The stretch run of the 2010 WPIAL football season is here, and at this time Mr. High School Sports is reminded of the immortal words of Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis: “Just win, baby.” This is the time when the playoff picture in each classification starts to develop, and a number of the teams I’ll be talking about just need to get one “W” to either punch their ticket or keep their postseason hopes alive for another week.
Not only are the bubble teams fighting for playoff positioning, but some of the top teams are as well, which is the case in Quad-A, while in Triple-A the reputation of the number one team is on the line once again. Meanwhile, it’s discovery time for one Double-A team, whose historic playoff drought may end, and for a couple burgeoning programs in Single-A too. Here’s what I will–and what you should–be looking for in Week 7, starting with a preview of our Game of the Week:
93.7 THE FAN GAME OF THE WEEK:
NORTH ALLEGHENY TIGERS (3-0, 6-0)
@ PINE-RICHLAND RAMS (2-2, 2-4)
(CLASS AAAA, NORTHERN SEVEN CONFERENCE)
Kickoff @ 7:30; Paul Paterra with play-by-play, Dan Zangrilli with color commentary
SCOUTING THE TIGERS:
Here’s what one anonymous coach had to say about North Allegheny:
“What stands out about them offensively and defensively is the same thing: their linemen…they’re very physical. They make the offense a complete package, and defensively they make it easier for the linebackers and corners to make plays.”
SCOUTING THE RAMS:
Here’s what one anonymous coach had to say about Pine-Richland:
“[Quarterback Andy] Borgen makes great decisions and is able to keep a play alive with his feet…though if [wide receiver Tommy] Berexa is minimized that makes it tough for them. Defensively I would say they’re tougher than they might look on film.”
NORTH ALLEGHENY’S KEYS TO VICTORY:
1. Clear a path for Papson. In spite of what our scout just told you, the Rams’ defense is very prone to giving up big plays, particularly on the ground. Expect Alex Papson, who leads Quad-A with 1,134 yards, to get at least 30 carries in this game.
2. Blanket Berexa. Tommy Berexa has been Pine-Richland QB Andy Borgen’s go-to guy all season. If the Tigers’ linebackers and secondary can keep him honest, that forces the Rams to run more, which might not work against NA’s defensive line.
3. Relentless linemen. Once again, one of the trademarks of this team is the way they wear you down up front. Borgen can be effective as a mobile quarterback, but how effective can he be when he doesn’t have much room or time to maneuver?
PINE-RICHLAND’S KEYS TO VICTORY:
1. Protect the pigskin. At certain times this season the Rams have been their own worst enemy, though last week they took advantage of a Seneca Valley team having ball security issues of its own. There seems to be a pattern developing here…
2. Protect Borgen. Andy Borgen enters this game as the most productive quarterback in Quad-A with over 900 passing yards. But he can’t keep making the kind of big plays the Rams will need if his offensive line doesn’t keep him upright.
3. Stack the line. Throwing the ball isn’t the key to NA’s offense, but Alex Papson is. Pine-Richland must seriously consider putting eight or nine men up on the line of scrimmage and not give him any opportunity to find his holes.
OTHER CLASS AAAA GAMES TO WATCH:
Erie McDowell @ North Hills – Elsewhere in Northern Seven play, defense must be the name of the game for the Indians (3-0, 6-0), as it has been all year, if they want to pass the test provided by the Trojans (2-2, 4-2) and their triple-option and keep their section title hopes alive. Offensively, the key for both teams will be their multi-faceted quarterbacks; Taylor Schmidt gained 207 all-purpose yards and scored three times in a Week 6 romp over Butler, while Colin Kimball of McDowell is a big-play threat with 596 rush yards and 12 offensive TD’s (6 rush, 6 pass) through six games.
Bethel Park @ Mount Lebanon – Normally marquee rivalries in the WPIAL are reserved for the last week of the regular season, but the two most bitter enemies within the Great Southern Conference will hook up a little earlier. This game will be won or lost in the trenches with two of the premier running backs in Quad-A going head to head, as Bre’ Ford of the Black Hawks (1-1, 3-3), one of the top ten rushers and scorers in the classification with 696 yards and 14 TD’s, will try to outshine Luke Hagy of the Blue Devils (2-0, 6-0), who enters Week 7 having already bested his 2009 output with 948 yards and 17 touchdowns.
McKeesport @ Norwin – Recent success has been tenuous for the Tigers (3-0, 5-1), who defeated Latrobe and Penn-Trafford in succession by just ten points combined, so they might have their hands full with the high-flying offense of the Knights (2-1, 3-3). Norwin’s Tim Petro has completed 56% of his passes for 910 yards and eight touchdowns, but he faces a very fast and athletic McKeesport defense trying to damage the Knights’ playoff hopes led by Sam Gooden, who also contributed 165 rush yards and four TD’s in a dramatic overtime victory over Penn-Trafford last week.
CLASS AAA GAMES TO WATCH:
Montour @ Blackhawk – I’ve been following the top-ranked Spartans (4-0, 6-0) quite closely this season, though my own eyes won’t be the only ones trained on this Parkway Conference battle featuring one of the district’s best offenses and the rising stars of the rugged Cougars (3-1, 5-1). If Julian Durden, the No. 2 rusher in Class AAA with 1,054 yards, has an easier time finding his way against this solid defense than he did against Central Valley’s, it’ll open things up for Dillon Buechel and put more pressure on Blackhawk freshman Chandler Kincade, who threw for 113 yards and one of his two TD’s in last week’s win.
Central Valley @ Hopewell – Speaking of pivotal Parkway Conference contests, all are curious what the leading rusher in Beaver County history can do for an encore to keep the Vikings’ (1-3, 2-4) season alive when they take on the playoff-hungry Warriors (2-2, 4-2). After last week it’s evident Central Valley needs the leadership of quarterback Curtis Lewis, who has thrown for 486 yards and scored seven TD’s but was ruled academically ineligible for a Week 6 loss, just as certainly as Hopewell will pin its hopes on Shell, who enters this contest with 5,659 career rushing yards, including 1,403 this year.
Trinity @ Thomas Jefferson – Once upon a time Chartiers Valley was supposed to be TJ’s greatest threat in the Big Eight Conference, and now the second-place Hillers (2-1, 4-2) will try to play giant killer against the Jaguars (3-0, 5-1), who have been invincible in conference play for quite some time. Last week Brad Martin threw the ball very efficiently for 135 yards and three scores in a whitewashing of Elizabeth Forward, and the Jags will look for continued strong play from their new QB, Dom Presto, who totaled 132 pass yards and three TD’s of his own against aforementioned Chartiers Valley in Week 6.
West Mifflin @ Belle Vernon – Further playoff positioning will be at stake in the Big Eight when the fourth-place Titans (3-1, 3-3) travel down Route 51 to clash with the third-place Leopards (3-1, 3-3) under the lights. Tailback Shamar Greene, one of the leading scorers in Class AAA, will surely be the focal point of West Mifflin’s offense once again after racking up 195 yards in an easy win over McGuffey last week, while Belle Vernon will count on Matt Naylor’s arm, which produced four touchdowns and 227 passing yards in Week 6, to guide their increasingly potent offense to victory.
CLASS AA GAMES TO WATCH:
Aliquippa @ Beaver – Before the Quips (6-0, 6-0) can celebrate another Midwestern Conference crown, they must clear this bar, and the Bobcats (5-0, 6-0) have set the bar pretty high with a stubborn defense and sustained ground attack just like Aliquippa’s. Sam O’Neill and Darian Bradley, the latter of whom tore up Mohawk in Week 6, have combined for 749 rushing yards this season, so if Beaver’s defense can contain Mikal Hall, the conference’s leading passer with 762 yards and 11 touchdowns at a 64% completion rate, the home team has a shot.
Jeannette @ Mount Pleasant – The Interstate Conference title may be out of reach, but the Vikings (4-1, 4-2) at least want to earn a home playoff game, and they can start by clipping the wings of the Jayhawks (5-0, 5-1), who seem to be back to their old selves in 2010. Tailback Bryce Ansell is coming off a 118-yard performance in Mount Pleasant’s narrow triumph over East Allegheny, and Jordan Edmunds led Jeannette last week with 114 yards and two scores, so this one becomes largely a matter of how well the Vikings’ “D” can keep Demetrius Cox (9 TD, 58 pts.) between the tackles.
Steel Valley @ Keystone Oaks – The possibility of the Golden Eagles (3-1, 5-1) having to take the field with a hobbled Jordan Maddox creates an even more interesting Century Conference matchup, and it would make life a lot easier for the Ironmen’s (2-2, 4-2) suspect defense. Even with Maddox’s sprained knee (he is expected to play), Matt McCann won’t mind shouldering the load because he’s already registered 874 rush yards and 104 points (2nd in the WPIAL) out of the wildcat, but after 275 yards and six TD’s in Week 6, can the top rusher in Double-A, Delrece Williams, deliver another–necessary–monster effort for Steel Valley?
Deer Lakes @ Freeport – Founded in 1969, the Deer Lakes football program has never made the WPIAL Playoffs, but all that may very well change if the Lancers (3-1, 4-2) find a way to leave James E. Swartz Memorial Field with a win over the Yellowjackets (3-1, 4-2). So far DL’s linemen have done a fine job clearing paths for guys like Pat Jones, who put up 186 offensive yards and found the end zone four times against West Shamokin, but the question here is whether their secondary can withstand the one-two punch of Brendan Lynch (590 pass yds, 3 TD) to Derek Durand (20 rec., 465 yds, 3 TD).
CLASS A GAMES TO WATCH:
Cornell @ Rochester – Who’d have thunk that this game would ever mean anything other than another potential mercy-rule victory for the No. 2 Rams (4-0, 6-0), but alas, the No. 5 Raiders (4-0, 6-0) will take their shot at a significant upset and the Big 7 Conference lead. Quarterback Shawn Owens, who has amassed 712 all-purpose yards and 13 TD’s, can do it all, and he’ll try his luck against the always-reputable Rochester defense, led by De’Andre Moon, who has also made things happen on offense with 11 total touchdowns, putting him among the ten most prolific scorers in Class A as well.
Clairton @ Brentwood – Conventional wisdom says the Spartans (3-1, 5-1) aren’t as close to the PIAA champions as the Black Hills Conference standings indicate, so Brentwood will need an unconventional effort to knock off the Bears (4-0, 6-0). Cory Bauer is in midseason form, having hurled seven TD passes and racked up 709 yards for Brentwood, and so is defensive end Desimon Green, who creates an interesting individual battle and isn’t a bad quarterback himself, with 784 pass yards and 15 TD’s to power Clairton’s offense.
Sto-Rox @ Western Beaver – The Vikings (3-1, 5-1), through six weeks, have looked superb at just about every position, and although there isn’t much separation beneath Rochester and Cornell in the Big 7, the Golden Beavers (2-2, 3-3) have something to prove this Saturday. Eric Blinn put up a good fight in defeat last week by running for a touchdown and throwing for another versus Rochester, but as they try to step closer to a playoff berth, one wonders if Western has the horses to keep up with such playmakers as Lenny Williams Marzett Geter, who had a breakout game against South Side Beaver with 204 rush yards and four scores.
Jefferson-Morgan @ California – For California’s sake I hope the Trojans (3-2, 3-3) don’t mind wearing targets on their backs, because the visiting Rockets (2-3, 3-3) are one of three teams with identical records aiming to take them down for the last playoff spot in the Tri-County South. Jefferson-Morgan needs Brandon Kozich, who threw for 100 yards and two TD’s and kicked two extra points last week, to be on his game, and in the meantime, they’ll have to blitz like crazy to stop Cal’s T.D. Conway, the top QB in Class A, who enters Week 7 with 1,136 yards and 15 touchdowns.
CITY LEAGUE GAME TO WATCH:
Brashear @ Oliver – Friday afternoon brings us a rematch of last year’s City League Semifinals, and this year it appears the cleat is on the other foot. The Bulls (3-1, 3-2), who lost that game to the Bears (1-3, 1-5) in ’09, enter as a favorite and look for another big day from QB Adam Lynch, who threw for 142 yards and two scores last Thursday, and his counterpart, Shakeem Cox, is coming off a nice individual performance of his own (153 pass yds, pass TD, rush TD in Week 6).
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. Due to Pitt’s noon kickoff against Syracuse, catch us at a special time this week: Saturday morning 7:00-9:00 on SportsRadio 93.7 The Fan and 937thefan.com!