Storm could impact Class AA, A playoff sites
As expected, the weather attracted much of the attention at Monday night's WPIAL football playoff pairings meeting — namely, its potential impact on Friday night's first round.
“We will adjust if we need to,” WPIAL executive director Tim O'Malley said before a crowded ballroom of coaches, athletic directors and media at the DoubleTree Hotel in Green Tree.
The surging storm cell Sandy, which is wreaking havoc on the East Coast and inland to Pennsylvania, could impact game sites that have natural-grass playing surfaces.
Every Class AAAA and Class AAA game will be played on fields with artificial turf. But in Class A, seven games are scheduled for grass fields, along with five in Class AA.
The WPIAL gave those teams a deadline of 9 a.m. Thursday to decide if they want to move to a neighboring turf field.
The wheels already began turning for Allegheny Conference co-champs Freeport and Burrell, and Springdale, all of whom will host games on their grass fields.
Freeport (7-2), the A-K Valley's highest-seeded team at No. 7 in Class AA, will host No. 10 Beaver Falls (7-2).
Burrell (8-1), No. 8 in Class AA, will host No. 9 Mt. Pleasant (7-2).
Springdale (6-3), No. 8 in Class A, will host No. 9 Brentwood (6-3).
“Actually, our field's been great all season but we'll see how it goes the rest of the week,” Burrell coach Kevin Horwatt said. “We were in the gym (Monday) and we might have to see about getting a turg field for practice.”
In 2005, Burrell had a first-round game moved to Highlands due to poor field conditions, also related to heavy rain.
Highlands, Valley and Deer Lakes all have turf and offer alternative sites.
Several local teams practiced indoors Monday due to already soupy fields. With much more rain expected, fields could simply be unplayable by Friday.
“The most disturbing thing is they're going to make a declaration Thursday morning if we can use our field,” Springdale coach Dave Leasure said. “That's the hardest thing for me after we've earned home field.”
Game times also could change, should Friday still be impacted by inclement weather.
All opening-round games are set for 7:30 p.m. Friday. But O'Malley said games could be moved to Saturday afternoon.
Freeport will play a Beaver Falls team that upset Class-AAA contender Central Valley last week. It may be tough to slow down the Tigers on any surface.
“They're a very, very talented team, so we have to prepare as well as we possibly can,” Freeport coach John Gaillot said. “You're in the dance, so anything can happen. That's the way we have to approach it.”
Class-AA No. 12 Valley (6-3), back in the playoffs for the first time since 2008, will travel to No. 5 Beaver Area in the first round. Valley and Apollo-Ridge are two of 19 newcomers to the WPIAL postseason.
The pairings meeting was a new experience for four local rookie head coaches, including Leasure and Valley's Chad Walsh.
“We thought we get one of the (first-place teams),” Walsh said. “But Beaver still is a very good team.”
Other local first-round matchups:
• Returning runner-up Knoch (7-2) was given the No. 10 seed in Class AAA and will visit No. 7 West Mifflin (8-1). The game will feature two of the WPIAL's top running backs in Jimmy Wheeler of West Mifflin and Knoch's Ben Tackett.
• Class-A No. 12 Apollo-Ridge (6-3), which hasn't appeared in a playoff game since 2007, will be at No. 5 Monessen (8-1).
• Kiski Area (4-5), one of 10 teams in the playoffs with a sub-.500 record, will open the Class-AAAA tournament at No. 3 seed Upper St. Clair (8-1).
Notes: Quarterfinal and semifinal games will be at neutral sites. The WPIAL championships will be Nov. 23 at Heinz Field. ...Riverview will play at Leechburg at 6 p.m. Thursday night in a non-playoff, Week 10 game. The game will not involve senior players.
Bill Beckner Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-224-2696 or firstname.lastname@example.org.