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 Tigers returned to the top of the Foothills conference last season, posting an unblemished record that included wins over powerhouse Gateway and Woodland Hills. Senior TyWann Smith figures to take over the helm at quarterback this season after playing all over the field last year. Smith averaged 8.3 yards per carry and will be called upon to lead McKeesport's flexbone rushing attack. The Tigers pounded Penn-Trafford by 20 in the regular season but the tables were turned in the Quarterfinals when Penn-Trafford ended McKeesport's season with a 35-20 victory. McKeesport has to replace most of their offensive skill players, but McKeesport has plenty of talent to make a run at the conference title once again.
The Knights had one of the better defenses in the Foothills Conference last year, holding both Penn-Trafford and Gateway under 20 points. Their problem was on the offensive end where they managed multiple scores in only 3 games. Junior QB Nick Amendola has been starting since his freshman year and had some growing pains last year as he threw 10 interceptions and only 4 touchdowns. Amendola also led the team in rushing attempts, but with fellow Junior Peyton Deri returning in the backfield and two big targets in the passing game (both Logan Deri and Tony Schiavone are over 6-feet tall), Amendola is set up for success. Norwin has the defense to compete and if they can find the end zone this year they'll be squarely in the hunt for a playoff spot.
Altoona bookended their 2013 season with wins over Norwin and Connellsville, but lost all of their other contests and failed to make a return trip to the postseason. Their 2012 playoff appearance was their first trip to the WPIAL postseason. The Lions fielded an incredibly young roster last season with Juniors Devin Miller and Eli Mencer splitting time at QB and RB. They return all of their leaders in the major offensive stat categories, including Senior Kevin Givens who was second on the team in rushing and receiving. Givens is also one of the best linebackers in all of the WPIAL and was ranked as one of the Top 10 WPIAL prospects by 24/7 Sports. The stars may be aligning with this group of experienced Seniors to take Altoona back to the playoffs.
Hempfield made a second consecutive playoff appearance last season thanks to the all-around talent of Joey DeFloria. The Spartans will have to find a way to replace his production if they are going to make a third straight trip to the postseason (a feat Hempfield has not accomplished since before 1980). None of their returning players had more than 20 carries last season and the burden of the offense figures to fall on Junior QB Daniel Walters. Only one player who accounted for more than 100 yards of offense last season (WR Joey Hoffner) returns. Offensive tackle Tony Pilato is in the conversation for best lineman in Quad-A and the Spartans have a talented group of linebackers led by Josh Kempka and Logan Swan.
Latrobe finished in the bottom 5 in Quad-A in offense last season but return Junior QB Craig Stevens and Senior RB Lucas Monteparte headline a group of 12 players with starting experience that return. Even though Latrobe won twice last season, both wins were on the road and they carry an 8-game home losing streak into this season. The people of Latrobe have not seen a football victory since September 2012 and they may not see a victory this season as their home slate features Kiski, McKeesport, Hempfield and North Allegheny.
The Falcons had the worst defense in the Foothills Conference last season. They graduated most of their offensive skill position players and will have an uphill battle to make the playoffs for only the second time since 2005. Offensive tackle Kevin Koontz was listed as one of the top 100 seniors in the WPIAL by 24/7 Sports and will be key to their offensive success.
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Seneca ValleySurprised to see the Raiders at the top? Maybe you shouldn't be. Don Holl has quietly built a high-caliber program in Cranberry that has gone to the Quarterfinals twice and the Semi-Finals once in the last three seasons. This year, QB TJ Holl returns for his senior season after throwing for 1804 yards and 11 TDs and rushing for a team-leading 723 yards and 16 TDs as a junior. Alongside Holl once again will be RB Mason Dehart who was second on the team in rushing, receptions and scoring last season (425 rush yards, 191 receiving yards, 10 total TDs). Leading receivers Eric Mrkonja (30 catches, 530 yards, 7 TDs) and Brad Hensler (18 catches, 311 yards, 4 TDs) will be seniors while Corbin Kessler (13 catches, 241 yards, 1 TD) will be a junior. Senior offensive tackle Tyler Hudanick is one of the best in Quad-A. All in all, this is a team bursting with talent and primed to take the next step as conference champions and make a run for Heinz Field.
How far has this program fallen since the graduation of JP Holtz? Holtz and his fellow seniors carried Shaler to the playoffs in 2011, but since then the Titans have failed to win a game. In fact, Shaler backed into the playoffs in 2011 with 3 straight losses which means their last win was on October 8, 2011. The 22-game losing streak is the longest current streak in the WPIAL. Leading scorer WR Robby Reinheimer and leading rusher Tim Nickel (who may draw some interest from D1 schools as a linebacker) return for their senior seasons in the hopes of breaking their losing streak.
2012 saw Butler reach the postseason for the first time since 1998, but they were unable to repeat the feat in 2013. Unfortunately, 2013 was more of the same old Butler that many were used to - an anemic offense that was the 3rd-worst in Quad-A and a porous defense that was 2nd-worst in Quad-A. They allowed at least 27 points in every contest and only held one team (Upper St Clair, 37) under 42 points over their last 7 games. The Golden Tornado figure to heavily feature senior Robert Burdine who led the team in receiving and was second in rushing last season.
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Upper St Clair
Foothills: Penn-Trafford, McKeesport, Kiski Area, Norwin, Altoona
Northern Eight: Seneca Valley, Central Catholic, Pine-Richland, North Allegheny, North Hills
Southeastern: Woodland Hills, Upper St Clair, Penn Hills, Mt Lebanon, Bethel Park, Baldwin
Championship: Woodland Hills over Seneca Valley