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Week 1 high school football preview capsules

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Top high school sports
Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012, 8:54 p.m.
 

CLASS AAAA

Quad Central

Bethel Park at Plum

7 p.m. Friday

The rundown: Bethel Park went 3-2 in the old Quad West last year and made the WPIAL playoffs, while Plum struggled through an 0-6 campaign and missed the postseason. The WPIAL's Quad-A football realignment put the Black Hawks and the Mustangs in the same conference.

The X-factor: Opposing teams paid a lot of attention to Plum running back and linebacker Jake DiGuilio last year. The Mustangs' lone returning all-conference player led the defense with 53 tackles and accounted for four of the team's five rushing touchdowns. He also is a pass-catching threat from multiple positions.

Keys to victory: P: Twenty-five players earned varsity letters last year, including several freshman, and some of those lettermen will be moving into starting roles. Senior Corey DeLoach starts his first game at quarterback, as he replaces three-year starter Christopher Zdinak, a freshman on the Washington & Jefferson football team. BP: A new quarterback and tailback will start for the Black Hawks on Friday, and the offense will try to get the job done behind an offensive line led by mammoth junior tackles in 6-foot-7, 315-pound Mike Grimm and 6-4, 315-pound Casey Schreiner.

Prediction: Bethel Park, 27-13.

Quad Central

(4-AAAA) Woodland Hills at (3-AAAA) Upper St. Clair

7:30 p.m. Friday

The rundown: Not often can a conference title be won or lost in Week 1, but these Top 5 powers are favorites in the newly formed Quad Central. Combined they've won 10 of the 32 Class AAAA titles since the WPIAL expanded to four classifications. They've also got two winning coaches: USC's Jim Render has 354 wins; WH's George Novak has 256. Yet one of these programs will start the season 0-1.

The X-factor: How quickly can the new starters find their feet? Both teams graduated a number of players, including both starting quarterbacks. Their top halfbacks and receivers also are new. But unlike years past where Week 1 was a relatively meaningless nonconference warmup, this one matters.

Keys to victory: WH: LB Alex Beasley and DT Jawan Turner anchor a defense that returns five starters. A strong defensive outing could take some pressure off a Wolverines offense with an abundance of talent but little experience. Starting QB Cody McClelland completed just eight passes a year ago as the backup, and top tailback Ron Brown had only 50 carries. USC: Senior QB Pete Coughlin must show the elusiveness he had last November. The 5-foot-9 Coughlin was very good a year ago when pressed into action. He started two playoff games when star Dakota Conwell was injured, and led USC to an upset over No. 1 ranked Central Catholic. Now he's the starter.

Prediction: USC, 21-14.

Quad East

Connellsville at Kiski

7:30 p.m. Friday

The rundown: After a long-awaited playoff appearance in 2011, the Falcons, despite a number of changes both offensively and defensively, hope to build on their past success, beginning with the season opener. The Cavaliers won just once last season, but are starting a new era under new coach Dave Heavner.

The X-factor: Turnovers. Both teams enter the game with plenty of question marks, so avoiding huge mistakes will be key.

Keys to victory: C: With another year of experience under his belt, quarterback Jade Maher is gaining a strong grasp of Connellsville's wing-T offense. K: Solid adjustments to new roles will be vital in how well the Cavaliers fare not only this week, but throughout the season. Quarterback Ricky Carter hopes to guide the Cavaliers to an early-season win.

Prediction: Connellsville, 31-17.

Quad East

Hempfield at (7-AAAA) McKeesport

7 p.m. Friday

The rundown: This game will mark the return to the high school coaching ranks for Hempfield's Rich Bowen, a 1982 Serra Catholic alumnus who replaces Greg Meisner this year. Bowen has a knack for turning around struggling programs and turning them into postseason contenders, doing so at Serra Catholic (twice), Elizabeth Forward and Yough, but this may be his toughest task to date. McKeesport has all the tools necessary to move into WPIAL championship contention this season with Division I leaders on both side of the ball in quarterback Eddie Stockett (Akron) and linebacker Hodari Christian (West Virginia), but the Tigers could be in trouble if injuries expose the team's depth dearth.

The X-factor: McKeesport's Brendan Green is one of the more underrated defensive linemen in the WPIAL and could certainly be disruptive to the Spartans' blocking scheme.

Keys to victory: H: Acclimation. The Spartans will move into a spread offense this season and will get a strenuous test against a fast Tigers defense that can get to the ball as well as any team in the WPIAL. M: An arm and two legs. McKeesport needs Stockett to be mobile in the pocket and give opponents the sense he could tuck and run at any time, which will hold the linebackers and possibly open up some big plays down the field.

Prediction: McKeesport, 27-14.

Quad East

Latrobe at (2-AAAA) Gateway

7:30 p.m. Friday

The rundown: Gateway looks to continue its domination in the series, while Latrobe hopes to break a tough streak against the Gators. Gateway won last year, 45-7, and the Gators have outscored the Wildcats, 174-14, over the past four meetings. The Gators also got a boost last week, as star receiver Ricky Rogers, an offseason transfer from Keystone Oaks who initially was ruled ineligible to play football by the WPIAL Board of Control, had that ruling overturned by the PIAA.

The X-factor: Thomas Woodson, a University of Arizona recruit, led Gateway in passing last year with 1,184 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also rushed 70 times for 314 yards and three scores.

Keys to victory: G: The Gators have a ton of weapons in the passing and running games, and it will be important for the big and experienced offensive line to keep the holes open for the backs and give Woodson enough time to find his targets. L: Head coach Ray Reitz knows the task at hand in the road contest, and he will rely on returning quarterback Logan Cairns, last year's leading rusher Robert Vasinko, and other experienced players to get things going. Vasinko tallied 509 yards and four touchdowns a season ago.

Prediction: Gateway 35-14.

Quad East

Norwin at Altoona

7 p.m. Friday

The rundown: Norwin went winless in 2011 and will hope to get off to a good start this season against an Altoona team that was 3-6 last year and is 8-29 over the last four seasons, the last two of which were as a WPIAL member.

The X-factor: Some of the most experienced players in this game will be in a head-to-head matchup. Norwin's offensive line includes three returning starters — junior Luke Milcec and seniors Dylan Keffer and Rusty Casteel — while Altoona has three returning senior starters in its defensive front — linebacker Markief Knode and linemen Brandon Bernazzoli and Austin Rosenberry.

Keys to victory: N: Norwin coach Art Tragesser has said he's prepared to use three different quarterbacks and different combinations of runners and receivers to find the group that works best. The sooner the Knights have players establish themselves in the lineup, the better their chances of opening with a win. A: This is the first game back for former head coach John Franco, who spent the last 18 years coaching at Tyrone. With a new playbook and a new staff on the sideline, the pressure falls to the Mountain Lions senior leaders, including receiver Jake Diviney and tight end Josh Kutz, to make the transition smooth.

Prediction: Altoona, 21-14.

Quad North

Fox Chapel at (8-AAAA) Pine-Richland

7:30 p.m. Friday

The rundown: Fox Chapel will open the season against new conference rival Pine-Richland, as the Foxes jump to the Quad North Conference. The Rams are looking to spoil the Foxes first experience as conference rivals, by continuing a winning streak it started late last year.

The X-Factor: Pine-Richland running back Brock Baranowski is a dual threat as a runner and receiver, and will test the Foxes defense right out of the gate. Baranowski averaged a touchdown once every 12 times he ran the ball in 2011.

Keys to victory: PR: The Rams will be starting a new quarterback this season, so the offense likely will lean on Baranowski until the passing attack can emerge. FC: The Foxes' roster increased by about 20 players, so second-year head coach Eric Ravotti hopes the increased depth will help around existing talent such as receiver Chad Garnett and running back Nigel Garnett.

Prediction: Pine-Richland, 28-20.

CLASS AAA

Big 9 Conference

Belle Vernon at Uniontown

7:30 p.m. Friday

The rundown: The Red Raiders have the benefit of opening the season at home, but they don't have the benefit of being an experienced team as they begin conference play against a Belle Vernon team that qualified for the playoffs last year and expects to do so again this season.

The X-factor: Belle Vernon senior Dorian Johnson is a major Division I prospect as a offensive lineman. He recently decommitted from Penn State and is considering offers from Pitt and West Virginia, among others. Uniontown is hoping that a solid offseason of work pays dividends early, especially after the team got off to an 0-6 start last year.

Keys to victory: BV: The Leopards will try to force their will on the Red Raiders with an experienced offensive line. Travis Snyder saw time at quarterback as a freshman and will try to make plays behind the offensive line. U: The Red Raiders will need players like quarterback Xavier Ellis and wide receiver Jucqui Taylor to hook up often in order to get the Leopards on their heals defensively.

Prediction: Belle Vernon, 30-10.

Big 9 Conference

Elizabeth Forward at Trinity

7:30 p.m. Friday

The rundown: Trinity is annually on the cusp of becoming one of the top contenders in the WPIAL, but is still trying to get over the hump. In 2011, the Hillers pulled off a huge upset of eventual conference co-champion West Mifflin, then missed out on the playoffs on Gardner Points. Enter first-year coach Ryan Coyle, a former Mt. Lebanon assistant, who is hoping to alter that pattern. Elizabeth Forward has been in something of a rebuilding phase for several years, but coach Mike LeDonne has the Warriors believing in the system he brought over when he was the defensive coordinator at Clairton, and this could be the season when the team finally hits .500 for the first time since going 5-4 in 2008.

The X-factor: Hillers quarterback Jason Vankirk finished in the middle of the pack statistically last season and was in line to start again this year. However, he was carted off the field on a stretcher Friday night after a hit during a scrimmage against Steel Valley. He was released from the hospital but will be in a neck brace for several weeks, leaving Donnie McWreath as the starting QB.

Keys to victory: EF: Score early. Considering that the Warriors are only 2-17 the last two years, a quick lead could go a long way toward giving the team confidence it can pull off an upset. T: Make new old hat. The Hillers are in transition with a revamped offense and defense, coupled with developing chemistry with a new coaching staff. The quicker they adapt the faster they will have success.

Prediction: Trinity, 13-10.

Big 9 Conference

Laurel Highlands at West Mifflin

7:30 p.m. Friday

The rundown: The Mustangs and the Titans were both playoff teams last season, although they were in difference conferences. This year, the two teams will be battling each other for one of the four conference playoff spots, making this game a key battle to open the season.

The X-factor: Due to graduation, the Mustangs won't have the luxury of having quarterback Jake Riddell in the starting lineup. Players like Raphael Cannon and Nick Copeland will try to fill that role.

Keys to victory: LH: With a new quarterback under center, the play of the offensive line will be vital for the Mustangs. Running back Brandon Williams will have to take the heat off the signal-caller by making plays out of the backfield. WM: Expect quarterback Derrick Fulmore to challenge the Laurel Highlands defense with his passing and running ability.

Prediction: West Mifflin, 31-9.

Big 9 Conference

(10-AAA) Ringgold at (4-AAA) Thomas Jefferson

7:30 p.m. Friday

The rundown: This could turn into a transitional season for Thomas Jefferson as it makes the switch from a run-oriented offense to a more open passing attack behind quarterback Joe Carroll and wide receiver Zach Schademan. Last season, the Jaguars failed to make the WPIAL semifinals for the first time in 13 years, but the injuries that limited the team could help this year as several younger players stepped into key roles. The Rams were a second-place finisher in the Keystone Conference in 2011 and won a playoff game for the first time since knocking off Greensburg Salem in the 1999 Class AAAA tournament.

The X-factor: Thomas Jefferson is still hoping to be a run-first team and will need junior Byron Minous to quickly fill the void of the 1,600 yards from scrimmage his predecessor Ryan Ruffing picked up in 2011.

Keys to victory: R: Know this isn't the TJ of old. Though the Rams have not fared well against the Jaguars in the past — they lost a pair of 41-7 games in 2008 and 2009 when they were last in this conference — they are taking on a team coming off losses in two of its last three games. TJ: Play Jaguars football. Thomas Jefferson has the potential to dominate at the point of attack, but has to get in sync offensively with a new quarterback and a new running back.

Prediction: Thomas Jefferson, 21-12.

Greater Allegheny Conference

Greensburg Salem at (8-AAA) Knoch

7 p.m. Friday

The rundown: Returning WPIAL runner-up Knoch, which finished 12-1, returns a number of key players, including most of its offensive and defensive lines. Greensburg Salem has several graduation voids to fill, and comes to the Greater Allegheny Conference after playing in the Keystone Conference.

The X-factor: Knoch quarterback Dakota Bruggeman (6-4, 205) has dual-threat potential and could give the Golden Lions match-up issues. Bruggeman is a Division I prospect who was a key wide receiver for the Knights last year.

Keys to victory: K: Knoch needs to jump out to an early lead and establish the high-powered offense it used to average 36 points per game last season. GS: Greensburg Salem has to hold on to the football and keep Knoch's offense off the field.

Prediction: Knoch, 35-14.

Greater Allegheny Conference

Highlands at Hollidaysburg

7 p.m. Friday

The rundown: These teams are about two hours away from one another, but are suddenly opening-night opponents in the Greater Allegheny Conference. Highlands' strong suit once again is defense, led by a staunch group of linebackers. Hollidaysburg was 3-5 and just missed the playoffs in the Keystone Conference last season.

The X-factor: Highlands junior linebacker Allan Cratsenberg had a monster sophomore season and should once again cause havoc for opposing ball carriers. He also was competing for the starting quarterback spot.

Keys to victory: Hi: Highlands must establish the run and trust in its defense to make plays. Hollidaysburg will need to test the secondary and may have to win through the air, and its defense, which returns six starters, needs to show up.

Prediction: Highlands, 14-7.

Greater Allegheny

(6-AAA) Mars at (2-AAA) Franklin Regional

7 p.m. Friday

The rundown: Franklin Regional coach Greg Botta was more than pleased with the WPIAL's decision to move his Panthers back to the Greater Allegheny Conference. He expects the competition will be a little tougher and the season opener sure will test his squad. Mars returns 18 starters from a team that finished 6-4 a year ago.

The X-factor: Running back Dane Brown led Franklin Regional in rushing last season, gaining 1.960 yards and scoring 34 touchdowns. Brown has a lot of help, as three offensive linemen — center Luke Fleck, right tackle Sean Miller and left tackle Joe McGuire — return to open up running lanes.

Keys to victory: M: The Planets return an experienced team and runs a wing-T offense, led by running backs Jason Lozzi, Alex Smith and Josh Schultheis, who combined for more than 1,350 yards. FR: The Panthers need to slow down Mars' running game and keep the Mars defense on the field with a ball-control offense.

Prediction: Franklin Regional, 21-14.

Parkway

(7-AAA) Blackhawk at (5-AAA) West Allegheny

7 p.m. Friday

The rundown: This week's Parkway Conference showdown between ranked teams could dictate how the season will play out. The talent-laden conference has four teams in the Tribune-Review's preseason top 10, including top-ranked Central Valley and No. 3 Montour. A win would go a long way to building confidence for the rest of the season.

The X-factor: Blackhawk welcomes back quarterback Chandler Kincade, after the 6-foot-4 junior Pitt recruit suffered a season ending shoulder injury last September. With three talented receivers — Alex Caratelli, Joe Campbell and Andy Podbielski — as well as three rushers returning who had more than 400 yards a season ago, the Cougars offense will be a challenge to stop.

Keys to victory: B: Let Kincade loose. Starting with a top-5 Parkway Conference opponent probably wasn't the ideal situation for coach Joe Hamilton, but he will have let Kincade get right into the fold and knock the rust off in a hurry. WA: Let the cats run. West Allegheny's Wildcat offense should again be tough to defend, with Tory Delmonico and Andrew Koester taking snaps and running backs Nick Halbedl, Oleg Chubko and Armand Dellovade contributing carries.

Prediction: West Allegheny, 17-14.

CLASS AA

Allegheny Conference

Deer Lakes at Valley

7:30 p.m. Friday

The rundown: The storyline here is obvious: Can Valley finally end its losing streak? The Vikings have dropped 22 games in a row but spent the past two years in Class AAA. A return to Class AA has first-year coach Chad Walsh and his players looking forward to contending for a WPIAL playoff berth. Deer Lakes will try to get back on track after making the playoffs for the first time ever in 2010 but stumbling to a 2-8 record last year.

The X-factor: Valley returns several promising skill players and welcomed transfer Rashaad Blair, a junior running back/defensive back, from Keystone Oaks. While the linemen are relatively small and inexperienced, that might not be as big a problem as it was in Class AAA.

Keys to victory: DL: The Lancers must pressure Valley quarterback Ty Matthews and force the Vikings' running backs and kick returners to the middle of the field. The Vikings relied on big plays and struggled to put together sustained drives last year. V: The offensive line must show improvement for the Vikings to move the ball consistently and score.

Prediction: Valley, 20-13.

Allegheny Conference

(10-AA) East Allegheny at Summit Academy

12:30 p.m. Saturday

The rundown: This will be a game of firsts for East Allegheny. Not only will it be the Wildcats inaugural game in the conference as they shift over from the ultra-competitive Interstate Conference, it will be the first game of the Jason Ruscitto regime. East Allegheny has a plethora of talent at the skill positions and speed to waste with seniors K.J. Marshall and Shawn Adair, which could make it difficult for teams to slow them down. Summit Academy is, by its very nature, a program in constant flux and it is difficult for the Knights to find continuity when most of its student body leaves the program each year.

The X-factor: East Allegheny quarterback Kyle Whipple has battled offseason shoulder and lower body injuries, but appears ready to lead the team into the season.

Keys to victory: EA: Don't take the Knights lightly. Though Summit Academy has only two returning starters from 2011, there is always talent and the potential for an upset. SA: Come together fast. The Knights haven't played in a real game as a team yet, but the quicker they gel, the easier it will be to make a game out of it.

Prediction: East Allegheny, 31-7.

Allegheny Conference

Ford City at Shady Side Academy

7:30 p.m. Friday

The rundown: The perennial playoff spot contenders meet in Week 1 for the first time in more than a decade. Shady Side Academy won, 28-6, a year ago. Each of the past five games between the teams was decided by at least 17 points, with the Indians winning three.

The X-factor: Ford City senior Devan Willyard did a bit of everything for the Sabers a year ago, leading the team in rushing (850 yards) and receiving (362 yards) and returning kicks and punts.

Keys to victory: FC: The Sabers' numerous two-way starters, including running back/defensive back Willyard, fullback/linebacker Ben Young and quarterback/defensive Dave Lattanzio, must remain energized enough to go four quarters in what might be a very close game. SSA: Junior running backs Dennis Briggs and Jarred Brevard combined for more than 1,100 yards rushing last season. The Indians' one-two punch can control a game's tempo.

Prediction: Ford City, 27-24.

Century Conference

Keystone Oaks at Steel Valley

7:30 p.m. Friday

The rundown: Steel Valley dominated Keystone Oaks, 53-7, last time they played at Campbell Field. The teams return to the site of that game to open the 2012 season. The Ironmen will look to find a way to replace the 1,551 yards contributed by graduated running back Dontez Williams. The Golden Eagles will look to get Matt Taylor his first win as the Keystone Oaks coach.

The X-factor: Keystone Oaks senior running back Dale Klobuchir was a workhorse last season, as he ran for 1,120 yards and 10 touchdowns. Taylor said he plans on getting the ball in Klobuchir's hands any way he can.

Keys to victory: KO: If wide receivers Cory Sevacko and Braydon Griffiths can make plays for first-year starting quarterback Kobe Phillippi, it could create holes for the Keystone Oaks ground game. SV: Steel Valley coach Rod Steele spoke highly of wide receiver Derek Taylor. If the junior can find a way to get open, he and second-year quarterback Patrick O'Malley could light up the Golden Eagles defense.

Prediction: Keystone Oaks, 28-21.

Century Conference

(2-AA) Seton-La Salle at South Allegheny

7:30 p.m. Friday

The rundown: Seton-La Salle is looking at this game as a starting point on its journey to Heinz Field and, with the offensive weapons at its disposal, it's difficult to dispute. Senior Luke Brumbaugh has motivation coming into the year as he hopes to join his older brother, Christian (South Fayette in 2010), in quarterbacking his team to a WPIAL title. While the Rebels have eyes on a championship, South Allegheny is just seeking to end an eight-game losing streak as head coach Pat Monroe continues to build the program.

The X-factor: Tight end Scott Orndoff, a Pitt recruit, could create scheme problems if he can get away from another Division I prospect in Gladiators linebacker Dustin Andrews.

Keys to victory: SLS: Don't make mistakes. If Seton-La Salle is to be a true title contender, it can't let a team that hasn't made the playoffs since 1986 gain any momentum during the game. SA: Hope the Rebels are all hype. The Gladiators lost to this team by 24 points last year, and they might be even better this time around.

Prediction: Seton-La Salle, 41-7.

Interstate Conference

Mt. Pleasant at Waynesburg

7 p.m. Friday

The rundown: The Vikings have an offense that can put plenty of points on the board, especially when healthy. After missing chunks of the season due to injury last season, players like quarterback Ryan Gumbita and running back Tyler Mellors are anxious to get off to a strong start this season.

The X-factor: The Vikings clinched a playoff spot by beating Waynesburg, 31-6 last season. Mt. Pleasant dominated the run game and stopped Waynesburg's offense. Expect Mt. Pleasant to try to execute a similar game plan, but the Raiders are almost an entirely different team from last year, beginning with new coach Russ Moore (who coached the team in the 1990s). Linebacker Eli Holt is one of nine starters returning on defense for Mt. Pleasant. He had 1001 tackles and is hoping to defense pitches a shutout.

Keys to victory: MP: Balance the offense. Look for receivers Joey Paul and Tim Hostettler to make some plays in the passing game, thus opening up the run for the Vikings. W: Believe in Moore. Moore led the Raiders to a lot of wins in the 1990s and he'll try to mold this young team into an eventual contender despite losing 18 players to graduation. Junior Bo Hampson and sophomore Colby Collins battled for the starting quarterback spot. Hampson saw limited action last year, completing 10 of 21 passes.

Prediction: Mt. Pleasant, 36-6.

Interstate Conference

Southmoreland at Jeannette

7 p.m. Friday

The rundown: The Scotties face a brutal stretch of games to begin the season, beginning with the game against the Jayhawks. Southmoreland should be solid on offense with returning senior quarterback Dakota Datz leading the way. With high expectations in place, the Jayhawks need a fast start from running backs Jordan Edmunds and Shavonta Craft.

The X-factor: The Scotties need to find a way to play better defense, particularly against high-scoring teams like Jeannette. Last season, Jeannette belted Southmoreland, 51-6. However, that win came with quarterback Demetrious Cox in the lineup. Cox has since graduated and moved on to Michigan State.

Keys to victory: S: Leaning on Datz was crucial for Southmoreland last season and figures to be again this year. The Scotties will need a number of downfield plays from receiver Kevin Bundridge to help keep pace with the Jeannette offense. J: Utilize the run game. Until the Scotties prove they can shut down opposing ground attacks, the Jayhawks should make pounding the ball a priority.

Prediction: Jeannette, 40-17.

Interstate

(5-AA) Washington at (7-AA) Greensburg C.C.

7 p.m. Friday

The rundown: This is an unusual start of the season for Greensburg Central Catholic. The Centurions suffered numerous losses, including the suspension and ultimate replacement of 17-year coach Muzzy Colosimo a week before practice was set to begin. The Centurions also saw as many as seven players transfer, including leading rusher Jordan McCrea, and will have at least five players on the current roster suspended for the first game for breaking school policies. Two other players were expelled.

The X-factor: Washington running backs Shai McKenzie and Jaylin Kelly, along with a strong offensive line, hope to lead the Prexies to a conference title. McKenzie rushed for more than 1,200 yards and scored 19 touchdowns as a sophomore.

Keys to victory: W: Pound the ball at a small, inexperienced Greensburg Central Catholic defensive line. McKenzie and Kelly could have big games if they don't turn the ball over. GCC: Without knowing who will dress for the Centurions, count on running back Zack Guiser and quarterback Chase Keller to handle the ball the most.

Prediction: Washington, 26-14.

Class A

Black Hills Conference

(9-A) Brentwood at Serra Catholic

7:30 p.m. Friday

The rundown: Brentwood has 10 starters back from last year's WPIAL playoff team that finished 9-2 overall. The Spartans' only losses in 2011 were to the WPIAL Class A finalists, Clairton and Sto-Rox. Serra Catholic coach Jamie Eckels, who as a former McKeesport assistant was an innovator of the famed flexbone offense, is trying to rebuild a program that's fallen on hard times since winning a WPIAL title five years ago.

The X-factor: The offensive line was a team strength at Brentwood a year ago, and is even stronger this season. Brentwood coach Kevin Kissel thinks this could be one of his strongest teams ever. There is depth in the trenches also.

Keys to victory: B: Justin Vickless, the Spartans' leading rusher, receiver and scorer in 2011, is back for his junior season. He is a third-year varsity starter and is expected to play a leading role again this year. Two other key offensive players for the Spartans are Chris Shortley, a senior quarterback who threw for 1,011 yards and 17 touchdowns last season, and Michael Kish, a 6-512, 253-pound senior tight end who has made a verbal commitment to Akron. SC: The Eagles must contain Brentwood's skill-position players to entertain any thoughts of an upset victory.

Prediction: Brentwood, 35-7.

Black Hills Conference

(1-A) Clairton at Chartiers-Houston

7:30 p.m. Friday

The rundown: Everyone knows the numbers. Clairton has a WPIAL-record and nation's best 47-game winning streak, has won four consecutive WPIAL titles, three straight state crowns and has two of the top players in the WPIAL in seniors Tyler Boyd and Titus Howard. Maybe Chartiers-Houston, and everyone else, should just forfeit and let the Bears make their plans for the championship game at Heinz Field. But then there's the Laurel Factor. The Spartans defeated a somewhat-cocky, top-ranked Clairton team on its home field in the 2009 season opener and maybe, just maybe, the Bucs could be this year's Laurel.

The X-factor: Overconfidence. Clairton has not been truly challenged by a WPIAL team in the regular season since losing to Laurel in the 2009 opener. In fact, the Bears have won their last 26 regular season games by a combined 1,326-60 (an average of 51.0-2.3), have scored at least 32 points in each outing and notched 17 shutouts.

Keys to victory: Cl: Keep Armani dressed for success. Clairton will use a triumvirate at quarterback, but senior Armani Ford will likely see most of the action. If he can manage the game in his first start, the Bears won't be caught. CH: Score. Since the Bears joined the conference in 2008, Chartiers-Houston has been outscored 189-3 in their four meetings and its only points came in a 63-3 loss last season.

Prediction: Clairton, 47-0.

Black Hills Conference

Imani Christian at (2-A) Bishop Canevin

7:30 p.m. Friday

The rundown: It will be a game of firsts as the Saints take on the Crusaders. The game will be the first game for Bishop Canevin in the Black Hills Conference since 2005. The squad had dominated competition in the Eastern Conference the past two seasons and compiled a 15-1 conference record. The game will mark Imani Christian's first game in the WPIAL.

The X-factor: Quarterback Nico DiPaolo is making his debut for Bishop Canevin, but he is no stranger to the field. He played at wide receiver and safety last season for the Crusaders. His time at other positions is expected to help him as he goes under center.

Keys to victory: IC: Quarterback Khari Hicks must play a smart game. If he doesn't force throws and can find open receivers, he may be able to pick apart an inexperienced Crusaders secondary. BC: The Crusaders found success with the “thunder and lightning” running back duo of Casey McCaffrey and Bobby Gustine last season. This season's duo is tailback Giovanni DeMarzo and fullback Jim Tersak. If they get going, it could be a long night for the Saints.

Prediction: Bishop Canevin, 28-14.

Eastern Conference

North Catholic at Apollo-Ridge

7:30 p.m. Friday

The rundown: Redemption might be the theme on both sides, as Apollo-Ridge, one year removed from a two-win season, looks to take advantage of its move back down to Class A, and North Catholic tries to rebound after losing four of its final five games in 2011 to finish at .500.

The X-factor: As his name suggests, junior running back Dillon Tones might set the mood early for Apollo-Ridge. A small but shifty and speedy player, he showed great versatility as a runner and pass catcher during training camp.

Keys to victory: NC: Get the ball to senior Shawn Tunstall, who led the Trojans in receiving a year ago with 21 catches for 264 yards and four scores. AR: Give first-year starting quarterback Jesse Zelonka, a junior, time to grow comfortable at the position. Either score early and sit on a lead or stay close.

Prediction: North Catholic, 21-17.

Eastern Conference

Riverview at Northgate

7:30 p.m. Friday

The rundown: The Eastern Conference opener matches a pair of rebuilding teams. Both have to replace their leading passers and receivers, and are looking for leadership.

The X-factor: Cody Walter, Northgate's top returning rusher from last season with 352 yards, has been playing quarterback and could emerge as a leader for the Flames.

Keys to victory: R: Riverview must keep turnovers to a minimum and get the ball to last year's leading pass-catcher, Tim Wagner. N: Northgate needs to keep penalties to a minimum and finish drives.

Prediction: Northgate, 20-13.

Eastern Conference

(7-A) Springdale at West Shamokin

7:30 p.m. Friday

The rundown: Springdale hopes to show that life after the retirement of long-time coach Chuck Wagner hasn't changed much. The Dynamos last lost a season opener in 2008. West Shamokin, meanwhile, aims to end a WPIAL-record 44-game losing streak in its Class A debut.

The X-factor: Much rests on the shoulders of Springdale senior Sean Dugan, a first-team all-conference pick at running back and linebacker who rushed for 1,272 yards and 22 touchdowns last season.

Keys to victory: S: Lean on solid defense while the team continues to learn first-year coach Dave Leasure's pass-friendly wing-T playbook. WS: Find a secondary threat to complement sophomore running back Zac Horner, who possesses a fine balance of speed and strength.

Prediction: Springdale, 24-21.

Eastern Conference

Wilkinsburg at Leechburg

7:30 p.m. Friday

The rundown: Both teams have struggled for much of the past decade but developed an intriguing rivalry. In recent years, this game has been played at the end of the season and often decided last place in the conference. Now, this contest is the season opener, and the winner will gain much needed confidence. The loser could be in for another long year. Wilkinsburg won last year's meeting, 12-0, in the snow.

The X-factor: Wilkinsburg ended up 2-7 last season, but new coach Michael Fulmore and his staff will try to get things going in the right direction. The Tigers were a WPIAL powerhouse in the 1950s and ‘60s and have 503 wins in program history. The Tigers will look to QB Ryan Cox to lead the way.

Keys to victory: W: Grabbing an early lead is crucial for both teams. If the Tigers score first, they could ride that momentum to a road victory. L: The Blue Devils can't afford to fall behind by two or three scores. If so, those ugly here-we-go-again thoughts could creep into the back of their minds. Devin Dunmire, an all-conference lineman, anchors a line returning four starters, which should give the Blue Devils an edge up front.

Prediction: Leechburg, 12-8.

Nonconference

(1-AAAA) North Allegheny at (9-AAAA) Mt. Lebanon

7:30 p.m. Friday

The rundown: Mt. Lebanon first-year coach Mike Melnyk joked in the offseason that the WPIAL wanted him to see the caliber of competition throughout the league and subsequently put all the top teams on the Blue Devils' schedule. His first taste of regular season action will be quite a measuring stick, with the two-time defending WPIAL champion Tigers awaiting.

The X-factor: Quarterback Mack Leftwich led North Allegheny in passing and rushing last season, gaining more than 3,000 combined yards and tallying 36 touchdowns. Many of those yards are thanks to senior left tackle Patrick Kugler, who is committed to Michigan.

Keys to victory: NA: Wide receivers Brendan Coniker and Gregg Garrity combined for 57 catches and more than 900 yards last year, and their experience and ability will be a valuable asset for Leftwich. MTL: Melnyk has said the Blue Devils will continue to be a running team but will be more balanced than in past years, with all-conference QB Tyler Roth taking advantage of talented wide receivers Troy Apke and Dmitri Orfanopoulos. Being able to open up the passing game will be crucial if the Blue Devils are to upset the WPIAL's top seed.

Prediction: North Allegheny, 24-14.

Nonconference

(9-AA) Burrell at Brownsville

7 p.m. Friday

The rundown: Burrell is the lone squad in the nine-team Allegheny Conference to open with a nonconference game, so the Bucs have room for experimentation and error this week. However, the experienced Bucs would like to show continued improvement following a playoff-qualifying year. Brownsville returns most of its top skill players, including quarterback Brandon DeCarlo and wide receiver Tre Durkin, from a 1-8 team.

The X-factor: Burrell senior quarterback James Liput has started more than a handful of games over the past two years, but it will be interesting to see how he handles being the Bucs' No. 1 quarterback.

Keys to victory: Bur: The Bucs must find a productive balance between their running and passing attacks. They have plenty of experienced skill players to get the job done. Bro: The Falcons have seasoned linebackers but need to stop Burrell senior 6-foot-2, 220-pound running back/linebacker Cole Bush, a Division I prospect.

Prediction: Burrell, 23-7.

Nonconference

Penn-Trafford at North Hills

7:30 p.m. Friday

The rundown: The visiting Warriors are coming off an undefeated regular season and their first conference title in 10 years, while North Hills is looking to rebound after missing the WPIAL playoffs with a 4-5 record in 2011.

The X-factor: Which team adjusts to having new players under center could have a big advantage in this season opener. Penn-Trafford has two seniors — last year's No. 2 Matt Arzenti and converted receiver Dorian Stevens — that it can use at quarterback, while North Hills' quarterback is senior Brian Johnson, who played AAU basketball and not football last fall.

Keys to victory: PT: With 10 of its 11 starters on offense graduating, the Warriors will rely on their defense to control the game while the offense finds its rhythm. That unit has more experience, led by linebackers Brian McDonough and Zach Diable and defensive backs Stevens and Dom Cima. NH: Like P-T, the Indians expect to be strong on defense, led by linebackers Kevin Koch, Malik Frank and Anthony Danko. North Hills also will want to take pressure off Johnson by getting the ball early and often to Tyler Reddick and Jordan Blackmon, the team's leading rusher and receiver in 2011, respectively.

Prediction: North Hills, 15-13.

Nonconference

(3-A) Rochester at (6-A) Avonworth

7:30 p.m. Friday

The rundown: Rochester has been one of the most successful teams in Class A this decade, and coach Gene Matsook said his team has relied on a couple key players each year to produce victories. This season, the Rams will be more team-oriented and balanced in their attack. They lost more than 1,500 rushing yards to graduation but do return quarterback Ben Richko, who threw for 671 yards and 10 touchdowns. Avonworth graduated 14 starters, including its leading passer, rusher and receiver, which could mean some quick learning for a few inexperienced players.

The X-factor: Seven starters return on both sides of the ball for Rochester, including Todd Weischedel, a Division I prospect on the offensive line.

Keys to victory: R: Don't be afraid to air it out. Rochester's experience lies under center with Richko, who needs to attack the Avonworth defense. A: Quarterback Matt Donovan will get his first taste of starting with the varsity and could use a few completions early to shake off the nerves.

Prediction: Rochester, 22-21.

 

 
 


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