Week 1 high school football playoff preview
Here's a look at some of the top matchups for the first round of the WPIAL playoffs:
7-Central Catholic (7-2) at 9-Penn-Trafford (7-2)
7:30 p.m. Friday
The rundown: Both teams have carved their niche in the season -- Central Catholic relying on the running of junior Luigi Lista-Brinza; Penn-Trafford counting on the passing of Dorian Stevens, who returns after sitting out last week's 16-0 victory over Hempfield with an injury. Central's defense has been stingy, giving up just 8 points per game and registering shutouts in the Vikings' past two. P-T is comfortable playing at home, where the Warriors are 3-1, the only blemish a 42-0 setback to No. 2 Gateway on Oct. 19.
The X-factor: Central Catholic has enjoyed decidedly better success in the postseason, winning WPIAL championships in 2003, ‘04 and ‘07 and reaching the semifinals in 2010 and ‘11. P-T, which lost to Central, 42-0, in the first round in 2008, played for its only title in 1997, losing to Upper St. Clair, 28-27.
Keys to victory: CC: Give the ball to the junior RB, Lista-Brinza, and hope he can wear down the Penn-Trafford defense. P-T: Defense must play with same fire as when forcing five Hempfield turnovers last week; Offense should follow QB Stevens' lead and hope for another big game from RB Tom Stinelli, who rushed for a season-high 162 yards against Hempfield.
Prediction: Central Catholic, 24-14.
13-Hempfield (4-5) at 4-Seneca Valley (8-1)
7:30 p.m. Friday
The rundown: Hempfield earned its first playoff trip since 2008. The Spartans are banged up as their top running backs – Joey DeFloria and Skylar Carkuff – were injured in Week 4. Seneca Valley lost in the quarterfinals last season to North Allegheny, the only team that beat them this season.
The X-factor: Seneca Valley running back Forrest Barnes has rushed for 1,396 and 25 touchdowns. He also has caught 17 passes.
Keys to victory: H: Leave it on the field. Play good defense and hope starting QB Tyler George will return after injuring his eye in practice last week. If Hempfield's offense can control the clock and kept it close, anything can happen. SV: The Raiders have a balanced offense with Barnes running the ball and QB Jordan Brown running (447 yards) and throwing (1,354 yards and 15 TDs) the ball. Jonathon Dorogy has caught 32 passes for 498 yards and seven touchdowns.
Prediction: Seneca Valley, 24-10.
14-Kiski Area (4-5) at 3-Upper St. Clair (8-1)
7:30 p.m. Friday
The rundown: Kiski Area is making its first trip to the WPIAL playoffs since 2006. The Cavaliers haven't won a playoff game since 1990. And they will lean on a freshman at quarterback and running back to try and break that funk. Senior Ricky Carter is no longer with the team, so ninth-grader Chad Kuhn has taken over under center. Freshman running Lincoln Clayton continues to show potential. Returning WPIAL runner-up Upper St. Clair, led by veteran coach Jim Render, averages 33.3 points per game and has allowed just 78. The Panthers, in the playoffs for the 26th time in 27 years, have three rushers with at least 290 yards, led by quarterback Pete Coughlin (423 yards).
The X-factor: Coughlin not only is a threat to run, but has passed for 961 yards and 13 TDs against only two interceptions.
Keys to victory: KA: Kiski Area cannot afford to fall behind early. The Cavaliers must make an early statement and control field position. USC: Hit big plays against a young defense that is not used to a playoff atmosphere.
Prediction: Upper St. Clair, 35-7.
10-North Hills (6-3) at 7-Woodland Hills (7-2)
The rundown: Neither of these teams are strangers to the postseason, nor are they mysteries to each other. They played three times in the previous two seasons with the two splitting the two regular season matchups and the Wolverines winning a 24-14 decision in the 2010 WPIAL semifinals. Though the two teams have had amazing success over the years, they rarely faced each other in the postseason. North Hills, led by freshman LaVar Arrington, won the first matchup in the 1993 semifinals and Woodland Hills won the next three in 2001, 2002 and 2010. North Hills running backs Josh Hulbert and Tyler Reddick have been consistent, but the Indians found tough sledding in the stretch run with losses to Seneca Valley and North Hills in their final three games.
The X-factor: North Hills' Jack McCurry and George Novak of Woodland Hills have combined to win nine WPIAL Class AAAA titles.
Keys to victory: WH: The Wolverines are an extremely quick team, especially at running back and in the defensive backfield. If they can take advantage of their agility up front as well, it will be a long night for the Indians. NH: There are players on this team that were on the field for the playoff loss in 2010 and last season's regular season defeat. They can't let the Wolverines in their heads ahead of time, or the game will be lost before kickoff.
Prediction: Woodland Hills, 17-7.
14-Belle Vernon (4-5) at 3-Central Valley (7-2)
7:30 p.m. Friday
The rundown: Injuries to players on both teams and a suspension to Central Valley's best player, Robert Foster, could makes this game a lot closer than expected. Both teams will be missing key players because of injuries – Belle Vernon QB Travis Snyder is out and Central Valley QB Nathan Climo and RB Jordan Whitehead are out.
The X-factor: Belle Vernon tackle Dorian Johnson is capable dominating the line of scrimmage. The Division I recruit actually recovered a fumble for a touchdown last week.
Keys to victory: BV: The Leopards have never beaten a team from Beaver County in the playoffs. Will this be the first? They will try to control the game with Johnson leading the way for Anthony Levis (1,062 yards, 4 TDs). Jake Sweitzer started the season as a tight end, moved to quarterback when Snyder got hurt in Week 3 and is now starting at tackle opposite of Johnson. CV: Central Valley must depend on its defense and running back JaQuan Pennington (329 yards, 5 TDs) to lead the way. Kicker Elliott Taylor could decide this game with a field goal.
Prediction: Central Valley, 20-17.
15-Blackhawk (3-6) at 2-Mars (8-1)
7:30 p.m. Friday
The rundown: Mars, the Greater Allegheny title winner, was rewarded by the WPIAL with the No. 2 seed. Then they were punished with a first-round matchup against Blackhawk, a very talented No. 15 seed.
The X-factor: Blackhawk has a Top 5 passer, rusher and receiver, but opponents have averaged 30.9 points against the Cougars' defense, worst among all 64 playoff teams.
Keys to victory: B: The Cougars' offense has been solid, led by Pitt quarterback recruit Chandler Kincade, an 1,800-yard passer. However, the Cougars lost four games by five points or fewer. A solid fourth quarter might be the key this week. M: The Planets' wing-T ranks among the best run games in Class AAA, led by sophomore Josh Schultheis, who's seventh in the WPIAL with 1,395 yards and has 23 TDs. Mars will challenge Blackhawk's run defense.
Prediction: Mars, 28-21.
9-Elizabeth Forward (6-3) at 8-Franklin Regional (7-2)
7:30 p.m. Friday
The rundown: One of last year's WPIAL semifinalists hosts a team making its first playoff appearance since 2005 in this battle of squads that finished in the third playoff slots from their respective conferences.
The X-factor: Franklin Regional running back Dane Brown could eclipse the 4,000-yard mark for his career this week, but his effectiveness this year has been slowed by injury. A healthier Brown makes FR more like the team that began the season ranked No. 2 in the WPIAL.
Keys to victory: EF: None of the current EF players have experienced playoff football, and the Warriors will need to begin the game sharp against a Panthers team that is a regular fixture in the postseason. FR: The Panthers have allowed the fewest points in Class AAA, and how well their defense bottles up the Warriors' dual-threat quarterback, JaQuan Davidson, will determine how well the team does.
Prediction: Franklin Regional, 21-7.
16-Hollidaysburg (3-6) at 1-Thomas Jefferson (9-0)
7:30 p.m. Friday
The rundown: The Jaguars captured the Big 9 Conference championship this season, which is their 23rd conference title in school history. This is a rematch from a nonconference matchup between the two teams in Week 3. TJ blanked Golden Tigers at home, 55-0, behind senior quarterback Joe Carroll's five touchdown passes. Hollidaysburg tied for fifth place in the Greater Allegheny Conference with Highlands and Indiana.
The X-factor: Thomas Jefferson has a decisive home-field advantage, having won 45 games in a row at TJ Stadium, which includes eight WPIAL first-round matchups. Hollidaysburg enters the playoffs on a four-game losing streak, and with losses in six of its past seven games.
Keys to victory: TJ: The Jaguars have been unstoppable this season with a potent passing attack, solid ground game, and an aggressive defense propelled by linebackers Chase Winovich and Austin Boyd. Carroll has passed for 1,737 yards and leads the WPIAL with 33 touchdown passes. Jake Farrell has rushed for 375 yards and seven touchdowns in the past four games. H: Hollidaysburg is looking to shake off the aftereffects of its four-game losing slide. Brian Urban is an integral player for the Golden Tigers at quarterback and in the defensive backfield. He accounted for both of his team's touchdowns last week, scoring on a 1-yard run, and connecting with wideout Blake Davis on a 6-yard TD toss.
Prediction: Thomas Jefferson, 35-7.
10-Knoch (7-2) at 7-West Mifflin (8-1)
7:30 p.m. Friday
The rundown: This matchup may have been one of the biggest surprises to come out of the WPIAL pairings meeting. Not only did the committee drop West Mifflin in favor of the entire first-place triumvirate out of the Parkway Conference, but it even shoved the Titans down an extra notch below a Hampton team that lost to a two-win Greensburg Salem squad that didn't qualify for the playoffs. West Mifflin won its first eight games and its only defeat came in the season finale against Big 9 Conference rival and top-seeded Thomas Jefferson. The Titans have an outstanding ground game with Jimmy Wheeler, who finished with 1,674 yards. Knoch beat Thomas Jefferson in the quarterfinals a year ago at Plum, ending the Jaguars 13-year string of making it at least into the semifinals. Knights senior Benjamin Tackett is a 1,000-yard back, while quarterback Dakota Bruggeman is not afraid to put the ball up.
The X-factor: West Mifflin quarterback Derrick Fulmore is known for his running ability, but he is an underrated passer and has accounted for 19 total touchdowns.
Keys to victory: K: Stay in your lanes. Wheeler is an exceptional runner and likes to cut it back. If the Knights defense starts to drift following him around, the 2012 100- and 200-meter state finalist will blow right past them. WM: Shake it off. The Titans were extremely disappointed after the loss to Thomas Jefferson, but have to regroup if they are to make a deep postseason run.
Prediction: West Mifflin, 26-14.
13-Ringgold (4-5) at 4-West Allegheny (8-1)
7:30 p.m. Friday
The rundown: These teams have been in the playoffs the past few seasons. Last year, Ringgold reached the quarterfinals before losing to Central Valley for the second consecutive season. West Allegheny lost in the opening round last season, but coach Bob Palko has the Indians playing well. Ringgold limps into the playoffs off three consecutive losses.
The X-factor: West Allegheny has a strong running game led by the D-attack. Tory Delmonico (670 yards), Armonde Dellovade (545) and Chayse Dillon (433) form a dominating trio.
Keys to victory: R: RB Demetrius Louis has returned from an injury. He has rushed for 883 yards, while QB Nico Law has rushed for 524 yards and passed for 588 yards. Joey Wall has caught a team-high 16 passes. Ringgold has to force West Allegheny to throw the ball. WA: QB Andrew Koester has thrown for 640 yards and four touchdowns, but the key is running the football and controlling the clock.
Prediction: West Allegheny, 27-14.
10-Beaver Falls (7-2) at 7-Freeport (7-2)
7:30 p.m. Friday
The rundown: Upset losses eliminated Beaver Falls and Freeport as top-six seeds in the first round a season ago. The Tigers are in position to pull off an upset this time, though they're hardly underdogs, as their two losses came to top-seeded Aliquippa and No. 5 Beaver, and they surprised Class AAA power Central Valley in Week 9. Freeport, meanwhile, hopes to avoid losing as the higher seed for a fourth straight time.
The X-factor: Freeport senior quarterback Brendan Lynch became the go-to ball carrier after senior running back Damon Smith suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 6, and he passed the 1,000-yard mark rushing last week. Will Beaver Falls contain Lynch and force him to throw rather than run?
Keys to victory: BF: Shut down Freeport's multi-threat run game. The Yellowjackets attempted 10 or more passes just once this season, so they're unaccustomed to relying on an aerial attack to win. F: Deny Beaver Falls the big play. Tigers quarterback Dan Stratton has averaged more than 20 yards per completion.
Prediction: Beaver Falls, 35-20.
11-Greensburg Central Catholic (6-3) at 6-Seton-La Salle (8-1)
7:30 p.m. Friday at Chartiers Valley
The rundown: Seton-La Salle's lone loss was to No. 2 seed South Fayette. The Rebels tied for second place in the Century Conference with South Allegheny. Greensburg Central Catholic, which lost a tough 7-6 decision to rival Jeannette last week, had won six in a row and finished in fourth place in the Interstate Conference behind Washingon, Jeannette and Mt. Pleasant.
The X-factor: Seton-La Salle's potent offense is averaging 34 points per game, led by QB Luke Brumbaugh, who has thrown for 1,545 yards and 17 touchdowns this season. The Rebels' leading receiver is Lou Rotunda with 39 receptions for 780 yards and eight scores. Tight end Scott Orndoff also has 16 receptions for 273 yards and five touchdowns. Greensburg Central Catholic quarterback Chase Keller has passed for 1,246 yards in 2012 and, along with Tyler Balla, provides the Centurians with a solid one-two punch on the ground.
Keys to victory: S: Seton-La Salle has posted four shutouts this year, and the Rebels' defense has been unheralded. Only one opponent, South Fayette, has been able to score more than one touchdown against the Rebels. Another staunch defensive effort is expected by head coach Greg Perry. GCC: If the Centurians are able to avoid mistakes and turnovers, they could upset the higher-seeded Rebels. Two catalysts on defense are Corey Marshall and Zach Guiser, who rank among the WPIAL leaders in interceptions.
Prediction: Seton-La Salle, 24-14.
9-Mt. Pleasant (7-2) at 8-Burrell (8-1)
7:30 p.m. Friday
The rundown: Mt. Pleasant took third in the Interstate Conference behind No. 3 Washington and No. 4 Jeannette. The Vikings quietly were one of the top scoring teams in Class AA, averaging 39.8 points per game. Mt. Pleasant's last playoff win came in 2009 when the Vikings toppled Kittanning, 45-6. They run a version of the wing-T, which Burrell has seen in past and current conference games against Kittanning and Ford City. Burrell, which shared the Allegheny Conference title with Freeport, has been a top-10 team most of the season thanks in large part to a dominant rushing attack led by senior Cole Bush, the WPIAL's third-leading rusher. Bush broke school records for rushing and touchdowns in a season. The Bucs have not won a playoff game since 2005.
The X-factor: Bush hasn't been stopped yet, and Mt. Pleasant will need to limit his big-play chances and attempt to add to its tackles-for-loss stats. Burrell's line will need to continue its strong play.
Keys to victory: MP: Get 1,000-yard running back Tyler Mellors going early and force Burrell into third-and-longs. B: Establish the run early and give respect to Vikings' passing game.
Prediction: Mt. Pleasant, 26-21.
13-South Allegheny (7-2) vs. 4-Jeannette (8-1)
7:30 p.m. Friday at Norwin
The rundown: As a third-place finisher in the Century Conference and with losses to only South Fayette and Seton-La Salle, South Allegheny probably could have gotten a better shake in the seeding. But considering the WPIAL favors postseason consistency and the Gladiators haven't been in the postseason since the Reagan Administration, they kind of had to take what they got. What they get is a Jeannette team that played in and won more playoff games in 2007 (seven) than South Allegheny (six) played in its entire history. The Jayhawks lost to Aliquippa in the WPIAL Class AA championship game last season and were a blocked punt return away from being undefeated. Jeannette running back Jordan Edmonds is very tough to bring down when he gets up a head of steam and Shavonte Craft is also a very dangerous weapon.
The X-factor: Jeannette quarterback Seth Miller has thrown for five touchdowns, rushed for six, returned one for a score, chipped in 26 extra points and kicked four field goals.
Keys to victory: SA: Come out hot. The Gladiators seemed intimidated in their regular-season finale last week against South Fayette. The return of quarterback Dustin Anderson would help. J: Be Jeannette. A playoff-tested team will value its experience in this first-round contest.
Prediction: Jeannette, 28-7.
16-Steel Valley (4-5) vs. 1-Aliquippa (9-0)
7:30 p.m. Friday at Moon
The rundown: Aliquippa is the defending WPIAL champion, is scoring a WPIAL-best 52.2 points per game, posted four shutouts and failed to start the second-half running clock only once. Steel Valley has been mercy ruled once, in a 50-0 loss to second-seeded South Fayette. The Ironmen have struggled with injuries and consistency all season, but could be able to stay with the Quips by controlling the ball and not letting Aliquippa's superior speed and athleticism take over. Steel Valley was also the No. 16 seed in 2011 and lost 44-7 to the Quips in the first round.
The X-factor: Surprisingly, no Aliquippa player is in the top-15 in the WPIAL in passing, rushing, receiving or scoring.
Keys to victory: SV: Learn from last year. It will be difficult to stop the Quips offense led by Dravon Henry, but the Ironmen will have to come up with something new from their last encounter. A: Don't be overconfident. Steel Valley has played some tough teams and did hold West Allegheny to 34 points.
Prediction: Aliquippa, 35-7.
12-Valley (6-3) at 5-Beaver (8-1)
7:30 p.m. Friday
The rundown: Valley has made a return to the postseason after a regular season that saw the Vikings snap a 22-game losing streak, pull off a 9-8 upset of Allegheny Conference co-champion Freeport and build a five-game winning streak, all under first-year coach Chad Walsh. The Vikings will be without key running back Jaden Walker (personal reasons), so junior Demetrius Houser will be the key to the offense. Senior quarterback Ty Matthews returned last week after missing two games following appendix surgery and saw a few snaps behind sophomore starter Dan Farinelli. The Bobcats finished second to top-seeded Aliquippa in the Midwestern Conference, with their only loss coming against the Quips in Week 9, 39-7. Beaver, which lost to Shady Side Academy in the first round last year, scored 40 or more points in four games, including 63 against Riverside. Star running back and top rusher Darian Bradley did not play last week and is questionable for Friday. He has 756 yards and 25 touchdowns.
The X-factor: Beaver's defense has allowed 21.8 points per game and will look to avoid getting into a shootout with Valley.
Keys to victory: V: Apply pressure to the quarterback on defense and get the running game going to free up passes to wideout Chaz Cheatham. B: Force Valley to make mistakes and limit the production of Houser.
Prediction: Beaver, 27-12.
12-Apollo-Ridge (6-3) at 5-Monessen (8-1)
7:30 p.m. Friday
The rundown: Apollo-Ridge is in the postseason for the first time since 2007, and it's only won one game in its 10 playoff appearances. The Vikings hope for a season-defining win when they head to Monessen, where they'll meet a group of Greyhounds who beat every opponent except top-seeded Clairton. Monessen went 6-4 in its last 10 first-round games — all four losses came against Springdale.
The X-factor: Whose explosive pass-catcher will shine the brightest? Apollo-Ridge has Tre Tipton (35 receptions, 632 yards, 9 touchdowns) and Alex Smith (21, 493, 6). Monessen has Clintell Gillaspie (18, 470, 5 through eight weeks) and Javon Brown (13, 214, 2 through eight weeks).
Keys to victory: A-R: Wear down Monessen and take time off the clock with long drives that are sustained by the run game. Quarterback Jesse Zelonka and running backs Lonny Wells Jr. and Jonah Casella must have at least modest success. M: Avoid turnovers, penalties and any other miscues that might generate momentum for Apollo-Ridge. The Greyhounds must handle the playoff pressure better than their less experienced opponent.
Prediction: Monessen, 42-21.
11-Bishop Canevin (6-3) at 6-North Catholic (7-2)
7:30 p.m. Friday
The rundown: The Trojans — champions of the Eastern Conference — and the Crusaders enter the opening round game after easy wins in Week 9, outscoring their opponents by a combined 77-14. The squads met last year during the regular season, with Bishop Canevin walking away with a 19-0 win.
The X-factor: North Catholic QB P.J. Fulmore enters the game with 1,292 yards on the ground -- fourth best in Class A. The sophomore is the focal point of the Trojans offense, leading the team with 16 touchdowns.
Keys to victory: BC: The Crusaders defense will need to make key stops. Its success starts with defensive ends John Bridge and Jim Tersak and linebacker Mike Dunn, who has 101 tackles this season. NC: The Trojans defense has held five opponents to a single score or less. If it can find similar success Friday, the squad could be moving on to the quarterfinals for the fourth time since 2008.
Prediction: North Catholic, 24-21.
9-Brentwood (6-3) at 8-Springdale (6-3)
7:30 p.m. Friday at Fox Chapel
The rundown: Brentwood qualified for the playoffs as the third-place team in the rugged Black Hills Conference. Springdale tied for second place with Apollo-Ridge in the Eastern, behind champion North Catholic.
The X-factor: Both teams are playoff tested. Brentwood has advanced to the playoffs for five consecutive seasons, and six times in the past seven years. Springdale is making its 11th consecutive trip to the playoffs. Both teams also feature strong rushing attacks. Springdale's Sean Dugan eclipsed the 4,000-yard mark for his career in the Dynamos' 28-6 win against Riverview last week. He has rushed for 1,637 yards and scored 19 times this season. Justin Vickless has been Brentwood's workhorse this season with 1,317 yards and 15 touchdowns on 192 carries.
Keys to victory: B: Brentwood played perhaps its best game this year in a 61-19 win at home against California. The Spartans generated nine touchdowns on the ground. Head coach Kevin Kissell is hoping his team continues to improve and plays another solid game this week. S: Springdale has allowed only 85 points this season; the Dynamos' defense could create some havoc for the visitors.
Prediction: Brentwood, 14-7.
16-Frazier (7-2) at 1-Clairton (9-0)
7:30 p.m. Friday
The rundown: Prior to last season, Frazier had not qualified for the WPIAL playoffs since 2002 and the Commodores have not won a postseason game since a 41-6 win over Riverview in the 1983 WPIAL semifinals. Clairton last played Frazier in the playoffs in 1982, when the Bears won 44-6 before losing to Monaca in the finals. This is the time of the year when Clairton puts it all together and, if the last eight weeks since their 22-20 scare in the opener against Chartiers-Houston is any indication, look out. The Bears have averaged 51.1 points per game since the opener and have had their starters resting on the sideline throughout the second halves of most of those games.
The X-factor: Clairton running back Tyler Boyd has 365 carries for 4,511 career yards and 95 total career touchdowns. If the Bears win out, he would have to average 212.7 yards per game to reach 6,000.
Keys to victory: F: Prepare for the onslaught. The Bears are going to come out emotional in their quest to win a record-tying fifth consecutive outright WPIAL title and they know how to take a team out of a game in a hurry. C: Walk the walk. The Bears have said all along that their focus for the season has been reaching 60 consecutive victories and reaching that milestone at Heinz Field. The final steps of their journey are at hand and they know it.
Prediction: Clairton, 44-6.