Week 2 high school football playoff preview
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Here's a look at some of the top matchups for the WPIAL quarterfinals:
2-Gateway (9-1) vs. 7-Woodland Hills (8-2)
7:30 p.m. at Norwin
The rundown: A trip to the WPIAL semifinals is on the line as the Wolverines and Gators meet in the playoffs for the fourth time since 2002. Woodland Hills and Gateway last played in the 2009 WPIAL championship game at Heinz FIeld, and the Wolverines won that night, 10-0.
The X-factor: Woodland Hills freshman running back Miles Sanders has 557 yards rushing and eight touchdowns, including a 120-yard performance in last week's 27-7 first-round victory over North Hills.
Keys To Victory: WH: A balanced attack with the running game and the passing of senior quarterback Cody McClelland (1,400-plus yards passing, 18 touchdowns) will be key in keeping a quick and opportunistic Gateway defense off balance. G: Balance also is the name of the game for the Gators, who got 265 passing yards from senior quarterback Thomas Woodson against Peters Township and 161 rushing yards and two touchdowns from senior tailback Darin Franklin. The Gateway run defense needs to rebound after allowing 239 rushing yards against Peters.
Prediction: Gateway, 27- 20.
1-North Allegheny (10-0) vs. 9-Bethel Park (7-3)
7:30 p.m. Friday at North Hills
The rundown: North Allegheny has shown no signs of slowing down as it strives for its third WPIAL championship in a row. The Tigers are coming off a 42-14 win over Altoona in the first round. Bethel Park, which defeated No. 8 seeded McKeesport, 31-20, in the first round, is averaging better than 28 ppg and might need all of them to dethrone NA, which has won 26 straight games against WPIAL teams.
The X-factor: The Tigers' depth. Leading rusher Alex DiCiantis missed the opening-round playoff game, but sophomore Josh Bergman stepped in and stepped up to rush for 65 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries.
Keys to victory: NA: Stick to the plan. It works. The Tigers have only been challenged once this season, a 14-3 win at Gateway. BP: Play a perfect game. Bethel Park will have to create turnovers and shorten the field, and it can't give the Tigers extra opportunities via penalties and turnovers of its own.
Prediction: North Allegheny, 38-12.
4-Seneca Valley (9-1) vs. 5-Mt. Lebanon (8-2)
7:30 p.m. Friday at North Allegheny
The rundown: Seneca Valley is riding a strong offense into the second round of action for the second year in a row. The Raiders are coming off a 50-20 pasting of No. 13 Hempfield and are averaging 40 ppg. Mt. Lebanon, led by the dynamic offensive attack of Tyler Roth and Troy Apke, defeated Butler, 31-7, last week and has scored 32 ppg.
The X-factor: Turnovers. Both teams can score, so the key will be not giving either offense a short field to work with.
Keys to victory: SV: Quarterback Jordan Brown and the Raiders have the playoff experience edge after being through the process last season. That could play a factor. MTL: Don't get down early. Seneca Valley tries to strike quick, and the Blue Devils have to keep possession and take advantage of opportunities.
Prediction: Seneca Valley, 23-20.
3-Upper St. Clair (9-1) vs. 11-Central Catholic (8-2)
7:30 p.m. Friday at Baldwin
The rundown: The Panthers cruised into the quarterfinals after a 49-0 win over Kiski Area, while the Vikings had to withstand a late Penn-Trafford charge for a 30-27 victory. The squads squared off in last season's playoffs, with Upper St. Clair walking away with a 28-14 win.
The X-factor: Senior quarterback Pete Coughlin continues to be a dual-threat for the Panthers. He has recorded 1,078 passing yards and 483 yards on the ground, finding the end zone 23 times.
Keys to victory: CC: The Vikings defense has held seven opponents to less than 10 points. If it can neutralize Coughlin, it could keep the points low while raising chances of a win. USC: The first-round win over Kiski was the fourth time Upper St. Clair's defense earned a shutout. If it corrals running back Luigi Lista-Brinza, the defense could have another big game.
Prediction: Upper St. Clair, 28-14.
1-Thomas Jefferson (10-0) vs. 8-Franklin Regional (8-2)
7:30 p.m. Friday at Elizabeth Forward
The rundown: TJ's top-scoring offense in Class AAA meets a Franklin Regional defense that has allowed the fewest points in Class AAA this year. The Jaguars are averaging nearly 45 ppg, while the Panthers have given up just 6.8 ppg.
The X-factor: Junior Charan Singh has been Franklin Regional's top cornerback this season, and how he fares against TJ senior receiver Zach Schademan will be crucial for the Panthers' upset bid.
Keys to victory: TJ: If Jake Farrell and the Jaguars' running game can get lengthy first-down yardage and stay out of obvious passing situations, that will prevent FR's defensive front from being able to bring the sort of pressure it wants to put on quarterback Joe Carroll. FR: The Panthers' offensive line, led by center Luke Fleck and tackles Joe McGuire and Sean Miller, will have to play a strong game to keep running back Dane Brown on the field and keep the TJ offense on the sideline.
Prediction: Thomas Jefferson, 21-17.
2-Mars (9-1) vs. 7-West Mifflin (9-1)
7:30 p.m. Friday at Fox Chapel
The rundown: Considering how much both teams like to run the ball this could be one of the fastest games played in this year's tournament. Both West Mifflin and Mars have top-flight running backs as the Titans Jimmy Wheeler has 1,861 yards, while Planets sophomore Josh Schultheis had 251 in a win over Blackhawk last week and sits at 1,646. West Mifflin has talented and underrated lines on both sides of the ball, led by senior two-way tackle and three-year starter Jimmy Popa. The Titans also have an outstanding dual-threat quarterback in Derrick Fulmore, who has been more of a runner than a thrower this season. Mars has a nice stable of backs with Alex Smith and Jason Lozzi providing support, but don't be surprised if junior quarterback Owen Nearhoof puts it up a few times to keep West Mifflin from packing it in a crowding the line. Since moving up to Class AAA in 2008, Mars is 5-4 in the WPIAL playoffs.
The X-factor: West Mifflin will have a mental edge coming into the game considering that, with pretty much the same team, it beat Mars, 21-8, in the opening round of the 2011 playoffs. The only difference is this will be at a neutral site.
Keys to victory: WM: Though the Titans have seen a few teams run variations of the Delaware Wing-T, few schools do it as well as Mars. West Mifflin will have to effectively read its keys in order to pull off the upset. M: Keep it close. The Planets' offense is predicated on playing within a touchdown and not a come-from-behind effort. If West Mifflin jumps ahead, it could be a long night for Mars.
Prediction: West Mifflin, 30-17.
5-Montour (9-1) vs. 4-West Allegheny (9-1)
7:30 p.m. Friday at Chartiers Valley
The rundown: When these teams played Oct. 9, West Allegheny won, 5-3. It was an unexpectedly touchdown-less game for two of the Parkway's best offenses. Evan Pelcher made a game-winning 22-yard field goal with 58 seconds left.
The X-factor: The Wildcat. West Allegheny's Tory Delmonico found fourth-quarter success with the alternate formation, earning 31 of his game-high 120 rushing yards on the game-winning drive. Montour failed to match that success with star wideout Devin Wilson in the backfield.
Keys to victory: WA: The Indians need another outstanding defensive game. They forced a safety and limited Montour to just 190 yards of total offense. Wilson had 103 receiving yards on five catches, a meager total for the 1,000-yard receiver. M: Winning first and second downs was key for Montour's defense the first time, forcing run-first West Allegheny into third-and-long situations.
Prediction: Montour, 14-10.
1-Aliquippa (10-0) vs. 9-Mt. Pleasant (8-2)
7:30 p.m. Friday at Peters Township
The rundown: This matchup features plenty of talent in the backfield. Tyler Mellors rushed for four touchdowns and Taylor Allison ran for three touchdowns as Mt. Pleasant beat eighth-seeded Burrell, 48-28, in a first-round game last week. It was Mt. Pleasant's first playoff win since 2009. Aliquippa is the defending WPIAL Class AA champion, and the Quips started their playoffs on a high note with a 55-0 win over 16th-seeded Steel Valley. Juniors Dravon Henry and Terry Swanson are dominating runners for Aliquippa. Henry rushed for three touchdowns and Swanson added two rushing scores in the win over the Ironmen.
The X-factor: Last week, the Vikings were able to do a good job of slowing down Burrell star running back Cole Bush. A lot will depend on whether or not the Vikings can stop not one, but two strong runners in Henry and Swanson.
Keys to victory: MP: Mt. Pleasant will need a lot of big plays from Mellors and Allison. They'll also need to come up big in the passing game with Gumbita. A: The Quips have been able to pound the ball at most of their opponents this season, so expect Aliquippa to stick with what works as they look for a spot in the semifinals.
Prediction: Aliquippa, 40-20.
4-Jeannette (9-1) vs. 5-Beaver (9-1)
7:30 p.m. Friday at Hampton
The rundown: The Bobcats, whose only loss is to top-ranked Aliquippa, was without injured leading rusher Darian Bradley (knee), but backup Anthony Keriotis has been a capable replacement. Jeannette coach Roy Hall wasn't thrilled with the Jayhawks' sluggish start in a first-round victory over South Allegheny. He said the Jayhawks, whose only loss is to third-seeded and unbeaten Washington, will need a better effort if they want to play on.
The X-factor: Jeannette's balance has been a lot for opponents to defend. Five players – Shiron Alexander, Seth Miller, Jordan Edmunds, Anthony Canady and Nathan Childs -- scored touchdowns in the Jayhawks' opening-round victory.
Keys to victory: J: The Jayhawks need to limit their mistakes and work on keeping decent field position on offense. Excessive penalties have been a problem all year. BA: Like Jeannette, Beaver must eliminate turnovers. Last week in a first-round victory over Valley, the only points given up by the Bobcats were touchdowns on a pair of fumbles.
Prediction: Jeannette, 20- 13.
2-South Fayette (10-0) vs. 10-Beaver Falls (8-2)
7:30 p.m. Friday at Moon
The rundown: The Lions and Tigers are no strangers to one another. The squads have squared off in the last two WPIAL Class AA playoffs, with South Fayette winning both games by a combined 90-43.
The X-factor: Pitt commit Zach Challingsworth does a little of everything for South Fayette. He has recorded 952 receiving yards, 14 touchdowns, four interceptions and handles punting duties – averaging 38 yards per attempt.
Keys to victory: BF: Running backs Damian Rawl and Rob Bell will need to keep the Tigers offense on the field while finding the end zone. The duo has combined for more than 1,500 yards and 22 touchdowns. SF: If the South Fayette defense continues to play as it has all season, the Tigers will have a hard time pointing points on the scoreboard. The Lions ‘D' has shutout six opponents while giving up only 37 points.
Prediction: South Fayette, 42- 17.
3-Washington (10-0) vs. 6-Seton-La Salle (9-1)
7:30 p.m. Friday at Canon-McMillan
The rundown: The Seton-La Salle defensive unit will be thoroughly challenged, facing the WPIAL's leading rusher in Washington's Shai McKenzie with 2,162 yards and 36 touchdowns. Washington rolled to a 47-12 win against Shady Side Academy in the WPIAL Class AA first round. Seton-La Salle clipped Greensburg Central Catholic, 28-10. RBs Tom Rizza (128) and Nick Sywyj (122) accounted for 250 yards and two touchdowns between them for the Rebels. Washington fell to Seton-La Salle by the identical score of 34-14 as a member of the Century Conference in 2010 and 2011.
The X-factor: McKenzie averages a gaudy 15.1 yards per carry, and 216.2 rushing yards per game. He ran for 260 yards and six touchdowns last week against Shady Side Academy.
Keys to victory: W: Washington aims to maintain its potent ground game, and may be seeking to avenge its two recent losses to the Rebels. The Little Prexies ran for more than 400 yards against Shady Side Academy, and look to quarterback Josh Wise to direct the offensive attack. S: Seton-La Salle's defense needs to shine. The Rebels forced four turnovers and intercepted three passes last week against Greensburg Central Catholic. Nick Sywyj had two interceptions, and Scott Orndoff scored on a 30-yard interception return.
Prediction: Washington, 28-21.
1-Clairton (10-0) vs. 9-Brentwood (7-3)
7:30 p.m. Friday at Belle Vernon
The rundown: Clairton continues is march toward PIAA history against Black Hills Conference rival Brentwood. The No. 1-seeded Bears dismantled No. 16 seed Frazier (7-3) last week, 58-6. Brentwood, the No. 9 seed in Class A, eliminated Springdale, 34-6. Clairton won the rugged Black Hills Conference championship again this year; Brentwood qualified for the playoffs as the conference's third-place team. Prior to this year, the Spartans lost to the Bears by scores of 32-0 and 52-0, and by a 42-7 score in the first round of the 2008 WPIAL playoffs.
The X-factor: Brentwood quarterback Chris Shortley has thrown for 999 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. Few quarterbacks have had success against Clairton's three Division I defensive backs.
Keys to victory: B: Brentwood needs to play a near-perfect game to entertain any thoughts of upsetting the Bears. Justin Vickless has been Brentwood's workhorse at running back this season with 1,459 yards and 18 touchdowns. C: Clairton needs to avoid mistakes and penalties, and get the football into the hands of its play-makers. Senior Tyler Boyd rushed for 238 yards and scored six touchdowns for Clairton last week, hiking his season totals to 1,554 yards rushing and 35 touchdowns.
Prediction: Clairton, 42-14.
5-Monessen (9-1) vs. 13-Neshannock (9-1)
7:30 p.m. Friday at Chartiers-Houston
The rundown: Both teams had little trouble advancing past the first round. Monessen is rolling behind West Virginia-bound QB Chavas Rawlins, who completed 7 of 11 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown in the first half and rushed for three scores overall in a first-round victory over Apollo-Ridge. Neshannock also benefitted from a big game by its QB, Ernie Burkes, who passed for three touchdowns and rushed for three more in a rout of Jefferson-Morgan.
The X-factor: Apollo-Ridge coach John Skiba marveled at the number of options Monessen can use in a game after the Greyhounds rolled to a 48-19 first-round victory last week. Rawlins had his usual big day, but RBs Clintell Gillaspie and Keith Davis combined to rush for 215 yards, 129 by Gillaspie, who's also a threat as a reliable receiver out of the backfield.
Keys to victory: M: Play unselfish. Use those many options that Apollo-Ridge's Skiba referred to. Rawlins is the leader, but he's got plenty of help. N: The Lancers are in the playoffs for the first time since 2004. They'll need to keep their emotions under control against a seasoned Monessen squad, whose only loss is to defending state champion Clairton.
Prediction: Monessen, 33-12.
3-Rochester (9-1) vs. 6- North Catholic (8-2)
7:30 p.m. Friday at Dormont Stadium
The rundown: North Catholic is the only remaining team from the Eastern Conference and handed the Black Hills Conference its only first-round loss with a 21-0 victory over a Bishop Canevin team that stumbled to three losses in its final four games. The Trojans last made it past the second round of the playoffs in 2009 when they lost to Rochester, 14-7, in the semifinals. North Catholic quarterback Ryan Kirby has thrown for more than 500 yards this season, but this is a team that uses the run to set up the pass. P.J. Fulmore has been the workhorse with 1,513 rushing yards, including 221 last week. Rochester has made it through to the semifinals each of the last four seasons and has lost to Clairton every year since 2006. Rochester running back Dante Marsick had 204 yards last week in a win over Avonworth to give him 1,621 this season.
The X-factor: Rochester quarterback Ben Richko doesn't throw much, but when he does, it's usually for a big play as he averages nearly 20 yards per completion.
Keys to victory: NC: Don't get overwhelmed. Though no Trojans football team has won a WPIAL title, this team can't put too much pressure on itself to make it happen this year. R: Experience counts. The Rams have been here so many times it's a rite of passage. They just have to make sure they don't look ahead to a possible rematch next week with Sto-Rox.
Prediction: Rochester, 33-6.
Bald Eagle Area (6-4) at Ligonier Valley (9-1)
7 p.m. Friday
The rundown: Didn't these two teams just face each other last week in the regular-season finale? Ligonier Valley rolled to a 48-6 victory as Ryan Torrance rushed for 161 yards and QB Scott Fennell rushed for three touchdowns and passed for another. Ligonier Valley's lone loss came in a Week 8 loss to Heritage Conference champion Penns Manor.
The X-factor: Ligonier Valley's running game was too much for BEA's defense, and there doesn't seem to be any reason why that would change this week.
Keys to victory: BEA: The Eagles need to add a successful passing game to their running attack. QB Cole Long managed just 22 yards last week. LV: Guard against overconfidence. BEA has seen the Rams, and recently, so maybe some adjustments will have an effect.
Prediction: Ligonier Valley, 41- 14.
Bishop McCort (7-3) at Penns Manor (9-1)
7 p.m. Saturday
The rundown: Bishop McCort closed out the regular season with a pair of victories, including a 37-0 rout of Bishop Guilfoyle on Oct. 26. The Crimson Crushers' defense is yielding just roughly 13 points per game. Penns Manor, which reached the PIAA semifinals last season, will rely on the versatility of dangerous running QB Danny Ferens. The Comets have won nine consecutive games after a season-opening loss to Northern Cambria. Penns Manor limited District 9 Keystone to 83 total yards and intercepted five passes while taking a 28-0 halftime lead last week.
The X-factor: Ferens is an experienced and multi-talented player whose consistent stellar play led Penns Manor to its first Heritage Conference title in his four years at the school.
Keys to victory: BM: The passing tandem of QB Zaine Tomkowski and WR Jordan Spangler could cause Penns Manor's defense fits. Spangler also kicked three field goals in last week's 38-13 victory over Central Cambria in the regular-season finale. PM: Rally around Ferens' play and keep the defensive pressure on McCort, similar to the way the Comets did last week against Keystone.
Prediction: Penns Manor, 28-17.
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