Mr. High School Sports would like to coin the phrase “Crystallization Week” to describe last Friday, when the WPIAL football playoff picture really started to take shape. It was also a good week for a handful of underdogs, because even though 31 of the 64 postseason spots were solidified, a few things didn’t go exactly the way we planned.
There were noteworthy upsets in all four classifications, while at the same time, in Single-A, the two best teams showed just how good they are. The traditional powerhouses also joined the playoff party in Triple-A, where there were plenty of tight finishes, and a couple more perfect teams fell by the wayside in Double-A and Quad-A. Here’s how it all happened, as I bring you the highlights from Week 7:
Rochester 41, Cornell 0 – Although this lopsided loss does not take all the shine off the Raiders’ (4-1, 6-1) season, it does prove the Rams (5-0, 7-0) are in a class of their own in Class A. Running back/linebacker De’Andre Moon paced Rochester offensively with 106 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries, and contributed five tackles to the Rochester defense, which helped the Rams clinch a playoff berth and earned its fourth shutout by holding Cornell to 124 offensive yards, including just one in the second half.
Clairton 52, Brentwood 0 – Once again, with all due respect to the losing squad, the Bears (5-0, 7-0) proved that the Spartans (3-2, 5-2), previously the second-place team in the Black Hills Conference, were indeed a very distant second to the reigning state champions. The Clairton defense, which did not allow a first down for the second time this year, earned its seventh running clock in as many games, and posted its fifth shutout, officially punched that team’s ticket to the playoffs, while Tyler Boyd totaled 113 yards on the ground, including a pair of 50-yard scoring runs.
Western Beaver 22, Sto-Rox 6 – The Vikings (3-2, 5-2) were one of the preseason darlings in Single-A, but their trip to the postseason will have to wait at least one more week after being upset by the host Golden Beavers (3-2, 4-3), who took one step closer to a playoff berth of their own, in Big 7 action Saturday afternoon. Tailback Eric Blinn racked up 183 yards and the winning TD on 25 carries, and the Western Beaver defense forced three picks by Sto-Rox QB Lenny Williams, who ended with 173 yards on 11-of-25 passing in defeat.
Serra Catholic 28, Avella 26 – It’s been a rebuilding year for first-year head coach Jamie Eckles and his Eagles (3-2, 3-4), who nevertheless kept their season on life support with a narrow victory at home over the “other” Eagles (0-5, 0-7) in Black Hills Conference play. Avella QB Cameron Geresti finished 17-of-29 with 198 yards and hurled two second-half touchdown passes to turn a 28-6 deficit into a nail-biter, but Serra’s Joe Jurofcik, who ran for 99 yards on 21 tries, also threw a 36-yard touchdown pass in the 2nd quarter that proved to be the game-winning score.
Aliquippa 20, Beaver 14 (OT) – Mike Zmijanac can go ahead and pencil another Midwestern Conference title into his resume, but the visiting Quips (7-0, 7-0) needed an extra effort and a little extra luck to defeat the playoff-bound Bobcats (5-1, 6-1) in the extra session. Mikal Hall threw for 110 yards and two TD’s, including one to Haetaun Mathis (pictured left), while freshman tailback Dravon Henry ran for 52 yards and the only score of overtime, and after a failed extra point left the door open for Beaver, quarterback Christian Herstine slipped and fell on a 4th-down keeper to end the game.
Jeannette 26, Mount Pleasant 7 – The Jayhawks (6-0, 6-1) have erased just about any memory of an uncharacteristically tough 2009 campaign and gave themselves a chance to take back the Interstate Conference crown by pulling away from the Vikings (4-2, 4-3) late. A leg injury forced Darius Brown from the game in the second half, but not before his two- and six-yard TD runs broke a 7-7 tie, and Demetrius Cox totaled 95 yards on 10 carries and an insurance touchdown to lead Jeannette, which clinched a playoff spot.
Steel Valley 21, Keystone Oaks 0 – There are two things I think we can take from this Century Conference matchup: how much the Golden Eagles (3-2, 5-2) depend on a healthy Jordan Maddox, and how much the Ironmen (3-2, 5-2) depend on a healthy Delrece Williams. Williams, the leading rusher in Class AA with 1,493 yards, humbled KO at Dormont Stadium by running for 215 on 20 attempts and scoring from 32, 36, and 46 yards out, and the Steel Valley defense limited Matt McCann to 30 yards rushing on 18 carries and forced three turnovers.
Deer Lakes 35, Freeport 21 – They might still have one more bridge to cross, depending on how these last two weeks play out, but the Lancers (4-1, 5-2) moved oh-so-close to clinching their first playoff berth in program history with an emotional victory at Freeport. Running back Brian Palmiere, who led all with 152 yards on 24 attempts, broke a halftime deadlock and gave DL the lead for good with a 44-yard score, the first of his three touchdowns, while quarterback Brendan Lynch (pictured left) carried the Yellowjackets (3-2, 4-3) with 153 yards passing and three TD tosses in a losing effort.
Montour 44, Blackhawk 20 – No mountain seems too big to climb and no defense tough enough to weather the top-ranked Spartans (5-0, 7-0), who showered the Cougars (3-2, 5-2) with an early barrage of offense in an impressive Parkway Conference victory that locked up a playoff berth. Quarterback Dillon Buechel led all WPIAL signal-callers in Week 7 with 285 yards in an 18-of-26 outing that produced three touchdowns, one of them a 30-yarder to Darren Massey, who led all Class AAA receivers last week with an even 100 yards on eight catches.
Hopewell 26, Central Valley 22 – Another week, another season-saving win, another epic performance by WPIAL rushing leader Rushel Shell, who single-handedly powered the Vikings (2-3, 3-4) past his latest victim, the visiting Warriors (2-3, 4-3). Shell carried the mail 35 times for 302 yards and three touchdowns, including a 92-yard scoring sprint in the 1st quarter, to move to 4th on the district’s career rushing list with 5,961 yards, while Curtis Lewis, back from a one-game academic suspension, recorded 79 offensive yards and was one of three Central Valley players to find the end zone.
West Allegheny 35, New Castle 7 – West Allegheny’s quick-strike offense, still very potent even without one Mr. Caputo, helped the Indians (5-0, 6-1) clinch a playoff spot, leaving the Red Hurricane (1-4, 3-5) teetering on the brink of elimination and wondering what the heck hit them. New Castle was up 7-6 with just four minutes left in the first half, but Aaron McKinney, who finished with 160 rushing yards, scored one of three West A touchdowns in that span, his second of the game, and linebacker/tight end Mitch Posel led them with five tackles while scoring one defensive and one offensive TD.
Greensburg-Salem 47, Hollidaysburg 35 – I’ve had fun watching the playoff picture in the new-look Keystone Conference unfold, as the Golden Lions (4-1, 6-1) overcame the Golden Tigers (2-3, 4-3)–and themselves–for perhaps the craziest victory of Week 7. Salem squandered what looked to be an insurmountable 27-0 lead in the 3rd quarter when Chad Barton, who ended with 280 passing yards, threw the second of his three TD passes, this one to T.J. Keefer, who led all WPIAL receivers with 160 yards, then Josh Falatovich, who racked up 206 yards in the air, answered back with one of his four TD passes to give playoff-bound Salem a lead it finally held.
North Allegheny 35, Pine-Richland 7 – What began last Friday night as our featured game quickly turned into a one-man show, and not surprisingly, North Allegheny tailback Alex Papson was the star. Papson (pictured left) tore through P-R’s defense for 238 yards rushing on 28 carries and three TD’s, including scoring bursts of 37 and 73 yards, and Mike Buchert accumulated 126 passing yards on just four completions, adding another score to help the Tigers (4-0, 7-0) wrap up a playoff spot in convincing fashion against the Rams (2-3, 2-5). Click here to relive any or all of the action from the 93.7 The Fan Game of the Week.
Erie McDowell 19, North Hills 14 – With Taylor Schmidt concussed early on, the Indians (3-1, 6-1) just couldn’t right the wrongs on offense, and the Trojans (3-2, 5-2) left Martorelli Stadium with an upset of the second-place team in the Northern Seven Conference. Greg Garmon kept the North Hills defense off balance by carrying 23 times for 136 yards and hauled in a game-winning 43-yard touchdown pass from Colin Kimball in the final frame; Kimball’s counterpart, Steve Dutkowski, threw for 128 yards and a touchdown on 11-of-28 passing in relief of Schmidt.
Mount Lebanon 21, Bethel Park 7 – The second-ranked Blue Devils (3-0, 7-0) are enjoying their best stretch in over a decade, and those who attended last Friday’s Great Southern rivalry game saw what must be the best performance by a Mount Lebanon running back in that time frame. Luke Hagy led all WPIAL backs in Week 7 with a personal-best 317 rushing yards, including touchdowns of 71 and 89, on just 21 tries–a ridiculous average of over 15 yards a pop–which was more than enough to overshadow Bethel’s Bre’ Ford, who ran for 183 on 23 carries and the only score for the Black Hawks (1-2, 3-4).
McKeesport 14, Norwin 7 – The Knights (2-2, 3-4) didn’t have to out-slug an opponent on the scoreboard for a change, thanks to their best defensive effort of the season, and yet they bowed to the Tigers (4-0, 6-1), who clinched a playoff spot out of the Foothills Conference because the McKeesport defense outlasted them. It held Tim Petro to just 77 yards and one score on seven completions while forcing two interceptions, and running back Sam Gooden dashed for a game-winning 54-yard TD in the 3rd quarter as part of a 27-carry, 203-yard outing.
Peabody 12, Westinghouse 6 (2 OT) – Peabody High School is closing for good at the end of this academic year, so time will tell if the Highlanders (1-5, 1-6) picked up the final win in program history last Saturday afternoon. Quarterback Donte Forte scrambled three yards to paydirt in the second overtime (pictured left) to give Peabody the win over the Bulldogs (0-5, 1-6), who had forced OT by recovering a fumble in the end zone.
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 Rutgers, catch us at a special time this week: Saturday morning 7:00-9:00 on SportsRadio 93.7 The Fan and 937thefan.com!