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Class AA breakdown: Revamped Allegheny Conference among many changes

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Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Aliquippa's Patrick Anderson works out on July 29, 2014 in Aliquippa.

The favorite

1. South Fayette (16-0)

Given the depth they have on the offensive line and the presence of bruising ball carrier J.J. Walker, the Lions will force defenses to do more than zone in on star quarterback Brett Brumbaugh. Several of Brumbaugh's favorite targets from last year graduated, but South Fayette will remain balanced and potent.

Preseason rankings

2. Aliquippa (12-1)

3. Seton-La Salle (8-3)

4. Washington (7-3)

5. Kittanning (9-1)

6. Highlands (7-4)

7. Beaver Falls (9-3)

8. Shady Side Academy (8-2)

9. Quaker Valley (8-3)

10. Mt. Pleasant (10-1)


The stars

Patrick Anderson

Aliquippa, sr., WR/DB

The big-bodied pass catcher has an offer from West Virginia. He finished with 20 receptions for 361 yards and eight touchdowns.

Nick Bowers

Kittanning, sr., WR/ILB

Bowers committed to Pitt in January after a 2013 season in which he caught 54 passes for 856 yards and eight touchdowns. He also rushed 56 times for 407 yards and seven touchdowns.

Brett Brumbaugh

South Fayette, sr., QB

Chosen as the state's Class AA Player of the Year last season after throwing for 3,910 yards and 41 touchdowns, he led the Lions to a PIAA title. He has offers from Akron, Albany and Temple.

Dane Jackson

Quaker Valley, sr., QB/DB

Jackson chose Pitt in June following a junior season in which he threw for 963 yards and rushed for 1,076 yards. He is one of Class AA's most explosive and versatile athletes.

Tre Tipton

Apollo-Ridge, sr., WR/DB

Tipton picked Pitt over Michigan State and several Mid-American Conference schools. He had 44 receptions for 697 yards and 14 TDs in 2013 and five interceptions.

Don't miss

9.26 Mt. Pleasant at Washington The Interstate Conference title often went to a Westmoreland County team in recent years. Can Mt. Pleasant uphold the tradition, or will it fall to the conference frontrunner?

10.17 Shady Side Academy at Kittanning Kittanning's wild, controversial 28-27 win over the Indians last year clinched a perfect regular season. Emotions will run high in the rematch.

10.24 South Fayette at Seton-La Salle Two of Class AA's premier passers clash in Week 9 with a Century Conference title possibly on the line.

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Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014, 8:55 p.m.

Highlands coach Sam Albert wants his players to fixate on X's and O's, not A's — as in Class AA instead of AAA.

Realignment led to several changes in Class AA, and Highlands, a 2013 Class AAA quarterfinalist with a bevy of returning skill players, landing in the classification for the first time ranked among the most eyebrow-raising developments.

Evidence suggests a Heinz Field rematch between defending champ South Fayette and perennial title contender Aliquippa is likely, but Highlands wants to burst onto the Class AA scene, and it's not unique in that sense, as former Class A programs Apollo-Ridge and Sto-Rox also aim to make splashes.

Albert had to explain to the Golden Rams that Class AA is no cakewalk.

“In the beginning, when (the new classifications) came out, at first I think they had this notion,” Albert said. “But I think that has since gone away. We're not coming in with anything less than respect for everyone else.”

A whirl of offseason activity occurred in the Allegheny Conference. It added Highlands, Apollo-Ridge and West Shamokin. Valley hired former Greensburg Central Catholic coach William “Muzzy” Colosimo, and Deer Lakes chose former NFL lineman Steve Sciullo to lead its program. And Apollo-Ridge senior wide receiver/cornerback Tre Tipton and Kittanning senior tight end/linebacker Nick Bowers committed to Pitt, while Freeport junior tight end/linebacker Logan Thimons committed to West Virginia.

“(The Allegheny Conference) has definitely changed since we were last in double-A,” said Apollo-Ridge coach John Skiba, whose Vikings made the Class A quarterfinals a year ago and last competed in Class AA in 2011. “We've got Division I players all through this conference now, and there are more to come. It's a conference that people will have to look at seriously.”

Not since 2002 has an Allegheny Conference team reached the WPIAL finals — that was Mars, which now competes in Class AAA.

The Century Conference, on the other hand, produced last season's champion. And now it also includes Sto-Rox, a finalist in WPIAL Class A the last three years.

Sto-Rox's spot in Class AA came as a result of a mistake by the school, which provided incorrect enrollment numbers to the PIAA. Class A was Sto-Rox's correct destination.

“We just have to move past that and focus on the future,” coach Jason Ruscitto said. “Double-A is a whole different level of football. Where we're going to see the big difference is in matching up on the offensive and defensive lines.”

While realignment created more regional rivalries in the Allegheny and Century conferences, it spread out the Interstate, which had been a battleground for Greensburg-area bragging rights in recent years. Jeannette and Greensburg Central Catholic dropped down to Class A. Two Washington County teams, Burgettstown and McGuffey, filled the void.

“It's a new Interstate, and it's an unknown right now,” said Mt. Pleasant coach Bo Ruffner, whose Vikings finished the 2013 regular season undefeated but graduated most starters.

In the Beaver County-centric Midwestern Conference, the landscape is fairly unchanged, so regional rivalries will continue to flourish. Even after losing a prolific tandem of running backs, Aliquippa, a WPIAL finalist each of the last six seasons, is the frontrunner.

“Aliquippa returns probably more starters than folks realize,” Beaver coach Jeff Beltz said. “They've won (the conference) enough years in a row that you have to put them right back at the top.”

Said Aliquippa coach Mike Zmijanac: “I believe that we've developed a good enough program that we're never totally at a loss for guys who can play.

“I'm actually impressed (with the WPIAL finals streak) because that's not easy. And there were a couple times we weren't all that good.”

South Fayette coach Joe Rossi knows plenty about Aliquippa. He knows less about Class AA's newcomers. But he plans to have his Lions ready for all comers.

“We're always doing our research over the offseason and getting some tapes on teams,” Rossi said. “There are some tremendous kids moving into double-A. We've done our homework. It makes it exciting.”

Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.

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