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"Mr. High School Sports" – Quick Outs: Week 5 Edition

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The “pivot” of the 2010 WPIAL football season has given me a lot to think about.  Over the past few days, I’ve discovered two more programs in Class A that might finally be turning the same corner as Cornell, albeit a tad slower, I’ve thought about why Penn Hills hasn’t been as dominant as it used to be, and I’ve reflected upon what homecoming means to me.  After all, a lot of schools are celebrating it as we speak, so why not me?  Here are some more things to chew on, as I offer my own personal take on all the Week 5 action in western PA with my “Quick Outs”:

*It is worth noting that two of Class A’s longest-suffering programs, which, ironically, both play out of the Tri-County South Conference, are discreetly showing signs of improvement.  Although those signs are marginal compared to the meteoric rise of Cornell in the Big 7 Conference, Frazier and Geibel each have a shot at the playoffs.  Frazier actually defeated the Gators on the road Saturday afternoon, and so the Commodores are off to their best start since 1999.  Meanwhile, Geibel’s two wins might not seem worth getting excited about, but considering the size of the school and the fact that their stadium is a hodgepodge of things donated by other programs, the Gators could do a heck of a lot worse…and in the past, they have.  Their remaining schedule looks manageable, even more so than Frazier’s, so they could pull this off.  I’m one of these guys who always gets a kick out of seeing snake-bitten teams succeed, so even if they both got blown out in the first round, I would still be nothing short of thrilled to see either or both in the postseason.

*When you talk about the best defenses in the WPIAL, I think most people think of Rochester and Clairton, and for good reason.  They’ve made a habit of shutting out opponents, and with all due respect to the great offensive players they’ve had over the years, defense has ultimately been the foundation of their success.  But now it’s time to turn our attention to Greensburg Central Catholic and Ford City.  It’s easy to overlook Ford City in particular, because they’ve never won a WPIAL title and never even made a trip to Heinz Field, but traditionally the Sabers are among the district leaders in points allowed per game, and so far they’ve allowed just 5.4 per game while holding four opponents under ten points.  Meanwhile, GCC looks destined for a repeat the way those kids have jelled defensively.  The Centurions have surpassed Rochester as the top statistical defense in the WPIAL by shutting out four teams and allowing just 10 points to Charleroi.  And this past weekend they shut out Mount Pleasant, a quality conference opponent.  The last time Rochester faced a quality conference opponent they gave up 32 points.  Of course, it helps when your defensive line is bigger than half the kids in the state–figuratively speaking–but Muzzy Colosimo’s boys still deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as the others.

*Moon has found uncommon success in the first half of the 2010 campaign, but their long-term prospects took a big hit when tailback Mark Piccolo went down with a broken foot early in the Tigers’ homecoming celebration last Friday.  Once again, the injury bug continues to suck the fun out of this season by biting a star player, and to add insult to said injury, Moon lost its lead over Central Valley, and ultimately, the game.  You have to give Moon credit for, as head coach Jon Miller later pointed out, not quitting and for actually starting the game well in Piccolo’s absence.  But the fact of the matter is, this might be the beginning of the end for the Tigers, because they only have one conference win, three of their last four games are against ranked opponents, and they might have to play all four without their top gun.  They’re going to have to steal one, possibly two, possibly three, to make the playoffs.  Take nothing away from this team, because it looks like Miller might be the guy who finally turns it around, but this year Moon might very well become a victim of the Parkway Conference’s dominance.

Penn Hills punter/QB Phillip Morford has his punt blocked by Central Catholic's Louis Taglianetti.

(Courtesy of Sidney Davis, Tribune-Review)

*On Saturday a caller to The Post-Gazette High School Football Show talked about how Penn Hills hasn’t been as dominant as what we’ve seen in years past, and said Ron Graham probably needs to open up his offense more.  Mike White, as he usually does, hit the nail on the head by pointing out some numbers he saw from the MSA Sports Network…numbers suggesting teams that pass more don’t necessarily win more.  At any rate, I know Penn Hills isn’t what it used to be, but I can’t blame that on Ron Graham.  That team has still made the playoffs consistently under his watch and sent players to Division I schools under his watch, just as it did under Neil Gordon.  I think it’s just a matter of having the right mix of kids at the right time, and in that respect, other programs in Quad-A are enjoying the cyclical benefits of high school football, that’s all.  Ron Graham seems like a good coach, but let’s not kid ourselves, he’s not Neil Gordon, and it is patently unfair to expect him to be another Neil Gordon.  From my point of view, Gordon was let go for the wrong reasons, so right now Penn Hills is just getting what it asked for at the time…which doesn’t seem too bad so far.

*It’s easy to point to the Parkway Conference in Class AAA as being the toughest in the WPIAL from top to bottom, but I don’t think the Century Conference in Class AA is far behind.  Three of its teams–South Fayette, Seton-LaSalle, and Keystone Oaks–are in the Post-Gazette’s top five and in MSA’s top ten, and another member, Steel Valley, can easily break back into the latter’s rankings with a win over Washington this week.  With the exception of the Great Southern Conference in Class AAAA, which just began section play in Week 5, no other conference in the WPIAL has three undefeated teams.  All three of those teams boast some of the top offensive talent in the district; South Fayette has Christian Brumbaugh and tailback Jeff Davis, KO has the one-two punch of Jordan Maddox and Matt McCann, and LaSalle has Kevin Hart and David O’Brien, one of the best QB’s that nobody’s talking about.  Even the average-to-below-average teams have still have individuals who are enjoying good seasons, such as South Allegheny’s Jesse James, one of the top receivers in the classification.  As far as I’m concerned, any one of the top three is capable of making it to Heinz Field.

Gateway quarterback Thomas Woodson runs for extra yardage against Norwin in the first half of Friday's game.

(Courtesy of Lake Fong, Post-Gazette)

*Unlike the people who think Gateway showed the world that they’re back, and the people who think Norwin showed their true colors by getting boat-raced by the Gators in Week 5, I don’t think I can take anything from that game.  Yes, after a sluggish start, one can argue the “real” Gateway Gators showed up in North Huntingdon last Friday, and yes, Norwin clearly isn’t on the same level as that program, but what else is new?  Gateway simply did what it has typically done.  Terrorizing conference opponents not named McKeesport has been par for the course for Terry Smith’s team, even in years when it didn’t appear in the Quad-A championship game.  Beating up on Norwin, although they did stifle a talented passing game, is not a statement game by the Gators.  Norwin has not beaten a team above their heads, so to speak, this season, but they still have enough potential for a playoff berth.  The Week 9 meeting with McKeesport, should they win that convincingly, will be the real statement game for Gateway.  It always shakes down that way in the Foothills Conference.

Dane Brown

(Courtesy of Kehley Shank, Valley News-Dispatch)

*I got to see Franklin Regional sophomore running back Dane Brown play last Friday, and it was worth it.  Of course, he’s coached by Greg Botta, one of the better men at his job in these parts, but besides that, this kid has the physical tools of a rising star in western Pennsylvania.  I talked to Botta, and he couldn’t say enough nice things about the kid.  Now it’s easy to see why.  Brown might never be the most imposing player to walk out onto the football field, but he has great vision and can explode out of the backfield, and above all, has extreme patience.  He doesn’t mind waiting for a hole to develop or to re-open, because even though you might have him dead to rites behind the line of scrimmage, he knows he can make you miss.  Brown seems to be getting better every week, and I don’t think it’s any coincidence the Panthers are doing the same.  With his work ethic and Botta’s coaching I’d recommend keeping an eye on them, because they’re playing some pretty good football right now.

*Last Friday was homecoming week for a lot of schools, and this approaching Friday will bring more of the same.  I would advise any high school student reading this to enjoy his school’s homecoming festivities for all they’re worth, because if my own life is any guide, it could potentially be one of the more positive experiences of your time in high school.  I salute any and all folks who participate in the homecoming ceremonies at their respective schools; I know firsthand it is an honor to get to stand on a football field in front of your community and peer group, because I was lucky enough to do it twice.  I still remember how flattered I was when one senior I knew asked me, a 15-year-old sophomore, to be her escort, thus making me the youngest escort in the bunch that year.  It didn’t change my life by any means, but it still felt great to be chosen.  Geez, has it been 12 years already?  Feels like more than that sometimes…

For more of the latest news and views on and off the gridiron, be sure to check out The Post-Gazette High School Football Show Presented by First Commonwealth Bank with the Post-Gazette’s Mike White and MSA’s Don Rebel, Saturday mornings 8:00-10:00 on SportsRadio 93.7 The Fan and 937thefan.com!

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