WPIAL champs turn focus to state playoffs
It took a lot for Woodland Hills to get past longtime rival and top-seeded Gateway to win its fifth WPIAL Class AAAA championship Friday at Heinz Field.
Now, as the Wolverines turn their focus toward the state playoffs, they realize the steep price they paid.
Running back Dom Timbers, fullback Cameron Thompkins and defensive end Richard Gray all sat out parts of the Gateway game with various injuries, which makes Woodland Hills' task of winning its first state championship that much more difficult.
"It's a long season. We had a war last week with Bethel Park and we had a war this week and now, I think we're going to have a war next week with State College," Woodland Hills coach George Novak said. "I'll tell you what: They have a very good football team and they had a week off to rest, so we have our work cut out for us."
Woodland Hills and Class AAA champion West Allegheny have been in the state playoffs on four previous occasions, but West Allegheny did something the Wolverines never did, and that's go all the way. West Allegheny won its only Class AAA state championship in 2001 with a 28-13 victory over Strath Haven, the same year Woodland Hills lost to Neshaminy in the Class AAAA final.
West Allegheny (11-2) will open its run to the state championship at 7 p.m. Friday at North Allegheny against District 10 champion Erie Cathedral Prep (11-2). Woodland Hills (12-1) will travel to Mansion Park in Altoona to take on State College (10-2), the District 6 champion, also at 7 p.m. Friday.
The Indians are attempting to become the fifth WPIAL champion to win the state Class AAA title in the past six years, joining Thomas Jefferson (2004, 2007-08) and Franklin Regional (2005).
"You've got to get over that WPIAL hangover," West Allegheny coach Bob Palko said. "We had that happen in '97 (when the Indians won their first WPIAL title and lost to Perry in the state semifinals). The kids didn't get the treatments they needed and thought we'd arrived. They'll be ready. The other team may be better and beat us and that's fine, but we'll be ready to play."
Already, the Indians have pulled off one upset, defeating Parkway Conference rival Hopewell to win the WPIAL championship. Running back Mike Caputo, who has done well in the Wildcat formation this season, carried 25 times for 178 yards and four touchdowns. The Indians needed every score — Hopewell's Rushel Shell had 274 yards and four touchdowns on 44 carries.
In Class A, Clairton is playing in memory of its former linebackers coach, the late Demonje Rosser, and for retribution after losing to Steelton-Highspire, 35-16, in the state final at Hersheypark Stadium last year.
"Any time you have a perfect season and you lose at the end, you always feel like something is missing," Clairton running back Deontae Howard said. "We were all part of that team last year and we feel like we can make a difference to make the outcome different."
Clairton (12-1) will start its road back to Hershey at 7 p.m. Friday at Yough High School against District 5 champion Conemaugh Township. Though no District 5 team has defeated a WPIAL champion in the opening round of the PIAA Class A playoffs, the Bears won't take any team lightly, especially after losing its season opener, 15-8, to Laurel.
"We have a lot of stuff to work on if we want to win that state championship," Howard said. "It's the best of the best, so we just have to go back to practice, practice a few things and come back and play on Friday."
Of the four WPIAL champions, only one will make its first venture into the state tournament. Greensburg Central Catholic (11-2) captured its first title with a 33-7 win over perennial contender and defending champion Aliquippa.
The Centurions, led by running back David Miller and quarterback Trent Hurley, will take on District 5 champion Bedford (7-6), which won a 28-26 triple-overtime thriller against District 9 champion Karns City on Friday. The site and time for that game has not been released, but coach Muzzy Colosimo said he was told it will be Friday.
Because this is their first time in the PIAA tournament, preparing for a state playoff foe will be a new experience.
"I don't know because we've never done it before," Greensburg Central Catholic coach Muzzy Colosimo said. "We'll just take it one day at a time."