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High School

“Mr. High School Sports” – Can Class AA Hopefuls Overcome Backfield Blues?

By Matt Popchock
Duane Murray

Steel Valley freshman Duane Murray will start Friday in place of injured tailback D’Andre Pickens. (Photo Credit: Jason Heffran/Champs Photography)

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PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — Perhaps, going forward, Washington head coach Mike Bosnic and Steel Valley head coach Rodney Steele will carry rabbit’s feet, extra pennies, or, failing that, four-leaf clovers with them on the sidelines, if they don’t already.

Friday the 13th in the greater Pittsburgh metro lived up to its nefarious namesake for two of the top running backs in WPIAL Class AA. Shai McKenzie of the Little Prexies has been lost for the season with a torn ACL, while D’Andre Pickens of the Ironmen is out for at least one game with a sprained ankle.

The news was less sobering for Pickens, who, like McKenzie has already topped 600 rushing yards. The Steel Valley senior gutted out 78 on nine carries before spending the second half of a 42-7 loss to South Fayette on crutches, but Steele told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Mike White that Pickens should return later this season.

Steel Valley will go with freshman Duane Murray, who finished that game with 88 yards and a long touchdown on 18 carries, but also fumbled twice, when it visits Seton-LaSalle at Baldwin High School Friday.

It’s a very telling time for the Ironmen, as South Fayette and Seton-LaSalle are expected to battle each other for the Class AA Century Conference title. Several teams will have to jockey for the last couple playoff spots out of that conference, including surprising Quaker Valley, which, like the Lions and Rebels, is off to a 3-0 start.

Meanwhile, expect Bosnic to rotate senior athlete Chase Caldwell and underclassmen Malik Wells and Jordon West in his backfield when MaxPreps Southwestern Pennsylvania No. 12 Washington hosts Yough Friday.

That trio has combined for 238 offensive yards and six TD’s in three games.

OTHER HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL NEWS AND VIEWS:

One particular goal McKenzie won’t get the chance to pursue is 3,000 rushing yards. Despite the illustrious history of prep football in southwestern Pennsylvania, that single-season mark has never been attained by a WPIAL player.

It was an admirable ambition, but was it a realistic one? Hmm…

Without assuming a playoff berth, a running back in the WPIAL would have to average 333 yards per game to safely reach 3,000. Had Washington returned to Heinz Field this fall, a healthy McKenzie would have needed to average in the neighborhood of 230 per game to make it happen.

Prior to his injury, McKenzie was averaging a little beneath that clip, and the Prexies hadn’t yet faced the toughest part of their schedule.

The remaining rusher with the best shot at 3,000 is senior Jimmy Wheeler of MaxPreps Southwestern Pennsylvania No. 22 West Mifflin.

Wheeler (5’9″, 170 lbs.) hasn’t drawn the same collegiate attention as McKenzie, but, in time, he might. Through three weeks he leads the district with 723 yards–an average of 241 per game.

The Titans probably won’t be tested aside from an early October meeting with Elizabeth Forward and their regular-season finale against perennial Big Nine Conference power Thomas Jefferson.

They, like Washington, fell in the district championship round last year, losing the Class AAA Final to West Allegheny.

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As long as we’ve mentioned South Fayette’s big road win in Week 3, we should also point out the Lions demonstrated they can score without having to rely on highly-touted junior quarterback Brett Brumbaugh.

Grant Fetchet

Grant Fetchet gained 137 yards for South Fayette in Week 3. (Photo Credit: Jason Heffran/Champs Photography)

Brumbaugh got off to a typically hot start last Friday, but he was victimized by a couple drops and a couple of his own bad decisions, finishing 11-of-23 for 152 yards.

Fullback J.J. Walker picked up the slack with a couple of goal-line scores, and tailback Grant Fetchet enjoyed a breakout performance with 137 yards on 15 carries and three touchdowns. He highlighted the mercy-rule victory with a brilliant 48-yard run in which he broke an open-field tackle, then shed another while tiptoeing the near sideline before scoring untouched.

“The linemen did their jobs. They created a massive hole, and all I did was follow my blocks. I got to the secondary, hit a guy, made a spin move, and that was it,” Fetchet said of his highlight-reel play.

“Grant is one of the most underrated players in the WPIAL. He showed why he’s great,” said Brumbaugh, who has received offers from Akron and Temple, will attend the Penn State-Michigan game Oct. 12, and also go to a Pitt home game to be determined. “A lot of teams have been playing back, with a lot of coverage. If they do that, we’re going to try to hit them with the run. We’re just taking what they give us.”

With 554 yards in the air and five scores, Brumbaugh remains among the top ten passers in the WPIAL. But while he gets the bulk of the college attention on that team, Fetchet and Walker have combined for 13 TD’s.

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There are two particularly intriguing games in Quad-A this week.

Last Friday George Smith earned his 200th coaching win with McKeesport in a 28-7 decision over Norwin. This Friday the Tigers (2-0, 3-0) host Penn-Trafford (2-0, 2-1) for further Foothills Conference action with another milestone at stake: win No. 600 in program history.

The Warriors were road warriors in the last meeting, stunning McKeesport 28-14 at Weigle-Schaeffer Memorial Stadium Sept. 21, 2012. Devin Austin ran for 71 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.

Austin is off to a nice start in 2013 with 474 yards and a pair of touchdowns, averaging nearly eight yards per attempt. Mikell Moore has quietly thrived in Smith’s flex-bone offense with 366 yards and two scores, averaging over seven per carry.

Rori Blair

USC’s defense, led by Pitt commit Rori Blair, must contain Penn Hills’ ground attack in Week 4. (Photo Credit: 247Sports)

Meanwhile, the biggest game to take place at Andrew Yuhas Stadium in a long time will get underway at 7:30 Friday when Upper St. Clair (3-0, 3-0) visits Penn Hills (3-0, 3-0) for Southeastern Conference supremacy.

The Panthers, No. 3 in the latest MaxPreps Southwestern Pennsylvania rankings, have succeeded with an anonymous but productive ground game, and the second-best defense in the classification.

Senior running back Mac Pope has four touchdowns, and is also a threat when thrown to. Pitt defensive end commit Rori Blair (6’3″, 210 lbs.) leads that aforementioned defense with 10 total tackles and 2.5 sacks.

The Indians, the highest-scoring team in the conference, have relied upon dual-threat sophomore Bill Kisner, the No. 4 rusher in the WPIAL, and junior Isaiah Jones. They’ve each run for five touchdowns and have combined for 1,006 rushing yards.

(Contact me at mpopchock@kdka.com and/or follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)

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