Pine-Richland earns some respect as No. 1 seed in Class AAAA
In its search for WPIAL respect, Pine-Richland received the ultimate compliment.
“We're the team to beat,” said Pine-Richland coach Eric Kasperowicz, whose team was awarded the No. 1 seed in the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs when brackets were announced Monday night in Green Tree. “To come here and finally see it up there, it's a great feeling.”
The other No. 1s were Central Valley in Class AAA, South Fayette in Class AA and Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic in Class A. The four-round playoffs start Friday and conclude Nov. 21 with four championship games at Heinz Field.
“I'd much rather have (the team-to-beat) role than the underdog role,” Kasperowicz said.
The Rams know the underdog role well.
They were the Class AAA champion in 2003. But since joining Class AAAA in 2008, they're 0-3 in first-round playoff games. And never have they been seeded higher than No. 12.
A year ago as the No. 13 seed, they lost to No. 4 Woodland Hills, 35-14. In 2010 as the No. 16 seed, they lost to No. 1 Central Catholic, 37-10. In 2008 as No. 12, they lost to Penn Hills, 37-7.
For the team's second-year coach, this No. 1 seed showed just how far Pine-Richland had come.
“This is brand new,” Kasperowicz said. “It's a new era of football here.”
But the No. 1 seed didn't come easy.
The steering committee debated longer over the top seed in Class AAAA than the No. 1 spot in any of the other three classifications, WPIAL executive director Tim O'Malley said. Some on the committee thought Penn-Trafford deserved No. 1 after holding its nine opponents to 69 points.
“Eventually it was a consensus opinion and ended up where it did,” O'Malley said, “but that probably took 15 minutes to decide who was one and two.”
The deciding factor was Pine-Richland's 48-28 victory over Central Catholic on Oct. 17. Central Catholic was the defending WPIAL champion, the state runner-up and ranked No. 1 at the time.
“Pine-Richland with its win over Central probably deserved to be No. 1,” P-T coach John Ruane said.
The upset win greatly lifted Pine-Richland's stock a year after making the playoffs with four losses. The Rams lead Class AAAA with a 46.8-point average.
“Coming in (to the season), I think we were picked to finish No. 4 in the conference,” Kasperowicz said. “Now we're 9-0, undefeated and playing pretty well. Everybody's coming to get us.”
Central Catholic is No. 3 in Class AAAA, Penn Hills is No. 4, McKeesport is No. 5 and Woodland Hills is No. 6.
“I feel there are a lot of high-quality teams in the bracket,” Ruane said. “There are a lot of traditional teams like Upper St. Clair and North Allegheny. Really, the first round is going to be tough for everyone, but the second round, whoever is lucky enough to get there, will have a tough one.”
If the higher seeds win, No. 3 Central Catholic and No. 6 Woodland Hills would meet in the second round, a rematch of last year's championship. Central Catholic won 27-7.
The first-round matchup between North Allegheny and Upper St. Clair is a rematch from Week 4. NA won 31-14.
Bethel Park has the longest road trip. The Black Hawks travel to Altoona.
In other classifications:
• Jeannette and Clairton coaches were surprised that all four Eastern Conference teams were on the same side of the Class A bracket. All four Tri-County South teams were on the other side.
“I can't remember that ever occurring before,” Jeannette coach Roy Hall said. “But we can't worry about that.”
• Both this year and last, Beth-Center was an undefeated conference champion. The team was seeded No. 4 this year. It was only No. 8 in 2013.