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Previewing Week 1 high school football matchups

| Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, 8:36 p.m.

Here's a look at some of the matchups for Week 1 high school football games in Western Pennsylvania:

Class AAAA

Quad Central

6-AAAA Upper St. Clair at 9-AAAA Penn Hills

7:30 p.m. Friday

Last season: Upper St. Clair (11-1, 8-0 in Quad Central); Penn Hills (5-5, 4-4).

The buzz: Penn Hills' most lopsided loss of 2013 came against Upper St. Clair, which prevailed 35-0. The Indians' strong backfield should fare better this time around.

Key players: Even though his starting experience is limited, Panthers 6-foot-5, 290-pound junior lineman Brandon Ford enters the season with a couple Division I offers. Penn Hills junior quarterback Bill Kisner returns after rushing for almost 1,300 yards.

About the Panthers: All but one starter graduated from Upper St. Clair's 2013 team, including the passing, rushing and receiving leaders. Look for senior Mike Krenn to spark the offense from the backfield and out wide.

About the Indians: Kisner, who also threw for 555 yards, anchors a loaded collection of ball carriers. Penn Hills hopes to start the season with a win for the third straight season.

Prediction: USC, 20-17

1-AAAA Woodland Hills at Peters Township

7:30 p.m. Friday

Last season: Woodland Hills (10-3, 7-1 in Quad Central); Peters Township (5-5, 4-4).

The buzz: Loaded with Division I talent, Woodland Hills is a major WPIAL title contender. Peters Township hopes to at least qualify for the playoffs for a fifth straight season.

Key players: Wolverines senior RB Art Thompkins has committed to Toledo. Peters Township expects a breakout season from sophomore running back T.J. Kpan, an untested ball carrier with promising raw athleticism.

About the Wolverines: Headlined by Thompkins and Penn State recruit Miles Sanders, a junior running back, Woodland Hills retained 11 starters. The Wolverines will look to start this season better than they did the last one; they opened 2013 with a 0-2 record.

About the Indians: Dual-threat quarterback Cory Owen threw for 501 yards and rushed for 762 to pace Peters Township's offense last season. He and Kpan must become an effective one-two punch.

Prediction: Woodland Hills, 28-10

Quad East

Connellsville at 5-AAAA McKeesport

7 p.m. Friday

Last season: Connellsville (2-7, 2-6 in Quad East); McKeesport (10-1, 8-0)

The buzz: The Falcons are looking to improve on back-to-back two-win seasons. The Tigers hope to build on their Quad East Conference championship season of 2013. McKeesport knocked off Connellsville, 47-12, last season.

Key players: Josh Cree will be one of several players that will look to carry the load out of the Connellsville backfield. Khaleke Hudson, a Division I prospect on defense, has experience and could be one of the main threats in the McKeesport running game, which lost Mikell Moore to graduation.

About the Falcons: Connellsville has used training camp to find a new starting quarterback after four-season starter Jade Maher graduated. Maher's replacement will be senior Derek Brubacher.

About the Tigers: In his first season back as coach of the Tigers, George Smith guided McKeesport to a 10-1 record. Smith has won two state titles in his coaching career and will again rely on his flexbone option offense in the Quad East.

Prediction: McKeesport, 36-10

Latrobe at Norwin

7:30 p.m. Friday

Last season: Latrobe (2-7, 1-7 in Quad East); Norwin (2-7, 1-7).

The buzz: New Latrobe coach Jason Marucco looks to steer his alma mater toward a better tomorrow. He'll look across the field at another first-season coach in Norwin's David Brozeski. In 2013, Norwin beat Latrobe, 21-13.

Key players: Senior Cody Henry is the steadying presence on Latrobe's defensive line. He'll likely clash with Norwin seniors Anthony Melocchi and Corey Chrisman, the Knights' fixtures up front.

About the Wildcats: Marucco, most recently an assistant at Mt. Pleasant, brings a wing-T attack to Latrobe in hopes of finding a thriving set of rushers in Luke Monteparte, Alec Hoopes, Josh Shivetts and Brandon Friedline.

About the Knights: Junior Nick Amendola returns after completing 85 of 162 pass attempts for 771 yards and four touchdowns. He and senior Sean Bowen battled for the starting job during training camp.

Prediction: Latrobe, 14-13

4-AAAA Penn-Trafford at Kiski Area

7:30 p.m. Friday

Last season: Penn-Trafford (8-4, 6-2 in Quad East); Kiski Area (5-5, 5-3).

The buzz: Kiski Area can earn a statement victory in Week 1 by beating Penn-Trafford for the second straight season. Penn-Trafford has championship expectations after reaching the WPIAL semifinals in 2013.

Key players: Penn-Trafford DE Trey Blandford, a third-team all-state pick as a junior, leads a Warriors' defense that returns seven starters. Kiski Area QB Chad Kuhn accounted for 1,500 yards rushing and passing last season, along with 16 touchdowns.

About the Warriors: Penn-Trafford advanced to the WPIAL semifinals last season, making it that far for the first time since 1997. In Devin Austin, Brett Laffoon and Timmy Vecchio, the Warriors return their top rusher, passer and receiver from a season ago.

About the Cavaliers: Kiski Area made the playoffs in Dave Heavner's first two seasons as coach. The Cavaliers beat Penn-Trafford, 34-14, last season as Kuhn accounted for 250 total yards and two touchdowns. However, the Cavaliers lost several key players from last season's team.

Prediction: Penn-Trafford, 28-14

Plum at Hempfield

7 p.m. Friday

Last season: Plum (1-9, 0-8 in Quad Central); Hempfield (6-4, 5-3 in the Quad East).

The buzz: Plum begins play in the Quad East with something to prove after moving over from a two-season stint in the Quad Central. Hempfield hopes to remain in the WPIAL playoff picture after losing several key starters to graduation.

Key players: Plum 6-foot-2 senior receiver Phil Mahr returned to practice Monday after recovering from a broken finger and is good to go for Friday. Hempfield's offensive line is anchored by Pitt recruit Tony Pilato, a 6-7, 310-pound left tackle who will help protect new starters at quarterback and running back.

About the Spartans: Junior Daniel Walters replaces the graduated Ty George (Seton Hill) at quarterback. Walters started as a freshman at Greensburg Salem in 2012 and also saw action in games for the Spartans last season. Coach Rich Bowen is 10-10 in two seasons at Hempfield.

About the Mustangs: Plum snapped a 25-game losing streak with an exhibition victory against Greensburg Salem in Week 10 last season. The Mustangs, however, are still trying to end a 22-game losing skid against conference opponents. Jake Tecak, a 6-6, 340-pound offensive tackle, is expected to miss Friday's game with a concussion.

Prediction: Hempfield, 21-14

Quad North

Fox Chapel at North Hills

7 p.m. Friday

Last season: Fox Chapel (2-7, 2-5 in Quad North); North Hills (5-5, 4-3).

The buzz: Fox Chapel is looking for a much better start to a season, having not won an opener since 2009.

Key players: Fox Chapel coach Eric Ravotti called his pair of linebackers David Brown and Carrington Vaughn the best in the WPIAL. Quarterback Jake Bruder is a they-go-as-he-goes player. He returns from a leg injury that ended his season in Week 3 last year.

About the Foxes: They're looking to tighten up the defense. They allowed 36 or more points in five games last season.

About the Indians: The line does not lack size: One tackle, Jake Buccigrossi, is 6-4, 285; another Zach Sammartino is 6-3, 280.

Prediction: Fox Chapel, 23-20


10-AAAA Bethel Park at 2-AAAA Central Catholic

7:30 p.m. Friday at Carnegie Mellon University

Last season: Bethel Park (6-4, 6-2 in Quad Central); Central Catholic (15-1, 7-0 in Quad North).

The buzz: Defending WPIAL champion and PIAA runner-up Central Catholic returns just three starters on offense but has championship goals.

Key players: Central's secondary features Division I prospects Johnny Petrishen and Damar Hamlin, who could pose problems for Bethel Park junior QB Levi Metheny, who threw for 819 yards last season.

About the Black Hawks: In addition to Metheny, Bethel Park returns leading rusher Alexander Minton, a senior who gained 761 yards in 2013. The team is working in a new O-line.

About the Vikings: Central graduated its leading passer, rusher and receiver from last season. Senior TE Graham Adomitis returns and should provide a target for QBs Gunnar Frerotte and Mike Navarro.

Prediction: Central Catholic, 24-10

Class AAA


Elizabeth Forward at Laurel Highlands

7:30 p.m. Friday

Last season: Elizabeth Forward (6-4, 5-3 in Big 9); Laurel Highlands (1-9, 1-7).

The buzz: The Warriors must find suitable replacements for graduate Jaquaun Davidson, it's leading passer and rusher last season. The Mustangs are looking to rebound from a one-win season. Elizabeth Forward beat Laurel Highlands, 37-7, last season.

Key players: Senior Jake Myers could be the featured tailback in Elizabeth Forward's offense. Laurel Highlands' junior Jimmy Pierce returns after a strong sophomore season. Pierce completed 44 of 115 passes for 525 yards and four touchdowns last season. He also rushed for 502 yards and four touchdowns on 146 carries.

About the Warriors: Elizabeth Forward is looking for a new receiving threat after leading pass-catcher Matt Bernandowski graduated.

About the Mustangs: Laurel Highlands is hoping it can return to the playoffs for the first time since 2011.

Prediction: Elizabeth Forward, 21-7

7-AAA Ringgold at 4-AAA Thomas Jefferson

7:30 p.m. Friday

Last season: Ringgold (7-3, 6-2 in Big Nine); Thomas Jefferson (11-1, 8-0).

The buzz: Thomas Jefferson is seeking win No. 400 in school history. Ringgold is looking to pull off an upset in coach Nick Milchovich's debut.

Key players: Thomas Jefferson's Austin Kemp ran for 156 yards and two touchdowns in last season's 31-10 season-opening win at Ringgold. Kemp racked up 1,101 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground last season. Kemp (RB/LB), Jake Guinn (OL/DL), Russell Siess (TE/DL) and Frankie Langan (WR/LB) were all-conference selections in 2013. Ringgold QB Nico Law is a legitimate Division I prospect. Law is a dual-threat talent who passed for 1,494 yards and 14 touchdowns and ran for 1,110 yards and 15 more scores last season.

About the Jaguars: TJ owns a 399-194-7 overall record in football in school history, and is an eight-time defending conference champion.

About the Rams: They held a 10-7 halftime lead against Thomas Jefferson last season. They corralled third place in the conference in 2013 and lost to Indiana in the WPIAL first round.

Prediction: Thomas Jefferson, 28-7

8-AAA West Mifflin at Uniontown

7:30 p.m. Friday

Last season: West Mifflin (9-2, 7-1 in Big 9); Uniontown (3-6, 3-5).

The buzz: The Titans lost leading rusher Jimmy Wheeler to graduation, but are poised to unleash junior DiAngelo Mitchell out of the backfield. The Red Raiders are trying to show they can compete with the elite teams in the Big 9 Conference, beginning with Friday's game. West Mifflin beat Uniontown, 41-7, last season.

Key players: Junior Karlyn Garner is hoping to build on his sophomore season in which he completed 47 of 74 passes for 864 yards and eight touchdowns. Senior Lyric Ellis led the Red Raiders in receiving last season, but is making the switch to quarterback. He is replacing his older brother, Xavier Ellis, who graduated.

About the Titans: West Mifflin figures to be a run-heavy team, but Kevin Garbark gives the team a threat in the passing game. Garbark caught 16 passes for 479 yards and seven touchdowns last season.

About the Red Raiders: Uniontown will be focused on improving the running game this season and will likely use a committee approach.

Prediction: West Mifflin, 28-14

Greater Allegheny

6-AAA Franklin Regional at Knoch

7 p.m. Friday

Last season: Franklin Regional (10-2, 7-1 in GAC); Knoch (4-5, 3-5).

The buzz: Fresh off its second WPIAL semifinal appearance in three seasons, Franklin Regional will begin the season relying on a bevy of younger players. Knoch is looking to rebound after missing the playoffs for the first time in four seasons.

Key players: Franklin Regional LB/RB Brett Zanotto, a Maryland recruit, set a team record with 157 tackles last season and also rushed for 11 touchdowns. Knoch QB Dan Farinelli worked with quarterback guru Walt Harris in the offseason to improve on 2013, when he passed for 1,174 yards and seven touchdowns.

About the Panthers: Four of the top five tacklers return from a defense that allowed just more than 10 points per game last season. A 28-0 victory over Knoch last season marked one of Franklin Regional's four shutouts. The Panthers have made the WPIAL playoffs for 10 consecutive seasons.

About the Knights: Knoch finished in a four-way tie for fifth place in the Greater Allegheny last season but missed the playoffs because of tiebreakers. The Knights started 3-1 before a four-game losing streak derailed their playoff hopes. Seven starters return on both offense and defense.

Prediction: Franklin Regional, 14-13

Greensburg Salem at 5-AAA Gateway

7 p.m. Friday

Last season: Gateway (8-3, 6-2 in Quad East); Greensburg-Salem (3-7, 3-5 in GAC).

The buzz: Gateway is the new kid on the block in the conference, and it will look to get off to a good start against a Greensburg Salem squad that came close to making the playoffs in 2013.

Key players: Gateway's 6-foot-3 sophomore quarterback Royquez McNair, who was in the Hampton School District last season, is expected to make his first start under center for the Gators. Greensburg Salem features an experienced offensive line with seniors Dalton Cuccia, Bobby Stafford, Ben Dobies and Ryan Caldwell leading the way.

About the Gators: Tom Nola, who led Clairton to a state record-setting winning streak and six WPIAL and four state championships, begins his tenure with Gateway on Friday. The Gators have made the WPIAL playoffs 12 seasons in a row.

About the Golden Lions: Greensburg Salem finished in a four-way tie for the fifth and final playoff berth before losing out on tiebreaker scenarios. The Golden Lions' allowed 33 points per game last season, something it hopes to improve on in 2014.

Prediction: Gateway, 27-7

Yough at Hollidaysburg

7 p.m. Friday

Last season: Yough (6-5, 5-3 in Interstate); Hollidaysburg (3-7, 3-5 in GAC).

The buzz: Realignment moved Yough back to Class AAA; the Cougars last competed at that level in 2009. Hollidaysburg enters its second season under the control of coach Homer DeLattre.

Key players: Running back Clay Waldron combined for more than 1,500 yards of total offense and 19 touchdowns a season ago for the Cougars. Lineman Zach Simpson is back after starting both ways each of the last two seasons for Hollidaysburg.

About the Cougars: Eager to impress in its return to Class AAA, Yough will lean on the productivity of Waldron and three-time all-conference selection Tom Sever, a senior fullback/defensive tackle.

About the Golden Tigers: Senior middle linebacker Colton Ruggery, Hollidaysburg's leading tackler, keys a defense that looks to improve after allowing 32.8 points per game in 2013.

Prediction: Yough, 24-21


2-AAA Central Valley at Montour

7 p.m. Friday

Last season: Central Valley (11-2, 7-1 in Parkway); Montour (5-5, 4-4)

The buzz: For a time, this was the Parkway Conference matchup of the season. But after Central Valley won 38-0 last season, Montour must work to renew the rivalry.

Key players: Central Valley RB/DB Jordan Whitehead ranks among the best playmakers in the WPIAL. He scored 20 touchdowns last season.

About the Warriors: Central Valley's offense centers around three players: Whitehead, senior QB Johnny George and senior FB Preston Johnson. With a new hurry-up tempo, the offense should rank among the WPIAL's best.

About the Spartans: Montour graduated its top quarterback, running back and receiver from last season's fifth-place lineup that reached the playoffs. However, WRs Tyler Carswell and Zack Herskowitz showed promise as sophomores.

Prediction: Central Valley, 28-14

1-AAA West Allegheny at 9-AAA New Castle

7:30 p.m. Friday

Last season: West Allegheny (13-1, 8-0 in Parkway); New Castle (7-3, 6-2)

The buzz: West Allegheny owns an 11-game conference winning streak, but needed 20 points in the fourth quarter last season to beat New Castle, 37-31.

Key players: West Allegheny RB Chayse Dillon rushed for 1,201 yards last season, and QB Andrew Koester was a 1,600-yard passer.

About the Indians: West Allegheny returns much of last season's lineup that won the WPIAL Class AAA title, the team's second in two seasons. Versatile RB Tory Delmonico graduated, but Dillon leads a strong backfield.

About the Red Hurricanes: Unlike its opponent, New Castle graduated much of last season's lineup that placed third in the Parkway. Ohio State freshman DB Malik Hooker was among them. Junior QB Pat Minenok leads this new group of playoff hopefuls.

Prediction: West Allegheny, 24-7

Class AA


6-AA Highlands at Ford City

7 p.m. Friday

Last season: Highlands (7-4, 6-2 in GAC); Ford City (3-6, 2-6 in Allegheny).

The buzz: Highlands is set to make its debut in Class AA, a move that was only a rumor for years but finally has come to pass.

Key players: Highlands' senior running back Elijah Jackson rushed for 1,287 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. Senior Zeke Walker will move from tight end to running back to add to a power-driven backfield.

About the Golden Rams: Skill-laden Highlands was a playoff regular in Class AAA and reached the quarterfinals a season ago.

About the Sabers: Ford City begins its last season as an individual team before it merges with Kittanning to form Armstrong.

Prediction: Highlands, 28-14

5-AA Kittanning at Deer Lakes

7 p.m. Friday

Last season: Kittanning was 9-1 (8-0), Deer Lakes was 0-9 (0-8) The buzz: Kittanning begins the defense of its Allegheny Conference title at a Deer Lakes team currently on a 12-game losing streak.

Key players: Wildcats sophomore running back Zane Dudek made a splash in last year's opener with a three-touchdown performance. Junior Scott Kelly will be making his first start as the Lancers' quarterback.

About the Wildcats: Senior receiver and Pitt recruit Nick Bowers scored 16 touchdowns last season. Since moving into the same conference in 2000, the Wildcats have won 10 straight over the Lancers.

About the Lancers: Running back Hunter Burns had 547 yards of offense as a sophomore last year. Deer Lakes' losing streak began with a loss to Kittanning in 2012.

Prediction: Kittanning, 28-7

8-AA Shady Side Academy at Freeport

7 p.m. Friday

Last season: Shady Side Academy was 8-2 (7-1), Freeport was 2-7 (2-6) The buzz: Shady Side Academy was one point away from a conference title last year, while Freeport is looking to rebound from a rare down season.

Key players: Receiver/defensive back Louis Berry is a big-play threat for the Indians on both sides of the ball. Freeport quarterback Andrew Romanchak is a returning starter who threw for 586 yards and ran for 388 yards last year.

About the Indians: Shady Side Academy will rely on new backfield starters Doc Szlachetka at quarterback and Eric Harris at running back. Junior defensive end Mike Ware is a two-time all-conference pick.

About the Yellowjackets: Junior Logan Thimons, a West Virginia recruit, moves to linebacker from defensive end. Freeport reached the playoffs five straight years before last season.

Prediction: SSA, 23-13


Carlynton at Steel Valley

7 p.m. Friday

Last season: Carlynton (4-6, 3-6 in Black Hills); Steel Valley (4-5, 4-4 in Century).

The buzz: The Cougars have moved into the Century Conference and back up to Class AA. The Ironmen are looking for a return to the postseason after falling short last season.

Key players: Carlynton running back Isiah Canton finished last season with 1,068 yards and 12 touchdowns, while Steel Valley's DeWayne Murray capped off a dynamic freshman campaign with 1,488 yards and five touchdowns.

About the Cougars: Sophomore Courtney Mickens is making his debut at quarterback. Lineman Mike Griffin is a three-season starter. Carlynton is in the midst of an 11-season playoff drought. Former collegiate coach Mauro Monz is making his debut as head coach of the Cougars. Linebacker Dale Rybacki will lead the defense.

About the Ironmen: They are switching to a pistol offense. Last season's quarterback, Connor Stevens, is moving to wide receiver, and former running back Tyrone Freeman will be the quarterback. Steel Valley returns 13 starters – six on offense and seven on defense. The team lost three linemen to graduation.

Prediction: Steel Valley, 35-14

East Allegheny at 1-AA South Fayette

7 p.m. Friday

Last season: East Allegheny (5-5, 4-4 in Allegheny); South Fayette (16-0, 8-0 in Century).

The buzz: East Allegheny debuts in the Century Conference coming off a .500 season. South Fayette captured WPIAL and PIAA titles in Class AA while outscoring opponents by average of 36.8 points per game.

Key players: East Allegheny's offense is led by Taizjon Brown, who rushed for 992 yards and nine touchdowns last season. South Fayette running back Jared Walker scored 20 touchdowns on 73 carries last season. The senior also made 159 tackles at linebacker.

About the Wildcats: Brown made more than 100 tackles at linebacker last season. East Allegheny returns three starting linemen. Junior Deon Smith will make his debut at quarterback. The team is competing for its first playoff berth since 2011. Coach Dom Pecora is entering his second season with the team.

About the Lions: Quarterback Brett Brumbaugh is 1,182 yards away from setting the WPIAL career passing record. South Fayette has not lost a regular season game since Oct. 21, 2011. Senior WR/DB Roman Denson has a scholarship offer from Albany.

Prediction: South Fayette, 48-7

South Allegheny at Sto-Rox

7 p.m. Friday

Last season: South Allegheny (1-9, 1-7 in Century); Sto-Rox (12-1, 8-0 in Big Seven).

The buzz: South Allegheny is attempting to improve on a one-win season following the loss of all-purpose star Ty Cook, who combined to rush and pass for nearly 1,200 yards. Sto-Rox, a three-time WPIAL runner-up in Class A, steps up in class to Double-A this season.

Key players: RBs DaVonte Johnson and Curtis Moore will be heavily counted on to establish a running game for South Allegheny, which will employ a new QB among three inexperienced candidates. Sto-Rox is expected to insert senior Brandon Gary at QB in place of Lenny Williams, who left as the WPIAL's all-time leading passer.

About the Gladiators: South Allegheny has made just one WPIAL playoff appearance since 1986, but its most recent was in 2012. The Gladiators are hoping to avoid injuries, which hampered their efforts a season ago.

About the Vikings: Sto-Rox is starting over in a new class, a new conference and with a new coach and cast of players. Williams led the way to a stellar season a season ago and has gone on to the college level at Temple.

Prediction: South Allegheny, 20-12

South Park at 3-AA Seton-La Salle

1 p.m. Saturday

Last season: South Park (5-5, 5-3 in Century); Seton-La Salle (6-3, 6-2)

The buzz: Seton-La Salle graduate Damon Rosol takes over as head coach at his alma mater, and brings a new set of Xs and Os to the Rebels. South Park coach Tom Loughran, on the other hand, is entering his 32nd season as head coach.

Key players: Seton-La Salle QB Tyler Perone completed 169 of 284 passes for 2,322 yards and 24 touchdowns last season. His “go-to” target is WR Danzel McKinley-Lewis, a Toledo recruit who had 40 receptions for 791 yards and eight touchdowns in 2013. Matt Reinmund and Dequay Broadwater round out a deep receiving corps for the Rebels, and are complemented by TE Adam Ottaviano. South Park's Ryan Podgorski returns to anchor what Rosol says are probably the biggest offensive and defensive lines in Class AA.

About the Rebels: Rosol will run a 3-4 scheme on defense, which is considered unconventional at the high school ranks. The Rebels' defensive line is anchored by nose guard Billy Jackson, a third-season starter. The Rebels defeated South Park last season 37-21.

About the Eagles: They advanced to the playoffs last season for the first time since 2005. Quarterback Nick Scholle is in his second season as a starter.

Prediction: Seton-La Salle, 35-14


Charleroi at Southmoreland

7 p.m. Friday

Last season: Charleroi (2-7, 1-7 in Interstate); Southmoreland (4-6, 3-5)

The buzz: Both the Cougars and the Scotties are looking for a strong start as each hope to qualify for the WPIAL playoffs this season. Charleroi finished tied for seventh in the Interstate Conference last season, while the Scotties finished tied for sixth. Southmoreland beat Charleroi, 30-27, last season.

Key players: Senior QB Matt Carr will look to lead the Cougars after completing 36 of 59 passes for 547 yards and six touchdowns in his junior season. Senior RB Jake Pisula will be a key piece in Southmoreland's offense. Pisula rushed for 1,609 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2013.

About the Cougars: Charleroi returns its leading rusher and receiver from last season. Dakota Moorer caught 41 passes for 713 yards and six touchdowns. Brandon Bowman rushed for 311 yards and three touchdowns.

About the Scotties: Southmoreland is a team looking to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since the 1979 season. Brennan Bunner is expected to start under center. The Scotties won three of their final four games last season.

Derry at 4-AA Washington

7 p.m. Friday

Last season: Derry (0-10, 0-8 in GAC); Washington (7-3, 6-2 in Interstate).

The buzz: Down in Class AA for the first time since 1962, Derry opens its season against the Interstate Conference's preseason favorite.

Key players: Senior T.J. Balega returns after leading the Trojans in rushing a season ago. Jordan West, a junior, emerged as a promising playmaker for the Little Prexies after standout Shai McKenzie went down with a torn ACL in 2013.

About the Trojans: New coach Tim Sweeney takes over at his alma mater, which has struggled the past few seasons. But the move to Class AA might breathe new life into the team.

About the Little Prexies: With a sizeable and seasoned line, Washington likely will pound the ground as it searches for its best pass catchers. West, senior Malik Wells and junior Kurt Adkins all showed glimpses of greatness as ball carriers a season ago.

Prediction: Washington, 35-14

Charleroi at Southmoreland

7 p.m. Friday

Last season: Charleroi (2-7, 1-7 in Interstate); Southmoreland (4-6, 3-5).

The buzz: Both the Cougars and the Scotties are looking for a strong start as each hope to qualify for the WPIAL playoffs this season. Charleroi finished tied for seventh in the Interstate Conference last season, while the Scotties finished tied for sixth. Southmoreland beat Charleroi, 30-27, last season.

Key players: Senior QB Matt Carr will look to lead the Cougars after completing 36 of 59 passes for 547 yards and six touchdowns in his junior season. Senior RB Jake Pisula will be a key piece in Southmoreland's offense. Pisula rushed for 1,609 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2013.

About the Cougars: Charleroi returns its leading rusher and receiver from last season. Dakota Moorer caught 41 passes for 713 yards and six touchdowns. Brandon Bowman rushed for 311 yards and three touchdowns.

About the Scotties: Southmoreland is a team looking to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since the 1979 season. Brennan Bunner is expected to start under center. The Scotties won three of their final four games last season.

Prediction: Southmoreland, 28-14

McGuffey at Mt. Pleasant

7 p.m. Friday

Last season: McGuffey (5-5, 3-5 in Century); Mt. Pleasant (10-1, 8-0 in Interstate).

The buzz: McGuffey will be looking for better luck in the Interstate Conference after finishing sixth in the Century Conference last season. After winning the Interstate Conference championship in 2013, the Vikings are retooling after losing a number of key players to graduation.

Key players: McGuffey senior QB Nate Whipkey looks to rebound from an injury-plagued junior season. Senior Nathan Pieszak will step into the role of starting QB for Mt. Pleasant, replacing graduate Ryan Gumbita.

About the Highlanders: McGuffey's James Duchi rushed for 1,065 yards last season and will be a big part of the team's ground game.

About the Vikings: Mt. Pleasant will use a committee of running backs in an effort to replace graduate Tyler Mellors, who rushed for 1,738 yards and 27 touchdowns in his senior season.

Prediction: Mt. Pleasant, 17-14

Class A


Leechburg at Wilkinsburg

1 p.m. Saturday

Last season: Leechburg (2-7, 2-6 in Eastern); Wilkinsburg (2-7, 2-6).

The buzz: This season marks the 100th anniversary of the WPIAL's first football champion, Wilkinsburg, which was awarded the title in 1914.

Key players: All-conference lineman Jordan Cominos, a senior left tackle, is the only returning starter on the lines for Leechburg. John Carpenter moves from center, where he started for three years, to quarterback.

About the Blue Devils: Their leading passer, rusher and receiver graduated, making training camp an open tryout.

About the Tigers: They have not won a playoff game since 1998 when they beat Jefferson-Morgan.

Prediction: Leechburg, 14-8

9-A Monessen at 5-A Greensburg Central Catholic

7 p.m. Friday

Last season: Monessen ( 10-2, 8-1 in Black Hills); GCC (5-5, 5-3 in Interstate).

The buzz: These teams will be vying for one of the four WPIAL playoff spots in the revamped Eastern Conference. They are expected to challenge Clairton and Jeannette for the conference title

Key players: Monessen QB Noah Rullo completed 68 of 126 passes for 1,308 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2013. Greensburg Central Catholic's QB Tom Pellis completed 50 of 98 passes for 866 yards and 6 TDs.

About the Greyhounds: They were hit hard by graduation. Gone from the backfield are Justice Rawlins, Clintell Gillaspie and Javon Brown. Demond Jordan and Lavelle Rush have proven to be talented running backs in the preseason.

About the Centurions: An experienced quarterback in Pellis and a veteran offensive line will be counted on to lead GCC. Running backs Sam Nowicki and Jake Nesser have not rushed the ball in a varsity game.

Prediction: Greensburg Central Catholic, 14-13

Springdale at Serra Catholic

7 p.m. Friday

Last season: Springdale (3-6, 3-5 in Eastern); Serra Catholic (1-9, 1-8 in Black Hills).

The buzz: Serra won just one game last season and that came via forfeit. On the field, the Eagles have lost 20 straight.

Key players: Serra receiver and playmaker Joe Satira returns after catching 47 passes last season. Quarterback Zac Quattrone injured his shoulder in a scrimmage and could miss several games. Adam Lock is a key two-way player for Springdale at halfback and linebacker.

About the Dynamos: Last season, the team had a string of 11 straight playoff appearances.

About the Eagles: They are among the newcomers to the Eastern Conference, joining Jeannette, Monessen, Clairton and Greensburg Central Catholic.

Prediction: Springdale, 14-7

Riverview at 7-A Jeannette

7 p.m. Friday

Last season: Riverview (1-8, 1-7 in Eastern); Jeannette (4-5, 4-4 in Interstate).

The buzz: Jeannette, despite repeated low enrollment numbers, finally is playing where it belongs, in Class A. The school has played up for many years and joins a competitive Eastern Conference group with Clairton, Monessen, rival Greensburg Central Catholic and Riverview.

Key players: Riverview's Raymar McCombs should take on an added role, particularly on offense, with the departure of RB/LB Keir Barber, who is too old to play this season. QB Julian Batts returns for his third season at Jeannette. He threw for 899 yards last season.

About the Raiders: Jason Cappa, son of longtime Riverview coach Jake Cappa, who died in May, takes over at his alma mater.

About the Jayhawks: They must replace their entire offensive line to help spring speedy backs like Zach Altieri and Terell Canady.

Prediction: Jeannette, 33-14


1-A Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic at Northgate

7 p.m. Friday

Last season: Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic (16-0, 8-0 in Eastern); Northgate (2-8, 2-6 in Eastern).

The buzz: Defending WPIAL and PIAA champion Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic is riding a 16-game winning streak. Coach T.J. Wiley is starting his second stint at Northgate after spending a season at Deer Lakes.

Key players: The Trojans are led by senior Duquesne recruit P.J. Fulmore, a RB and QB last season, who will mostly play wide receiver this season. Johnny Camello returns at quarterback for the Flames and is a threat to run and pass.

About the Trojans: QB Adam Sharlow threw for 875 yards last season, and senior Jerome Turner is back in the backfield after gaining 1,150 yards and 24 touchdowns.

About the Flames: Northgate averaged less than 10 points last season while allowing 30 under coach Brandon LeDonne.

Prediction: C.W. North Catholic, 21-7


Avella at Frazier

7 p.m. Friday

Last season: Avella (6-4, 5-3 in Tri-County South); Frazier (7-3, 6-2).

The buzz: Avella will be looking for back-to-back playoff appearances. The Commodores hope a strong start will help them in their quest to make the playoffs for the fourth year in a row. Frazier beat Avella, 33-9, last season.

Key players: Senior QB Santino Paris is the key cog in Avella's offense. Paris completed 80 of 142 passes for 1,443 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2013. Senior Nick Smalich figures to carry much of the load out of the Frazier backfield. Smalich rushed for 802 yards and nine touchdowns during his junior season.

About the Eagles: Senior Derek Allen led the team in tackles last season from his linebacker position.

About the Commodores: Frazier must replace a number of talented players lost to graduation, including quarterback Charlie Manack and receiver Dakota Hixson.

Prediction: Frazier, 24-13


2-A Clairton at California

7 p.m. Friday

Last season: Clairton (10-2, 8-1 Black Hills); California (4-5, 4-5 Black Hills).

The buzz: Both teams have been moved to different conferences after playing together in the Black Hills in 2013. Clairton goes to the Eastern after winning the Black Hills, despite seeing its state-record 66-game winning streak end, and California moves to the Tri-County South.

Key players: Clairton features a number of past productive veterans, including WRs Aaron Mathews and James Hines and RB Harrison Dreher. At California, RB/LB James Bongiorno appears to have taken a lead role.

About the Bears: Clairton appears to have the tools to be a serious contender for a WPIAL Class A title under former longtime Clairton assistant Wayne Wade, who takes over for Tom Nola, now at Class AAA Gateway.

About the Trojans: The move back to the Tri-County South should create more of a comfort zone for California, which was seeking a capable replacement for departed QB Demetri Clements.

Prediction: Clairton, 39-12

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