By Matt Popchock

One game is all that separated 16 of the best football teams in western Pennsylvania from a trip to Heinz Field this approaching Saturday.  For a number of those programs last Friday was old hat, but for several more it brought them one step closer to a hat they haven’t worn in a while…a championship crown, that is.  There were no real nail-biters in the 2010 WPIAL Football Semifinals, but there were surprises, and Mr. High School Sports still believes the stage has been set for a memorable Thanksgiving weekend.

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Christian Brumbaugh earns a shot at sweet revenge…a successful coach beats his equally successful former employer…the most anticipated Single-A game in years does indeed come to fruition…and the slipper still fits for Triple-A’s newest member.  Here are the highlights from Week 12 of the high school football season:


Clairton vs. Springdale, WPIAL Class A Semifinals

(Courtesy of Eric Schmadel, Tribune-Review)

Clairton 26, Springdale 7 – Different venue, tougher opponent, same old Clairton…which earned its third consecutive WPIAL Championship berth with a win at Yough’s Cougar Mountain Stadium over another Eastern Conference opponent. Quarterback Desimon Green accounted for 128 all-purpose yards and all four of the Bears’ (12-0) touchdowns, two on the ground and two in the air, including a back-breaking TD pass to Trenton Coles at the very end of the first half (pictured left).  Running back Bill Arch got the goose egg off the board in the fourth quarter for the Dynamos (10-2), adding 59 rush yards in Clairton’s 27th straight victory.

Rochester 20, Avonworth 7 – Although Avonworth pushed Rochester’s vaunted defense, the ‘Lopes could not push through it, and the Rams earned a fifth Class A Final trip in seven years by snapping Avonworth’s ten-game winning streak at Ambridge’s Moe Rubenstein Stadium. Brian Vales, who finished 15-of-25 for 144 yards for the Antelopes (10-2), hurled a seven-yard touchdown to Andrew Niklaus to cut Rochester’s lead to 10-7.  But tailback/linebacker Devon Glass, who ran for 154 yards on 19 carries and scored the first TD of the night, later made a huge interception that kept it a three-point game and allowed the Rams (12-0) to pull away.


Aliquippa vs. Ford City, WPIAL Class AA Semifinals

(Courtesy of Louis Ruediger, Leader Times)

Aliquippa 26, Ford City 7 – Head coach Mike Zmijanac used the cliche about defense winning championships afterward, and if that unit dominates for the Quips (12-0) this weekend the way it did against Ford City at Seneca Valley’s NexTier Stadium, an unprecedented 14th WPIAL football title is just around the corner.  The Aliquippa defense scored its first TD on a fumble return of 21 yards and its last on a fumble return of 73, while limiting the Sabers (11-1) to 199 offensive yards and 40 second-half rush yards.  Ford City became the first playoff team to score on the Quips when Cody Gispanski, who threw for 79 yards, ran for a fourth-quarter score.

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South Fayette 55, Beaver Falls 28 – The scariest thing to come from West Allegheny’s Joe P. DiMichela Stadium last Friday was not the fact that South Fayette earned another shot at the team that ousted them from last year’s playoffs, but that they earned a running clock in the first half against the Tigers (10-2), whose only loss came early in the season against that same school.  It was not easy for quarterback Christian Brumbaugh, who finished a modest 12-of-25 for 171 yards, though he certainly made it look that way, throwing four first-half touchdowns for the Lions (12-0).  Fellow QB Carlin Henderson wasn’t too shabby himself, throwing for 230 yards and a score on 17-of-27 passing.


Montour 35, Mars 14 – Mars tried to play to its own strength and exploit the Spartans with its running game at Chartiers Valley Stadium, but it was the Greater Allegheny Conference champions who were served early Thanksgiving pie–humble pie, to be exact–once Parkway Conference champion Montour started throwing.  Dillon Buechel connected on ten of 15 passes for 225 yards, scattering four touchdown tosses, including a pair to Darren Massey, to lead the Spartans (12-0) to their second Class AAA Championship berth in four years.  Tailback Austin Miele racked up 163 yards on 26 carries, but only cracked the end zone once for the Planets (11-1).

Central Valley vs. Thomas Jefferson, WPIAL Class AAA Semifinals

(Courtesy of Lake Fong, Post-Gazette)

Central Valley 42, Thomas Jefferson 24 – On the frozen (artificial) tundra of North Allegheny’s Newman Stadium another extraordinary chapter in the feel-good story of the 2010 season was written, as the new kids on the block in Class AAA upset one of the great dynasties in WPIAL history.  Quarterback Dom Presto rose to the challenge for the Jaguars (10-2) against a very talented defense, throwing for three touchdowns and 184 yards on only six completions.  But receiver Robert Foster (pictured left) had too many answers for the Warriors (9-3), catching three TD passes and scoring on an 80-yard run in the third quarter en route to an amazingly one-sided win.


North Allegheny vs. Pittsburgh Central Catholic, WPIAL Class AAAA Semifinals

(Courtesy of Matt Freed, Post-Gazette)

North Allegheny 17, Pgh. Central Catholic 7 – In order to guide North Allegheny to its first-ever Heinz Field visit and first WPIAL Championship appearance since 1998, head coach Art Walker had to beat top-ranked Central, the team he coached for seven seasons, at Fox Chapel’s James M. Burke Stadium.  His Tigers (11-1) made Damion Jones-Moore a non-factor, and after a sluggish start of his own, fellow tailback Alex Papson (pictured left) powered NA with 186 yards on 34 attempts, including a 67-yard touchdown that put the game out of reach.  Quarterback Perry Hills led the Vikings (11-1) with 250 yards and a score on 15-of-33 passing.

Woodland Hills 24, North Hills 14 – The team may not have any big-name offensive stars, but North Hills has come by its success legitimately, with skillful coaching by Jack McCurry and outstanding team defense, though the Indians (10-2) couldn’t handle all the Division I talent George Novak brought to Pine-Richland Stadium.  Running back Lafayette Pitts was dominant yet again for the Wolverines (9-3), who earned the right to defend their WPIAL title and go for number six all-time, as he raced for a District 7-best 267 yards on 34 runs, including two TD’s of over 50 yards.  Indians QB Steve Dutkowski threw for 190 yards and a second-quarter touchdown in the team’s second consecutive semifinal loss.

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For more of the latest news and views on and off the gridiron be sure to tune into the next edition of The Post-Gazette High School Football Show Presented by First Commonwealth Bank, live from Heinz Field this Saturday morning 7:00-9:30, on SportsRadio 93.7 The Fan and!