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Class A breakdown: WPIAL realignment shakes up conferences

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The favorite

1. Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic (16-0)

With two 1,000-yard plus running backs returning the Trojans are the favorite again in Class A. But it won't be easy. The Trojans, owners of a 16-game winning streak, could be tested by Avonworth and Brentwood.

Preseason rankings

2. Clairton (10-2)

3. Neshannock (9-3)

4. Avonworth (9-2)

5. Greensburg C.C. (5-5)

6. Brentwood (6-5)

7. Jeannette (4-5)

8. Beth-Center (9-1)

9. Monessen (10-2)

10. Western Beaver (5-5)

* RECORDS FROM 2013

The stars

P.J. FULMORE

Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic, sr., RB

The versatile athlete helped lead his school to its first PIAA Class A title. He has played quarterback and running back. He rushed for 1,210 yards and scored 14 touchdowns in 2013.

AARON MATHEWS

Clairton, jr. WR

He is another versatile athlete who can play many positions. He rushed for 1,034 yards and completed 40 of 59 passes for 503 yards and six touchdowns last season.

CONNOR MCWILLIAMS

Brentwood, sr., QB

The top returning passer in Class A, he completed 113 of 218 passes for 1,745 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also returns his top two receivers.

ELI OWENS

Neshannock, sr. RB

This hard-running halfback rushed for a Class A second-best 1,447 yards and scored 12 touchdowns. With QB Ernie Burkes graduated, Owens will be asked to lead the Lancers offense.

ZACh ALTIERI

Jeannette, sr., RB/DB

Altieri was a three-time Class AA Interstate Conference defensive back. The Jayhawks will use his skill on offense as a halfback, running and catching the ball.

Don't miss

10.3 Jeannette at Clairton These teams have a rich history. This is the first meeting in the school's history. Jeannette will be looking to make a splash against the perennial power.

10.10 Avonworth at Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic The Antelopes were the only team to come close of upending North Catholic last season. They played for the conference title last year, and they should again in 2014.

10.24 Greensburg Central Catholic at Jeannette Always an entertaining rivalry clash, these two programs dropped down to Class A this season and could be playing for playoff positioning in the regular-season finale.

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There will be a new look for the WPIAL's smallest classification in 2014.

Numerous changes had the WPIAL move teams around to new conferences in Class A.

Greensburg Central Catholic, Jeannette and Riverside dropped down from Class AA, and Vincentian will start playing conference games after playing an independent schedule the past two seasons.

Geibel and Imani Christian no longer field teams, and Apollo-Ridge, West Shamokin, Sto-Rox, Carlynton and Laurel moved up to Class AA.

Despite all the changes, returning WPIAL and PIAA champion Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic isn't about to give up its title without a fight.

The Trojans, who were 16-0 last season, return their entire backfield, which includes two 1,000-yard plus running backs in P.J. Fulmore (1,213 yards) and Jerome Turner (1,510). Also back are quarterback Adam Sharlow, who rushed for 660 yards, and sophomore Mario Latronica, who rushed for 566 yards.

“We've got some holes to fill,” North Catholic coach Bob Ravenstahl said. “We have a nice nucleus returning, but we lost some good linemen and linebackers. It's not going to be a cakewalk. The new conference is going to have some solid teams.”

North Catholic, along with Avonworth, Northgate and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart from its old conference (Eastern), joins Bishop Canevin, Brentwood, Chartiers-Houston and Fort Cherry to form the Ohio Valley Conference.

“I don't mind being the favorite,” Ravenstahl said. “I've always said to be a champion you have to beat the champion. There are a lot of teams that should challenge us. The Eastern Conference with Clairton, Monessen, Greensburg Central Catholic and Jeannette is very good, and the Big 7 Conference with Neshannock, Rochester and Western Beaver is always good.”

Avonworth, which lost twice to the Trojans last year, and Brentwood, which returns standout passer Connor McWilliams, could challenge North Catholic.

“The games against Avonworth weren't decided until late in the fourth quarter,” Ravenstahl said. “We're not sneaking up on anyone this year.”

Clairton, Monessen, Serra Catholic, Greensburg Central Catholic and Jeannette join Wilkinsburg, Springdale, Riverview and Leechburg to form the Eastern Conference.

Clairton begins the year with a new coach, former defensive coordinator Wayne Wade, but the Bears are more than capable of regaining their Class A dominance. Clairton won five straight WPIAL titles (2008-12) and set the state record with 66 consecutive victories. Monessen ended that streak in Week 4 last season.

It still didn't stop the Bears from sharing the Black Hills title with Monessen and Fort Cherry or keep them from reaching the Class A semifinals before falling to Sto-Rox.

“I heard North Catholic is loaded up again,” Wade said. “So that has to make them the favorite. We return seven on offense and nine on defense, so I expect us to be a challenger.

“We have the best conference in the WPIAL. Our players are excited and looking forward to playing against Jeannette and Greensburg Central Catholic.”

The Bears are led by wide receiver Aaron Mathews, quarterback Ryan Williams, running back Lamont Wade, linebacker Harrison Dreher and linebacker Raymone Clifford.

Greensburg Central Catholic and Jeannette, along with Monessen, might make the Eastern Conference the WPIAL's best.

“It was a great conference when we played against Clairton, Duquesne and Riverview when I got back into coaching,” Greensburg Central Catholic coach Dan Mahoney said. “We had some great battles, and I'm looking forward to renewing those rivalries.”

Jeannette coach Roy Hall said he will be spending a lot of time learning about the new teams.

“I'm very excited to see how we fare,” Hall said. “We'll have our work cut out for us. I have to learn some new teams.

“We're in a no-win situation in some people's eyes. If we win, we were expected to win. If we lose, well … .”

The other changes have California moving back to the Tri-County South, while Riverside slides into the Big 7 Conference.

Paul Schofield is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at pschofield@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Schofield_Trib.

 

 

 
 


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