“Mr. High School Sports” – What To Watch For Thursday Nights
By Matt Popchock
After delaying a planned announcement, ROOT Sports has finally come forward with its full WPIAL football broadcast schedule for the 2012 season, as originally reported by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
The cable network, in an effort to boost ratings, aborted its one-year experiment with televising games on Fridays, and reached an agreement with the WPIAL to return to the practice of moving select regular season games to Thursdays, many of which will be aired live.
Increasing the visibility of football is always a delicate issue, especially in this area. The logic behind isolating games on Thursdays is understandable, given the mania for Friday night lights that will always exist in western Pennsylvania. The average viewer in this area wants to attend a Friday night game of his or her choice instead to staying at home to watch. In terms of maximizing your target audience, it’s counter-productive. Besides, with the advent of DVR and on-demand programming, tape-delaying a couple games while riding shotgun to the Pirates or Penguins isn’t the worst thing in the world.
Furthermore, Pitt has usually played one or two Friday night games a year–begrudgingly so, according to AD Steve Pederson–including two this season. Obviously, neither the WPIAL nor ROOT Sports would want to compete for attention with another team.
On the other hand, Thursday, in the rest of the television industry, is usually the busiest night of the week, the night when all the networks, in theory, put out their most watched content. The NFL is expanding the Thursday night portion of its schedule, so competition will still be present.
In any event, the matchups shown on ROOT Sports this fall will be worth your time. Here’s what to look for under the Thursday night lights:
Sept. 6 – Montour at Central Valley – The last two WPIAL Class AAA champions meet in Monaca for what might give an early indication of the Parkway Conference champion, if not decide it outright. Devin Wilson (Montour) will try to outshine Robert Foster (Central Valley) in an individual battle of future Division I receivers.
Sept. 13 – Baldwin at Penn Hills – The new field at Andrew Yuhas Stadium funded by the Steelers get its first major exposure to the general public, and the general public gets to see Dorian Brown, Baldwin’s workhorse running back. Fellow senior Aaron Bailey could have a big year running the ball for the Indians, so if the Highlanders are intent on making more strides this year, this would be a good game to start.
Sept. 20 – Clairton vs. Monessen – The Bears will likely come into this game holding the nation’s longest active winning streak, and the Greyhounds might be the team in Class A Black Hills Conference play with the best chance to break it. Clairton’s vaunted defense, featuring Post-Gazette Preseason Fabulous 22 selection Tyler Boyd, who was also the team’s scoring and rushing leader in 2011, must contain dual-threat QB and WVU recruit Chavas Rawlins.
Sept. 27 – Seneca Valley at Pgh. Central Catholic – One of the pleasant surprises in Quad-A last year, the Raiders will head to Oakland for arguably their biggest test of the season. Versatile quarterback Jordan Brown could pose a threat to the Vikings, who, despite graduating Toledo recruit Damion Jones-Moore, have another intriguing young tailback, Luigi Lista-Brinza, ready for a season that could bring him some college attention as well.
Oct. 4 – Franklin Regional at Knoch – A rematch of the 2011 WPIAL Class AAA Semifinals will tell us how tough Knoch’s defense still is, while new quarterback Dakota Bruggeman leads the Knights’ new-look attack. The Panthers will put the ball in the very capable hands of Dane Brown, who should get a much bigger spotlight now that Rushel Shell is at Pitt.
Oct. 18 – Beaver Falls at Aliquippa (tape-delayed for Penguins Postgame) – Two of the fiercest rivals in Class AA will meet at “The Pit,” one of the most storied stadiums in Class AA. Running back and D-1 prospect Dravon Henry could lead the Quips back to Heinz Field, so this is a potential statement game for the Tigers, led by new QB Elijah Cottrill.
Oct. 25 – Greensburg C.C. at Jeannette (tape-delayed for Penguins Postgame) – Speaking of storied rivalries in Class AA, this one usually decides the Interstate Conference title, and our guess is the 2012 chapter will be no different. The running backs–Jordan Edmuns of the Jayhawks, and Jordan McRae of the Centurions–will make this a true war of attrition, and, if we’re lucky, a tasty playoff preview.
All live regular season games, which kick off at 7:00, will be rebroadcast at midnight and at 3:30 PM the ensuing Friday.
In addition, ROOT Sports will carry the 2012 WPIAL Football Championships at Heinz Field Fri., Nov. 23, along with one district playoff game in each round.
(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)