By Matt Popchock
The simple fact that one of last year’s defending champions has already been dethroned just goes to show you how unpredictable the WPIAL Football Playoffs can be. Last week, when Mr. High School Sports took a look at all four original brackets shortly after their release, he still tried his best to predict them and came up short. None of the upsets he forecast came to fruition, and he’d like a second shot at showing off his expertise…so this week he’s taking his preview in a different direction.
Those of you who have listened to The Post-Gazette High School Football Show Saturday mornings know Don and Mike like to wrap up each week with their predictions, and it seems to be a nice little ego boost for whoever comes out on top. Now, Mr. High School Sports wants to see if he can play with the big boys. Here’s a quick look at all 16 Quarterfinal matchups, starting with our Game of the Week, followed by Mr. High School Sports’ pick for each game:
93.7 THE FAN GAME OF THE WEEK:
#2 MOUNT LEBANON BLUE DEVILS (10-0)
VS. #7 WOODLAND HILLS WOLVERINES (7-3)
@ CIBIC STADIUM, BALDWIN HIGH SCHOOL
Kickoff @ 7:30; Paul Paterra with play-by-play, Dan Zangrilli with color commentary
The Wolverines are exactly where they were at this time last season, quielty rolling along with a solid, speedy defense and a consistent running game, now led by Lafayette Pitts. What the Blue Devils don’t have in speed they make up for in size and physicality, and Luke Hagy hasn’t had a bad game all year, not even against some the best teams in Quad-A. I look for Lebo to keep pounding away and wear down Woodland Hills in a low-scoring affair. WINNER: MOUNT LEBANON.
OTHER CLASS AAAA QUARTERFINAL GAMES:
#1 Pgh. Central Catholic (10-0) vs. #8 Gateway (6-4) (@ Plum)
In recent years the Vikings have had the Gators’ number, and despite the increasing maturity of Gateway quarterback Tom Woodson, Mr. High School Sports believes this will continue. Damion Jones-Moore and new weapon Luigi Lista-Brinza are too much to handle for a less seasoned Gateway squad. WINNER: PGH. CENTRAL CATHOLIC.
#5 North Allegheny (9-1) vs. #13 Bethel Park (5-5) (@ Pine-Richland)
Alex Papson can wreak a lot of havoc on the Black Hawks’ defense, and it’ll be interesting to see how much damage he does with some of his teammates banged up. Bre’ Ford is just as dangerous, and Bethel is throwing the ball confidently, so look for a shocker against NA, a team with recent playoff disappointments under its belt. WINNER: BETHEL PARK.
#3 North Hills (9-1) vs. #6 Upper St. Clair (8-2) (@ Chartiers Valley)
Jack McCurry and Jim Render, two of the five winningest coaches in WPIAL history, will match wits in what should be a great chess match. Hats off to Dakota Conwell for how he has been able to spark the Panthers’ offense, but the Indians have proven they can neutralize talented runners and get enough big plays from Taylor Schmidt to survive. WINNER: NORTH HILLS.
#1 Clairton (10-0) vs. #9 Bishop Canevin (9-1) (@ Elizabeth Forward)
If Matt Butter can be accurate with his throws early, the Crusaders can keep it close. But if history is any guide, Desimon Green will put pressure on him defensively, pick apart Canevin’s secondary, and help the Bears widen that margin rather quickly. WINNER: CLAIRTON.
#4 Monessen (9-1) vs. #5 Springdale (9-1) (@ Penn-Trafford)
Bill Arch is one of several Springdale running backs who can wear down this defense, though versatile quarterback Brett Crenshaw could be an x-factor if Monessen can get him out in the open. The stubborn defense of the Dynamos won’t let him. WINNER: SPRINGDALE.
#2 Rochester (10-0) vs. #7 Beth-Center (8-2) (@ Peters Twp.)
The Bulldogs’ secondary can make things tougher for Jason Adamson, who is efficient and protects the ball particularly well. But the Rams, as a team, are even more athletic on defense and have something that can’t be coached: speed…and a lot of it. WINNER: ROCHESTER.
#3 Avonworth (9-1) vs. #11 North Catholic (7-3) (@ Fox Chapel)
Somehow the Trojans survived Sto-Rox without Martin Long, and they gave the ‘Lopes all they could handle in the regular season, but it’s hard to imagine lightning striking twice. It’s even harder to imagine North Catholic’s defense catching Jake Szolis, who showed he’s lightning in a bottle. WINNER: AVONWORTH.
#1 Aliquippa (10-0) vs. #9 Beaver (8-2) (@ Ambridge)
Quarterback Christian Herstine gives a new wrinkle to Beaver’s hard-nosed offense, and he’ll be eager to redeem himself for an overtime blunder that resulted in a tough loss in the last meeting. But Mikal Hall can spread the ball around just as well, and he just one athlete for the Quips who create matchup problems. WINNER: ALIQUIPPA.
#4 Ford City (10-0) vs. #5 Seton-LaSalle (9-1) (@ Valley)
The Sabers like to grind games out with Mike Krochta out of the backfield and Cody Gispanski scrambling, and Seton-LaSalle’s defense can be scored upon. But Kevin Hart is too explosive, and Dave O’Brien is too accurate for Ford City’s vaunted defense to keep up. WINNER: SETON-LaSALLE.
#7 Beaver Falls (9-1) vs. #15 Keystone Oaks (7-3) (@ Moon)
It’s quite impressive what Matt McCann has been able to do for the Golden Eagles, win or lose, even without Jordan Maddox at 100 percent. Unfortunately he’ll be in over his head against a balanced offense led by newcomer Trey Hall and a defense that will capitalize on every mistake they make. WINNER: BEAVER FALLS.
#3 South Fayette (10-0) vs. #11 Freeport (7-3) (@ Seneca Valley)
No quarterback in Class AA measures up with Christian Brumbaugh, who has been getting a lot of help from a lot of guys to put the Lions in this position. Expect them to take full advantage, because in spite of Brendan Lynch’s playmaking ability, he, unlike Brumbaugh, can’t win this one for the Jackets alone. WINNER: SOUTH FAYETTE.
#1 Montour (10-0) vs. #9 Indiana (8-2) (@ Butler)
Quarterback Kyle Edgar leads a Little Indians offense that can score in the blink of an eye. The Spartans are accustomed to holding their own in wide-open games, and they’ll give Indiana something they didn’t see last week: a superior defense and Julian Durden. WINNER: MONTOUR.
#4 Mars (9-1) vs. #5 West Allegheny (7-3) (@ North Allegheny)
Both teams run an offense that is not easy to prepare for, and both teams have game-breakers in Austin Miele (Planets) and Aaron McKinney (West A). There’s a certain magic to the way the Indians have played for each other in Mike Caputo’s absence, and I believe destiny is on the side of the champs…for now. WINNER: WEST ALLEGHENY.
#2 Thomas Jefferson (9-1) vs. #10 Hopewell (6-4) (@ Canon-McMillan)
(This game can be seen on tape delay on FSN following Penguins coverage.)
You already know Rushel Shell, who has carried the Vikings into the playoffs, as one of the premier playmakers in the state. What you might not know is the Jaguars have a bunch of Rushel Shells, so to speak, in T.J. Mastracia, Ryan Ruffing, and other two-way studs who mesh beautifully together. WINNER: THOMAS JEFFERSON.
#7 Knoch vs. (9-1) vs. #14 Central Valley (7-3) (@ New Castle)
Matt Bradford had a coming-out party last week against Ringgold, as did the Warriors’ defense, so let’s see what they do with a more loaded Knights offense fueled by multi-talented stars Kyler Kenyon and Andrew Rumberg-Goodlin. Believe it or not, Mr. High School Sports looks for the new kids on the block to step up again. WINNER: CENTRAL VALLEY.
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 Saturday morning 8:00-10:00 on SportsRadio 93.7 The Fan and 937thefan.com!