WPIAL football conference preview: Class 3A Interstate
South Park (5-5 overall, 5-2 Interstate in 2016)
The Eagles were a streaky team a season ago, losing four straight early in the year before closing on a four-game winning run to clinch a wild-card playoff spot in Class 3A. They lost to Aliquippa in the quarterfinals but return an experienced roster capable of returning to the postseason. The group will be led by senior linebacker Isaiah Mack, a first-team all-conference selection last season. The Eagles will have to replace leading passer and rusher Jordan Kmonk (1,272 passing yards, 11 TDs, 460 rushing yards, 7 TDs).
Derry (11-1, 7-0)
The Interstate Conference champion Trojans finished the regular season undefeated (10-0) for the first time a year ago and won their first playoff game since 1995. But 12 seniors graduated, leaving few returning starters. But the cupboard isn't bare. The Trojans will lean on junior LB Dom DeLuca and senior quarterback Ryan Polinsky, who threw for 802 yards and seven TDs.
Mt. Pleasant (7-4, 5-2)
Longtime assistant Jason Fazekas takes over for Bo Ruffner and inherits a talented team led by RB/DB Cody Reese, who was a playmaker on both sides of the ball last season. Senior OT Cod Vokes will anchor the line, and WR/DB Aaron Troxell and RB/LB Dylan Rodgers also are expected to lead the Vikings.
Elizabeth Forward (5-4, 4-3)
The Warriors posted a winning season last year and will look to take the next step and qualify for the playoffs. Leading the way will be junior lineman AJ Ackerman, a first-team all-conference selection. Second-team all-conference QB Zach Benedek returns for his junior season after throwing for 787 yards and 13 scores.
McGuffey (5-5, 3-4)
McGuffey returns seven starters on offense and nine on defense. The offensive line features four three-year starters — Jake Phillips, Brett Perlestine, Marko Olivarez, Adam Blacharczyk. Coach Ed Dalton calls Olivarez and FB/LB Chase Miller "legit Division I recruits."
Yough (4-5, 3-4)
Yough nearly qualified for the playoffs a year ago and will challenge again behind a strong offensive line. Senior center Scott Houseman (6-4, 310) anchors an experienced group that also includes Bill DeVirgilio, Nate Magill, Levi Graft and George Tusing.
Southmoreland (1-8, 1-6)
The Scotties' numbers are up, and they hope to build around QB Jaden Datz and RB Ronnie Robinson, who ran for nearly 1,000 yards last season.
Waynesburg (0-9, 0-7)
Waynesburg is looking to snap a 13-game losing streak but will miss all-conference QB/LB Colin McCracken, who threw for 234 yards and ran for 725. Leading receiver Jacob McCallumm also graduated.
Players to watch
Southmoreland, sr., QB/DB
Datz threw for 490 yards and will be tasked with running the Southmoreland offense this season. He also was a first-team all-conference DB.
Mt. Pleasant, sr., RB/DB
The 5-11, 165-pound runner gained 618 yards with six scores and also caught six passes for 109 yards. He added 31 tackles and two interceptions.
Yough, jr., RB/DB
The junior running back gained 1,077 yards and scored 12 TDs to earn second-team all-conference honors last season.
Games to watch
10.6 Derry at Mt. Pleasant
A pair of playoff teams last season, both have aspirations of returning. Derry won 34-14 a year ago.
10.13 McGuffey at South Park
This matchup in the Eagles' renovated stadium could play a key role in the standings down the home stretch. South Park edged McGuffey, 13-7, last year.
10.20 South Park at Elizabeth Forward
EF coach Mike Collodi teaches at South Park and hopes to lead his team to a late-season victory with playoff implications against familiar foes.
• Derry RB Tyler Balega, now at Seton Hill, ran for 1,726 yards and 27 TDs last year.
• McGuffey plays just four home games because it will open against Frazier in the Legends Classic at North Allegheny.
— Bill Hartlep