Is North Allegheny the best Quad-A team in the WPIAL…again?
I think so. I think the Tigers (4-0, 6-0) proved it last Friday with their 14-3 non-conference win at Gateway, echoing last fall’s district semifinal come-from-behind decision over the Gators, a team they could conceivably see again at Heinz Field.
Future Michigan lineman Pat Kugler is the No. 11 player in America at his position, according to MaxPreps. His outstanding two-way play has helped make N.A. the least scored-upon team in Quad-A, and after the Week 6 win he shared the same confidence in his teammates that I have:
Central Catholic (4-1, 5-1) visits them in our featured game on SportsRadio 93.7 The Fan this Friday, a contest that could essentially decide the Northern Eight Conference title. But unless Terry Totten’s Vikings play their best game of the year, I’m sorely tempted to pencil in Art Walker’s kids for an unprecedented third straight WPIAL Class AAAA championship.
That is not to say this isn’t a test for N.A. Central didn’t allow a touchdown until Week 5, it has a diverse rushing attack, and it is very athletic up front. But the bottom line is, North Allegheny has beaten the two toughest teams on its schedule thus far, and it has gone 18 quarters without allowing a touchdown.
Furthermore, N.A. took away the run as the game went on last Friday, and it has taken that away from its other opponents as well. Based on my post-game chat with Jack Henderson, who had a monster game on defense last Friday, I’m guessing they’ll blitz a lot, and really sell out to stop Central’s running game.
Central hasn’t done much in the air since Perry Hills graduated, so if Walker’s defense dictates the tempo to Totten’s top rushers, I’m predicting the Vikings will be up the “crick” without a paddle.
Count me among those impressed by the performance of Neshannock in Week 6. The Lancers (5-1, 5-1) fell short at Rochester (5-0, 6-0), 28-21, in a pivotal Big 7 Conference game, but this could be one of the most improved squads in Class A. The list of teams that have recently gone into that stadium and played competitive football is a very short one.
Sto-Rox did it, and Neshannock already owns a win over the Vikings. The Lancers, who average 39.3 points per game, trail only they and Clairton as the highest-scoring teams in the classification. Last year they averaged less than 12 per game.
Defensively there is still work to be done, but Neshannock has weapons that can keep it in any game. Ernie Burkes has piled up over 1,000 all-purpose yards and ten TD passes as a dual-threat quarterback, and Eli Owens, who averages over eight yards per carry, provides balance.
If the Lancers grow from last Friday and take care of business the rest of the regular season, they could be formidable in the district playoffs just one year removed from missing them altogether.
Which is the bigger surprise: the fact that New Brighton was poised to whip Beaver Falls, which is normally one of the better teams in Class AA, or the fact that the Tigers came all the way back to get past the frequent Midwestern Conference doormat?
BF has shown vulnerability this season, so I’ll go with the latter. What really opens my eyes, however, is the manner in which the Tigers claimed The Little Brown Jug.
The 99-yard touchdown catch-and-run from Dan Stratton to Sage Curry was certainly amazing, but give credit to Ryan Matsook, whose kids fell behind 31-7 at one point in the second half, for not immediately putting all the pressure on his quarterback. Beaver Falls got three rush TD’s from Rob Bell to set up that final score.
Overshadowed by the disappointment for the Lions was the impressive play of New Brighton junior quarterback Gabe Greco. He finished 12-of-23 for 239 yards and two touchdowns, and he did a better job taking care of the football than in weeks past. Once again, it’s been a while since that program had a lot to brag about, so it would be neat if Week 6 proved to be a positive sign post for New Brighton beyond what has been another rough year.
One of the most talked-about players in the off-season was Belle Vernon lineman Dorian Johnson, who de-committed from Penn State and has yet to pledge a new allegiance, and it would be a darn shame if he didn’t get the chance to represent the Leps in postseason play.
Belle Vernon (2-3, 2-4) came through with a huge 26-17 road win over Trinity (3-2, 3-3) in Week 6 to remain relevant in the Big Nine playoff picture, and you can expect it to play with an equally huge sense of urgency when mighty Thomas Jefferson (5-0, 6-0) pays them a visit in Week 7.
The good news is, even with a loss, all the Leopards would have to do is beat two winless teams–Laurel Highlands (which has actually outscored BV) and Albert Gallatin–to finish .500 within the conference. But they certainly don’t want to leave themselves at the possible mercy of tiebreakers.
Due to the consolidation of the top two classifications in the WPIAL, the new playoff format in Quad-A and Triple-A dictates that five teams from each conference, as opposed to the traditional four, will make the playoffs. To round out each field of 16, the best sixth-place team in each classification will enter as a wild card. Belle Vernon is currently in sixth place.
The other sixth-place teams are Highlands (2-4, 2-4), which meets Greensburg-Salem at Offut Field in Week 7, and Ambridge (2-3, 2-4), which hosts Chartiers Valley Friday.
(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)