Friday, October 3, 2014

WPIAL Week 6 Games of the Week and Playoff Scenarios

The WPIAL season has entered the home stretch. This week features one of the most anticipated games of the season in the showdown between Clairton and Jeannette. When Jeannette made the decision to stop playing up in AA last year and the WPIAL announced the re-aligned conferences in January, everyone was raving over the potential Clairton-Jeannette in-conference matchup. Neither team has disappointed so far this year and the game will be the ROOT Sports Game of the Week. Don't miss it.

I got together this week with AJ of WPIAL Football Zone (@AJWPIAL) and Steve (@BucFever422) and we talked for an hour-plus about this week's matchups.

We still don't have a name for this somewhat-weekly WPIAL show, but we're working on it and open to suggestions.

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 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).

As many as 24 teams can punch their tickets to the postseason tonight. Here's what's on tap:

AAAA Game of the Week
North Hills (3-1, 4-1) at Central Catholic (3-0, 5-0)

Last week, North Hills dropped their first game of the season to Pine-Richland. The Indians struggled with the passing attack of Pine-Richland. Following the typical North Hills formula, the 2014 iteration of the Indians relies on their ground game and defense to keep them in games. Central Catholic has one of the best defenses in the entire WPIAL, having given up only 14 points through 5 weeks. Like North Hills, Central has done most of their damage on the ground this season behind a big offensive line and taking advantage of great field position thanks to their stingy defense. North Hills needs a win to stay in the conversation for one of the top two spots in the conference and the home playoff game that comes with it. A Central Catholic win would put the Vikings and Pine-Richland two games ahead of everyone else in the Northern Eight Conference and set up a showdown for the conference title in Week 8.

Honorable Mentions: Mt Lebanon at Bethel Park, Baldwin at Upper St Clair

In the Southeastern Conference, Mt Lebanon and Bethel Park trail Penn Hills and Woodland Hills by one game in the conference standings. Mt Lebanon has already lost to Penn Hills and Bethel Park has lost to Woodland Hills. This is an important game because 2 of the 3 third place teams in Quad-A will get home games in the first round of the playoffs. The loser of this game will be almost guaranteed a road game in the first round while the winner will stay in the race for a home game. At the other end, as we talked about in the Hangout, it is utterly shocking that Upper St Clair has started 1-3. However, with a head-to-head win over Peters Twp, the Panthers only need to beat Baldwin and Canon-McMillan to make the playoffs. Baldwin has to beat USC if they're going to get themselves into the playoff picture.

Foothills Conference Playoff Scenarios:
  • Penn Trafford clinches a playoff spot with a win over Hempfield and losses by Connellsville or Altoona
Northern Eight Conference Playoff Scenarios:
  • Pine-Richland clinches a playoff spot with a win over Seneca Valley
  • Central Catholic clinches a playoff spot with win over North Hills and a loss by Seneca Valley
  • North Hills clinches a playoff spot with a win over Central Catholic
Southeastern Conference Playoff Scenarios:
  • Penn Hills clinches a playoff spot with a win over Peters Twp
  • Woodland Hills clinches a playoff spot with a win over Canon-McMillan
  • Mt Lebanon clinches a playoff spot with a win over Bethel Park
AAA Game of the Week
Franklin Regional (4-1, 4-1) at Hampton (4-0,  5-0)

This is a game with Conference Champion implications. Hampton has started the season on a hot streak and is the only remaining undefeated team in the Greater Allegheny Conference. A win here would give the Talbots a 2-game lead on the rest of the conference with only 2 games left against teams in the top 7 of the league. Dual-threat QB Nick Grabowski has led Hampton with 374 passing yards and 207 rushing yards. Grabowski has accounted for 13 total TDs while RB Matt Rech leads the team with 372 rushing yards and 6 TDs. Franklin Regional is almost a mirror image of Hampton. The Panthers have their own dual-threat QB in Santino Birty (359 passing yards, 234 rushing yards, 4 total TDs) and a workhorse running back that knows how to find the end zone in Brett Zanotto (598 yards, 11 TDs). Since losing to Knoch in Week 1, Franklin Regional has beaten 3 middle-of-the-pack teams in Hollidaysburg, Mars and Indiana. A victory over Hampton would put Franklin Regional in the drivers seat for the conference championship.

Honorable Mentions: Belle Vernon at Ringgold, Laurel Highlands at West Mifflin, Moon at Chartiers Valley, Gateway at Mars, Knoch at Hollidaysburg

There is a very solid slate of games in AAA this week. In the Big Eight Conference, Laurel Highlands, Ringgold and West Mifflin are all 3-1 in conference play and chasing Thomas Jefferson (5-0). Elizabeth Forward (3-2) and Belle Vernon (2-2) are right on their heels so the two games this week (Belle Vernon at Ringgold and Laurel Highlands at West Mifflin) will be important as teams begin to separate themselves in the middle of the pack. Similarly, the middle of the Greater Allegheny Conference is air tight. Behind Hampton and Franklin Regional, Indiana is 3-2 then Gateway, Knoch, Mars and Hollidaysburg are all 2-2. The games this week in the Greater Allegheny conference will put the winners in great position to make a run for the playoffs while the losers will have an uphill battle to get into the top 5 spots in the conference. In the Parkway, Moon and Chartiers Valley are currently hovering in playoff position in 4th and 5th place and the winner will take a huge step forward towards reaching the postseason. 

Big Nine Conference Playoff Scenarios:
  • Thomas Jefferson clinches a playoff spot with a win or a loss by Belle Vernon
Greater Allegheny Conference Playoff Scenarios:
  • Hampton clinches a playoff spot with a win over Franklin Regional and losses by Gateway and Knoch
  • Franklin Regional clinches a playoff spot with a win over Hampton and losses by Mars and Hollidaysburg
Parkway Conference Playoff Scenarios:
  • West Allegheny clinches a playoff spot with a win over Blackhawk or a loss by Chartiers Valley
  • Central Valley clinches a playoff spot with a win over New Castle
AA Game of the Week
Steel Valley (4-1, 4-1) at South Fayette (5-0, 5-0)

I was initially going to talk about Beaver-Aliquippa in this spot, but I featured matchups in the Allegheny, Interstate and Midwestern Conferences last week so I felt like I should throw some love to the Century Conference. The top matchup this week features South Fayette QB Brett Brumbaugh who is within striking distance of Lenny Williams' WPIAL records for passing yards and passing touchdowns. Brumbaugh enters the game just 85 yards and 3 TDs shy of Williams' 8508 yards and 102 TDs. Steel Valley has been good on defense this year and held Seton-La Salle to just 14 points, but South Fayette is a different monster altogether. The defending AA State Champions have the top offense in AA and are averaging nearly 50 points per game with Brumbaugh throwing for over 1000 yards and 15 TDs in 5 games. The Lions are loaded with a talented receiving corps and have 3 receivers with over 300 yards receiving (Roman Denson, Nick Ponikvar, Logan Sharp). Hunter Hays has been a capable running back, rushing for 378 yards and 9 TDs on the season. On the other side, Steel Valley once again features a talented running back that is among the top rushers in the WPIAL. DeWayne Murray has rushed for 682 yards and is also the Ironmen's leading receiver with 206 yards and has 14 total TDs. Murray and dual-threat QB Tyrone Freeman (who has over 600 yards of total offense) will be the offensive keys for the Ironmen as they try to keep pace with South Fayette's aerial assault.

Honorable Mentions: Highlands at Freeport, Beaver at Aliquippa, Beaver Falls at Ellwood City

The game of the year in the WPIAL so far was the Highlands-Apollo Ridge showdown last week where the teams exchanged touchdowns in the final minute. With 10 teams in the Allegheny Conference, the teams do not play a non-conference game so Highlands can't let their foot off the gas pedal as they have to follow up their huge victory over Apollo-Ridge with a Freeport team fighting for their playoff lives. Freeport is mired in a mix of 4 teams (Shady Side Academy, Kittanning, Freeport and Valley) battling over the last two playoff spots in the conference. In the Midwestern Conference, there are two games with playoff implications. Ellwood City is fairly solidified in the 5th spot but has already lost to Aliquippa and New Brighton. The Wolverines will need to beat Beaver or Beaver Falls if they want to make the playoffs and get their first opportunity tonight. Beaver has a win over Beaver Falls but was smoked by New Brighton. Aliquippa's second half of the schedule is loaded with games against the other top teams in the conference. The Quips are coming off a huge win over New Brighton and can solidify their place at the top of the conference with a win over Beaver. The Bobcats need a win to stay in the conversation for a home playoff game that comes with a top-2 finish.

Allegheny Conference Playoff Scenarios:
  • Highlands clinches a playoff spot with a win over Freeport and a loss by Kittanning
Century Conference Playoff Scenarios:
  • Seton-La Salle clinches a playoff spot with a win over East Allegheny and a loss by South Park
  • South Fayette clinches a playoff spot with a win over Steel Valley and a loss by South Park
Interstate Conference Playoff Scenarios:
  • Washington clinches a playoff spot with a win over Charleroi
Midwestern Conference Playoff Scenarios:
  • Aliquippa clinches a playoff spot with a win over Beaver
  • New Brighton clinches a playoff spot with a win over Freedom and losses by Ellwood City and Mohawk
A Game of the Week
Jeannette (5-0, 5-0) at Clairton (4-0, 4-0)

In Western Pennsylvania High School Football, just the names "Clairton" and "Jeannette" strike fear in the hearts of opponents. These are two of the most storied programs in Western Pennsylvania, two small manufacturing towns just 25 miles apart. For years, Jeannette was a Class A sized school based on state classifications but chose to play up in AA. Last year, the Jeannette School Board decided to end the practice of "playing up" in AA, dropping Jeannette down to Single-A and into a conference with the Clairton Bears. Between them, the schools have won 18 WPIAL Championships (10 for Clairton, 8 for Jeannette) and 5 State Championships (4 for Clairton, 1 for Jeannette). Two of the greatest WPIAL players of the past decade - Terrelle Pryor and Tyler Boyd came from these schools.

Jeannette has gotten off to a strong start this year, running out to a 5-0 record against the bottom 5 teams in the conference. The Jayhawks have averaged nearly 50 points per game while allowing just under 10 points per game. Those are impressive numbers and the Jayhawks rank in the top 5 in Class A in both scoring offense and scoring defense. Their success has come from dual-threat QB Julian Batts throwing for 317 yards and 7 TDs and running for 371 yards and 4 TDs. RB Kareem Hall has added 293 yards and is the team's leading scorer with 8 touchdowns.

Against any other team, that would seem like an imposing challenge. But Jeanette's offensive and defensive numbers pale in comparrison to the historic season that Clairton has put together. The Bears have scored a ludicrous 372 points through 5 games and have only allowed points to Springdale. The Bears are on pace to smash the State record of 860 points scored in a season, which was set by....Terrelle Pryor and the 2007 Jeannette Jayhawks. Incredibly, that Jeannette team only scored 70+ points 3 times, a number the 2014 Bears have already surpassed. Clairton has been an offensive juggernaut and is loaded with playmakers at every position. QB Ryan Williams is one of the top passers in the WPIAL with 1034 yards and 15 TDs, primarily throwing to Aaron Matthews, James Hines and Harrison Dreher. Dreher also leads the team in rushing with 612 yards and 13 total TDs but he is questionable for this game with a knee injury. Not to worry, Lamont Wade is a perfectly capable back who has run for 421 yards and 11 TDs this season. The Bears are loaded on offense and on defense with D1-caliber athletes. This is the definition of a can't miss game and thankfully everyone will be able to watch as it will be shown live on ROOT Sports as the WPIAL Game of the Week.

Honorable Mentions: South Side Beaver at Shenango, CWNC at Fort Cherry, Monessen at Springdale, Beth-Center at Frazier, Mapletown at Jefferson-Morgan

Jeannette-Clairton is obviously the marquee matchup this week but there is a good slate of games in Class A this week. Neshannock is running away with the Big Seven Conference but two teams that most picked to finish at the bottom of the league - Shenango and South Side Beaver - square off in a game that could decide which team finishes second and gets a home playoff game. The Defending State Champion North Catholic Trojans have to get by a pesky Fort Cherry team that is sitting in 3rd place in the Black Hills Conference in order to setup a showdown for the Conference Title with Avonworth next week. While all eyes will be on Clairton-Jeannette in the Eastern Conference, Monessen and Springdale play an important game with playoff implications. Springdale has no room for error after being upset by Leechburg early in the year but can give themselves a fairly easy route to the playoffs with a win over Monessen this week. As an interesting aside, the Dynamos have knocked Monessen out of the playoffs in 6 of the last 11 years, so there is some history between the two schools even though this is their first time in a conference together. In the Tri-County South, the top two teams in the conference face off for the conference title. Beth-Center and Frazier have a two-game lead on the rest of the conference and the winner should cruise to the conference crown. Behind them, Mapletown and Jefferson-Morgan sit at 3-2 and face off in a game with huge playoff implications as Carmichaels is closing fast to get into the race for the last playoff spot.

Big Seven Conference Playoff Scenarios:
  • Neshannock clinches a playoff spot with a win over Vincentian
  • South Side Beaver clinches a playoff spot with a win over Shenango and a loss by Western Beaver
Black Hills Conference Playoff Scenarios:
  • Avonworth clinches a playoff spot with a win over Bishop Canevin
  • CWNC clinches a playoff spot with a win over Fort Cherry
Eastern Conference Playoff Scenarios:
  • Jeannette clinches a playoff spot with a Springdale loss
  • Clairton clinches a playoff spot with a win over Jeannette and a loss by Leechburg
  • Monessen clinches a playoff spot with a win over Springdale
Tri-County South Conference Playoff Scenarios:
  • Frazier clinches a playoff spot with a win over Beth-Center

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