By Matt Popchock
Those who know “Mr. High School Sports” more intimately than the average reader know he’s something of a movie buff. He thinks it bears mentioning that “Top Gun” was on last night, an Eighties classic featuring a character called Maverick. A maverick, by definition, is someone who goes against the grain, and after two weeks of the WPIAL football season we’ve got a couple maverick 2-0 teams on display in Week 3…which brings another famous action flick to mind: “Judgment Day.”
That’s because, for three of the four WPIAL classification, Week 3 is the beginning of full-fledged conference play, and, for better or worse, that’s how some of the teams mentioned in our preview are going to be judged. But as we break down Friday’s biggest games, we begin with our 93.7 The Fan Game of the Week. It’s a non-conference game, but with one Pitt recruit and another potential one duking it out in the South Hills, it could be a preview of things to come on the North Side…
GAME OF THE WEEK:
PENN HILLS INDIANS (0-2) AT MOUNT LEBANON BLUE DEVILS (1-1)
(CLASS AAAA, NON-CONFERENCE)
MOUNT LEBANON STADIUM, MOUNT LEBANON HIGH SCHOOL
Pre-game coverage with MSA Sports’ Don Rebel begins at 6:00 on 93.7 The Fan; kickoff at 7:30 with Lanny Frattare on play-by-play, Bob Orkwis on color commentary
Penn Hills WR Corey Jones vs. Mount Lebanon RB/DB Luke Hagy
Jones is one of Pitt coach Todd Graham’s most recent (verbal) commitments; he also received interest/offers from Penn State, West Virginia, and a host of schools spanning the MAC, Big East, and Big 12. He made first team All-Big East Conference as a junior, and he caught a 59-yard bomb from Chaz Whittaker for his first TD of 2011 last week versus Gateway, after leading Penn Hills with 422 yards and six TD’s in 2010. Hagy wasn’t the 2010-11 Post-Gazette Male Athlete of the Year for nothing; he led Quad-A in rushing as a junior, and in the 2011 opener he broke school records for career rushing yardage and career TD runs. Hagy already has 369 yards and six TD’s, including Lebo’s lone offensive touchdown against Penn-Trafford last week, and although he’s notorious for his offensive prowess, he’s getting interest from the Ivy League and from several D-1 schools, including Pitt, as a defensive back. If Hagy draws this assignment and covers Jones effectively, that limits Whittaker’s options, and puts a little more pressure on Penn Hills to run, which it didn’t do well enough last week. Either way, with the Blue Devils struggling to get their passing game on track, Hagy needs to outshine Jones on the stat sheet to avoid back-to-back home losses for the hosts.
PENN HILLS’ KEYS TO VICTORY:
1. Run, Ron, run. Head coach Ron Graham is no stranger to rough starts in non-conference play. Penn Hills has already done a lot of things right, but to get out of this rough start, it needs to stay persistent and faithful with its running game.
2. Air mail. Balance is always a key, and Whittaker is throwing the ball confidently these days, as evidenced by his near-flawless performance against Gateway. Penn Hills is going against another hard-hitting defense here and needs to continue eating up big chunks of yardage to keep it off-balance.
3. Make Goff beat you. Mount Lebanon quarterback Pat Goff struggled with accuracy at times last week. If the Indians can contain Hagy as well as Penn-Trafford did, Lebo could be in trouble.
MOUNT LEBANON’S KEYS TO VICTORY:
1. Use the force: Luke. Hagy has been the driving force behind the Blue Devils’ offensive success the last couple years. As long as his linemen hang tough, he can take control of this game.
2. Team toughness. This team takes after head coach Chris Haering, and last week was a rare instance of Mount Lebanon getting pushed around physically by an opponent. They need to get their swagger back against Penn Hills, which is young up front.
3. No gaffes from Goff. Mount Lebanon didn’t protect the ball well enough in Week 2, and Goff’s late first-half interception, some say, turned momentum in that game. Goff needs to learn and grow from that, because Lebo can’t afford such mistakes against this team, which is better than its early record indicates.
Be sure to check out Mr. High School Sports’ blog with updates from Mount Lebanon Stadium Friday night!
OTHER GAMES TO WATCH:
Allderdice (1-0, 1-1) vs. Brashear (1-0, 1-1) (7:00) - This could be a playoff preview, but only if the Bulls’ offense can find the end zone, which it hasn’t done in two games. Still, the ferocity of Brashear’s defense can’t be understated, as it ruined University Prep/Obama Academy’s City League debut in Week 2 with four interceptions and a pair of fumble recovery TD’s by linebacker Deshaun Roberts, including the game-winning score. The Dragons’ offense has had no such issues, and looks like it’s starting to roll after QB Braden Hoffer threw two TD passes to complement two defensive touchdowns of their own in a Week 2 shutout of Oliver.
Upper St. Clair (2-0) at North Allegheny (1-0, 2-0) (7:30) – Last fall the Tigers whipped USC in a game that seemed to set the tone for their glorious run to gold at Hershey, and though they’ve certainly flexed their muscles early on, this Panther squad has an opportunity to turn the tables. The Tigers’ committee of tailbacks, featuring Vinnie Congendo, who is coming off a 101-yard, three-touchdown performance against Butler, has done its duty, but faces its first big test against this defense, which has posted back-to-back shutouts to open 2011. N.A.’s tallest and most important task is containing dual-threat QB and Pitt recruit Dakota Conwell, who, in limited action for USC, has notched 184 all-purpose yards and three TD’s. MaxPreps has these two teams in its PIAA top ten, so this could be a prelude to November.
Latrobe (0-0, 2-0) at Gateway (0-0, 2-0) (7:30) - Gateway’s Terry Smith and Latrobe’s Ray Reitz, who coached Terrelle Pryor at Jeannette, are two of the more venerable coaches in the WPIAL, so if nothing else, this conference opener for both schools should be quite the chess match. Furthermore, the Gators have posted impressive non-conference wins over Bishop McDevitt and Penn Hills, so this is a nice measuring stick for the Wildcats, who look like they may be figuring some things out after good defensive efforts against Derry and Canon-McMillan. As long as we’re talking about dual-threat quarterbacks, Tom Woodson shouldn’t be overlooked; he threw for 106 yards and a TD last week, ran for 106 in Week 1, and will probably scramble more with tailback Darin Franklin likely out with a knee injury. Latrobe will zero in on him, and the ‘Cats need to zero in on better execution on offense too. They have only three offensive TD’s, and tailback Scott Mohring, who ran for two of them, will be counted on to pound away at Gateway’s tough defensive front.
BIG EIGHT CONFERENCE:
Belle Vernon (1-0, 1-1) at Trinity (0-1, 1-1) (7:00) - Let the jockeying for playoff positioning begin, though the Hillers were the ones who looked like they didn’t have the horses against Chartiers Valley in their Big Eight opener last Friday. Quarterback/kicker Jason Vankirk is looking to get back on track after hurling touchdown passes in each of his first two outings, including a game-winner in the fourth quarter against Washington County rival Canon-McMillan in Week 1. The Leopards, on the other hand, should be riding high after waxing McGuffey in Week 2, and their quarterback, Ian Dobbins, has done damage just about every way imaginable; he threw a touchdown pass in Week 1, and scored on a pick-six and 57-yard run last week. This is a challenge for Trinity’s offense, considering Belle Vernon defended Rushel Shell admirably, and was perhaps one play away from upsetting Hopewell.
GREATER ALLEGHENY CONFERENCE:
Indiana (0-0, 2-0) at Highlands (0-0, 2-0) (7:30) - There aren’t many quarterbacks in the WPIAL scarier than Logan Weaver right now, and it’ll be interesting to see if the Golden Rams, who may also be a team on the come, have any way of bringing the Little Indians’ high-flying attack down to Earth. Weaver, who transferred from Punxsutawney for his senior season, will play an integral role in this GAC lid-lifter, as he has already racked up 247 passing yards and seven of his eight TD’s in the air, and has protected the ball well, throwing just one interception. But Indiana has relied on splash plays, and Highlands has allowed just two touchdowns in as many games. Meanwhile, the Rams’ own dual-threat QB, Gage Clark, will be that team’s spark plug. He ran for 109 yards and threw the winning TD pass in Week 1 before throwing for 100 and running for two scores in Week 2.
Central Valley (1-0, 2-0) at New Castle (1-0, 1-1) (6:30) - In this locally televised contest (you can watch it live on ROOT Sports) with possibly major long-term implications for both, the Red Hurricane will have something to prove. A lot of people soured on them after a sloppy loss to Quad-A Butler, but New Castle redeemed itself nicely by handling its business against an Ambridge squad that was coming off an inversely uplifting victory. The WPIAL champs, in the meantime, have a chance to maybe separate themselves from the pack early on, which is important in such a brutal conference. John Matarazzo looked like his old self in Week 2, throwing for 149 yards and three TD’s, while Jalen Holmes rumbled for 164 yards and two scores. The Warriors will try to put up more fireworks with their tandem of QB Curtis Lewis, who wore the cape in Week 1, and tailback Aaron Law, who ran for 110 yards and the winning TD against West Allegheny. The x-factor could be Central Valley’s defense, which has forced five turnovers.
Steel Valley (0-0, 2-0) at South Fayette (0-0, 1-1) (7:30) - He may not have Charlie Sheen’s tiger blood, but John Lerda showed he’s got Lion blood by picking up his first win as South Fayette’s new starting quarterback last Friday against the visiting Summit Academy with 150 yards and three TD’s. In fact, he’s even got the blood of another western PA legend, former City League great John Lerda Sr. There’s also greatness in the genes of Steel Valley tailback Dontez Williams, whose brother Delrece set the WPIAL single-season rushing record in 2010. Dontez has already racked up a team-high ten TD’s, which leads the WPIAL, and 471 yards, which ranks second in the district, and he makes us think head coach Rodney Steele is onto something after moving the younger Williams to the backfield following an injury to Denzell Sherrill. The WPIAL champs are still a physically punishing team on both sides, so to see such an explosive player tested for the first time is worth a look.
Beaver Falls (1-1, 1-1) at Laurel (0-1, 0-2) (7:00) - Perhaps no team in Class AA is more eager to get back under the lights and hit someone than the Tigers. Despite their best efforts, they let arch-rival Aliquippa rain all over “Broadway Joe’s” parade at Reeves Stadium last Friday, and now they must play catch-up in the conference title race. Speaking of catching up, the Spartans really need to get onto the left side of the ledger in a hurry; being two games in the hole to start the season is not an enviable place for a playoff hopeful in the MAC. Two very athletic tailbacks, each of whom could tip the scales of this contest, will be on display in Lawrence County. Dylan Jones powers the home team, and he looked good in defeat against Jeannette last week, amassing 126 yards and both Laurel TD’s. Trey Hall led BF with 148 yards and a score in Week 1, and he needs to re-announce his presence after being held in check by the Quips.
BIG 7 CONFERENCE:
Sto-Rox (0-0, 2-0) at Neshannock (0-0, 2-0) (7:00) - Both defenses have stood pat in their first two outings, each giving up just one touchdown through eight quarters, but the real question will be if the Lancers can withstand Sto-Rox’s bevy of Division I talent in this conference opener, and what it has to offer. Josh Beverly, who led all Class A rushers last week with an even 200 yards in a blowout of South Allegheny, has already carried for 357 to go with six touchdowns. Quarterback Lenny Williams has thrown for three TD’s and run for two more, coming off a 144-yard rushing effort in Week 2, after throwing for as many yards in Week 1. Neshannock, which has forced five turnovers, can’t rely on Sto-Rox to beat itself, so quarterback Michael Sanfilippo, who ran for the winning points in last week’s 7-0 victory over Serra, has to find a way to jump-start that offense.
Bishop Canevin (2-0, 2-0) at Northgate (1-0, 2-0) (7:30) - We’re pretty sure at least one of these teams is for real. The Crusaders have put themselves in a good place as the battle for the conference crown shakes out, and now the Flames, after already matching last year’s win total in Week 2, have an opportunity at home to take a step forward in the evolution of that program. Northgate needs to move the ball and execute at the same high level with its multiple-set offense, which is not any easy thing to pull off against Canevin’s defense, but John Giran has managed that group well, having thrown for 189 yards and two critical scores against Jefferson-Morgan, and tailback Cody Walter is coming off an 82-yard, three-touchdown effort last Friday. Canevin will probably turn to Bobby Gustine a lot, but it’s just as important for Northgate to try and bottle up Casey McCaffrey, who has already put up 240 rushing yards and four touchdowns.
Tune into “The UPMC High School Football Show,” brought to you by ROOT Sports, Saturday at 7:00 A.M. on SportsRadio 93.7 The Fan for a recap of all the Friday night action!
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)