Once a year a certain cable television network likes to give you lessons in “Bracketology,” and now that the 2010 WPIAL Football Playoff brackets have been announced by the Steering Committee, Mr. High School Sports will take you back to the classroom. The committee fulfilled the expectations of most by declaring Clairton (Class A), Aliquippa (Class AA), Montour (Class AAA), and Pittsburgh Central Catholic (Class AAAA) the number one seeds in their respective classifications, and all four seem primed for a big run. But there are a number of other things to look for this Friday, when 64 teams begin their drive toward Heinz Field. Click here for the complete brackets, and in the meantime, here is what to look for in each classification, along with my own championship picks:
THE NOTABLE MATCHUPS: No. 8 Fort Cherry versus No. 9 Bishop Canevin pits two quarterbacks against one another who have really carried their teams, Tanner Garry of the Rangers and Matt Butter of the Crusaders, who open on the road despite earning a share of the Eastern Conference title…No. 6 Sto-Rox, led by freshman QB Lenny Williams, faces No. 11 North Catholic and Martin Long in another game that will likely be a contest between the quarterbacks…No. 10 Cornell, which has made the playoffs for the first time since 2001 thanks largely to its defense, draws No. 7 Beth-Center, a team with a dynamic offense from the Tri-County South Conference, where teams do not fare exceptionally well in the Class A playoffs these days.
THE UPSET SPECIAL: No. 13 Chartiers-Houston over No. 4 Monessen. The Greyhounds have played solid defense throughout the regular campaign, and they depend a lot on the versatility of quarterback Brady Kunsa, but they haven’t seen a quarterback like Danny Lis of Chartiers-Houston, who is dangerous any time he gets out in the open…plus, the Bucs haven’t won a playoff game in a decade, and they’re due.
THE FINAL PREDICITON: Clairton vs. Rochester. It may seem boring to go with chalk, but you can’t ignore the dominance of the Bears or the Rams, who are just as sharp in every phase of the game as they were when they met last season.
THE NOTABLE MATCHUPS: Deer Lakes enters its first playoff ever as the No. 8 seed hosting No. 9 Beaver, whose relatively anonymous power-running offense is a carbon copy of what the Lancers have done to clinch their maiden postseason voyage…No. 15 Keystone Oaks, thought to be a sleeper at the beginning of the season, still could be, as No. 2 Greensburg C.C. has not played spectacular football down the stretch and will have to deal with one of the most capable team leaders in Double-A in Matt McCann…after having a long streak of playoff appearances snapped in 2009, No. 6 Jeannette returns this year with the top scoring offense in the classification and takes on No. 11 Freeport, which counts on team defense to win games.
THE UPSET SPECIAL: No. 10 Steel Valley over No. 7 Beaver Falls. BF head coach Ryan Matsook has done a tremendous job building up a very inexperienced team, but the Ironmen, like the Tigers, have survived a tough conference, and Delrece Williams, the leading rusher in the WPIAL, is in the midst of a stretch where he just can’t be stopped.
THE FINAL PREDICTION: Aliquippa vs. South Fayette. The Quips have history on their side and some of the most well-rounded athletes in Class AA, and an underrated running game will give the Lions an edge over just about any competitor.
THE NOTABLE MATCHUPS: No. 4 Mars clinched the Greater Allegheny Conference and one of the top seeds with frequent help from Austin Miele, one of the fastest and most productive tailbacks in Class AAA, but No. 13 Hollidaysburg, making its first-ever District 7 playoff appearance, may pose problems with QB Chad Barton and very quick skill players of their own…No. 3 Ringgold takes on No. 14 Central Valley, also making its WPIAL Playoff debut, in a battle of two teams that love to run, especially with their quarterbacks, and have turned in strong defensive efforts against some good offenses…considering the way they toyed with TJ, it’ll be interesting to see what kind of damage Shamar Greene and bottom-seeded West Mifflin can do against fellow rushing leader Julian Durden and top-seeded Montour.
THE UPSET SPECIAL: No. 10 Hopewell over No. 7 Franklin Regional. Panthers running back Dane Brown has all the fundamental tools to be one of the next big things to come out of western Pennsylvania, but the Vikings are playing their best football at the right time, and against West Allegheny, Rushel Shell showed us he is in his own little world…and showed us why no one wants to play those guys right now.
THE FINAL PREDICTION: Thomas Jefferson vs. West Allegheny. Few men handle their business in the postseason like Bill Cherpak, and as a wise man once said, stamp it…Mike Caputo will return to invigorate the defending champs.
THE NOTABLE MATCHUPS: A pair of 1,000-yard rushers will go head-to-head when Bre’ Ford and No. 13 Bethel Park visit Sam Gooden and No. 4 McKeesport in a war of attrition between the 2005 and 2008 WPIAL Class AAAA champions…another nostalgic meeting between two very proud schools, No. 6 Upper St. Clair versus No. 11 Penn Hills, takes place on the other branch of the bracket; USC got the best of the Indians in the ’06 title game at Heinz Field, and while the Panthers want Dakota Conwell to run all over creation, Penn Hills has a more diverse running attack that has been equally impressive…the “traditional” meeting between No. 3 North Hills and No. 14 Penn-Trafford pits an Indians defense coming off a Herculean performance against Alex Papson against a much-improved Warriors offense led by under-the-radar running back Manny Simpson.
THE UPSET SPECIAL: No. 9 Erie McDowell over No. 8 Gateway. It may not be a colossal upset on paper, but it would be based on the reputations of both programs…and the Trojans’ triple-option attack, featuring some great athletes, presents a tremendous test for the Gators’ fast group of linebackers, and may force a Gateway offense that isn’t as dominant as in years past to play catch-up.
THE FINAL PREDICTION: Pittsburgh Central Catholic vs. Mount Lebanon. The Vikings’ offense is more balanced and more dominant than just about any other, and the Blue Devils’ size poses matchup problems for anybody.
For all 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, back at its regular time, Saturday morning 8:00-10:00, on SportsRadio 93.7 The Fan and 937thefan.com!