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WPIAL quarterfinals could decide conference supremacy

Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - Aliquippa's Dravon Henry carries next to fullback Khalil Seaburn (34) during a game against Beaver Falls on Oct. 18, 2012.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em> Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review</em></div>Aliquippa's Dravon Henry carries next to fullback Khalil Seaburn (34) during a game against Beaver Falls on Oct. 18, 2012.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - Aliquippa quarterback Malik Shegog rolls out to pass behind Dravon Henry during a game against Beaver Falls on Oct. 18, 2012.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em> Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review</em></div>Aliquippa quarterback Malik Shegog rolls out to pass behind Dravon Henry during a game against Beaver Falls on Oct. 18, 2012.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - Central Catholic running back Luigi Lista-Brinza carries against North Allegheny on Oct. 12, 2012.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em> Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review</em></div>Central Catholic running back Luigi Lista-Brinza carries against North Allegheny on Oct. 12, 2012.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch - Mt. Pleasant quarterback Ryan Gumbita goes by Burrell defenders Ryan Sowel (3) and Nick Nitowski for a first down to get the Vikings into scoring position in the second quarter at Valley Memorial Stadium in New Kensington.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>  Eric Felack  |  Valley News Dispatch</em></div>Mt. Pleasant quarterback Ryan Gumbita goes by Burrell defenders Ryan Sowel (3) and Nick Nitowski for a first down to get the Vikings into scoring position in the second quarter at Valley Memorial Stadium in New Kensington.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review - Jeannette's Jordan Edmunds eludes South Allegheny's Cody Rhodes on a long kickoff return during their WPIAL Class AA playoff contest on Friday, Nov. 2, 2012, at Norwin High School. Jeannette defeated South Allegheny, 40-7.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em> Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review</em></div>Jeannette's Jordan Edmunds eludes South Allegheny's Cody Rhodes on a long kickoff return during their WPIAL Class AA playoff contest on Friday, Nov. 2, 2012, at Norwin High School. Jeannette defeated South Allegheny, 40-7.

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Mike Zmijanac doesn't know what to make of it that Aliquippa beat Class AA Midwestern Conference rivals Beaver Falls by 59 points and Beaver by 32.

Nor can the Quips coach explain how Beaver beat Blackhawk and Beaver Falls beat Central Valley, both WPIAL AAA playoff qualifiers from the Parkway.

“Maybe the Parkway is down?” Zmijanac said.

If so, how is that four Parkway teams have reached the Class AAA quarterfinals and, given that they play each other, two are guaranteed to advance to the WPIAL semifinals?

“The only team that didn't get into the AAA playoffs was St. Titus Elementary in Aliquippa,” Zmijanac quipped, noting that 16 of the 27 qualified, “and if they'd won their last game, they'd been in.”

Most of the remaining WPIAL playoff coaches agree that the conundrum of which conferences reign supreme in each class should be settled soon.

“I probably think it's about who goes the furthest,” Mars coach Scott Heinauer said. “That says more about how good your conference is.”

As expected, the Quad Central (4-1), Parkway (4-1), Midwestern and Interstate (both 3-1) and Big Seven (4-0) had the strongest showings in the first round, with the Quad East (1-5), Allegheny (0-4) and Tri-County (0-4) the weakest.

Of the 32 first-round games, eight involved lower seeds winning: In Class A, Brentwood (Black Hills), Neshannock and Union (Big Seven); in AA, Beaver Falls (Midwestern) and Mt. Pleasant (Interstate); in AAA, Hopewell (Parkway); and, in Class AAAA, Penn-Trafford and McKeesport — both of the Quad East — lost to Central Catholic (Quad North) and Bethel Park (Quad Central).

Whether that is indicative of the strength of certain conferences or the selective seeding of the WPIAL steering committee is another story.

Neshannock, for example, was ranked ahead of but seeded lower than Jefferson-Morgan. Same for Brentwood and Springdale, Bethel Park and McKeesport and Central Catholic and Penn-Trafford.

So, they don't necessarily go down as upsets, even though Jefferson-Morgan was a No. 4 seed and Neshannock 13th. That is a prime example of the WPIAL manipulating the seedings.

“When all the smoke clears, the ones standing will be called the better teams,” West Mifflin coach Ray Braszo said.

“It's hard to do in just one game. Whoever makes it to the end has the better conference, especially if two teams from one conference are in it.”

That's possible in all four classifications, but not for every conference:

In Class A, the Black Hills and Big Seven have three teams left. But Clairton, Brentwood and Monessen are on the same side of their bracket. On the other side, Sto-Rox and Rochester are alive.

“It's a good indication,” Clairton coach Tom Nola said. “They were the two best conferences. We knew that.”

Which is better?

“That's hard to say,” Nola said. “The matchups this week, Sto-Rox plays one of their own (Union) and we play one of our own (Brentwood). We might know more about the conferences when Monessen and Neshannock play.”

In Class AA, both the Midwestern and Interstate have three teams remaining and are represented on both sides of the bracket. But Century top seeds South Fayette and Seton-La Salle stand in the way.

In Class AAA, the Montour-West Allegheny and Central Valley-Hopewell matchups guarantee that two Parkway teams will reach the semifinals. They will play against either Greater Allegheny (Franklin Regional and Mars) or Big Nine foes (Thomas Jefferson and West Mifflin).

In Class AAAA, the lone East survivor (Gateway) will have to overcome the weakness of its conference to get to Heinz Field for the WPIAL final.

The other seven quarterfinalists are from the Quad North or Quad Central, which will be battling for bragging rights as best conference.

“When I got into this, a wise old coach said to me, ‘Get yourself to the final four and anything can happen from there,' ” Central Catholic coach Terry Totten said.

“I don't believe in national rankings, but the final four around here, I'd put those four in the top 100 teams in the country. It's a slugfest, it's brutal and when you get there you accomplished something.

“That's what should be looked at.”

Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at kgorman@tribweb.com or 412-320-7812.

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