"Mr. High School Sports" – First Round Preview

Ready or not, here comes the First Round of the WPIAL Football Playoffs, and one way or another, 2010 will be a year to remember for a number of the 64 participants.  There are new faces in the crowd this season, and a couple of them have a legitimate shot at a kind of glory they have not known for some time.  All of the defending champions seem capable of returning to Heinz Field, but the road back promises to be a bumpy one for those four, as Mr. High School Sports knows that no two championship journeys are ever the same.

How dominant will Clairton and Rochester be when their opponents are fighting for their lives?  Can Greensburg Central Catholic rediscover its 2009 form and earn the right to play for a second straight crown?  Will Mike Caputo come back in time to propel West Allegheny?  And is Pittsburgh Central Catholic a team of destiny?  All will be answered in due time, but first, here’s a quick glance at all 32 First Round games, starting with our Game of the Week:

93.7 THE FAN GAME OF THE WEEK:

#10 HOPEWELL VIKINGS (5-4)

@ #7 FRANKLIN REGIONAL PANTHERS (7-2)

Kickoff @ 7:30; Paul Paterra with play-by-play, Dan Zangrilli with color commentary

No one wants to play Hopewell after the way the Vikings rallied around one another and powered through the back end of their schedule, but their fate, and Franklin Regional’s, will be determined in the trenches.  Superstar tailback Rushel Shell has to outclass his counterpart, Dane Brown, one of the hardest-working rising stars at his position.

OTHER CLASS AAA FIRST ROUND GAMES:

#1 Montour vs. #16 West Mifflin – The Spartans (9-0) have held their own against some pretty tough running backs, and they have one of their own in Julian Durden, so it’ll be interesting to see how they deal with the Titans (4-5) and Shemar Greene.

#8 Belle Vernon vs. #9 Indiana – While the Leopards (5-4) survived the Big Eight Conference, the Little Indians (7-2) quietly enjoyed a nice run through the Greater Allegheny Conference, but between Indiana’s Kyle Edgar and Belle Vernon’s Matt Naylor, which team can survive the other’s aerial assault?

#4 Mars vs. #13 Hollidaysburg – Austin Miele, one of the most explosive tailbacks in the WPIAL, has powered the Planets (8-1), who hope to be a sleeper in Class AAA, but the team speed of the Golden Tigers (6-3) makes them a tough out, especially if Chad Barton can get T.J. Keefer out in the open.

#5 West Allegheny vs. #12 Trinity – In the absence of Mike Caputo, who may return despite Bob Palko’s words, Aaron McKinney has strapped the Indians (6-3) to his back, and although the Hillers (6-3) bring a hard-hitting offense led by Kyle McWreath, it’s hard to imagine many teams finding an answer for the wildcat.

#2 Thomas Jefferson vs. #15 Highlands – Seth Goheen has had a lot of success throwing the ball for the Golden Rams (5-4), but he hasn’t faced a defense like TJ’s that can smother you from all angles, and the anonymous style the Jaguars (8-1) employ on offense, featuring a great playmaker in T.J. Mastracia, makes them uniquely dangerous.

#3 Ringgold vs. #14 Central Valley – Maybe playing the “no respect” card will help the Warriors (6-3) and Curtis Lewis, who can make a lot of things happen, but the Rams (9-0) are running the ball exceptionally with Derrick Fiore carrying the load, and that team is playing more confidently on both sides of the ball than it has in ages.

#6 Knoch vs. #11 Greensburg-Salem – Although the Knights (8-1) fell short in their quest for a GAC title, they still have one of the most balanced offenses in Triple-A with QB Kyler Kenyon and running back Andrew Rumberg-Goodlin, so the Golden Lions (7-2) need a huge night from their linebackers and from Michael Kizzie to stay alive.

CLASS AAAA FIRST ROUND:

#1 Pgh. Central Catholic vs. #16 Pine-Richland – If Andy Borgen can hook up enough with preferred target Tommy Berexa, it’ll help the Rams (3-6) keep things respectable with their offense, but their defense remains suspect, and once Damion Jones-Moore gets going he and the Vikings (9-0) are nearly impossible to stop.

#8 Gateway vs. #9 Erie McDowell – The reputation of the Gators (5-4) precedes them, and their defense, loaded with Divison I-caliber linebackers, makes life tough for the Trojans (7-2) and their triple-option offense, so the maturity of inexperienced QB Tom Woodson might go a long way toward determining the outcome.

#4 McKeesport vs. #13 Bethel Park – The Black Hawks (4-5) have made Bre’ Ford the focal point of their offense all season long, and he has a habit of making very good players look silly, though the Tigers (8-1) have defensive ends who can take away big portions of the field, and a darn good running back themselves in Sam Gooden.  This game can be seen on tape delay on FSN following Penguins coverage.

#5 North Allegheny vs. #12 Peters Township – Austin Hancock’s success with the passing game has gone a long way toward determining the success of the Indians (5-4), but they’ll need some help from Andrew Ehrenberg, because nobody runs like Quad-A rushing leader Alex Papson, and the Tigers (8-1) always open lanes for him.

#2 Mount Lebanon vs. #15 Plum – What is so intimidating about the Blue Devils (9-0) is how physically dominant they are, led by tailback and touchdown machine Luke Hagy, so Chris Zdinak had better be accurate with his throws early and often, or the Mustangs (6-3) are in for a very long night.

#7 Woodland Hills vs. #10 Norwin – Something tells me the Wolverines (6-3), with a college-level defense and a dynamic running back in Lafayette Pitts, are ready for another run, because they sure aren’t playing like a No. 7 seed, so the Knights (5-4) and top-notch QB Tim Petro have their work cut out trying to pick apart their secondary.

#3 North Hills vs. #14 Penn-Trafford – A playoff meeting between these schools is almost perfunctory, but there’s nothing routine about the way Manny Simpson has run the ball for the Warriors (4-5), so the Indians (8-1) and their stellar defense need to build off their emotional upset of NA and some more magic from Taylor Schmidt couldn’t hurt.

#6 Upper St. Clair vs. #11 Penn Hills – This rematch of the ’06 title game could be a seesaw battle if the Indians (5-4) and quarterback Phil Morford can make big plays early and spread the ball around, or it could be the start of a long run by the Panthers (7-2) and a rite of passage for Dakota Conwell, one of the most surprising players of the year.

CLASS AA FIRST ROUND:

#1 Aliquippa vs. #16 Shady Side Academy – An athletic team like the Quips (9-0) is a pain in the butt to defend, considering how tough Haetaun Mathis is to cover and how unpredictable Mikal Hall can be, so the Indians (5-4) must block well and get plenty of production from quarterback Reggie Mitchell to make this thing close.

#8 Deer Lakes vs. #9 Beaver – Finally we shall see if the Lancers (7-2) get stage fright, or if Brian Palmiere and that balanced running game can control the ball, and if the defense can prevent Christian Herstine from throwing well enough for the Bobcats (7-2) to open things up for tailback Sam O’Neill.

#4 Ford City vs. #13 East Allegheny – The success of the Sabers (9-0) is predicated on whether or not their defense, one of the most underrated units in the WPIAL, can keep running back Carlos Sloan out of the end zone, because if history is any guide, the Wildcats (5-4) will have their hands full with Mike Krochta and Ford City’s other backs.

#5 Seton-LaSalle vs. #12 Mount Pleasant – The patchwork Vikings (6-3) have been grinding out wins behind running backs Bryce Ansell and Nick Halfhill, but it remains to be seen if their defense can handle Dave O’Brien, one of the most capable QB’s in western PA, and Kevin Hart, who gives the Rebels (8-1) a chance to beat anybody.

#2 Greensburg C.C. vs. #15 Keystone Oaks – Without a healthy Jordan Maddox, how easy or hard will it be for Matt McCann and the Golden Eagles (6-3) to succumb to that awesome defensive line, and with running back Andy Biros coming off a big game, have the Centurions (9-0) gotten back to playing the kind of football they’re capable of?

#7 Beaver Falls vs. #10 Steel Valley – Trey Hall has emerged as a fearless and fearsome leader for the Tigers (8-1), a team less experienced than its previous incarnations but still very talented, though I really have to wonder if the defense has it in them to stop Delrece Williams, who makes the Ironmen (7-2) look like a very dangerous underdog.

#3 South Fayette vs. #14 Ellwood City – Christian Brumbaugh and the Lions (9-0) face the very eager Wolverines (6-3), making their first playoff appearance in a decade, and running back Kyle Crawford will have his chances against a defense that can be scored upon, but then there’s that whole issue of Brumbaugh being the best at what he does…

#6 Jeannette vs. #11 Freeport – The one-two punch of Brendan Lynch to Derek Durand could keep the Yellowjackets (6-3) alive as long as the offense line gives Lynch time to throw, but the Jayhawks (7-2) have done a lot of growing up on defense since last year, and Demetrius Cox is no ordinary quarterback himself.

CLASS A FIRST ROUND:

#1 Clairton vs. #16 Carmichaels – Quarterback John Krall has strong-armed the Mighty Mikes (6-3) to the last playoff spot in the classification, and fellow signal-caller Desimon Green is one of many complete two-way players who make the Bears (9-0) an almost prohibitive favorite in Single-A.

#8 Fort Cherry vs. #9 Bishop Canevin – The Rangers (5-4) have shown they’re a team that doesn’t mind playing a playground-style football game, and as long as Tanner Garry is on target, and the Crusaders (8-1) click with Matt Butter firing the ball all over the place, they may have to, because there’s a chance this one comes down to who scores last.

#4 Monessen vs. #13 Chartiers-Houston – Brady Kunsa doesn’t throw a lot, but he makes his passes count for the Greyhounds (8-1), though Danny Lis gives the Buccaneers (7-2) so many options offensively that Monessen’s defense will need all hands on deck to survive this potential upset.

#5 Springdale vs. #12 Western Beaver – It’s easy to overlook the Golden Beavers (6-3) because they have to share the Big 7 Conference with Rochester, but Eric Blinn has really come on strong in the stretch run, so the Dynamos (8-1) need to play their game on defense and establish the running game with Bill Arch pounding away.

#2 Rochester vs. #15 California – Quarterback play is what makes this matchup intriguing, with T.D. Conway, one of the most prolific passers in the area, trying to keep the Trojans (6-3) respectable against the Rams (9-0) and Jason Adamson, who protects the ball very well and also leads their typically unbeatable defense.

#7 Beth-Center vs. #10 Cornell – The Raiders (7-2) got a tough draw for their first playoff appearance in nine seasons, so we’ll find out how improved Dan Knause’s defense really is if the Bulldogs (7-2) have Sal Faieta try and throw to set up the run, and look for Beth-Center to key on B.J. Lipke, a presence on both sides of the ball.

#3 Avonworth vs. #14 Brentwood – Although the Spartans (7-2) haven’t necessarily been scoring in bunches week after week like we thought they would, if Cory Bauer moves the ball with his arm, then the Antelopes (8-1) need running back Ricky Lawniczak to be the x-factor, because Brian Vales may not be able to match Bauer’s numbers.

#6 Sto-Rox vs. #11 North Catholic – One of the preseason favorites in Class A, the Vikings (7-2) and their freshman quarterback, Lenny Williams, still have a lot to prove as they lock horns with the Trojans (6-3) and a much more seasoned quarterback in Martin Long, who has already shown he can win on a bigger stage.

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!

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