogs were the cream of the crop in the Tri-County South last year, going 9-0 and only having one victory of less than 10 points. However, the WPIAL did not believe in their 9-0 record and gave them the 8th seed in Class A where Beth-Center fell 42-28 to Apollo-Ridge in the first round. Anthony Welsh led the team in rushing with 1202 yards and 21 TDs as a sophomore. The Bulldogs have made the playoffs in each of the last 11 seasons and have won four of the last 6 conference titles. Even with the graduation of their quarterback and leading receiver, Beth-Center is still the favorite to finish atop the Tri-County South. Whether or not they are able to break the conference's 3-year playoff losing streak is a different matter, however.


After two years of languishing in the brutally difficult Black Hills Conference, the Trojans get their wish and return to the Tri-County South where they had made the playoffs in 12 of 13 seasons before moving to the Black Hills. Even though the Trojans graduated 10 seniors from last year's team, the rest of the roster should be good enough to make them competitive in the Tri-County South. With only 7 rising seniors on the squad, this figures to be a relatively young and inexperienced squad. However, they came within a game of the playoffs last year when they lost to Brentwood in Week 9. California is perfectly capable of challenging for a home playoff game and should be making a return trip to the postseason.


The Eagles were the feel-good story of the Class A regular season. Just a few years removed from having to use cheerleaders and members of the band just to be able to field a team, Avella reached the playoffs for the first time since 1976. Five starters return for Avella, including QB Santino Parris who threw for 1246 yards and 16 TDs last season. The top 3 receivers have all graduated but leading rusher Nick Kusich returns after leading the team in scoring with 12 TDs. The Eagles should be right in the mix for the playoffs once again and could be in the running for a home playoff game that comes with a top-2 finish in the conference.


The Mighty Mikes had a very good season last year, finishing second to Beth-Center after a 6-point loss (they were the only team to come within 10 of the Bulldogs). Carmichaels has made the playoffs in 14 of the last 15 seasons but have not won a first round game since their run to the semi-finals in 2002. They came the closest of any Tri-County South team to winning a playoff game last year, falling 13-12 to Fort Cherry in the opening round. Almost all of their starters from that team graduated, but the tradition is strong at Carmichaels and they should be good enough to make the playoffs.


The Commodores rose from the depths of anonymity and have made the playoffs in each of the last 3 seasons after an 8-year playoff drought. Five starters return for Frazier, including leading rusher Nick Smalich. Frazier relied primarily on their passing game last year but graduated their quarterback and leading receiver. Second-leading receiver TE Nathaniel Zurich returns for his senior season. Even though they will have to find someone to take over under center, only 2 of their offensive linemen graduated and Frazier looks poised to make another run at the playoffs.


Three years removed from a winless 2010 campaign, the Maples took another step forward with a 4-win 2013 season. They have not made the postseason since 2005 but there is some hope this season as a number of starters return. Leading rusher Adam Hein returns for his senior season, along with QB Ben Boone who may move to receiver this year. Mapletown was a squarely middle-of-the-road team in the conference last season, winning all of their games by at least 2 touchdowns but losing by 27+ in each of their defeats.


The Rockets have made the playoffs twice in the last 6 years and they return 6 starters on both offense and defense from a team that won just two conference games last year. Two of the top three rushers in Kailin Foster and Dalton Fowler return this year. The Rockets actually had the fourth best defense in the conference last year and will need a similar effort this season in order to return to the playoffs for the second time in three seasons.

West Greene

The Pioneers had the misfortune of a porous defense, which finished 4th worst in Single-A and an anemic offense, which finished 2nd worst in Single-A. West Greene does return QB Owen Main but will need to find an answer on the defensive side of the ball. An answer could come on the lines where only one senior graduated. After their opening week victory over Bentworth, the Pioneers only scored in double-digits once and were shut out 5 times. Their defense was equally bad, surrendering 35+ points in each of their last 8 outings and giving up 48+ in half of those.


The move from the Black Hills to the Tri-County South has not benefited Bentworth in the same way it has benefited Avella. Their only win was a victory over undermanned Geibel in Week 7 and they will not have that luxury on their schedule this season. In the rest of their outings, they were shut out 4 times and only scored multiple times in two outings. Aside from the Geibel game, they surrendered 40+ points in all but one conference game. They do return their top two rushers and QB Angelo Rios-Lopez. The Bearcats finished with the 3rd worst offense in the conference and the worst defense in the league, which is merely a technicality because Geibel did not play 3 games.

Playoff Predictions:
Big Seven: Neshannock, Rochester, Western Beaver, Riverside
Black Hills: CWNC, Avonworth, Brentwood, Bishop Canevin
Eastern: Clairton, GCC, Jeanette, Springdale
Tri-County South: Beth-Center, California, Avella, Carmichaels

Championship: Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic over Clairton

Gameday: Carolina Panthers

Heinz Field
Radio: WDVE and other affiliates

We have come to the end of the preseason. We stand on the precipice of regular season football, ready to pick up right where we left off against Cleveland. But first, we have to endure one more practice game.

What To Watch For

1. No Injuries

This should sound familiar by now, so I don't need to delve into it too much. The star starters probably won't play at all in this game and those that have minor injuries probably won't play either unless they are roster bubble players. Nevertheless, no team makes it through an entire NFL season without having at least a few starters miss games due to injury so it is important that the Steelers make it through this game that doesn't count with as many healthy bodies as possible.

2. Keep it Vanilla

We play the Panthers again in 3 weeks, so the Steelers will likely keep their playbook very limited so as not to put too much on tape for the Panthers. Additionally, with the rematch coming shortly and Landry Jones at quarterback, don't expect too many audible calls to be used on offense. The last thing we need is for the Panthers to get a read on what our signals and cues are for audibles/hot reads just 3 weeks before we play them in a game that counts. On both offense and defense, keep it simple, get through this game, and let's be done with the preseason.

3. Ribs

The last preseason game marks the annual RibFest at Heinz Field. If you're watching the game you can bet that Edmond Nelson will mention the ribs no less than 10 times during the first half of the game. When he devours a rack on-air at halftime, that's pretty much all he'll be talking about the second half too. If you're listening on the radio, it would be a sincere disappointment if Craig Wolfley doesn't work "ribs" into everything he says on the broadcast.

4. Vets vs Youth

There are a handful of veterans on the roster who are locked in battles for roster spots with young players. The most interesting is at outside linebacker where Chris Carter is seemingly locked in a battle with undrafted free agent Howard Jones. HoJo has been all around the ball in the preseason and has an intriguing upside. At safety, Will Allen is getting a serious push from Robert Golden to be the backup free safety, but the Steelers may elect to keep 5 safeties instead of 4, which would give both players a roster spot. At WR, Darrius Heyward-Bey took a big step forward in the last game by hauling in a touchdown pass and playing well on special teams. Justin Brown and Derek Moye haven't shown much this preseason and at this point it looks like the veteran DHB has an inside track to the 5th WR spot on the roster. At corner, veterans Antwon Blake and Brice McCain seem to have their names pencilled in to the 4th and 5th spots, but the Steelers could always surprise and opt to keep 5th round pick Shaq Richardson who has been injured for much of camp.

5. Landry Jones Playing Himself Off the Team

This might not be exactly what happens, but given the way he played in the second preseason game against Buffalo, it is entirely possible that Landry Jones does not make the final cut down to 53 players. Of course, the Steelers always keep 3 quarterbacks, so that would entail going out and signing another quarterback off of waivers. Jones will likely see most of the work in this game (although the team did not cut Branden Kay in the first round of cuts, so if Jones is awful we may see Kay as well). If Jones still can't get anything done under center, it may force the team to cut him loose in order to send him down to the practice squad. And if you think Landry Jones wouldn't clear waivers, you're crazy.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

WPIAL Preview Show

I got together with Josh Rowntree of MSA Sports and Andrew Schaffer of WPIAL Football Zone for a Google Hangout to talk about the upcoming WPIAL season. This was our first time with the Google Hangout format so we had some technology issues, but we'll (probably) get better as the season goes on.

If you miss it at the end, here are their twitter accounts:
Josh - @JRown32 @MSAsports
AJ - @AJAndrew83 @AJWPIAL

Hashtags to follow on Friday nights for score updates: #WPIAL #MSAscores #Skylights

WPIAL AA Preview

The story of 2014 in AA will be the culmination of the Brumbaugh Era. Brett Brumbaugh, the youngest of the three Brumbaugh brothers, enters his senior year at South Fayette with the Lions the reigning AA State Champions. Brett also has the opportunity to surpass Lenny Williams, the WPIAL's all-time leading passer. With 38 teams in AA this year, both the Allegheny Conference and Century Conference have 10 teams and will not play any out-of-conference games. The Interstate Conference and Midwestern Conference each have 9 teams after realignment that saw Highlands and Derry drop down from AAA and Apollo-Ridge, West Shamokin, Sto-Rox, Carlynton and Laurel move up from Class A. As an interesting note, there are several streaks of note in AA. Four of the six schools with the longest losing streaks in the WPIAL currently reside in AA with three of them (Burgettstown, Brownsville and Derry) in the Interstate Conference (Deer Lakes is the other). On the other side of the coin, Aliquippa has the longest conference winning streak in the entire WPIAL at 38 games, dating back to 2009. The Quips have reached Heinz Field in each of the past 6 seasons and their only losses in the last 4 years were two title game losses to South Fayette.

Don't forget to bookmark my WPIAL Standings Page (the only one available with all tiebreakers listed!) I should note that teams are organized in Conference previews by my predicted order of finish.

Also, all helmet images courtesy of PA Helmet Project.

Allegheny Conference

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The Rams are moving down from AAA this season after a quarterfinals loss to Thomas Jefferson last year. A trio of rising seniors led the team in passing, rushing and receiving last season. RB Elijah Jackson ran for 1287 yards and 14 TDs. QB Blake Leri threw for 601 yards and 9 TDs and added 316 yards on the ground. Leading receiver Jeremy Jackson averaged 19.5 yards per reception and had 7 touchdowns. The trio presented a formidable matchup for AAA defenses last year and should be even better as seniors against AA defenses.


The Wildcats went undefeated in 2013 for the first time since 1976 but fell in a shootout in the first round of the playoffs. The Wildcats had the 6th best offense in AA ledy by dual-threat QB Braydon Toy who threw for 1629 yards and 20 TDs and added 816 rushing yards and 11 more TDs. Toy returns for his senior season along with his main target, 6'4" TE Nick Bowers (846 yards, 16 TDs). Zane Dudek led the team in rushing last year as a freshman with 820 yards and 14 TDs. Kittanning returns 9 players from their conference champion squad and should be right in the mix for the Allegheny Conference title again this year. This will be the last year for Kittanning football as the high school is merging with Ford City to form Armstrong Jr/Sr High next year.

Shady Side Academy

Shady Side Academy was a controversial call in the season finale against Kittanning away from winning the conference last year. They were stomped by Beaver in the first round of the playoffs and graduated two running backs that had D1 offers. Their leading rushers and passer have graduated but leading receiver Lewis Berry returns for his senior season. Doc Szlachetka figures to take over at quarterback with five starters return along the lines, which should make the Indians formidable up front.


The Yellow Jackets missed the playoffs in 2013 for the first time in 6 seasons. Junior LB Logan Thimons recently committed to West Virginia. Dual-threat QB Andrew Romanchak accounted for 974 yards of total offense, leading the team in passing and rushing. However, he will have to improve on his 9 INTs to just 1 TD if Freeport is going to return to the playoffs. WRs Dylan and Brandon Hochbein led the team in receiving as sophomores last year.


The Vikings made the playoffs in each of the last two seasons in Class A, but they may be overmatched with the move up to AA. Senior WR Tre  Tipton is one of the best players in all of the WPIAL. Tipton and fellow senior Alex Smith make for a formidable pair of receivers, but the Vikings will have to find someone to throw them the ball after 1600-yard passer Jesse Zelonka graduated. Second-leading rusher Jonah Casella also returns and the Vikings could be in the battle for the last playoff spot. Keep an eye on sophomore Duane Brown who was a first-team all-conference DB as a freshman last year.


The Vikings made the playoffs last season but graduated their leading passer and two leading rushers. Their top two receivers - Tyson Hill and D'Aundre Johnson return. The biggest news here is the renewal of the Valley-Highlands Rivalry Game as Highlands has dropped down to AA. The battle for the bridge is back on.


The Bucs had a bit of a down year last year but won two of their last three games. Ryan Sowol led the team in rushing with 1150 yards and 11 TDs as a junior. Rising Junior Jason David was second on the team in receiving. The Bucs will need to shore up a defense that gave up 31+ four times. Burrell will be playing with heavy hearts this season after sophomore Noah Cornuet collapsed during a team workout in August and passed away. The Bucs have a young squad that will build valuable experience for the future.

Ford City

The once-dominant program in the conference has fallen on hard times. The Sabers have failed to make the playoffs in each of their last two seasons. This will be their last year of competition as Armstrong School District is consolidating Ford City and Kittanning High Schools into one "Armstrong Jr/Sr High School" in 2015. QB Michael Bartosiewicz returns for his seinor season. Second-leading rusher Herm Rush, who might have the best name of any RB in the WPIAL, will be a junior. If the Sabers are going to get back to form, they will need to figure out how to find the end zone after averaging just 16 points per game last year.

West Shamokin

After reaching the playoffs for the first time in school history, West Shamokin was rewarded with a move up in class to AA. In their previous stint in AA, the Wolves rung up the WPIAL's longest losing streak. They do return QB Alex Lasslo (791 yards, 10 TDs) and leading rusher and receiver Andrew Wingard who accounted for 1106 yards of total offense and 14 TDs. The Wolves are better now than they were in their previous stint in AA, but ultimately the step up in competition will be too much for them.

Deer Lakes

The Lancers were shut out last season and have not won since October 2012. They had the 5th worst defense in AA last season. Junior Hunter Burns figures to be the focal point of the offense after leading the Lancers in receiving and finishing second on the team in rushing. Fellow rising Junior Scott Kelly figures to take over under center after seeing some spot duty last season.

Century Conference

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South Fayette

The defending state champions carry the reigning Post-Gazette Player of the Year in QB Brett Brumbaugh. Brumbaugh threw for 3917 yards and 41 TDs last year and enters his senior season with 7346 career passing yards, just 1163 yards shy of Sto-Rox's Lenny Williams for the WPIAL passing record. If Brumbaugh repeats his 2013 performance he will surpass Matt Bodamer as the state's all-time passing yards leader. Brumbaugh loses his two 1000-yard receivers and a 1000-yard rusher but he is good enough to elevate those around him, making South Fayette the clear favorites in the Century Conference and one of the top two teams in AA. Brumbaugh's success has overshadowed the tenacious defense that Joe Rossi has put together, which allowed just 46 points in the regular season last year and pitched 5 shutouts.

Seton-La Salle

In the quarterfinals, the Rebels held South Fayette to their lowest output against a WPIAL team. Unfortunately, that was still a 31-7 loss for Seton-La Salle. QB Tyler Perone returns for his senior season after throwing for 2326 yards and 24 TDs. Perone also gets back his primary target in Danzel McKinley-Lewis who had 40 receptions for 791 yards and 11 TDs last season. Leading rusher Rick Mellick also returns, but Perone will clearly be the focal point of the Rebels offense.

Quaker Valley

2013 was a success as the Quakers reached the playoffs for the first time since 2000 and hosted their first home playoff game in school history. Dual-threat QB Dane Jackson returns for his senior season and is one of the top D1 prospects in the WPIAL after throwing for 975 yards and 13 TDs and rushing for 1111 yards and 10 TDs. Leading receiver Chris Conlan, Aaron Cunningham and Trewon Marshall also return. Marshall and Cunningham also split time in the backfield and combined for nearly 1000 yards rushing. All in all, this is a team that pushed Aliquippa in their quarterfinal matchup and returns most of their offensive playmakers.

South Park

The Eagles returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2005 after a Week 7 victory over Steel Valley. The Eagles were in position to make a run at the conference title with games against South Fayette and Seton-La Salle in the last two weeks but dropped both games which landed them a playoff date with Aliquippa. Leading receivers Ryan Mino and TE Greg Pantuso along with second-leading scorer Nick Scholle (who was the starting QB last season before being sidelined by injury) return. With OT Ryan Podgorski and DT Stefan Savis returning, the Eagles should be right in the mix for the last playoff spot once again this year.

Steel Valley

The Ironmen were true to their form in 2013, starting the season fast behind an incredible rushing effort. However, they dropped 5 straight games after D'Andre Pickens suffered a knee injury in Week 3 after leading the WPIAL in rushing through two weeks. Freshman DeWayne Murray stepped in and ran for 1488 yards and 7 TDs. QB Connor Stevens will return for his senior year along with third-leading rusher Tyrone Freeman. The Ironmen's final three games against Keystone Oaks, South Park and South Allegheny will likely decide who earns the fourth playoff spot in the Century Conference.

East Allegheny

Conference ping-pong continues for East Allegheny. After a run of success in the Interstate Conference where they made the playoffs in 4 of 5 seasons from 2007 to 2011, the Wildcats failed to reach the postseason in two years in the Allegheny Conference. Now, realignment has dropped them into the Century Conference. Leading rusher Taijzon Brown (982 yards, 12 TDs) returns for his senior season. The Wildcats were involved in blowouts every week last season with no losses closer than 17 points and only one win closer than 24 points.

Keystone Oaks

Times have been tough for the Golden Eagles, who have spent the last two years towards the bottom of the Century Conference. KO had a September to forget last year, giving up 254 points in 5 games while only scoring 28 and being shut out 3 times. They showed signs of improvement in October, battling South Park (who made the playoffs) in a tough 20-18 loss then finding a win over South Allegheny 26-24 before falling in a 41-40 heartbreaker to McGuffey. The Eagles ended on a high note with a demolishing of Burgettstown. QB Kobe Phillippi threw for 1028 yards and 14 TDs last year and returns leading rusher Jimmy Canello (who was also the team's second-leading receiver) and third-leading receiver Brandon Carroll. If the Eagles are going to improve, they will have to be better on defense where they gave up the 5th most points in AA last year.


After four years in Class A, including three consecutive trips to Heinz Field with the WPIAL's all-time leading passer Lenny Williams under center, the Vikings are back in AA. 15 Seniors graduated from the Sto-Rox team that lost three straight championship games and the Vikings will be hard-pressed to find offense. Their top returning skill position players are third-leading receiver Craig Johnson and third-leading rusher Damian Danenas. The biggest question for the Vikings is who will take over under center now that Williams has graduated. Don't expect much out of Sto-Rox this year as the jump up in classification and large graduating class will force them to rely on underclassmen.

South Allegheny

After reaching the playoffs for the first time since 1986 in 2012, the Gladiators tumbled back down to the bottom of the Century Conference in 2013. Leading rusher DaVonte Johnson returns after averaging 6.9 yards per carry last season. Four seniors return on the lines, which should clear the road for Johnson. If the Gladiators are going to return to the playoffs for the second time in three seasons, they will have to be better on defense after giving up 33.4 points per game last year.


The Cougars struggled to compete in Class A last season and their enrollment number landed them just 3 students over the cutoff line, elevating them to AA. Sophomore RB Isiah Canton led the team in scoring for the second consecutive season and rushed for 1068 yards. He will split carries with rising sophomore Brandon Rogers and they will be called upon to do the lionshare of the offensive work for Carlynton.

Interstate Conference

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The Little Prexies had a tumultuous 2013 season that started with star RB Shai McKenzie tearing his ACL. A WPIAL ruling that they had used an inelligible player almost caused the forfeit of most of their games, but the PIAA overturned the WPIAL and allowed the Little Prexies to enter the playoffs where they lost to Seton-La Salle in the first round. Malik Wells, who became the workhorse back after McKenzie's injury and ran for 605 yards and 9 TDs, returns for his senior season. QB Jonathan Spina (740 yards, 5 TDs, 8 rushing TDs) also returns for his senior year and RB/CB Jordan West (73 carries, 480 yards, 9 TDs) will be a junior. With Jeanette and GCC leaving, Washington has enough returning starters to be the favorite for the conference crown.

Mt Pleasant

The Vikings put together an incredible season in 2013 where they ran out to a perfect 9-0 regular season record thanks to the 3rd highest scoring offense in AA. The Vikings lost their school record-setting running back and quarterback to graduation but return leading receiver Trevor Salopek. Salopek is one of only four returning starters on offense. The good news is that the other 3 are offensive linemen who helped pave the way for Tyler Mellors' record season last year.


The Raiders have not made the playoffs since their 6-year run in the late 90s/early 2000s. After a 10-year layoff, a trio of rising seniors might be the ones to turn the tide. Waynesburg's triple option running attack featured John Glen Davis (976 yards, 11 TDs) and Hunter Cenname (683 yards, 10 TDs) last season and QB Colby Collins also returns. Waynesburg had the 4th best defense in the conference last season and will need a repeat performance if they are going to earn the last playoff spot.


The Scotties closed 2013 on a strong note, winning 3 of their last 5 conference games. Jake Pisula ran for 1609 yards and 11 TDs as a junior. Rising seniors Brennan Bunner and Brennan Coles split time at QB last season and leading receiver Justin Livengood also returns for his senior season. Could this be the year Southmoreland finally returns to the playoffs for the first time since 1979? The stars may be aligning with a relatively weak bottom of the Interstate Conference.


After two years in AAA and two more in the Century Conference, McGuffey is finally back in the Interstate Conference where they reached the playoffs in 2008 and 2009. The Highlanders return 1000-yard rusher James Duchi and both Senior Nathan Whipkey and Sophomore Marcus Czulewicz who split time at QB last year. With the move back to the Interstate, the Highlanders should have enough talent to compete for a playoff spot.


The Cougars have not made the playoffs since 2004. After having the third worst defense in AA last season, Charleroi will need to be much better if they are going to compete for the playoffs. New coach Donnie Militzer draws a much more difficult task in Charleroi than he had at Gateway last season. Leading passer Matt Carr and second leading rusher and receiver Greg Arnold return for their senior seasons.


The move down from AAA should help Derry Area, who carries the 5th-longest losing streak in the WPIAL into this season. After a season where they had the worst defense in the entire WPIAL (56.9 points against per game) they get a minor boost by falling into a conference with Brownsville and Burgettstown, two other perennial losing programs. The most ominous game from last year was their scheduled "extra" game where they were decimated 50-7 by Southmoreland, who is now a conference opponent, in Week 10.


Brownsville has not made the playoffs since 2000 and are looking for any kind of improvement after two winless seasons. They have lost 18 straight games, dating back to October 28, 2011. Something will have to give this season as 3 of the 5 schools with the longest losing streaks are all in the Interstate Conference. Leading scorers QB Marcellous Grooms and RB Byron Mayers return.


The Blue Devils enter 2014 with the second-longest losing streak in the WPIAL at 21 games. Landing in a conference with Derry (17-game losing streak) and Brownsville (18-game losing streak) should give some hope to a school that hasn't won since October 8, 2011 and didn't come within 21 points of an opponent last year. The combination of having the worst offense and worst defense in AA doomed Burgettstown. QB Robert Dupain and WRs Jake Shipley and Dylan Dhans return.

Midwestern Conference

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The Quips have been the dominant team in AA and with Jeanette and GCC moving down, are the only team "playing up" in classification. The Quips have reached Heinz Field in each of the past 6 seasons. Their only losses to WPIAL teams since 2009 were two title game losses to South Fayette. The Quips graduated a ton of talented players but have more in the pipeline in Junior RB Kazeon Pugh, Senior WR Patrick Anderson and Senior lineman Arrington Gibson. QB Darrien Fields returns for his senior season after throwing for 1,254 yards and 17 TDs last year. The Quips have an incredible in-conference winning streak that spans 38 games, dating back to September 2009. It would be crazy to not pick them to top the Midwestern Conference.

New Brighton

The Lions ended a 9-year playoff drought last year. They boasted the 3rd best offense in the conference but also the 3rd worst defense. QB Payton Fath returns for his senior year after starting a few games for the injured Gabe Greco last year and throwing for 878 yards and 11 TDs. Fath was also the Lions second-leading rusher with 538 yards and 9 TDs which gives New Brighton a dual-threat QB. Leading rusher Scott Florence (943 yards, 7 TDs) also returns for his senior season. Fath's main targets will be senior receivers Jesse Sabol and Blaine Williams who both averaged 12.8 yards per reception last year.

Beaver Falls

The Tigers reached the playoffs for the 7th consecutive season but for the fourth straight year saw their season end at the hands of South Fayette. After graduating most of their offensive skill players, Kieran Brown figures to take over at QB after seeing spot duty last season. Leading receiver Javon Turner returns for a Beaver Falls team that has enough talent in the pipeline to reach the playoffs for an 8th straight season. Senior Pete Lyons and Sophomore Neshaud Akins figure to be the feature backs in the running game.


The Bobcats were a bit under the radar entering the playoffs after dropping 3 games in conference and promptly dissected Shady Side Academy and Mt Pleasant to reach the semi-finals where they fell to Aliquippa. 2600-yard passer Alex Rowse has graduated, but heir apparent Zach Royba will inheret leading rusher and receiver Darius Wise who had 47 catches for 762 yards and 392 rushing yards with 16 total TDs as a freshman.

Ellwood City

The Wolverines were two close losses (3 points to Mohawk and 1 point to Beaver) away from making the playoffs. Those three teams should be right in the mix for the last playoff spot once again this season. RB Paul Lutz returns for his senior season. Junior Nicholas Ioannilli was second on the team in scoring last season and gives the Wolverines three players in the backfield capable of running.


The Warriors have been knocking on the playoff door for two seasons but have yet to break through and carry an 8-year playoff drought into 2014. They will have to find a new quarterback this season, but leading receivers Spencer McConahy and Michael Kurtz return. The Warriors have struggled to score and had the 3rd worst offense in the conference last season after having the 4th worst offense in all of AA in 2012.

Summit Academy

The Knights made the playoffs for the first time in school history last year and were promptly moved from the relatively easy Allegheny Conference to the brutal Midwestern Conference. It is difficult to predict their success as the school for adjudicated youth has nearly complete roster turnover every season. Elijah Hardy led the team with 976 rush yards and 13 TDs last year as a sophomore.


Since 2006, the Spartans have bounced between Class A and AA in every biannual realignment. This time around they move back up to AA after reaching the Class A playoffs last year. Leading receiver Clayton Sharek and second-leading rusher Matt Conway return for their senior seasons. New coach Brian Cooper will likely install his favored Wing-T offense, which could mean a big season for the Spartans backfield. The move up in class won't be easy for Laurel, and they will probably be fighting to stay out of the basement of the Midwestern Conference.


The Bulldogs broke a 7-year playoff drought in 2012 but tumbled back to the bottom of the conference in 2013. After a winless season, Freedom carries a 10-game losing streak into 2014. 12 seniors graduated from a team that had the 2nd worst offense and 3rd worst defense in AA. This will be a young team with only 7 rising seniors, but it looks like another year at the bottom for Freedom as they build towards 2015.

Playoff Predictions
Allegheny Conference: Highlands, Kittanning, Shady Side Academy, Freeport
Century Conference: South Fayette, Seton-La Salle, Quaker Valley, South Park
Interstate Conference: Washington, Mt Pleasant, Southmoreland, Waynesburg
Midwestern Conference: Aliquippa, New Brighton, Beaver Falls, Beaver

Championship: South Fayette over Aliquippa