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Breaking down some of the top WPIAL first-round matchups

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By The Tribune-Review

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013, 10:27 p.m.

Here's a look at some of the top matchups for the first round of the WPIAL playoffs:

Class AAAA

12-Hempfield (6-3) at

5-Seneca Valley (8-1)

7:30 p.m. Friday

Winner gets: No. 4 Woodland Hills or No. 13 Pine-Richland.

The buzz: Seneca Valley is back in the playoffs with largely a new cast of characters. The Raiders were one win away from the WPIAL finals a year ago.

Key players: Seneca Valley's T.J. Holl was a one-man show last week, passing for a touchdown of 70 yards, rushing for three more and intercepting a pass that he returned for a score. Hempfield will lean on RB Joey DeFloria.

About the Raiders: Seneca Valley looks stronger top to bottom than it did a year ago. Holl has an array of talent around him on both sides of the ball with WR Eric Mrkonja and RB Mason Dehart. Tucker Van Dyke anchors the defense.

About the Spartans: Hempfield struggled to find offense against Penn-Trafford. QB Ty George and DeFloria will have to keep pace on offense.

Prediction: Seneca Valley, 42-13.

16-Kiski Area (5-4) at

1-Upper St. Clair (9-0)

7:30 p.m. Friday

Winner gets: No. 8 Bethel Park or No. 9 North Allegheny

The buzz: The Cavaliers, seeded lower than even wild card-qualifier Baldwin, meet Upper St. Clair for a second straight year. They lost to the Panthers, 49-0, as the No. 14 seed last season.

Key players: Kiski Area senior DE Jesse Noble has a team-high 6.5 sacks. Upper St. Clair senior LB Kyle Page is responsible for a team-high 68 tackles.

About the Cavaliers: They won three of their last four, but they'll play without their leading tackler, senior LB Shane Kuhn, who was ejected from Kiski Area's Week 9 game after getting two unsportsmanlike penalties.

About the Panthers: They allowed just 30 points during the regular season. They reached at least the semifinals the last two seasons. Senior running back Trevor Morrow has gained 852 yards and scored 11 touchdowns on 137 carries.

Prediction: USC, 40-7.

9-North Allegheny (6-3) at 8-Bethel Park (6-3)

7:30 p.m. Friday

Winner gets: No. 1 Upper St. Clair or No. 16 Kiski Area.

The buzz: These teams have met in the quarterfinals two of the past three years, with the Tigers winning both.

Key players: Bethel Park QB Levi Metheny was 8 for 8 against Baldwin for 101 yards and a touchdown. Cage Galupi relieved NA senior starter Jeff Clemens (knee) and threw for 203 yards and two touchdowns.

About the Tigers: Defending state champion North Allegheny has won three consecutive WPIAL titles and hasn't lost a WPIAL Class AAAA playoff game since a 14-10 defeat against North Hills in the 2009 quarterfinals at Pine-Richland, a span of 13 straight.

About the Black Hawks: They have scored just 195 points, sixth in the Quad South. Metheny is very much a running threat and scampered for a pair of touchdowns last week.

Prediction: North Allegheny, 28-14.

10-North Hills (5-4) at

7-Gateway (7-2)

7:30 p.m. Friday

Winner gets: No. 2 Central Catholic or No. 15 Baldwin.

The buzz: North Hills and Gateway have met five times since 1984, including back-to-back WPIAL title games in 1985 and 1986 (0-0 tie and 7-6 Gateway win). The Gators defeated North Hills, 42-20, in the last playoff meeting in 2009.

Key players: North Hills' Kindhal Taylor took over at QB when Jake Bruder was injured in September. Gateway LB Zaihe Regus and DE Brenon Thrift lead Gateway in tackles and sacks, respectively.

About the Indians: North Hills made the semifinals in 2009 and ‘10 before missing the playoffs in 2011. The Indians lost in the first round to Woodland Hills last year.

About the Gators: Gateway has qualified for the playoffs 12 years in a row, including this year for first-year coach Donnie Militzer. The last time a Gateway team lost in the first round was in 2000 to Shaler.

Prediction: Gateway, 26-20.

11-Penn Hills (5-4) at

6-Penn-Trafford (6-3)

7:30 p.m. Friday

Winner gets: No. 3 McKeesport or No. 14 Peters Township.

The buzz: Former conference opponents meet for the first time with a berth in the quarterfinals on the line.

Key players: Penn Hills is led by QB Billy Kisner, who piled up 1,108 yards and eight TDs on the ground while averaging more than 7 yards per carry. Penn-Trafford junior Devin Austin rushed for 1,074 yards and scored five TDs.

About the Indians: Penn Hills, formerly a perennial Class AAAA contender, returns to the playoffs after a one-year absence. The Indians last won a postseason game in 2009. ... RB Isaiah Jones rushed for 853 yards and five TDs.

About the Warriors: The Warriors beat playoff teams Gateway (35-34) and Hempfield (42-14) the past two weeks. ... The passing game is led by two sophomores in QB Brett Laffoon (1,132 yards, 11 TDs) and WR Timmy Vecchio (570 yards, seven TDs).

Prediction: Penn Hills, 28-21.

14-Peters Township (5-4) at 3-McKeesport (9-0)

7:30 p.m. Friday

Winner gets: No. 6 Penn-Trafford or No. 11 Penn Hills

The buzz: McKeesport quarterbacks have thrown just one touchdown pass all year while completing just 5 of 12 attempts.

Key players: Peters Township RB Marcus Ubinger has rushed for 778 yards and QB Cory Owen has added 725 yards while passing for 475. But Owen is questionable after sustaining an undisclosed injury early in a 48-17 victory over Canon-McMillan on Friday. McKeesport's flexbone offense has produced eight players with at least 160 yards rushing, led by RB Mikell Moore's 700. QBs David Queen and TyWann Smith have combined to add 587 and RB Allen Wright has 338 (13.5 average).

About the Indians: With Owen on the bench for much of the game, Peters Township won its regular-season finale and qualified for the playoffs behind backup QB Tim Swoope, who threw three touchdown passes in a 48-17 victory over Canon-McMillan.

About the Tigers: Surging McKeesport can't afford to look past Peters Township. But then, the Tigers have appeared focused on dominating all year, owning impressive wins over fourth-seeded Woodland Hills, sixth-seeded Penn-Trafford and seventh-seeded Gateway (49-12 in the regular-season finale).

Prediction: McKeesport, 35-7.

13-Pine-Richland (5-4) at 4-Woodland Hills (7-2)

7:30 p.m. Friday

Winner gets: No. 5 Seneca Valley or No. 12 Hempfield

The buzz: The Rams return to the playoffs to face perennial playoff qualifier Woodland Hills, which has won seven straight games after an 0-2 start.

Key players: Woodland Hills will likely be without injured RB Miles Sanders. He and QB Harry Randall have combined for a solid one-two punch running the ball. The Rams have a tough tandem in the backfield as well with Brendan Burnham and Connor Slomka.

About the Rams: Pine-Richland's defense has come together the past three games, according to head coach Eric Kasperowicz. The Rams can score, but the defense slowing down Woodland Hills rushing attack will be the key.

About the Wolverines: After a slow start, the Wolverines found the winning formula, scoring 34 points per game before a 19-point output against Penn Hills last week. Woodland Hills will want to slow the Rams rushing attack, something the team struggled with against Penn Hills.

Prediction: Pine-Richland, 23-17.

CLASS AAA

14-Belle Vernon (4-5)

at 3-Central Valley (8-1)

7:30 p.m. Friday

Winner gets: No. 6 Mars or No. 11 Elizabeth Forward

The buzz: This is a rematch of a first-round game last season, which CV won, 17-16, on a last-minute field goal. Belle Vernon won its last two games to earn a playoff spot.

Key players: BVA has slowly but surely found an offense behind freshman QB Mike Fine, who has thrown for more than 512 yards, and a running back-by-committee approach that includes Luke Durigon, Derek Verkleeren and Philip Taylor, who have combined for more than 800 yards. Warriors RB Jordan Whitehead has scored 14 TDs and JaQuan Pennington has rushed for 622 yards and 9 TDs.

About the Leopards: Leading WR Cody Menges (22 receptions, 517 yards, 11 TDs) is doubtful (ankle).

About the Warriors: CV has one of the stingiest defenses in the WPIAL, allowing just 46 points and shutting out five opponents.

Prediction: Central Valley, 35-21.

11-Elizabeth Foward (6-3)

at 6-Mars (8-1)

7:30 p.m. Friday

Winner gets: No. 3 Central Valley or No. 14 Belle Vernon

The buzz: Mars' only loss came in its season opener to fourth-seeded Franklin Regional. The Planets outscored opponents by nearly 39 ppg. EF posted a season-high 60 points last week against Greensburg Salem.

Key players: Elizabeth Forward QB JaQuan Davidson threw for two touchdowns and ran for four more last week. Matt Bernadowski has 12 touchdown catches. Mars RB Joshua Schultheis finished third in the WPIAL in rushing with 1,459 yards on 175 carries, accounting for more than half of the Planets' yardage.

About the Warriors: Despite going 1-3 against playoff teams, the Warriors were ninth in the WPIAL in total team offense with 3,319 yards.

About the Planets: Mars defeated four playoff teams — Indiana, Highlands, Hollidaysburg and Hampton — by a combined 188-49.

Prediction: Mars, 41-21.

11-Elizabeth Foward (6-3)

at 6-Mars (8-1)

7:30 p.m. Friday

Winner gets: No. 3 Central Valley or No. 14 Belle Vernon

The buzz: Mars' only loss came in its season opener, to fourth-seeded Franklin Regional. The Planets outscored opponents by nearly 39 ppg. EF posted a season-high 60 points last week against Greensburg Salem.

Key players: Elizabeth Forward QB JaQuan Davidson threw for two touchdowns and ran for four more last week. Matt Bernadowski has 12 touchdown catches. Mars RB Joshua Schultheis finished third in the WPIAL in rushing with 1,459 yards on 175 carries, accounting for more than half of the Planets' yardage.

About the Warriors: Despite going 1-3 against playoff teams, the Warriors were ninth in the WPIAL in total team offense with 3,319 yards.

About the Planets: Mars defeated four playoff teams — Indiana, Highlands, Hollidaysburg and Hampton — by a combined 188-49.

Prediction: Mars, 34-7.

15-Hampton (4-5) at 2-Thomas Jefferson (9-0)

7:30 p.m. Friday

Winner gets: No. 7 Highlands or No. 10 New Castle

The buzz: Thomas Jefferson won the Big Nine Conference championship, and is the No. 2 seed in Class AAA. The Jaguars blanked arch-rival West Mifflin last week, 35-0, and now have won or shared eight consecutive conference titles. Hampton lost to Mars last week, 42-20, to end up tied for fifth place with Knoch, Greensburg Salem and Hollidaysburg in the Greater Allegheny Conference.

Key players: Thomas Jefferson QB Chase Winovich rushed for 245 yards and four touchdowns on 26 carries against West Mifflin. WR Dalton Dietrich caught five passes for 61 yards, and is the team's leading receiver with 38 receptions, 735 yards and seven scores. RB Austin Kemp has rushed for 869 yards and 13 touchdowns on 97 carries. Hampton QB Nick Grabowski has completed 85 of 184 passes for 1,342 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. Eddie Edwards and Jon Floss are leading receivers, while CJ Arch bolsters the Talbots' running game.

About the Talbots: Hampton has lost three of its past four contests after stringing together a modest three-game midseason winning streak.

About the Jaguars: Thomas Jefferson has won 50 consecutive games at home, dating back to the 2004 season. The Jaguars have won their past nine WPIAL first-round games at home by an average score of 49-11. TJ is the top offensive team in Class AAA with a 43.1 ppg average, and is allowing only 6.2 ppg with four shutouts.

Prediction: Thomas Jefferson, 49-7.

9-Indiana (4-5) at

8-Ringgold (7-2)

7:30 p.m. Friday

Winner gets: No. No. 1 West Allegheny or No. 16 Hollidaysburg

The buzz: The Rams have never failed to make the playoffs under coach Matt Humbert and have won four straight games, including last week's 50-17 rout of Trinity. Indiana has won two straight games, including last week's 41-24 win over Hollidaysburg.

Key players: Freshman RB Chacar Berry has blossomed, rushing for 400 yards and scoring a team-high 14 TDs. Indiana QB Sean Thompson has thrown for more than 700 yards and scored seven TDs.

About the Rams: Ringgold has scored at least 42 points in each of its last four wins. The Rams' only two losses came at the hands of powerhouses Thomas Jefferson and West Mifflin.

About the Little Indians: Indiana's last loss was a 21-14 defeat to West Mifflin, which beat Ringgold 42-28. The Little Indians also lost to Highlands, 21-14.

Prediction: Ringgold, 20-16.

13-Montour (5-4) at

4-Franklin Regional (8-1)

7:30 p.m. Friday

Winner gets: No. 12 Moon or

No. 5 West Mifflin.

The buzz: Greater Allegheny champion Franklin Regional's 10th straight postseason appearance begins with a contest against Montour, the 2011 WPIAL champion.

Key players: Montour dual-threat QB Tynen Greer has more than 1,600 passing and rushing yards and 18 TDs. Franklin Regional junior Brett Zanotto leads the Panthers with 10 rushing touchdowns and 103 tackles and four sacks.

About the Spartans: RB Cole Macek rushed for 567 yards and six TDs. ... The defense allowed more than 30 points in each of the Spartans' losses.

About the Panthers: Outscoring opponents 247-39 the past six games, the defense — led Division I-bound cornerbacks Charan Singh (Massachusetts) and Colin Jonov (Bucknell) — has four shutouts.

Prediction: Franklin Reg., 28-14.

12-Moon (6-3) at

5-West Mifflin (8-1)

7:30 p.m. Friday

Winner gets: No. 4 Franklin Regional or No. 13 Montour

The buzz: West Mifflin is counting on RB Jimmy Wheeler, the WPIAL's leading rusher, to return to form after being limited to 13 yards in a 35-0 loss to Thomas Jefferson on Friday. Wheeler was held out of a portion of the game with concussion-like symptoms, but test results were negative and he was practicing this week with the Titans.

Key players: Moon RB Cole Blake rushed for 202 yards and three TDs in a 35-21 victory over Montour on Friday, increasing his season total to 1,457. For West Mifflin, as Wheeler goes, so go the Titans.

About the Tigers: The Tigers, who predominantly are a running team, have won two games in a row twice but haven't lost two in a row.

About the Titans: With or without Wheeler, look for the Titans to stick to the ground game again.

Prediction: West Mifflin, 29-20.

Class AA

15-Greensburg C.C. (5-4)

at 2-South Fayette (9-0)

7:30 p.m. Friday

Winner gets: No. 7 Washington or No. 10 Seton-La Salle

The buzz: The Centurions have made the playoffs every year since 2003 while the Lions have missed only twice during that span.

Key players: GCC RB Tyler Balla has 1,411 rushing yards and 17 TDs. South Fayette QB Brett Brumbaugh has thrown for 1,914 yards and 23 TDs.

About the Centurions: QB Chase Keller returned in Week 9 after suffering a shoulder injury in Week 2. …WR Eddie Kilkeary is averaging 17.4 yards per catch. ... After losing the first three games of the season, GCC went 5-1.

About the Lions: RB Grant Fetchet has 944 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns. … The team has the top scoring offense (49.9 points per game) and stingiest defense (5.1 points allowed per game) in Class AA. … Linebacker J.J.Walks leads the Lions with 75 tackles.

Prediction: South Fayette, 35-28.

10-Seton-La Salle (7-2)

at 7-Washington (7-2)

7:30 p.m. Friday

Winner gets: No. 2 South Fayette or No. 15 Greensburg C.C.

The buzz: The PIAA overturned a WPIAL ruling that had forced Washington to forfeit five wins for using an ineligible player. The PIAA decision cleared the Little Prexies, who still forfeited their Week 7 victory over Brownsville for a separate violation, to enter the Class AA playoffs.

Key players: QB Tyler Perone has completed 135 of 211 passes for 1,822 yards and 19 TDs in Seton-La Salle's pass-oriented attack. Washington RBs Malik Wells and Jordon West have combined for 1,022 yards and 16 TDs.

About the Rebels: Perone hit on 23 of 27 tosses for 368 yards and four TDs in a win over South Park.

About the Little Prexies: Washington, the Interstate runner-up, defeated Seton-La Salle in the WPIAL quarterfinal round last year, 33-17.

Prediction: Washington, 27-24.

13-Valley (6-3) at

4-Mt. Pleasant (9-0)

7:30 p.m. Friday

Winner gets: No. 5 Shady Side Academy or No. 12 Beaver

The buzz: Valley, which snapped a two-game skid with a 55-0 win in its regular-season finale, must either contain or keep up with Mt. Pleasant, which averages 45.1 ppg.

Key players: Sophomore WR D'Aundre Johnson has accumulated an impressive highlight reel of circus catches and big hits for Valley. Few defenses have slowed Mt. Pleasant senior RB Tyler Mellors, who has gained 1,370 yards and scored 22 touchdowns on 138 carries.

About Valley: A year ago, Valley appeared in the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and lost to Beaver, 28-14, in the first round. The team last won a playoff game in 2005.

About Mt. Pleasant: Mellors, senior Ryan Ballew and senior Brett Fess make up the Vikings' three-pronged rushing attack. Each averages more than 9 yards per carry. Mt. Pleasant beat Burrell in the first round last year.

Prediction: Mt. Pleasant, 33-14.

14-Yough (5-4) at

3-Kittanning (9-0)

7:30 p.m. Friday

Winner gets: No. 6 Beaver Falls or No. 11 Summit Academy

The buzz: A win will represent a momentous occasion for either team, as Yough does not have a postseason victory, and Kittanning won its only one in 1975.

Key players: Yough senior QB Tyler Donahue threw for more than 1,200 yards and also rushed for 500 yards during the regular season. Kittanning junior QB Braydon Toy put up 1,515 yards passing and 795 rushing.

About the Cougars: Donahue and junior Clayton Waldron fuel an offense that scored 38 points or more in each of its wins. Waldron has rushed for a team-high 716 yards and also leads the team in receptions (42) and receiving yards (427).

About the Wildcats: Toy, junior Nick Bowers and freshman Zane Dudek have enjoyed breakout years. The Wildcats finished the regular season unbeaten for the first time since 1976.

Prediction: Kittanning, 22-21.

Class A

9-Apollo-Ridge (7-2)

at 8-Beth-Center (9-0)

7:30 p.m. Friday

Winner gets: No. 1 Sto-Rox or

No. 16 Avella

The buzz: Apollo-Ridge seeks its first playoff win since 2007, while Beth-Center wants to prove that its regular-season success was not a reflection of the Tri-County South Conference's overall weakness.

Key players: Averaging more than 6 yards per rush and 15 per catch, freshman RB Duane Brown has emerged for Apollo-Ridge. RB Anthony Welsh leads Beth-Center with 1,202 yards and 20 TDs.

About the Vikings: QB Jesse Zelonka commands an offense that averages 40 ppg. He has thrown for almost 1,300 yards.

About the Bulldogs: Their wins included point totals of 80, 58, 54, 48, 47, 46, 39 and 28; they also have a 1-0 forfeit win over Geibel. Beth-Center's 34-12 win over Cornell in 2010 is the most recent victory by a current Tri-County South member.

Prediction: Apollo-Ridge, 30-19.

13-Frazier (7-2) at

4-Clairton (8-1)

7:30 p.m. Friday

Winner gets: No. 5 Carmichaels (8-1) or No. 12 Fort Cherry (9-1)

The buzz: Clairton dismantled Frazier, 58-6, in the teams' first-round matchup last year. Clairton has victories in its last five games, but hasn't played since Oct. 18 due to a forfeit by Imani Christian last week.

Key players: Frazier senior QB Charles Manack passed for 1,653 yards and 25 TDs. RB Nicholas Smalich rushed for 779 yards on 91 attempts. QB Aaron Mathews leads Clairton in rushing with 834 yards.

About the Commodores: The defense has allowed less than 9 ppg in wins, but 34.5 in losses. The offense is balanced, with 1,662 yards passing and 1,336 rushing.

About the Bears: Clairton averaged 9.7 yards per carry as a team and was a Black Hills Conference co-champ with Fort Cherry and Monessen. The Bears defeated Fort Cherry, 36-28, and lost to Monessen, 42-24.

Prediction: Clairton, 35-14.

14-West Shamokin (6-3) at

3-Monessen (8-1)

7:30 p.m. Friday

Winner gets: No. 6 Neshannock or No. 11 Brentwood

The buzz: West Shamokin plays the first postseason game in its 14-year history against a Monessen team with a shot at the school's first WPIAL title since 1961.

Key players: Wolves RB Andrew Wingard is nearing 1,000 yards on the season with 753 rushing and 209 receiving, both team highs. Greyhounds RB Clintell Gillaspie also leads his team in both stats with 795 rushing yards and 605 receiving yards.

About the Wolves: Junior RB Zac Horner has nine rushing TDs and 607 yards. Senior WR Brady Cornman missed part of the season with an injury, but he is averaging 35 yards per catch on six receptions since returning.

About the Greyhounds: Junior QB Noah Rullo has thrown for 1,257 yards and boasts an excellent 15-2 touchdown-interception ratio. Senior RB Javon Brown has 697 yards rushing and averages more than 9 yards per carry.

Prediction: Monessen, 34-13.

 

 
 


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