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Local football squads await playoff fate

| Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012, 12:21 a.m.
Eric Felack, Valley News Dispatch
Knoch's Mike Cunningham catches a pass and races past Highlands defender Weston Bernath for the Knights' second score of the first half on Friday, Oct. 26, 2012, at Golden Rams Stadium in Harrison. Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Riverview's Tim Wagner hangs on as Greg Wagner moves in to help with the tackle on Springdale's Sean Dugan during the first half Friday, Oct. 26, 2012, at Veterans Field in Springdale. Bill Shirley | For the Valley News Dispatch
Valley News Dispatch
The Freeport sideline reacts to a touchdown late in the game against Burrell at Burrell High School on Friday, Oct. 5, 2012. Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Valley News Dispatch
Burrell's Cole Bush (40) is hit by Freeport's Alec Stivers during their game at Burrell High School on Oct. 5. Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch

Last year, Knoch took an undefeated record into the WPIAL football playoffs and was rewarded with a No. 3 seed, which it parlayed into a runner-up finish in Class AAA.

This season has been different for the Knights (7-2), who had to give up their Greater Allegheny Conference title and settle for fourth place. Next they'll see whether last year's run, which included impressive wins over WPIAL powers West Allegheny, Thomas Jefferson and Franklin Regional, and another a decent regular season in a tough conference amounts to more high regard in the seedings.

The WPIAL will announce its first-round pairings Monday at the DoubleTree Hotel in Green Tree. Knoch could be a respect-through-reputation team — past success could play into its draw.

“I'm not really sure where they'll put us,” said coach Mike King, whose Knights are 24-3 in the regular season since 2010. “We have the two losses, and those are both games we'd love to have back. Our kids understand it's a very tough road. You have to line up with the West Mifflins, the Thomas Jeffersons, the West Alleghenys.

“Our kids like that challenge. They still have some things to learn, but they'll come out hungry.”

It remains to be seen whether Freeport (7-2) and Burrell (8-1) will get decent seeds in Class AA after sharing the Allegheny Conference title. Both beat up on conference teams, and Freeport has losses to fourth-place Valley (6-3) and undefeated Washington (9-0) out of conference.

It will be interesting to see whether the WPIAL docks the Yellowjackets for those defeats, especially since Washington won by 54 points.

The Allegheny was the only Class AA conference without an undefeated champion. Aliquippa (9-0) and South Fayette (9-0) should join Washington as the top three seeds. Still, Freeport and Burrell will have home games in the first round.

Apollo-Ridge (6-3) and Valley are taking the happy-to-be-here approach. Apollo-Ridge hasn't appeared in a playoff game since 2007, Valley since '08. Both dropped in classification and capitalized, and both have shown vast improvement offensively.

Valley took a five-game winning streak into Friday's regular-season finale at Ford City, where it fell, 22-21.

“We're satisfied just to be in the playoffs,” Valley first-year coach Chad Walsh said. “You can look at (the Ford City loss) a couple of ways. We're in (the playoffs) regardless, so maybe there wasn't the sense of urgency we had last week when we beat Kittanning. But give Ford City credit.”

Springdale (6-3) is set to make its 11th straight playoff appearance in Class A. First-year coach Dave Leasure has been to the WPIAL pairings meeting before, but that was as an assistant to Bryan Deal at Fox Chapel in 2008.

Springdale, which rallied to finish second in the Eastern Conference, also will play at home in the first round.

“It'll be absolutely awesome to play in front of all these fans,” running back Sean Dugan said. “And that'll be the last game for us (seniors) at Veterans Memorial Field.”

Kiski Area, under first-year coach Dave Heavner, is back in the Class AAAA postseason for the first time since 2006.

“The last 20-some years haven't been very good to Kiski Area football,” he said. “Our kids bought into a new coach and new systems and never complained. Whoever we get next week, we get. This group will be ready to play and continue to get better.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bbeckner@tribweb.com.

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