The big game of musical chairs continues in the final week of the WPIAL football regular season, as 21 teams still in playoff contention compete for 11 spots in the dance. Mr. High School Sports will be watching those teams closely tonight, and he’ll also be keeping an eye on all the rivalry games, which is traditionally the most fun part of this week, aside from the fact it’s the week right before the WPIAL Playoffs.
Who will survive and claim the last available spot in Single-A, and who will emerge victorious from the most complicated conference title race of them all? After one longtime outsider made the playoffs in Double-A last week, will we see another? Who will claim the final conference championship in Triple-A? And for the first time ever, three conference titles will be decided in Quad-A in the last week of the season, one of them on this station, so who will have bragging rights in their neighborhood for another year? Let the scoreboard-watching begin with this glimpse at Week 9, including a special report on our Game of the Week:
93.7 THE FAN GAME OF THE WEEK:
McKEESPORT TIGERS (5-0, 7-1)
@ GATEWAY GATORS (5-0, 5-3)
(CLASS AAAA, FOOTHILLS 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 McKeesport:
“Under [new head coach] Jim Ward they’re a better defensive team than they’ve been in the past. Their offense may be more diverse under him, but it still takes a lot of discipline to play against it.”
SCOUTING THE GATORS:
Here’s what one anonymous coach had to say about Gateway:
“Terry Smith and his staff have done a great job with a young team that lost a lot of Division I talent. If you can block their linebackers you can move the ball, but they’re very active and tremendously quick.”
McKEESPORT’S KEYS TO VICTORY:
1. Play your game. This is Gateway’s Senior Night, and in those spots, the pressure to put on a show for the fans can get to you. If you’re the road team, you just have to concentrate on sticking to your own game plan. Gateway is a team that will test McKeesport’s patience.
2. It’s got to be Gooden. The few teams that have had success against the Gators are those who ran the ball and made big plays on the ground. McKeesport needs Sam Gooden to be an offensive presence in this football game.
3. Take away Franklin. Darin Franklin has grown into a leadership role for the Gateway offense, and his numbers are starting to mount. McKeesport, a team that blocks well, needs to shut him down and make the Gators beat them with their freshman quarterback.
GATEWAY’S KEYS TO VICTORY:
1. Be prepared. With McKeesport no longer exclusively running the flex-bone offense, Gateway’s defense is bound to see some things they’re not used to seeing. Defensively the Gators must not lose focus nor discipline.
2. Use the middle. A talented group of linemen, especially the defensive ends, are capable of taking away both sides of the field from Gateway’s offense. Tom Woodson needs to throw to the middle of the field and challenge McKeesport’s linebackers to catch his receivers.
3. Score first. First of all, Gateway isn’t used to playing from behind, and second of all, these are two of the best defenses in Quad-A. A low-scoring battle would not be surprising, and whoever can find the end zone first might come out on top.
OTHER CLASS AAAA GAMES TO WATCH:
Upper St. Clair @ Mount Lebanon – One of the nastiest geographic rivalries in Quad-A promises to get even nastier as the Blue Devils (4-0, 8-0) try to power their way past the dynamic Panthers (4-0, 7-1) for the Great Southern Conference title. The key for USC is if its line can handle the toughness of Lebo and Luke Hagy, one of the most productive tailbacks in the classification with 1,422 yards and 22 touchdowns, so Jim Render hopes that dynamic QB Dakota Conwell, who has rushed for about half of his 1,433 all-purpose yards and scored 14 TD’s, has enough answers.
North Allegheny @ North Hills – When the Tigers (5-0, 8-0) take the short ride to Martorelli Stadium to battle the hated Indians (4-1, 7-1), the winner will either take home the outright championship of the Northern Seven Conference or a share of it. The Big Red’s defense has earned quite a reputation and offensively North Hills might have found a new weapon in backup QB Steve Dutkowski, who threw for 300 yards and scored three times in Week 8, but is this defense tough enough to handle Alex Papson, the top rusher in Quad-A with 1,661 yards and 23 touchdowns?
Baldwin @ Bethel Park – Elsewhere in the Great Southern Conference the playoff scenarios are plentiful and the Highlanders (2-2, 3-5) find themselves in a must-win situation, while the Black Hawks (1-3, 3-5) find themselves in a similar, though unfamiliar, one. All year long Bre’ Ford has been a one-man wrecking crew, demolishing opposing defenses to the tune of 1,038 rushing yards and 16 TD’s, but don’t count out the resiliency of Baldwin’s offense, as Nathan Reed has thrown for six TD’s and over 900 yards and sets up their running game nicely.
CLASS AAA GAMES TO WATCH:
Knoch @ Mars – In order for the Planets (5-0, 7-1) to defend their Greater Allegheny Conference crown this Saturday evening, they’ll have to prevent the visiting Knights (5-0, 8-0) from capping off a first-ever perfect campaign with the first conference title of any kind in program history. Be prepared for lots of points, because Knoch’s offense is very dynamic, featuring quarterback Kyler Kenyon and tailback Andrew Rumberg-Goodlin, who have combined for 20 TD’s and over 1,700 yards, and no team has been able to solve Mars’ wing-T formation with Austin Miele, healthy again after totaling 988 rush yards and 14 TD’s in seven outings.
Hampton @ Highlands – It’s desperation time in Natrona Heights, where the winner goes on and the loser goes home in this meeting of the Talbots (2-3, 2-6) and Golden Rams (2-3, 4-4) for the Greater Allegheny Conference’s final playoff berth. Hampton is still trying to find its way on offense, and Phil Powell tried to help last week with 97 rush yards and 97 pass yards plus two scores in a loss to Knoch, while Highlands has already established balance with Seth Goheen, who threw for 137 yards and three TD’s in Week 8, and Gary Negley, who has run for over 700 yards this year.
Derry @ Hollidaysburg – Ron Polinsky has endured some misfortune with injuries this season, but his luck may have changed with a wild comeback over Uniontown in Week 8, as his Trojans (2-4, 2-6) now need just a win over the upstart Golden Tigers (3-3, 5-3), who need the same, to make the playoffs. Hollidaysburg’s defense must keep an eye on receiver Bobby Shorthouse and returning quarterback Talon Kreibel, who threw for 905 yards and five TD’s through six games before being concussed, while Derry must figure out how to stop Chad Barton, the top passer in Class AAA with 1,623 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Montour @ Moon – Never mind the fact that the Spartans (6-0, 8-0), in all probability, will be the No. 1 seed in the Class AAA playoffs, never mind the fact that the Tigers (1-5, 3-5) have been eliminated from playoff contention…this Airport-area rivalry game will be just as rancorous as always. Times are suddenly tough for an improved Moon squad without injured stars Mark Piccolo and Chad Bertrand, so they’ve turned to Cameron Grady, who scored his first touchdown of the year for Moon’s only points last week, whereas Montour’s star tailback, Julian Durden, is healthy as the proverbial horse, having galloped for 1,391 yards and 22 TD’s.
CLASS AA GAMES TO WATCH:
Jeannette @ Greensburg C.C. – Were the past few weeks a scared-straight experience for the WPIAL champion Centurions (7-0, 8-0), or are the resurgent Jayhawks (7-0, 7-1) ready to knock GCC off its perch for the Interstate Conference title? Muzzy Colosimo hopes Andy Biros has some more magic up his sleeve after amassing 763 yards this year and running for the winning TD last Friday against East A, while the challenge for Jeannette will be combating that brick-wall defensive line and creating space for versatile quarterback Demetrius Cox, who last week threw for 73 yards and a TD and ran for another.
Southmoreland @ Mount Pleasant – Last week we saw one epic playoff drought come to an end, and there’s a chance we’ll see the same in Week 9 when the Scotties (4-3, 4-4) visit the Vikings (5-2, 5-3) with a shot at their first postseason trip since 1979. Keep one eye on Southmoreland’s Dakota Datz, third in Class AA with 1,104 passing yards and not shy to run out of a balanced backfield, and keep your other eye on Mount Pleasant’s Tyler Mellors, who has taken over that team’s running game and racked up 154 yards and three scores in a Week 8 drubbing of Waynesburg.
Riverside @ Ellwood City – What began as a relative dream season for the Wolverines (4-3, 5-3) has since gotten a bit of a reality check, but now Ellwood City can show the WPIAL how much better that program is if they beat the Panthers (4-3, 5-3) for the last playoff spot in the Midwestern Conference. Containing Jared Desensi, who has run for 917 yards and 14 touchdowns, is a must if Ellwood City wants to keep its season alive, as is reviving what has become an anemic offense, and it’s largely about the confidence of Gino Ceriani, who threw for 107 yards last week but also threw an INT that was returned by Beaver Falls for a game-winning TD.
Beaver Falls @ Beaver – One of the premier rivalries in Beaver County pits two of its more successful programs against one another, and this edition takes a twist with the Bobcats (6-1, 7-1) and the Tigers (6-1, 7-1) fighting for second place and a home playoff game. Whichever team runs most effectively comes out on top, pure and simple; Trey Hall has quickly stepped into the feature back role for BF, rambling for 1,045 yards and 15 scores, while Christian Herstine, who threw for 113 yards and three TD’s in Week 8, likes to set up Sam O’Neill, who only had 25 rush yards against Laurel but can break the big one at any moment.
CLASS A GAMES TO WATCH:
Bishop Canevin @ North Catholic – Four teams are alive for Eastern Conference title, including the Crusaders (6-1, 7-1) and the Trojans (5-2, 6-2), the latter of which is behind in Tiebreaker points but will still make the playoffs and can force a possible three-way tie for the championship with a win Friday. Bet on whichever team can survive the other’s aerial assault, as Canevin’s Matt Butter, sixth in Class A with 988 yards and ten touchdown tosses, attempts to match the efforts of North Catholic’s Martin Long, currently No. 3 in the classification with 1,240 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Springdale @ Riverview – Out of further chaos will come order in the Eastern Conference following Friday’s action, and the playoff-bound Dynamos (6-1, 7-1) can grab a piece of the section title if they handle their business against the Raiders (4-3, 5-3) in a rare “Friday night portable lights” game in Oakmont. Chris Liberto and Bill Arch, who combined for 236 rushing yards and four TD’s on just nine carries against Leechburg, are part of a running attack that can really take over games, so Riverview needs some stops so they can put the ball in the hands of Terrell Craighead and Brandon Seachrist, who have totaled 1,088 yards and 15 TD’s.
Frazier @ Monessen – If the Commodores (4-3, 4-4) are to return to the playoffs after a seven-year absence, they will have to play the role of dragon slayer when they visit the Tri-County South Conference champion Greyhounds (7-0, 7-1). Quarterback Brady Kunsa leads the charge for Monessen with 789 yards and nine touchdowns, and Rocky Varga has also performed admirably for his own team, hurling 817 yards this season, so the season may come down to how easily Frazier can establish the run with Josh Guiser, who averages six yards per carry and has rushed for over 800 yards.
Mapletown @ Carmichaels – There’s one other team still alive for the last available playoff spot in Class A, and to earn it the Mighty Mikes (4-3, 5-3) simply have to avoid falling asleep against the Maples (0-7, 0-8). Garrett Jeffries was a bright spot for Mapletown in Week 8, throwing for 136 yards and three touchdowns in defeat, and Carmichaels, which has scored over twice as many points this season as the Maples, has been getting equally fine play at that position from John Krall, who has thrown for 850 yards and four scores after eight games.
CITY LEAGUE GAME TO WATCH:
Langley @ Allderdice – In the penultimate week of the City League season the Dragons (4-2, 4-4) will entertain the Mustangs (3-3, 4-4), with each team trying to better its own postseason chances. Patrick Ferguson has racked up 750 yards and is dangerous out of the backfield for Allderdice, which must worry about gap control against Jaquan Green, who has thrown for 875 yards and eight TD’s but can also run the ball when he has to.
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 Louisville, catch us at a special time this week: Saturday morning 7:00-9:00 on SportsRadio 93.7 The Fan and 937thefan.com!