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WPIAL football conference preview: Class 3A Allegheny

Doug Gulasy
| Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017, 10:10 p.m.
Seton-La Salle running back Lionel Deanes runs for 6 yards on the first play from scrimmage against Burrell on Friday, Sept. 16, 2016, at Burrell.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Seton-La Salle running back Lionel Deanes runs for 6 yards on the first play from scrimmage against Burrell on Friday, Sept. 16, 2016, at Burrell.

The favorite

Seton-La Salle (5-4 overall, 4-3 Allegheny in 2016)

The Rebels missed the playoffs a year ago, but they stand poised to take control of the conference thanks to the return of star running back Lionel Deanes and other playmakers such as quarterback Matt Banbury and wide receiver Nick Vari.

The contenders

Keystone Oaks (9-2, 7-0)

The defending conference champions must replace star QB Alex Smith (Duquesne), who accounted for more than 4,000 rushing and passing yards and more than 50 TDs, plus all-conference wideouts Nick Hrivnak, Quran Powe and Devin Thomas.

Apollo-Ridge (7-4, 5-2)

The graduation of record-setting RB Duane Brown will hurt the Vikings, who now turn to senior quarterback Kyle Fitzroy, a three-year starter, to lead the way.

Valley (6-3, 5-2)

Gardner Points cost the Vikings in a conference tiebreaker, and point differential kept them out of a wild-card slot. Despite the loss of 1,000-yard rusher Chase Balla, talent remains.

Freeport (4-5, 3-4)

The Yellowjackets started mainly underclassmen last season, and because of that most key contributors return from a team that surprised with its competitiveness. Junior QB Austin Romanchak and senior wide receiver Jake Sarver lead the way.

Burrell (3-7, 2-5)

The Bucs must replace three-year starting QB Max Garda, who surpassed 1,000 passing and rushing yards last season. Junior Alex Bellinotti, an all-conference pick at both TE and LB, anchors the roster.

Deer Lakes (2-7, 2-5)

Leading rusher Josh Solomon returns, but the Lancers could also look to a passing game led by quarterback Ethan Bender, a converted wideout, WRs Jared Colton and Aris Hasley and TEs Jack Hollobaugh and Colin Kadlick.

Shady Side Academy (0-9, 0-7)

Injuries ravaged the Indians last season, but they return 15 starters, including QB/DB Skyy Moore, who missed all but two games last season, and RB/LB Chase Villani. Dino and Mason Tomlin, sons of Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, join the team as transfers from Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic.

Players to watch

Lionel Deanes

Seton-La Salle, sr., RB/DB

Although he stands just 5-foot-7, the player known as "Train" was a workhorse, carrying the ball 249 times for 1,804 yards and 15 touchdowns in just nine games last season. He'll carry the load again for the Rebels.

Matt Charlton

Freeport, sr., OL/DL

A three-year starter, Charlton played every position on the offensive line last season. He picked up offers from Alcorn State and Indiana State over the summer.

Chase Villani

Shady Side Academy, sr., RB/LB

On a team beset by injuries, he averaged 6.4 yards per carry on offense and had 65 tackles and five sacks on defense.

Games to watch

10.13 Freeport at Seton-La Salle

The Yellowjackets and Rebels return the most talent from last season, and this game could decide the conference title.

10.13 Apollo-Ridge at Keystone Oaks

KO swept both meetings last season, including a WPIAL first-round game. Both teams hope to reload after losing several significant contributors.

10.27 Freeport at Valley

A playoff spot could be determined in this game, which closes the regular season.

Fast facts

• Keystone Oaks coach Greg Perry returns for his fourth season at his alma mater after leading the Golden Eagles to the conference title in 2016. Before that, he coached for nine years at Seton-La Salle — which happens to be located right across the street.

• Burrell and Valley will meet for their annual rivalry game Oct. 13. Valley holds a four-game winning streak and leads the overall series 23-14.

• Apollo-Ridge holds the longest consecutive playoff streak in the conference at five seasons. Burrell has the longest postseason drought, last qualifying in 2012.

— Doug Gulasy

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