By Matt Popchock
One of the worst-kept secrets in the WPIAL was revealed yesterday when it formally announced ESPN will broadcast two of its regular season games: Hopewell at Central Valley Fri., Oct. 14 on ESPNU and Pittsburgh Central Catholic’s contest against Archbishop Wood at Gateway’s Antimarino Stadium the afternoon of Sat., Sept. 3 on ESPN2. Archbishop Wood is the PIAA Class AAA preseason No. 1 according to MaxPreps, which has Central ranked No. 4 in the state in Class AAAA.
In addition, as “Mr. High School Sports” has previously noted, ROOT Sports announced it will televise WPIAL regular season, playoff, and championship football games, albeit sometimes on tape delay, for the seventh year in a row. Just to refresh your memory, they will begin their coverage Fri., Sept. 2, when Quad-A runner-up Woodland Hills meets Class AAA powerhouse Thomas Jefferson at The Wolvarena.
It’s hard to imagine a more compelling lid-lifter for the ROOT Sports crew; this is a matchup that pits two of the most successful programs in western PA history, and two of the most revered coaches in its history, Bill Cherpak (TJ) and George Novak (Woody High).
Meanwhile, Central Valley and its Parkway Conference brethren will actually appear on the small screen even before that Week 7 game against Rushel Shell and the Vikings. ROOT Sports resumes its coverage in Week 3, as the WPIAL Class AAA champions visit New Castle Fri., Sept. 16 for an unconventional 6:30 kickoff.
But that’s the only other game ROOT Sports has set in stone at this point. There will be no telecast Week 2 or Week 4 due to Pirates coverage, and in the interest of making their regular season coverage more cutting-edge, they agreed with the WPIAL to institute flexible scheduling this season for the first time.
However, since “Mr. High School Sports” is in a forward-thinking mood, and because he has some time to kill before the season starts, he’d like to put on his programming director’s hat and lend a hand to the good folks at ROOT Sports.
Here are ten other WPIAL regular season games “Mr. High School Sports” wouldn’t mind seeing on TV:
Week 5 (Fri., Sept. 30): Hopewell at Blackhawk – Hopewell’s Rushel Shell, the most heavily recruited offensive player in the state, needs just 881 yards to break the WPIAL career rushing yardage record set by Mike Vernillo of Fort Cherry back in 1999. Judging by Shell’s per-game career average, barring a monumental effort in the first few weeks, this could very well be the night he does it. Either way, it should be an exciting Parkway Conference contest, as Chandler Kincade, one of the most exciting sophomores in Class AAA, quarterbacks the Cougars.
Week 6 (Fri., Oct. 7): Central Valley at Montour – As you can tell, the Parkway Conference will once again be one of the most exciting sections in WPIAL football this season, and this rematch of the Class AAA title game ought to be a dandy. Central Valley boasts Robert Foster, one of the most athletic juniors in the district, but Montour has, on paper, one of the toughest lines in the area, and a terrific one-two punch on offense in QB Dillon Buechel and tailback Julian Durden, so here we should know how well the glass slipper still fits the Warriors.
Week 6: Chartiers Valley at Thomas Jefferson – For Chartiers Valley, the biggest thing standing in their way of taking the next step has been TJ, a team that has dominated the Big Eight Conference, to say nothing of the rest of Class AAA, for a generation. We all know how Cherpak’s Jaguars reload, regardless of which unfamiliar faces we see in which places, and it’s also conventional wisdom the success of the Colts hinges on the health of quarterback-turned-slotback Wayne Capers, who has suffered season-ending injuries the past two years. Can he hang in there long enough and help the Colts get over this hump?
Week 6: McKeesport at Penn-Trafford – There may be a wild card in the Foothills Conference race this year, and some people think the Warriors are it. They have a very qualified head coach in John Ruane, who once worked as an assistant at mighty Gateway, and Manny Simpson was among the WPIAL and Quad-A leaders in rush yardage as a junior. Furthermore, they played McKeesport tough last year, and had a lot of success against that very stubborn defense even in defeat. Tyrone Neal carries the mail for the Tigers again, and he’s also one of the top linebacker recruits in western PA, so fans should be in for a real seesaw battle that could be a statement game for Penn-Trafford.
Week 7 (Fri., Oct. 14): Mount Lebanon at Bethel Park – Hey, they’re going to have to counter-program against Rushel Shell, so why not put this long-standing South Hills rivalry under the spotlight? Both these teams fancy themselves a contender for the Great Southern Conference title, though Lebo is probably closer, with a lot of toughness up front and tailback Luke Hagy, the 2010-11 Post-Gazette Male Athlete of the Year, who recently received an offer from Pitt. The Blue Devils could be a sleeper in Quad-A. Bethel graduated its top tailback, Bre’ Ford, but the last time the Hawks achieved great success, they aired it out a lot, and quarterback Anthony Cinello is coming off a good first year as starter.
Week 8 (Fri., Oct. 21): North Allegheny at Shaler – There is reason to believe this could be a milestone year for the Titans, who return most of their 2010 squad. One of those returnees is J.P. Holtz, who was a larger-than-life running back last year, but, now that he’s put some pounds back on, has moved back to his natural position at tight end, and he committed to Penn State as the No. 12 tight end prospect in America according to Scout.com. North Allegheny lost a lot of key players from its WPIAL title team, but still is very stout along the line, and has an exciting new tailback in Isaiah Faulk. For generations, the Tigers have had Shaler’s number, and that’s an understatement, so Shaler needs to change the script if it wants to take the Northern Seven Conference.
Week 8: Seton-LaSalle at South Fayette – In recent years these two have been the front-runners in the Century Conference, and the Rebels look like one of the teams to beat in Class AA, especially considering WPIAL champion South Fayette has graduated essential components. Kevin Hart has established himself as an elite running back and one of the most dynamic offensive stars in the district, and he’s got Luke Brumbaugh to throw to him out of the backfield. Luke is the younger brother of William & Mary recruit Christian Brumbaugh, who quarterbacked South Fayette to its championship. John Lerda may be a capable successor, but now that the elder Brumbaugh is gone, will Seton-LaSalle show there’s a new sheriff in town?
Week 9 (Fri., Oct. 28): Mount Lebanon at Upper St. Clair – The final week of the WPIAL regular season is not only rivalry week, it’s also the week in which some conference championships are finally decided, and we could have a little bit of both when these two Great Southern Conference powers collide. We’ve already talked about what Chris Haering’s Blue Devils can bring, while USC is once again led by Jim Render, the winningest active coach in the district, and regardless of how this game turns out, his Panthers are going to be real tough to beat this postseason. They can dominate the line of scrimmage, and at the trigger they have Pitt linebacker recruit Dakota Conwell, one of the premier dual-threat quarterbacks in all of Pennsylvania. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think you were watching Steelers-Ravens; these are two very hard-hitting teams that should warm us up nicely for playoff football.
Week 9: Gateway at McKeesport – No team wants to put the summer behind them and start playing football more than Gateway does, but by the time the regular season rolls to a close, will they still be the same old Gators? Darrell Turner, the player lost in the well-publicized gun tragedy, was Terry Smith’s second-leading tackler in 2010, D-1 defensive prospect Jaylen Coleman was kicked off the team, and basketball star Barnett Harris, who has never played a snap of varsity football, is expected to contribute to an offense quarterbacked by talented junior Tom Woodson that looks no worse for the wear. These two teams usually play for the Foothills Conference crown here, and unless, as we said, Penn-Trafford can make some noise, the title will probably be at stake in this one too.
Week 9: Greensburg C.C. at Jeannette – As long as we’re talking about rivalries, we can’t overlook one of the most spirited ones in Class AA, a game that, in recent years, has determined the winner of the Interstate Conference more often that not, and has gone a long way toward determining the playoff seeding of the losing team as well. To televise this game could make it a very powerful recruiting tool for Jeannette QB/linebacker Demetrious Cox, one of the top-ranked defensive players in America’s Class of 2012. But GCC has won five of the past seven conference crowns, and now that the Terrance Stepoli soap opera is behind them, they have a new quarterback in Bobby Noble who should be fun to watch.
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)