Since he’s always been good at math–or at least that’s one of the subjects he always excelled at in school way back when–Mr. High School Sports wants to do a little math here. There are 125 football programs in the WPIAL, with 64 playoff spots up for grabs, 16 in each classification. Using basic subtraction, this means that 61 teams will not play meaningful games beyond next week. As we enter Week 8, 31 of those playoff berths have been locked up, leaving 33, and 29 teams have already been knocked out of contention. This means that 65 teams are left to fight for 33 spots starting this week. What does it all add up to? A lot of desperation-style football.
You will note how much more fun the WPIAL football season becomes to watch when teams have to fight for survival, not just another win, which is the case for a number of squads across all four classifications, while conference titles and postseason trips will be awarded to a number of others. Here’s a few things to look for in Week 8, starting with a special report on Mr. High School Sports’ Game of the Week:
MR. HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS’ GAME OF THE WEEK:
SHALER TITANS (3-1, 5-2)
@ NORTH ALLEGHENY TIGERS (4-0, 7-0)
(CLASS AAAA, NORTHERN SEVEN CONFERENCE)
Kickoff @ 7:30; Randy Gore with play-by-play, Rick Meister with color commentary on msasports.net via the North Allegheny Sports Network
SCOUTING THE TITANS:
Here’s what one anonymous coach had to say about Shaler:
“The best way they move the ball is by throwing it, but they’re not shy about running when they really have to. They play a pretty standard defense, so the best way to score might be to just stick to your gameplan.”
SCOUTING THE TIGERS:
Here’s what one anonymous coach had to say about North Allegheny:
“There’s a reason we always call them ‘the University of North Allegheny’…because, as a team, they play to the level of a good college program. They’re fast, they’re powerful…as far as I’m concerned, they’re my pick to win the WPIAL championship.”
SHALER’S KEYS TO VICTORY:
1. A healthy Holtz. With his uncanny size for a player at that position, tailback J.P. Holtz is the Titans’ best bet for punching holes in NA’s immobile defensive line, but he played through pain last week. So how much damage can he do this week?
2. Go short, not long. Forget the big play. NA’s defense doesn’t give up a lot of those. Ryan Minchner needs to focus on accuracy and making first downs in the interest of controlling the clock and keeping Alex Papson off the field.
3. Believe! This is a Shaler team that has exceeded expectations after graduating most of its 2009 starting lineup, and that was a darn good football team. Playing the role of underdog effectively is all about attitude, and it takes a great deal of self-confidence to play with the Tigers.
NORTH ALLEGHENY’S KEYS TO VICTORY:
1. Score early. NA usually wins by getting up on teams right off the bat with Alex Papson and the running game. Shaler has character, but the Titans are not a team capable of playing catch-up if they fall behind by two or more scores.
2. Man-to-man coverage. If the Tigers wish not to make this a close game, their defensive backs will know their assignments and stick right with Ryan Minchner’s receivers, because as our scout said, Shaler has been playing better as its QB has gained more confidence.
3. Penetration. Like I said, Minchner has gotten comfortable as the season has progressed, so NA needs to make him uncomfortable. With the big boys they have up front, North Allegheny is capable of blowing Shaler off the line of scrimmage and blowing up the pocket.
OTHER CLASS AAAA GAMES TO WATCH:
Upper St. Clair @ Bethel Park – The Panthers (3-0, 6-1) are already in the WPIAL Playoffs, but the fledgling Black Hawks (1-2, 3-4) are not, and as they sit at second in Tiebreaker points at minus-7, they need to pull off this upset and do some Great Southern Conference scoreboard-watching. Whichever team can make more big plays on the ground probably gets the upper hand, as Bre’ Ford, with his 879 rush yards and 15 touchdowns, will be the focal point of BP’s offense, while fleet-footed QB Dakota Conwell leads the charge for USC, having racked up 1,134 all-purpose yards.
Norwin @ Latrobe – We’ve been seeing a lot of Norwin in this blog, because if the Knights (2-2, 3-4) don’t take care of business against the Wildcats (1-3, 4-3), we won’t see them again unless they get some help in Week 9. Norwin is currently the Foothills Conference leader in WPIAL Tiebreaker points at minus-2, and quarterback Tim Petro is currently the section leader in passing with 987 yards in the air and ten TD’s, while Latrobe, which needs to win its last two to survive, will pin its hopes on Joe Wojciechowski, who threw for 116 yards and a score last week.
Penn Hills @ Kiski Area – The winner of this Big East Conference contest earns a postseason berth, while the loser has some work to do next week, and the Indians (3-1, 4-3), much like the host Cavaliers (2-2, 2-5), will call upon their passing game to carry the night. Phil Morford racked up 220 yards and threw three passes for touchdowns in a comfortable victory over Fox Chapel in Week 7, while Tim Johnson worked efficiently in a loss to Woodland Hills, completing seven of 12 for 60 yards and their only score.
CLASS AAA GAMES TO WATCH:
Chartiers Valley @ West Mifflin – It’s the 93.7 The Fan Game of the Week! Paul Paterra and Dan Zangrilli will have the call at 7:30 as the Titans (3-2, 3-4) host the Colts (3-2, 3-4) in what should be a hard-fought battle for playoff positioning in the Big Eight Conference. West Mifflin has a very balanced offense, though Chartiers Valley will spend most of this one worrying about Shamar Greene, who enters Week 8 with 925 yards and 13 TD’s, making him the No. 5 rusher in Class AAA, whereas good quarterback play will be the name of the game for Char-Valley; look for Sean Lapcevic and Kevin Gilleen, who enters with 282 receiving yards (15.7 yds/rec.), to try to pick apart the Titans’ secondary.
West Allegheny @ Montour – As far as I’m concerned the football gods could not have scripted a more entertaining Parkway Conference title bout, which pits the Spartans (5-0, 7-0), the top-ranked team in Class AAA, against the reigning WPIAL champion Indians (5-0, 6-1), still in the hunt despite not having Mike Caputo. Aaron McKinney, who ran for 160 yards last week and now has 14 TD’s on the year, continues to pick up the slack, and with Julian Durden posing an equal threat for Montour, the Spartans may need Dillon Buechel, who has thrown for 1,123 yards and 16 TD’s, to make some big plays until their defense figures out the wildcat.
Thomas Jefferson @ Belle Vernon – What has become a tradition at TJ will become reality once again if the Jaguars (5-0, 6-1) defeat the Leopards (4-1, 4-3) on the road, as a victory gives another Big Eight Conference championship to Thomas Jefferson. TJ will turn to star tailback Ryan Ruffing, who registered 101 yards and two touchdowns versus Trinity in Week 7, to help seal the deal, while Belle Vernon, which must split its last two games to grab a playoff spot, hopes for another heroic performance from its own featured back, Matt Green, who rushed for 171 and the winning TD against West Mifflin last Friday.
Franklin Regional @ Ringgold – This Keystone Conference affair at Joe Montana Stadium, which goes a long way toward the conference crown, could go a lot of directions; both team’s defenses have vastly improved, yet both No. 1 tailbacks are scary good at making even the most skilled defender miss. Leading the Rams (5-0, 7-0) is Derrick Fiore, who enters Week 8 with 879 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns, while the Panthers (5-0, 6-1) will let rising star Dane Brown, the second-leading tailback in the Keystone with 1,013 yards and 16 TD’s, pound away at Ringgold’s very tough defensive front.
Blackhawk @ Central Valley – The first season in program history has had its share of positive moments for Central Valley, but the Warriors (2-3, 4-3) will likely have to outlast the Cougars (3-2, 5-2) Friday and win again next week to prolong it. Blackhawk, which is in the playoffs with a win, got 109 yards and one TD from freshman quarterback Chandler Kincade last week, his third straight 100-yard game, and they need to worry about containing his counterpart, Curtis Lewis, who has 932 all-purpose yards and is not easy to catch when he leaves the pocket.
CLASS AA GAMES TO WATCH:
Greensburg C.C. @ East Allegheny – We’ll find out if that surprisingly difficult non-conference win over lowly Mohawk last week woke up the Centurions (6-0, 7-0) as they prepare to face the playoff-bound Wildcats (5-2, 5-2), who have rebounded nicely from a rough ’09 campaign. East Allegheny hopes Jody Harris, who has thrown for 652 yards and seven TD’s, can poke some holes in GCC’s secondary, assuming Carlos Sloan can’t get past their superior linemen, and those linemen have also blocked nicely for Andy Biros, who enters with 664 rushing yards and nine total touchdowns.
Burrell @ Deer Lakes – During the off-season the Deer Lakes football seniors vowed to turn around the program, and now the Lancers (4-1, 5-2), who lead the Allegheny Conference with 30 Tiebreaker points, are just one win away from keeping their promise and clinching their first-ever playoff berth. Don’t be surprised if DL puts the ball in the hands of Brian Palmiere, who ran for 152 yards and three second-half touchdowns against Freeport, whereas the Buccaneers (3-2, 4-3) will try to win in the air and have Zach Middleby look for preferred targets Cole Bush and Dave Yakopec, who have combined for 737 yards receiving.
Keystone Oaks @ Burgettstown – The Golden Eagles (3-2, 5-2), playing without injured star Jordan Maddox, will try to halt their brief downward spiral with a win over the Blue Devils (0-5, 1-6), which, combined with a South Allegheny loss, would get KO to the playoffs. Matt McCann, who has racked up 1,382 all-purpose yards and 21 TD’s, was held in check by Steel Valley last week, so he’ll be anxious to get going against Burgettstown, whose quarterback, Ryan DuPain, has been a bright spot with 778 yards and seven touchdown passes.
Steel Valley @ Quaker Valley – If the one-man wrecking crew that is Delrece Williams can destroy just one more opponent, the Ironmen (3-2, 5-2) will clinch a playoff spot, pending other results in the Century Conference. Going into this week’s action Williams is the No. 2 rusher in the WPIAL with 1,493 yards, averaging over nine per carry, and is second in the district with 122 points, while the Quakers (1-4, 1-6) are trying to grow and continue to bank on Pat Conlan, who has thrown for 703 yards and five touchdowns, to provide leadership and keep the game interesting.
CLASS A GAMES TO WATCH:
Riverview @ Bishop Canevin – We don’t know much about the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference, except that both the visiting Raiders (4-2, 5-2) and host Crusaders (5-1, 6-1) are still very much in it. Riverview, which needs a win and some help these last couple weeks, is led by tailback Terrell Craighead, who has run for 572 yards and nine scores, while Canevin, which clinches a playoff berth with a win, got a 209-yard effort from Chris Walko last week that produced a pair of rushing touchdowns, so the question becomes how well he can run to set up Matt Butter and the passing game, which gives the Crusaders an edge.
Serra Catholic @ Brentwood – Meanwhile, in the Black Hills Conference, the host Spartans (3-2, 5-2) are in if they win, but the Eagles (3-2, 3-4) need a win and a little extra help in order to avoid having to beat Clairton next week to punch their ticket to November. The defensive line for Brentwood will have its hands full trying to stop Joe Jurofcik, the second-leading rusher in Class A with 916 yards and an average of 6.4 yards a pop, though Brentwood also has a game-changer in Cory Bauer, who has thrown for 322 of his 710 passing yards to Brendan Pavlik (13.4 yds/rec.).
Shenango @ Sto-Rox – The Vikings (3-2, 5-2) can clinch a playoff berth out of the Big 7 Conference with a win, but that might not come as easily as once anticipated since 17 players have been benched per the school district’s controversial new academic policy. The names of those not dressing against the Wildcats (2-3, 3-4) are unknown, but we know that QB Lenny Williams, who has 936 passing yards and seven TD’s, will carry this team if he plays, but Shenango, which needs two wins to make the playoffs, might have found a secret weapon in now-healthy Anthony Koscuiszko, who ran for 113 yards and two touchdowns last week.
Monessen @ Jefferson-Morgan – A win by the visiting Greyhounds (6-0, 6-1) gives them the Tri-County South Conference title, while the Rockets (2-4, 3-4) try to play spoiler as they start looking ahead to next season. To do it they need quarterback Brandon Kozich, usually the driving force behind that offense, to get his game back after struggling for 72 passing yards in a Week 7 loss to California, and look for Monessen to attack them by spreading the wealth between Trae Cook and QB Brent Crenshaw, who combined for 214 rush yards and four scores in last week’s win over West Greene.
CITY LEAGUE GAME TO WATCH:
Brashear @ Perry – What might be a preview of the City League championship game takes place in Week 8. Perry’s Greg McGhee, the top passer in the League and No. 4 QB in western PA with 1,332 yards and 15 touchdowns, leads the Commodores (5-0, 5-1) against the Bulls (4-1, 4-2) and their quarterback, Adam Lynch, who threw for 106 yards and scored twice in a thrilling overtime win over Oliver in Week 7.
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!