I’m on the Highway to Heinz, the Highway to Heinz, with apologies to AC/DC there will in fact be stop signs. In fact 32 teams will get off this Friday night after the shortest trip imaginable on the Highway to Heinz. But for those naysayers who claim there are too many teams in the playoffs, I dare you to ask any member of those 32 teams if they would give back the memory of making the playoffs even after getting dumped in round one, the answer is no, they would not. In fact, they would do it all again even knowing the heartbreak was coming right at them. That’s why the playoffs in the WPIAL are perfect just the way they are. Now let’s stop bickering about it and go Big Game Hunting!
WPIAL Class AAAA First Round:
#9 North Allegheny Tigers (6-3) at #8 Bethel Park Blackhawks (6-3) Friday November 1st at 7:30 PM @ Bethel Park Stadium on the campus of Bethel Park high school broadcast on the MSA Sports Network and the North Allegheny Sports Network by Randy Gore and Rick Meister
Both of these teams got off to 4-1 starts and lost two of their last four games to finish the season at 6-3.
The Hawks righted their ship in week nine with a hard fought win over Baldwin 28-21 hanging on in the second half after building a 28-7 halftime lead. Sophomore quarterback Levi Metheny ran for a pair of scores and tossed for another in the victory which snapped a two game slide for the Black Hawks.
Bethel Park has solid line play up front and Alexander Minton is a great running back. The Hawks though are struggling without one of their best athletes on the field both offensively defensively in Danny Emma who was dressed for week nine but never saw the field due to injury. Emma’s availability, and how close he is to 100% will have a huge impact on this game. He is a great receiver and will be a key for the Hawks’ secondary trying to cover one of the best wide outs in the WPIAL in North Allegheny’s Elijah Zeise.
Minton’s running skills will be a big focus for Jeff Metheny’s team. Minton and fullback Gary Gerst make a very nice rushing tandem. Junior Chris Papalia has stepped up in the passing game with the absence of Emma and has shown himself to be a big play threat for Bethel Park.
North Allegheny has won two in a row after dropping back-to-back games to Gateway and Central in weeks six and seven.
Jeff Clemens threw for more than 1100 yards and 13 touchdowns heading into week nine. Senior Cage Galupi stepped in to start against the North Hills Indians in week nine and threw for 203 yards and a pair of touchdowns as the Tigers defeated their rivals 31-0. Whichever quarterback starts Friday they are happy to have Elijah Zeise back in top-form. The senior wide receiver had been battling an injury but appears ready to go with his 38 catches for 781 yards and ten touchdowns on the season.
On the ground look for the Tigers to get most of the heavy-lifting done with Isaac Weaver, Sean Idowu, and Josh Bergman.
These teams have both allowed just over 16 points per game defensively. This game I think will prove to be a test of wills up front, the battle in the trenches might prove to be the difference in this game.
WPIAL Class AAA First Round:
#10 New Castle Red Hurricanes (7-2) at #7 Highlands Golden Rams (6-3) Friday November 1st at 7:30 PM @ Golden Rams Stadium in Natrona Heights, PA. Broadcast on the MSA Sports Network and WKST-AM 1200 by Ken Hlebovy and Stan Roberts
Great match-up of a pair of third place teams New Castle from the always tough Parkway and Highlands from the, “A little tougher than you may realize” Greater Allegheny.
New Castle has a lot of folks calling them a dark horse to make a big run in this playoff season. Their only two losses have come from a pair of upper-echelon teams in Central Valley and West Allegheny. The ‘Canes lost to Central in week one and gave the Indians a good run for their money in week seven before falling 37-31 at home.
Julian Cox is a solid dual threat at quarterback completing well over 50% of his passes for over 1300 yards and 14 touchdowns, while only tossing 3 interceptions. He has rushed for nearly 400 yards and another six scores.
Tevin McCaster is the leading rusher for New Castle averaging over six yards per carry. Malik Hooker can beat you running or receiving, Hooker has averaged over ten yards per carry on the ground and leads the team in receiving as well. The kid is a big-time playmaker when he gets his hands on it he can score from anywhere on the field.
Highlands has stumbled down the stretch after a 6-1 start losing their last two games to Ringgold and Knoch by a combined score of 64-27.
The Golden Rams gave up 226 yards passing to Knoch in week nine look for the Hurricanes to try and throw the ball against that secondary.
Highlands will rely more on the ground game with junior running back Elijah Jackson carrying over 1100 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns on the ground for the regular season. Jackson is only 5’7’’ tall and weighs in at 140 pounds, but he has great moves, speed and surprising strength for his size.
Blake Leri will handle the signal calling duties, he has not thrown a lot, totaling less than 500 yards for the year, but he has been good at taking care of the ball, hooking up for six touchdowns without throwing a pick. He can hurt you with his running as well rushing for almost 300 yards on the year.
WPIAL Class AA First Round:
#9 New Brighton Lions (6-3) at #8 Quaker Valley Quakers (7-2) Friday November 21st at 7:30 PM @ Chuck Knox Stadium on the campus of Quaker Valley high school broadcast on the MSA Sports Network and WMBA-AM 1460 by Bob Barrickman and Al Goehring
New Brighton suffered a big blow when senior quarterback Gabe Greco went down with an injury against Aliquippa in the middle of the season. But junior Payton Fath has responded well in Greco’s stead as Fath has completed 55 of 101 passes for 878 yards and 11 touchdowns in little more than four weeks.
Craig Thompson and Jesse Sabol have combined for 63 catches, 1167 yards and 14 touchdowns on the year.
The Lions also get a contribution from Fath in the rushing game as he has almost 500 yards rushing on 81 carries and has scored seven touchdowns.
New Brighton’s leading rusher is Scott Florence who has toted the rock 174 times for 846 yards and seven touchdowns on the year.
The Lions defense has struggled from time to time, allowing 144 points in losses to Aliquippa, Beaver Falls and AAAA playoff team Moon. Of course every defense has struggled against Aliquippa and Beaver Falls.
Quaker Valley is back in the playoffs for the first time since the 1999 season and they have been very impressive offensively all season long. The Quakers are scoring a second-best in the Century conference 33.4 points per game on the year.
Junior quarterback Dane Jackson is a balanced attack all on his own with a combined yardage total passing and running over 1500 yards on the year, accounting for 18 touchdowns in one way or another.
Gennaro Travato has rushed for almost 600 yards and eight touchdowns of his own on the year.
Chris Conlan is the leading Quaker in terms of receptions on the year with 22 grabs for over 300 yards and four touchdown connections.
Looking for a shootout? I think this is the game you might want to check out Friday night round one in Leetsdale, and on the MSA Sports Network.
WPIAL Class A First Round:
#11 Brentwood Spartans ( 6-4) at #6 Neshannock Lancers (7-2) Friday November 1st at 7:30 PM @ Neshannock Stadium on the campus of Neshannock high school broadcast on the MSA Sports Network and WJST-AM 1280 by Mark Schaas and Lee Mohn
The Lancers of Neshannock have two losses on the season. They are to the top two seeds in the A bracket by a combined total of 10 points. The Lancers are a contender for play at Heinz Field, there I said it. It feels good to get it out there. Senior quarterback Ernie Burkes is likely to throw for a thousand yards and rush for a thousand yards before all is said and done this season.
So far Burkes has completed 79 of 139 passes for 926 yards and 12 touchdowns on the year and, rushed it 86 times for 806 yards and 14 touchdowns. He is the ultimate dual threat. But lest you focus too much on Burkes you will get thumped by one of the top running backs in the WPIAL in junior Eli Owens. Owens has carried the ball 124 times for 1142 yards and 11 touchdowns. Both of those guys are big time contributors on defense as well.
Jimmy Medure is the leading receiver for the Lancers with 18 catches for 215 yards.
The Lancer defense is led by a pair of outstanding players in Rocco Fazio and Gianni Oliva. As a team they run hard and fast and track the ball very well. The Lancers have allowed only 14.9 points per game on the year.
Brentwood struggled early through the loss of one of the best running backs in the WPIAL Justin Vickless. Vickless injured his knee in camp, tried to go a bit early and was very limited. Brentwood need to find their footing with guys stepping up and they have been able to do so down the stretch. The Spartans have won three games in a row after a week six loss to Clairton.
Junior quarterback Connor McWilliams has had what some might call a breakout season completing 99 of 178 passes for 1590 yards and 13 touchdowns while only tossing four interceptions. Williams favorite target is junior Bill Madeja who leads the team with 29 catches for 479 yards. Madeja has also scored 11 touchdowns on the year.
Running backs stepping up in the space left by Vickless include Pat Carr and Dallas Bowie, both run hard and have real big play capability. This might be the original version of Brentwood football 2013 Kevin Kissel was planning on but it has rounded into a very, very good football team.