For 3 WPIAL champions, past greatness provides motivation for PIAA playoffs
For three of the four WPIAL football teams still playing, there's a readily available blueprint to follow, teams who've recently won WPIAL titles then enjoyed success in the state playoffs.
Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic, the only one of the four to have won the school's first WPIAL championship, is embarking on a brand-new journey.
Regardless, the next step for the Trojans, South Fayette, West Allegheny and Central Catholic starts this weekend with the PIAA Class AA quarterfinals.
Sights have been set on previous program accomplishments — and matching or breaking them.
“We talked about maybe being the best team to ever come through South Fayette and getting that first state title,” said Lions wide receiver Justin Watson, who was on the 2010 team that reached the PIAA championship game. “That would be surreal.”
All, rest assured, will be trying to avoid the WPIAL hangover.
Since 2003 — a span of 40 chances — only four teams have lost the week after the WPIAL final, which technically is the first round of the PIAA tournament: West Allegheny in 2012, Central Valley 2010, Woodland Hills 2009 and Seton-La Salle 2004.
On the other side, 17 teams have won state titles during that stretch, and 11 more have reached the championship game.
West Allegheny, which won its second consecutive WPIAL crown and seventh total, probably faces the stiffest challenge in defending Class AAA champion Erie Cathedral Prep, which has put up 52.8 points per game this season.
The Ramblers (12-0) are riding a 27-game winning streak and six times have hung 55 or more points on an opponent.
Asked what a victory over Central Valley helped his team do, West Allegheny coach Bob Palko answered truthfully.
“It helps us not turn our equipment in,” Palko cracked. “It helps us to try and represent the WPIAL. We have a tough opponent next week. We have to get healthy.”
A year ago, since everything fell a week earlier last season, West Allegheny was looking for something to do on Thanksgiving because of the quarterfinal loss to Erie Cathedral Prep.
Not so this time around.
“We always told the kids that if you practice on Thanksgiving, you might be pretty good,” said Palko, who guided West Allegheny to the 2001 state title, a goal for this year's group of seniors. “We didn't practice on Thanksgiving this week because the (WPIAL final) was a week early. Now we get to practice on Thanksgiving. It's a pretty cool feeling.”
Central Catholic linebacker Niko Thorpe and his teammates have talked often about the 2007 Vikings team that claimed the PIAA Class AAAA championship with a 21-0 victory of Parkland, capping a 16-0 season.
It was Central Catholic's second state title in three trips since 2003, the third in program history.
The Vikings (13-0) play Erie McDowell at 1 p.m. Saturday at Erie Veterans Stadium.
“The focus is high,” Thorpe said. “We've had long film sessions, long practices. But every guy has bought into the idea that it's Hershey or bust. It's about bringing back the tradition to Central, putting ourselves back on the map because Central hasn't had a championship since 2007. We're just trying to remind people that Central's still got it.”
The Hershey-or-bust idea isn't new to the Brumbaugh household. South Fayette's current quarterback, Brett Brumbaugh, watched as his older brother Christian led the Lions to a similar upset of Aliquippa then on a successful run through the 2010 state playoffs.
Fresh off the fourth WPIAL title in program history but second in the past four years, South Fayette (13-0) travels to Clarion University to take on Karns City Saturday at 1 p.m.
“As a family, we're very competitive,” said Brumbaugh, who has passed for 3,096 yards and 33 touchdowns. “We're always joking around about who's the better quarterback, and finally, I can put a ring next to my name now.
“Have to get a state championship now.”
North Catholic quarterback PJ Fulmore, who shifted from running back after starting signal-caller Adam Sharlow was lost for the season, celebrated a unique way: ringing North Catholic's championship bell 14 times, then watching video of Tussey Mountain, the Trojans' PIAA quarterfinal opponent.
North Catholic has never been this far, but Fulmore, who rushed for 83 yards and a touchdown to down Sto-Rox, in the WPIAL championship game, seems to have the routine down well.
“It's a great feeling to make history because it's the last year of the school being on Troy Hill,” Fulmore said. “We might as well win a state championship.
“We actually talked about that (Monday). The WPIAL championship isn't enough; we want to win states.”