Wednesday, August 27, 2014

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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Highlands


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.




Kittanning


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.




Freeport


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.





Apollo-Ridge


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.



Valley


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.







Burrell


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.

Sto-Rox


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.





Carlynton


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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Washington


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.





Waynesburg


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.




Southmoreland


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.





McGuffey


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.





Charleroi


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.







Derry


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


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.






Burgettstown


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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Aliquippa


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.




Beaver


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.






Mohawk


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.






Laurel


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.




Freedom


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

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