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.
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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 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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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