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Home teams might have to hit the road for WPIAL 1st round

| Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, 7:42 p.m.
Ronald Vezzani Jr. | For the Tribune-Review Clairton quarterback Armani Ford (10) reviews play strategy with coach Tom Nola during the second half Friday, Oct. 26, 2012, against Imani Christian.

Despite undefeated seasons, stadiums in Aliquippa and Clairton are likely to sit empty when the WPIAL football playoffs arrive, if those teams are pushed elsewhere by Hurricane Sandy.

The WPIAL has scheduled 12 first-round games in Class A and AA for grass fields in pairings announced Monday night at the Doubletree in Green Tree, but those teams were told to secure turf-field alternatives if days of rain leave their home stadiums unplayable.

The schools have until 9 a.m. Thursday to decide, said executive director Tim O'Malley. Any changes in venue would be posted on the WPIAL website that morning, he said.

Teams should “find a suitable artificial surface that would be geographically friendly to you,” O'Malley said, adding that the WPIAL would cover 50 percent of the rental cost, up to $500. The WPIAL may assign sites for teams that don't meet the deadline.

The top eight seeds in each classification host first-round games. All Class AAAA and AAA playoff sites have turf.

There were no surprises when No. 1 seeds were revealed; Clairton in Class A, Aliquippa in Class AA, Thomas Jefferson in Class AAA and North Allegheny in Class AAAA. All but Thomas Jefferson are defending WPIAL champions.

This was the fifth time in six seasons that Clairton has been seeded first. The Bears are four-time defending WPIAL champions.

The playoffs begin Friday with all games at 7:30 p.m. The four-round tournament ends Nov. 23 with four title games at Heinz Field, beginning with the Class A title game at 11 a.m. This year, though, the Class AAAA will be second at 2 p.m., a change from the typical championship order.

The toughest bracket to arrange was Class AAA, O'Malley said, especially choosing a No. 2 seed, which ultimately went to Greater Allegheny champion Mars. However, as a reward, the Planets must face talented Blackhawk on Friday.

“I'm a little surprised,” Mars coach Scott Heinauer said. “I didn't think we'd get Blackhawk. To be honest, I thought we'd get Hopewell or possibly Trinity. Of the (bottom) eight teams, they've got to be the most dangerous to play.”

Parkway teams Central Valley, West Allegheny and Montour were seeded Nos. 3-5. To avoid matching conference rivals, that required placing Blackhawk at either 11th, 15th or 16th. The Cougars (3-6) lost four games by five points or fewer.

This will be the fifth time in seven years that Thomas Jefferson was seeded No. 1 in Class AAA, but Jaguars coach Bill Cherpak believes this year's field is deep.

“I can honestly say that there are seven teams in Class AAA that can win this thing,” he said. “I don't know if there have ever been that many.”

Among the surprises:

• The WPIAL's pairing committee showed creativity in Class A by giving the No. 4 seed to Jefferson-Morgan, the second-place team from the Tri-County South, ahead of conference winner Beth-Center (No. 7). Jefferson-Morgan's opponent will be Neshannock (8-1), which shared the Big 7 title and would have been seeded No. 4 if not for tiebreakers.

• One-loss West Mifflin was seeded No. 7 in Class AAA, setting up a tough matchup with Knoch. The Titans' only loss was Thomas Jefferson.

Weather delivered the other surprise.

Seven of the eight Class A games could be affected by the weather. Only North Catholic's home stadium, J.C. Stone Field in North Park, has artificial turf. In Class AA, five games could be moved; Aliquippa, Burrell, Jeannette, Freeport and Washington have grass fields. If need be, games could be moved to 2 p.m. Saturday, O'Malley said.

Clairton coach Tom Nola said Yough would be a possible destination for his Bears should they leave Neil C. Brown Stadium.

“We'll discuss it with the principal and some school board members,” Nola said.

Aliquippa coach Mike Zmijanac expects to make a decision Wednesday. The Quips have used Ambridge's Moe Rubenstein Stadium before, including last year's playoff opener. But they'd prefer to stay at the Pit.

“The field was actually in great shape for our last few games,” Zmijanac said, “but all this rain might be too much for any grass field.”

Chris Harlan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at charlan@tribweb.com.

Here are the first-round matchups:

Class AAAA

Altoona at North Allegheny; Bethel Park at McKeesport; Hempfield at Seneca Valley; Butler at Mt. Lebanon; Peters Township at Gateway; North Hills at Woodland Hills; Kiski Area at Upper St. Clair; Central Catholic at Penn-Trafford

Class AAA

Hollidaysburg at Thomas Jefferson; Elizabeth Forward at Franklin Regional; Ringgold at West Allegheny; Trinity at Montour; Blackhawk at Mars; Knoch at West Mifflin; Belle Vernon at Central Valley; Hopewell at Hampton

Class AA

Steel Valley at Aliquippa; Mt. Pleasant at Burrell; South Allegheny at Jeannette; Valley at Beaver; Freedom at South Fayette; Beaver Falls at Freeport; Shady Side Academy at Washington; Greensburg Central Catholic vs. Seton-La Salle at Chartiers Valley

Class A

Frazier at Clairton; Brentwood at Springdale; Neshannock at Jefferson-Morgan; Apollo-Ridge at Monessen; Carmichaels at Sto-Rox; Union at Beth-Center; Avonworth at Rochester; Bishop Canevin at North Catholic

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