West Mifflin spends Thanksgiving focused on WPIAL Class AAA title game
West Mifflin football coach Ray Braszo did his best not to alter his team's weekly routine as it prepared to play West Allegheny (11-1) in the WPIAL Class AAA championship game.
For the most part, that worked out well. But there was nothing normal about the Titans taking the field at 9 a.m. on Thanksgiving for a three-hour walkthrough and practice.
“It feels like training camp,” junior tight end Marcus Martin said. “We woke up in the morning, we came up tired and not feeling like this for a couple months now and we feel like it was yesterday we were in camp, and now, we're getting ready to go to Heinz Field.”
A year ago, all the players were worried about was cleaning their plates and second helpings of turkey and stuffing. Now they're concerned about tryptophan overload and making sure they don't overeat and have it affect their performance at 8 p.m. Friday against the Indians.
“I'm not going to eat too much like I did last year,” junior running back Jimmy Wheeler said. “But this feels good because I finally accomplished one of my goals.”
West Mifflin (11-1) hasn't played in the WPIAL Class AAA title game since 2004 when it lost to rival Thomas Jefferson, 20-0. In their only other appearance at Heinz Field, the Titans lost to West Allegheny, 21-7, in 2000.
Last week, in the semifinals, West Mifflin and West Allegheny avenged their only regular-season losses. West Mifflin defeated Central Valley, 36-35, in overtime, and West Allegheny posted a 20-point win against top-seeded and previously undefeated Thomas Jefferson.
“We've got to find a way to sustain drives if possible against these guys,” West Allegheny coach Bob Palko said. “But really and truly, the only way you have a change against these guys is by not turning the ball over.”
West Allegheny has been at Heinz Field more recently that West Mifflin — the Indians won their fifth title in 2009. But despite that the team's seniors were freshmen that year and have experienced the championship routine and playing at Heinz Field, it may not be much of an advantage.
“I don't know if that plays into it because they were just freshmen, and they probably didn't bring the right socks with them,” Palko said, chuckling. “I don't think that helps at all.”
Whichever team wins, it will extend an impressive mark. A team from either the current Parkway or Big 9 Conferences has won 18 of the past 21 Class AAA titles — the only exceptions being 1994 (McGuffey), 2003 (Pine-Richland) and Franklin Regional in '05.
Clairton (12-0) will attempt to extend the Black Hills Conference's championship streak to seven consecutive titles when it heads into its rematch with Sto-Rox (11-1) in the Class A game at 11 a.m. The Bears are attempting to set the state record with 60 consecutive victories and tie Braddock's 1955-59 mark with five consecutive outright WPIAL championships.
Woodland Hills (9-2) will play in its third WPIAL Class AAAA title game in four years when it plays at 2 p.m. against top-seeded North Allegheny (12-0). The Wolverines could win their sixth title, breaking a tie with Upper St. Clair for tops since the classification was added in 1980.
Keith Barnes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 412-664-9161 Ext. 1977.