By Matt Popchock
Thirty-two down, and eight to go in each of four classifications. After 32 First Round games wrapped up on an uncharacteristically beautiful November night in western Pennsylvania, the stage was set for the 2011 WPIAL Football Quarterfinals.
By the way, Mr. High School Sports was pretty strong with his First Round forecast, going a robust 26-6 with the picks made in this blog early Friday afternoon.
Here’s a rundown, along with his early impressions, of all 16 Quarterfinal matchups, which will kick off starting next Friday at neutral sites and times to be announced:
CLASS A QUARTERFINALS:
(1) Clairton vs. (9) Springdale
(4) Rochester vs. (5) Avonworth
(2) Sto-Rox vs. (7) Brentwood
(3) Bishop Canevin vs. (11) Fort Cherry
MR. HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS SAYS: Springdale was one of the last teams to beat Clairton (Laurel handed the Bears their last loss, in the 2009 season opener), and by the standards of past Clairton opponents, the Dynamos put up a decent fight in last year’s playoffs. They won’t go away quietly this year either, and at the very least, they should score on Clairton. Avonworth-Rochester is another rematch of the 2010 Semifinals, a game in which the ‘Lopes played the Rams tough. Don’t be surprised if Avonworth really gives them a run for their money this time. Sto-Rox shouldn’t have much trouble with Brentwood, though that game pits Justin Vickless against Josh Beverly in an interesting matchup of running backs. The way Canevin let Chartiers-Houston, which is in the midst of a long playoff victory drought, hang around so long is an eye-opener. The Crusaders’ defense needs to shape up and revert to regular season form, because Tanner Garry is capable of winning games for Fort Cherry by himself.
CLASS AA QUARTERFINALS:
(1) Aliquippa vs. (8) Washington
(13) Ellwood City vs. (5) Greensburg Central Catholic
(2) Jeannette vs. (7) Shady Side Academy
(3) Seton-LaSalle vs. (11) South Fayette
MR. HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS SAYS: The Quips and Prexies have staged a couple interesting playoff battles since the turn of the century, though it’s hard to imagine this Aliquippa team being challenged until it gets to Heinz Field, assuming that is the case. Don’t sleep on their MAC rival, Ellwood City. The Wolverines are a much more athletic team than any they have fielded in recent memory, and their comeback against Freeport was arguably the most impressive story of the First Round. Greensburg Central can play power football, and it lives and dies by its defense, but Ellwood will be a tough test. Shady Side’s dismantling of Beaver’s tough defense was also impressive, but the Indians will have to take their game to a whole new level against Jeannette. It’ll be fun to see dual-threat QB’s Reggie Mitchell and Demetrius Cox meet. But by far, one of the most interesting games of the entire round will be Seton-LaSalle/South Fayette, a civil war…Brumbaugh against Brumbaugh, Luke (Rebels) against the freshman Brett (Lions). Can one end the WPIAL title defense of the other?
CLASS AAA QUARTERFINALS:
(1) Central Valley vs. (8) Ringgold
(4) West Mifflin vs. (5) Montour
(2) Franklin Regional vs. (10) Hopewell
(3) Knoch vs. (6) Thomas Jefferson
MR. HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS SAYS: Central Valley-Ringgold is a rematch of the Warriors’ First Round upset of the Rams last year. Quad Law is fun to watch, but Curtis Law and Central Valley seem to be firing on all cylinders right now. Don’t be surprised if the rematch isn’t quite as exciting. West Mifflin’s defense can present problems for Montour, and if the Spartans don’t tackle well, Shamar Greene can send them packing early. But Dillon Buechel is coming off a big night, making this a very compelling matchup…but not as compelling as Hopewell-Franklin Regional. Last year the Vikings went on the road and ended the Panthers’ season in the First Round, and Rushel Shell is a hungry young man on the precipice of history. But Franklin Regional can run on them with Dane Brown, and that defense is better equipped to make Shell beat them by himself, which doesn’t always work out well for him. Seeing TJ’s defense struggle uncharacteristically with Salem’s offense leads me to believe Knoch has a real shot at ending the Jaguars’ long streak of Semifinal appearances.
CLASS AAAA QUARTERFINALS:
(1) North Allegheny vs. (9) Seneca Valley
(4) Penn-Trafford vs. (5) Gateway
(2) Pittsburgh Central Catholic vs. (7) Mount Lebanon
(3) Upper St. Clair vs. (6) Erie McDowell
MR. HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS SAYS: For my money, the Quad-A portion of the playoff tree presents the most interesting group of individual matchups in the Quarterfinal round. N.A. and Seneca collide in a Northern Seven Conference rematch of a game won by the Tigers earlier this year, though both quarterbacks, Jordan Brown and Mack Leftwich, have been very consistent, and both teams have struck a nice balance offensively. Gateway has been waiting a very long time to get another shot at the Warriors, who are led by Gator-killer Manny Simpson, but Darin Franklin is coming off a solid performance running the ball in the First Round as well. Don’t be surprised if both these games are higher-scoring than the initial 2011 meetings. Meanwhile, we get to see Damion Jones-Moore and Luke Hagy, two of the best running backs in the WPIAL square off, and Hagy, who seems to be on another planet right now, will be a great test for that defense. Greg Garmon can also push the limits of USC’s defense, while the Panthers will rely on their own dual-threat QB, Dakota Conwell. Once again, expect offensive sparks to fly there.
Keep reading the “Mr. High School Sports” blog for continuing coverage of the 2011 WPIAL Football Playoffs!
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)