Monday, August 25, 2014


This week marks the start of the High School Football season in Western Pennsylvania. I'll be previewing each of the four classifications in the WPIAL this week to set the stage for another great season of football. In keeping with biannual tradition, the WPIAL realigned their conferences this year. Quad-A did not see much movement, losing only Gateway to AAA due to declining enrollment. No new members joined the Quad-A ranks this year, but Gateway's departure prompted the move of Plum from the Southeastern Conference to the Foothills Conference. Quad-A is loaded with talented teams this year and there are at least 10 teams that have legitimate chances to reach the semi-finals and possibly Heinz Field.

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.

Foothills Conference

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The Warriors run to the Semi-Finals might have been the most surprising thing to happen in Quad-A last season. Without Gateway in the conference and with McKeesport graduating most of their starters, the Warriors are the early favorites in the Foothills. Junior QB Brett Laffoon threw for 1430 yards as a sophomore and retains his top target, Junior WR Tim Vecchio (682 yards, 12 TDs as a sophomore). Leading rusher Devin Austin (1275 yards, 8 total TDs) returns for his senior season, making Penn-Trafford one of the most experienced groups in the conference. On defense, defensive end Trey Blandford has D1 talent making this a team capable of not only a section title but also a deep run in the playoffs.


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.

Kiski Area

Kiski has seen a bit of a renisance over the last few seasons and carries a two-year streak of postseason appearances in to 2014. Junior QB Chad Kuhn saw playing time as a freshman then threw for over 1000 yards and 10 TDs last year as a sophomore while leading the team in rushing with 453 yards and 5 TDs. A pair of young RBs were groomed last year in Justice Evans (68 carries, 310 yards as a freshman) and Lincoln Clayton (70 carries, 266 yards as a sophomore), which should help take some of the pressure off Kuhn in the passing game after his top 3 targets graduated. With the young talent emerging from Kiski, they can definitely make the playoffs this season and could be in the conversation to compete for the conference title in 2015.


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.

Plum had the worst offense in Quad-A last year (perhaps one of the worst in history, scoring only 26 points the whole season. The move from the Southeastern Conference to the Foothills Conference should benefit the Mustangs, but there is still a lot of work to be done on both sides of the ball as the defense surrendered 37 points per game last year. The sole bright spot was that Plum scheduled an extra game (which teams that fail to make the playoffs are permitted to do) against AAA Greensburg Salem which the Mustangs won, their first win since September 2011, ending a 25-game losing streak. The Mustangs carry a 22-game conference losing streak into the season, the longest of any WPIAL team. To coach Matt Morgan's credit, he let his young players see the field and the Mustangs return all of their leaders in the major offensive categories including QB Will Fuhrer, RBs Kevin Brown and Zach Martin and WRs Jason Hubner and Patrick Crossey.

Northern Eight
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Seneca Valley
Surprised 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.

Central Catholic
Another year, another great pipeline of athletes through Central Catholic. Even though 1600-yard rusher Luigi Lista-Brinza graduated, and rising senior Riley Redman (1136 yards and 15 TDs last season) was ruled ineligible by the WPIAL, Central is still loaded. The Vikings have a stable of talented players waiting in the wings and have a depth chart full of running backs capable of playing at the D-1 level. The Vikings had the best defense in the entire WPIAL last season, giving up just 3 points per game in the regular season. This season's defense could be just as good with talented players at all three levels in DT Rich Ryan, LBs Bryan Glover and Cullen Buckley, CB Joe Tindal and S Johnny Petrishen.

The Rams might be the only team in the entire WPIAL that can boast a returning 2000-yard passer, 1100-yard rusher and 700-yard receiver. Last year's team was an offensive juggernaut, finishing 5th in Quad-A in scoring but their liabilities on defense dropped them to a 5th place finish in the Northern Eight. Big things are expected from this year's senior class which features Penn commit QB Ben DiNucci (2131 yards, 15 TDs), Army commit RB Connor Slomka (1144 yards, 17 TDs), WR D'ondre Gastion (64 catches, 766 yards, 7 TDs) and WR Michael Merhaut (35 catches, 484 yards, 4 TDs). DiNucci and Slomka have been starters since they were sophomores, making this one of the most experienced teams in the conference. This might be the best Pine-Richland team since the Neil Walker teams of the early 2000s that dominated in AAA.

North Allegheny
Last year was a change in recent tradition for the Tigers as they did something rare: lost, multiple times. The 3-time defending Quad-A champs fell in the quarterfinals to Upper St Clair last year, but return senior QB Jeff Clemens who threw for 1164 yards and 13 TDs in his first year starting as a junior. Clemens' main target Elijah Zeise graduated but return Senior WR Clay Byerly (17 catches, 285 yards, 4 TDs) and Senior RB Josh Bergman (63 carries, 303 yards, 4 TDs). The defense will be led by senior LB Layne Skundrich, who has started since his sophomore season. The Tigers are good enough to continue their streak of playoff appearances and should be in the mix for the conference title.

North Hills
Even though legendary coach Jack McCurry retired before last season, his replacement Pat Carey rode the same formula of defense and just-enough offense to another postseason berth. Even though the Indians did not have a single player account for more than 500 yards of total offense last season, they return both Kindhal Taylor and Jake Bruder (who both played QB) as well as leading receivers Brandon Wagner and Shawndale Jones. Their leading rushers graduated, but the formula for North Hills to win (as always) will come from the defensive side of the ball. This isn't a team that is good enough to compete for the section title but they should be good enough to make the playoffs.

Fox Chapel
The Foxes started slow last season, but won 2 of their last 5 games and missed the playoffs by just one game. Fox Chapel's defensive struggles continued in 2013 as they fielded the 5th worst defense in Quad-A. QB Billy Urso returns for his senior year after throwing for 1651 yards and 16 TDs as a junior. However, he will be without most of his supporting cast from last season as the top two rushers and top 3 receivers all graduated. Urso's arm should be able to carry this team to a few wins but their playoff hopes will hinge on the first half of their schedule when they face North Hills, Seneca Valley, Pine-Richland and Central Catholic. Their October slate figures to be much easier with Shaler, Butler and a non-conference season finale against Hempfield. The Foxes will need to be better on defense this season after giving up 34 points per game last season but have two talented linebackers in Carrington Vaughn and David Brown.


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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Woodland Hills
In four of the last five seasons the Wolverines have found their way to Heinz Field. However, they have not won the WPIAL title since 2009. This year's team features the most electrifying junior in the WPIAL and Penn State recruit RB Miles Sanders. As a sophomore, Sanders ran for over 1000 yards and 14 touchdowns. Senior Jeremiah Jones figures to take over at quarterback and leading receiver Art Thompkins (a Toledo recruit) will return for his senior season. The Wolverine defensive front will be strong as well with Daniel Gibson and Akira McClean anchoring the line. With the plethora of experience and skill, the Wolverines are a favorite to return to Heinz Field for a third consecutive season.

Upper St Clair
In each of the last two years, George Novak and Woodland Hills ended Jim Render's season. The Panthers scored early-season victories over Woody High in both 2012 and 2013 but have failed to repeath the result in the playoffs. Junior Gunnar Lund, who might have the best name for a quarterback in the entire WPIAL, figures to take over under center. As always, the Panthers will rely on a stable of running backs, likely led by Marcus Galie who averaged 6.7 yards per carry last year. 20 players graduated from last year's team, but 19 rising seniors are ready to take their place you should never bet against Jim Render.

Penn Hills
The Indians returned to the playoffs in 2013 after missing the playoffs in 2012, which broke a 14-year postseason streak. Dual-threat QB Bill Kisner will be the focal point once again after running for 1191 yards and 10 TDs and throwing for 477 yards and 4 TDs last season. Senior Isaiah Jones was second on the team in rushing and receiving last season. Third leading rusher Te'Shan Campbell also returns for his Senior season. With most of their offensive playmakers returning, Penn Hills should be able to challenge for one of the top spots in the conference and the season finale against rival Woodland Hills could decide the conference title.

Mt Lebanon
The Blue Devils missed the playoffs for the first time since 2007 last season, but showed signs of improvement after a mid-season quarterback change. Sophomore Eddie Jenkins took over under center in Week 6 and didn't look back, going 2-2 as a starter while throwing for 752 yards and 7 touchdowns. Leading receiver Troy Apke graduated, but Shane Lefever and Nick Tommasi will return. Junior Brian Ward will take the helm at running back and could form a dangerous backfield combination with Jenkins, who is capable of picking up yards on the ground as well.

Bethel Park

The Blackhawks fell on hard times last year after sophomore quarterback Levi Metheny was injured at the end of the season. The son of the coach returns for his third season under center with leading rusher and receiver Alexander Minton returning as well. Metheny and Minton accounted for most of the Blackhawks offense last year.

The Highlanders returned to the playoffs for the first time in 4 years in 2013 and look to make their first repeat appearance since 2005. They boast one of the top prospects in the state in OT Sterling Jenkins who was listed at a ridiculous 6'8" 300 lbs last season. Jenkins will be the main protector of senior QB Doug Altavilla who threw for over 1700 yards and 21 TDs last season. Baldwin lost their leading receiver and leading rusher from last season. Senior RB Rocco Ruscitto and Junior WR Nick Altavilla figure to be the focal points of Baldwin's attack this season.

Peters Twp
If there was an exactly average team last season, it was Peters Twp. They were impressive in their losses and struggled in their defeats. Dual-threat QB Cory Owen accounted for over 1200-yards of total offense last season as a Junior. Owen is the only offensive skill position player returning this season after 23 Seniors graduated.

The Big Macs 2013 season was salvaged only by a Week 5 victory at Plum, the only game in which their opponent did not score 31+ points. Canon-Mac had the 3rd worst defense in Quad-A and the second-worst offense. They were shut out 4 times and did not score more than 17 all season. Junior QB Jordan Smith was their leading passer last season, but will have to be better than his 1 TD to 8 interceptions. With Plum gone to the Foothills Conference, it could be another winless season in Canonsburg.

Playoff Predictions
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

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