Friday, November 7, 2014

WPIAL Playoff Preview: Quarterfinals

The first round of the playoffs are in the books and all four defending champions are still alive as the quarterfinals kick off tonight. From this point forward, all games will be played at neutral locations. The biggest upset of the opening round was in Quad-A where Plum, who entered the season with one of the longest losing streaks in the WPIAL, upset Southeastern Conference Champions Penn Hills. Altoona also scored their first WPIAL playoff victory in school history. There weren't many surprises in AAA or AA but the Allegheny Conference redeemed themselves by picking up 2 wins after being shut out in the first round each of the prior 2 seasons. In Class A, North Catholic and Clairton's collision course continued as both teams put up over 60 points. The bigger story was the Big Seven Conference going 4-0 while the Tri-County South was shut out for the fourth straight year

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 @PGVarsityXtra and @TribHSInsider twitter accounts 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 will be broadcasting all 16 playoff games over the internet, here is their list of the games they will be broadcasting tonight.


1. Pine-Richland (7-0, 10-0) vs 8. Altoona (6-2, 8-2)
Location: Gateway High School Stadium
Playoff Meetings since 1980: None

Pine-Richland did not miss a beat in the first round of the playoffs after winning their first Quad-A conference championship. The Rams scored the most points of any Quad-A playoff team in the first round, led by RB Connor Slomka's 4 touchdowns on just 8 carries, bringing his total to 24 touchdowns on the season. The Rams also boast the WPIAL's leading passer in Ben DiNucci who threw for 188 yards and 2 scores, bringing his season total to 2646 yards and 30 TDs. The Rams defense stifled Connellsville in the opening round. Altoona surprised Bethel Park in the first round, thanks to an exceptional effort from RB Eli Mencer who ran for 203 yards and a score. Mencer now has over 1500 yards and 22 touchdowns on the season and led the Mountain Lions to their first WPIAL playoff victory in school history. Altoona boasts a very good defense, but Pine-Richland's offense is the best in Quad-A and will be the toughest test the Lions have seen all year.

5. McKeesport (7-1, 9-1) vs 13. Plum (5-3, 6-4)
Location: Norwin High School Stadium
Playoff Meetings since 1980: None

The biggest upset of the first round was the Plum Mustangs toppling Southeastern Conference Champion Penn Hills. Plum took advantage of an early Penn Hills turnover that they converted into a touchdown and never relinquished the lead. Penn Hills came in averaging over 39 points per game and were held to just 6 by the Mustangs defense. Plum features a balanced attack with a 1000-yard passer in Wil Fuhrer and a 900-yard rusher in Nathan Turchick. The Mustangs will face a similar run-heavy offense this week in McKeesport who easily handled Mt Lebanon in the opening round. The focal point of the Tigers triple-option offense is 1500-yard rusher Khaleke Hudson, but QB TyWann Smith and RB Tymar Sutton have each run for over 500 this season. McKeesport's offense is entirely reliant on their ground game and they are averaging less than 3 pass attempts per game. These teams met just 4 weeks ago with McKeesport beating Plum 20-3 in a game that clinched a playoff spot for the Tigers.

2. Penn-Trafford (8-0, 10-0) vs 7. North Allegheny (5-2, 8-2)
Location: Fox Chapel High School Stadium
Playoff Meetings since 1980: 3. North Allegheny is 2-1. Their last playoff meeting was in 2000.

The Foothills Conference Champions started their playoff run on a slow start and trailed Fox Chapel by 10 during the first half. The Warriors responded with 30 second half points to put the Foxes away. The Warriors boast a balanced offensive attack with 1500-yard passer Brett Laffoon and 1200-yard rusher Devin Austin leading the way. Tim Vecchio has been Laffoon's main target, and has the 5th most receiving yards in the entire WPIAL with 775 through 10 games. The Warriors get their toughest challenge of the season with a North Allegheny team that can keep up with them on the scoreboard. Penn-Trafford has not seen a passing attack like the one the Tigers and 1100-yard passer Jeff Clemens boast and North Allegheny is certainly capable of advancing to the semifinals. North Allegheny also has the best defense Penn-Trafford has seen all season and held Upper St Clair to under 100 yards of offense in an opening round shut out.

3. Central Catholic (6-1, 9-1) vs 6. Woodland Hills (6-1, 8-2)
Location: North Allegheny High School Stadium
Playoff Meetings since 1980: 5. Woodland Hills is 3-2 against Central Catholic, but Central Catholic beat Woodland Hills for the Quad-A title last year.

It is a shame that Central Catholic will have to travel from Oakland and Woodland Hills from Turtle Creek all the way up to the North Hills to play a playoff football game. Even though this is a less than ideal travel scenario (because these two schools could easily have filled Gesling Stadium at Carnegie Mellon), this rematch of last year's championship game will be must-see TV and will be the ROOT Sports Game of the Week. Central Catholic has one of the best defenses in Quad-A and has just one outlier on their resume - the 48 points they gave up to Pine-Richland which is more than they have given up in their other 9 games combined. The Vikings offense is run-heavy as always, led by Grant Foster, the son of former Steelers RB Barry Foster. The Vikings beat Woodland Hills at Heinz Field last year to claim the WPIAL title and many pegged Woody High as the team to beat in Quad-A this year. The Wolverines are the only team from the Southeastern Conference to survive the opening round of the playoffs and are loaded with D1-caliber talent that is capable of going toe-to-toe with Central Catholic's defense. The Wolverines are paced by 1100-yard rusher Miles Sanders but Jo-El Shaw has exploded onto the scene in the later half of the season, rushing for more than half of his 700 yards in the last 4 weeks. QB Jeremiah Jones is a dual threat who has accounted for over 1200 yards of total offense and WR Art Thompkins has D1 talent and is a Toledo recruit.


1. Central Valley (8-0, 10-0) vs 8. Indiana (5-3, 7-3)
Location: Butler High School Stadium 
Playoff Meetings since 1980: None

The top-seeded Warriors opened the playoffs by dispatching of a pesky Laurel Highlands squad that hung around just close enough to avoid the mercy rule. Pitt recruit Jordan Whitehead put on an absolute clinic against Laurel Highlands, scoring on runs of 70, 80, and 90 yards as well as a 75-yard kickoff return. Whitehead is one of the best players in the WPIAL and one of the top cornerback recruits in the state. He will be tested against Indiana's pass-heavy offense. The Little Indians are led by 1600-yard passer Jacob Zilinskas. Surprisingly, the Indians beat West Mifflin on the ground in the opening round, rushing for over 200 yards and 5 touchdowns as a team. Central Valley has a better defense than anyone Indiana has faced this season, but if the Indians offense can exploit the same holes that Laurel Highlands found, the Indians may be able to keep it close. Of course, Indiana will have to find a way to contain Jordan Whitehead, which no one has done all season.

4. Hampton (7-1, 9-1) vs 5. Ringgold (7-1, 9-1)
Location: West Allegheny High School Stadium
Playoff Meetings since 1980: None

The Talbots avenged their loss in the WPIAL basketball championship with an opening round victory over New Castle.  The Greater Allegheny Conference Champions rode their stout defense to a 21-7 second half advantage to put New Castle away. The Talbots are led by dual-threat QB Nick Grabowski who has accounted for over 1200 yards of total offense. Grabowski ran for a score and threw for another in the second half last week and will need to continue to put points on the board this week as Hampton faces one of the best offenses in AAA. Ringgold got run off the field by Thomas Jefferson in Week 1 and have been on an absolute roll since then. Dual-threat QB Nico Law will have to shoulder more of the load this week as leading rusher Chacar Berry was injured last week against Gateway. The good news for the Rams is that Law is one of the most explosive playmakers in AAA, accounting for over 1800 yards of total offense and also scored on a pick-six last week.

2. Thomas Jefferson (8-0, 10-0) vs 10. Mars (5-3, 7-3)
Location: Chartiers Valley High School Stadium
Playoff Meetings since 1980: None

Two of the WPIAL's top rushers go head-to-head as Thomas Jefferson's Austin Kemp, the WPIAL's leading rusher, faces off against Mars and 1200-yard rusher Ori Rinaman. Kemp continued his WPIAL-leading pace in the opening round against Moon, spearheading a punishing Jaguar rushing attack with 220 yards and 3 TDs - all in the first half. When the dust had settled, TJ ran for over 450 yards and 6 TDs. The Jaguars have been so dominant on the ground this year that they have averaged less than 3 pass attempts per game. On the other side, Mars has had to reinvent their offensive attack after star RB Josh Schultheis was injured in Week 1. Ori Rinamen has stepped in admirably and led the Fighting Planets to a win over Montour in the opening round with 240 yards and 6 touchdowns.

3. West Allegheny (7-1, 9-1) vs 6. Franklin Regional (6-2, 7-3)
Location: Martorelli Stadium (North Hills) 
Playoff Meetings since 1980: 2. West Allegheny beat Franklin Regional in the quarterfinals last year and Franklin Regional beat West Allegheny in the first round in 2006.

The two-time defending AAA Champions dominated Knoch in the opening round to the tune of a 38-0 victory where the Knights gained less than 100 yards of offense. The Indians boast one of the top offenses and top defenses in AAA and will face another Greater Allegheny Conference opponent in the quarterfinals. West Allegheny boasts a balanced offensive attack with 1100-yard passer Andrew Koester and a trio of running backs that all have over 500 yards on the ground this season. Franklin Regional's first round game was a case of history repeating itself as the Panthers advanced to the quarterfinals for the fourth straight season and Belle Vernon was knocked out in the first round for the 11th straight time. This game features two balanced offenses as Franklin Regional is led by a 900-yard passer in Santino Birty and a 900-yard rusher in Brett Zanotto.


1. South Fayette (9-0, 10-0) vs 9. South Park (7-2, 8-2)
Location: Peters Township High School Stadium
Playoff Meetings since 1980: None

 The defending AA state champions continued their WPIAL-leading winning streak with a dominant 65-6 victory over Waynesburg. South Fayette is led by the WPIAL's all-time leading passer Brett Brumbaugh who has thrown for nearly 2300 yards and 30 TDs this season. Brumbaugh's top targets, Nick Ponikvar and Logan Sharp, have both rung up over 600 receiving yards and average over 16 yards per reception. The Lions are not solely reliant on Brumbaugh as RB Hunter Hays has run for 1060 yards and 21 TDs. South Fayette will now face conference foe South Park who edged Beaver by one point thanks to overcoming a 13-point second half deficit and blocking a 20-yard field goal attempt as time expired. The Eagles have not lost since falling to South Fayette in Week 3 and will need a big performance from feature back Nick Scholle who has paced the team with 925 yards and 19 TDs this season.

4. Highlands (9-0, 10-0) vs 5. Seton-La Salle (8-1, 9-1)
Location: Valley High School Stadium
Playoff Meetings since 1980: 1. Seton-La Salle beat Highlands in the first round in 1991.

This game features two of the most explosive athletes in AA, which means that any special teams play has the potential to be a game-breaker.  Highlands RB Elijah Jackson has run for over 1600 yards and has scored 20 TDs this season, including two last week in the Rams victory over New Brighton. Highlands also features a capable dual-threat QB in Brayden Thimons who has over 1100 yards of total offense this year and has accounted for 20 total TDs. On the other side, Seton-La Salle boasts one of the top quarterbacks in AA in Tyler Perone (1858 yards, 22 TDs). Perone's top target has been all-around playmaker Danzel McKinley-Lewis who is a threat to score any time he touches the ball. Seton-La Salle's offense is not without balance as RB Ricky Mellick has run for over 1000 yards and 11 TDs.

2. Aliquippa (8-0, 10-0) vs 7. Mt Pleasant (7-1, 8-2)
Location: Big Mac Stadium (Canonsburg)
Playoff Meetings since 1980: 4. Aliquippa is 3-1. Mt Pleasant beat Aliquippa in the 1983 AAA Championship Game and Aliquippa beat Mt Pleasant in the 1984 AAA Championship Game.

 The Quips put an end to Kittanning Wildcats football with a 55-20 opening round victory in the last game Kittanning will ever play. The Quips followed a typical Aliquippa script with Kaezon Pugh running for over 200 yards and 3 TDs and DiMantae Bronaugh adding two more scores. Both Pugh and Bronaugh have run for over 1000 yards this season and QB Darrien Fields has thrown for over 1200. The Quips have been dominant on both sides of the ball and get a quarterfinals rematch of their Week 8 game where they beat Mt Pleasant 63-14. Mt Pleasant is coming off a 38-0 opening round shutout of Shady Side Academy where the Vikings ran for over 450 yards. Viking RB Trevor Salopek led the way with 282 yards and 2 TDs, putting him over 1100 yards on the season.

3. Washington (8-0, 10-0) vs 6. Apollo-Ridge (8-1, 9-1)
Location: Rossi Field (Latrobe) 
Playoff Meetings since 1980: None

The Interstate Conference Champions used a handful of big plays to down Steel Valley in the opening round. 1200-yard rusher Malik Wells scored on a 75-yard run, FB Jordan West scored on a 66-yard run and leading receiver DeQuay Isbel scored on a 75-yard pass from QB Jonathan Spina. On the season, Spina has led the Little Prexies with over 1100 yards and 17 TDs through the air and another 7 TDs on the ground. This quarterfinal game will match up the three big playmakers from Washington (Spina, Wells and Isbell) against the two all-around threats from Apollo-Ridge: Duane Brown and Tre Tipton. On the season, Brown is the team's leading passer (758 yards, 13 TDs) and rusher (1172 yards) and has 28 TDs. Tipton, a Pitt recruit, has thrown for 501 yards and 4 scores, run for 984 yards, has 342 receiving yards and has 17 total TDs. The Vikings beat Beaver Falls in an opening round shootout where Brown was held mostly in check but the void was filled by Jonah Casella who ran for 167 yards and found the end zone four times. Both of these teams feature explosive offenses and this one has all the makings of a shootout.


1. Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic (7-0, 10-0) vs 9. South Side Beaver (5-2, 7-3)
Location: Reeves Field (Geneva College)
Playoff Meetings since 1980: None

While Clairton's offense has been on a record-breaking pace, the Defending State Champions opened the playoffs with a statement by scoring more points than any other WPIAL team in the first round, routing Avella  69-13. The Trojans were dominant on offense, led by senior PJ Fulmore who was over the century mark in both rushing and receiving and scored 5 times. Fulmore has accounted for over 1500 yards of total offense and has scored 23 times on the season. RB Jerome Turner exited the game with an injury but sophomore Mario Latronica stepped in and had a 100-yard night including 3 scores. South Side Beaver lept out to a 26-0 lead in their first playoff appearance in 5 years and held on to beat Frazier for their first playoff victory since 2008. The Rams got a monster night from leading rusher Nate Block who ran for over 200 yards and 2 scores against Frazier, putting him over 1600 yards and 21 TDs on the season.
5. Avonworth (6-1, 9-1) vs 13. Riverside (4-3, 6-4)
Location: Moon High School Stadium
Playoff Meetings since 1980: None

The Lopes reached the quarter finals for the 6th time in the last 7 seasons by dominating Mapletown in the opening round. Avonworth has been hammered by injuries this season but their reserves have carried them. In the opening round they got a 100-yards and two touchdowns on the ground from junior Kevin Simpson and another 90 and a score from QB Josh Drwal. Riverside was the fourth team from the Big Seven Conference to advance to the quarterfinals after knocking off Tri-County South Champion Beth-Center by 1 point in the first round. The Panthers offense is heavily reliant on their passing game and 2000-yard passer Jason Dambach who threw the decisive touchdown pass to his brother Austin against Beth-Center. In the end, it was the Panthers defense that made the difference, recovering a fumble by Beth-Center's star RB Anthony Welsh on the goal line with just seconds to play. There is some grounds for comparison between these two teams as Avonworth had 20-point victories over both Shenango and South Side Beaver who finished ahead of Riverside in the Big Seven Conference.
2. Clairton (8-0, 10-0) vs 7. Shenango (6-1, 7-3)
Location: Chartiers-Houston High School Stadium
Playoff Meetings since 1980: 1. Clairton beat Shenango in the 1980 Semifinals.

 The Bears continued their historic offensive pace in the opening round with a 62-3 shellacking of Chartiers-Houston thanks to 269 yards and 6 TDs from sophomore RB LaMont Wade. On the season, Wade has rushed for over 1600 yards and scored 30 times. QB Ryan Williams had another solid night, throwing for over 250 yards to bring his season total over 1800 with 24 TDs. His primary targets have been Aaron Matthews and James Hines who both have over 500 yards receiving. The Bears now get a Shenango team that is averaging 21 points against per game but gave up 49 just two weeks ago to North Catholic. Shenango won their first playoff game since 2002 when they played in AA by knocking off Springdale 35-7. The Wildcats are a run-heavy team and have been led by Tyler Root and Hunter Waskin who both have scored double-digit touchdowns this season.

3. Neshannock (7-0, 10-0) vs 6. Jeannette (7-1, 9-1)
Location: Deer Lakes High School Stadium 
Playoff Meetings since 1980: None

Neshannock is one win away from reaching the semifinals for the third consecutive season. The Lancers breezed through the opening round thanks to a 200-yard 3-touchdown night from RB Eli Owens. Owens has run for nearly 1000 yards this season. The Lancers were so dominant on the ground against GCC that 1400-yard passer Frank Antuono only had to put the ball in the air 9 times. Jeannette mounted one of the biggest comebacks of the first round, turning a 12-point halftime deficit into a 31-point rout with a 43-point second half. Dual-threat QB Julian Batts has paced the way for the Jayhawks, racking up over 700 yards both through the air and on the ground. The Jayhawks have a handful of talented backs in Kareem Hall and Zach Altieri who (along with Batts) are all averaging over 9 yards per carry and have double-digit touchdowns on the season.

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