While repeats have been the story in the WPIAL in the last few years with Clairton winning five consecutive Class A titles, two straight Class AA titles for Aliquippa and three straight titles for North Allegheny in Quad A, there have been no repeat champion in Class AAA.
However, a team from the Parkway Conference has claimed the last four AAA trophies, with West Allegheny as the defending champion. In fact, five of the nine coaches in the conference has won a WPIAL championship, those coaches have combined for 13 gold medals for their teams since 1991.
This might be the most balanced conference from top to bottom this season as the talent is well spread. With at least five playoff spots up for grabs and the possibility of a sixth with the AAA wild card, every game means that much more.
Here is a look at the Parkway Conference.
The future is bright for the Bridgers and that future could be now. Coach Neil Tkatch played a lot of underclassmen in 2012 and that could bode well for a playoff spot for the Bridgers in 2013. Ambridge finished 3-5 in the conference and 3-6 overall.
Ambridge sat at 2-1 in the conference after four games, coming off what was their best game of the season, a 41-17 Saturday afternoon win over Moon, but the Bridgers lost four of the last five games, including a 10-6 decision at Hopewell that helped to keep Ambridge out of the playoff picture, where they have not been since 2005.
The Bridgers will have to find a way to put more points on the board this season, Ambridge averaged only 17 points last season, the lowest offensive average in the Parkway.
Ambridge returns a number of lineman who saw playing time last season and several players that will all see action in the offense this season. Junior Stephan McGinnis led the team with 13 catches last season and was second in rushing, he also saw some time under center or in a spread formation, he expects to see a lot of action this year.
Seniors Kody Nichi and Javon Tarver also got some good work in 2012 carrying the football with Tarver scoring three touchdowns. Sebastian Perez and Brett Balcovic anchor the offensive line.
On the defense, senior linebacker Dan Zajac and junior Khalil Harvey will be the anchors, both are MSA Sports 2013 Players to Watch, along with Nichi on offense.
Those first four games could tell the tale again for Ambridge, with defending champions Aliquippa and West Allegheny out of the gate, followed by New Castle and Moon.
The story will be can the Cougars protect their Division 1 recruit quarterback. Chandler Kincade has committed to Akron after pulling back from an earlier offer from Pitt. Kincade threw for 2,220 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2012 and is looking for a great senior season to finish out a career at Blackhawk. But the quarterback also spent a lot of time on his back last year, losing 108 yards on the ground, many of those coming on sacks or scrambles.
Kincade will have to find a new target this season as his top two receivers graduated. TE Andrew Podbielski could be that guy at 6-5 235 pounds. Podbielski has committed to Bowling Green and was a member of the MSA Sports/Kennywood Park Preseason Team. Senior Cody Bain also had 14 catches, three for touchdowns as a junior. Protecting Kincade will be a key, led by senior center Tyler Beatrice.
Blackhawk will have to find a way to stop the other teams in the Parkway, the Cougars did make the playoffs last season with a 3-5 conference record, they finished 3-7 overall and suffered a first round loss at Mars. Blackhawk allowed 32 points per game, the offense averaged 27, not a recipe for success in the Parkway.
Beatrice on the line, Bain at outside linebacker and senior Tyler Engle also received honorable mention from the Parkway coaches last season on defense.
Head coach Joe Hamilton returns for another season, the veteran boss has led the Cougars to four WPIAL titles. He will also have to avoid another five game mid-season losing streak, including shootout losses to Beaver, New Castle and Montour in successive weeks.
CENTRAL VALLEY WARRIORS
Three points, if that’s not a rallying cry for the Warriors this season, it should be. Central Valley was 7-1 in the conference last season and tied for the championship, the Warriors finished 9-3 overall, advancing to the semifinals.
The three losses for the Warriors were each by one point, a 28-27 home overtime loss to Montour in one of the best games of the 2012 regular season, a 36-35 loss at Beaver Falls in the final week and a 36-35 loss to West Mifflin in the playoffs.
That said, it has been a great three years for this program with a WPIAL championship and two trips to the semifinals for head coach Mark Lyons.
The Warriors will be right in the hunt for the conference championship and more this season. While the national recruiters are gone with Robert Foster having moved on to Alabama, the Warriors will still be very talented in 2013.
Junior Jordan Whitehead is getting several looks from Division 1 schools. Whitehead will be a key on the offense and is an outstanding defensive back. As a sophomore, he rushed for 918 yards and scored 12 touchdowns. Speedy junior JaQuan Pennington will add to the offense again after scoring 9 times and running for almost 600 yards as a sophomore.
Nate Climo threw for 1,080 yards and 10 touchdowns, John George also returns, he threw four touchdowns last season, Central Valley had little problem scoring in 2012, averaging 35 points per game. TE Aldo Legge could also be a target, but he will be counted on as a blocker.
The defense will be anchored by senior LB Ricky Zuk, he was named to the MSA Sports/Kennywood Park Preseason team, that defense only allowed an average of 18 points, second best in the conference.
CHARTIERS VALLEY COLTS
The Colts were welcomed to the Parkway rather rudely in 2012, going 2-7 overall and 1-7 in the conference. Coach Chris Saluga resigned following the season and the Colts have a new boss entering 2013.
Former South Fayette and Duquesne University QB Niel Loebig takes over the team, after being chosen out of 40 applicants for the job. Loebig threw for 65 touchdowns in high school and over 100 td’s in four years on the Bluff, but says he is a run-first kind of guy. Loebig coached for six seasons at Duquesne, he coordinated the passing game and was the wide receivers coach.
The Colts enter the season with a five game losing streak. Char Valley averaged 20 points a contest in 2012, but allowed a whopping 40 points per game, the highest in the conference. Those numbers will have to change if the Colts are to compete in 2013.
Andreo Coury grabbed 25 passes and scored seven touchdowns in 2012, he will figure in on the offense. The line will be anchored by senior Hunter Steel.
2012 was a streaky season for the Vikings, going 5-6 overall and 4-4 in the Parkway. Hopewell started the season at 0-2 and sat at 1-3 after four weeks. The Vikings defeated Moon and Ambridge, before falling to Central Valley and Freedom, but Hopewell was able to defeat New Castle at home in the final week of the season to move into the playoffs. The Vikings won at Hampton in the first round before falling to Central Valley in the quarterfinals.
Head coach Dave Vestal knows what it takes to win in the conference and the Vikings are looking to get back to the top of the mountain in 2013. A major concern is the offense, which averaged just 18 points last season, second worst of the Parkway teams.
A player to watch this season for the Vikings is senior RB/LB Mike Tempalski, he racked up 535 yards and seven scores in 2012. He will likely be joined in the backfield by junior Tyler Ishman, who led the Vikings in rushing with 596 yards.
Senior kicker Nate Bowden may come into play a little more in 2013, he converted three field goals last season.
One thing the Vikings will have going for them in 2013 is depth on the offensive and defensive lines, a number of players are competing for spots in the starting lineup. Senior Deahn Smith caught the eye of the conference coaches in 2012, receiving honorable mention on the defense. Spencer Levinger will be a key member of the defense at inside linebacker.
The Tigers continued their struggles in the conference, finishing 1-7 and 2-7 overall. Since the 2006 season, the last time the Tigers made the playoffs, Moon is 3-37 in conference play.
Head coach Mark Washington does have some talented players returning for 2013. Senior running back Anthony Colaianni heads the list, running for 998 yards and scored six times in 2012, he is an MSA Sports Player to Watch in 2013.
Senior WR VJ Dean led the team with 14 catches, he scored three touchdowns last year. Senior FB Ian Kelly averaged over five yards per carry. Senior TE Manny Torres grabbed 13 passes, junior WR Noah Perry had only seven catches but averaged 17 yards for those grabs.
Junior tackle Nico Yaramus was impressive as a sophomore on the offensive line. Kelly anchors the defense at linebacker and senior Cole Blake is a player to watch in the secondary. The defense allowed 32 points per game last season, a high number that must change if the Tigers look to get back to the top of the conference.
The Spartans started the season winning seven straight but fell in a strange 5-3 loss at home to West Allegheny that allowed the Indians to share in the Parkway title with the Spartans and Central Valley. Montour would move onto the post-season and defeat Trinity at home but fell again to West Allegheny 14-2 in the quarterfinals.
Head coach Lou Cerro will lead the Spartans again in 2013, he loses one of the best players in the WPIAL in Devin Wilson to graduation, but Montour will look compete for the conference title once again.
Montour used three quarterbacks to start the season but settled on two to go the remainder of the way. Senior Ty Greer returns for 2013, he helped lead the Spartans to a huge Week 2 win over Central Valley. Greer completed over fifty percent of his passes, throwing for 750 yards and nine touchdowns with just one interception in 2012, he also ran for two scores. Greer started in his freshman and sophomore years for Shenango, before moving to Montour last season.
The Spartans will lean heavily on senior bruiser Cole Macek in the backfield. Macek ran for 454 yards and led the Spartans with 92 carries last season, he scored seven times.
NEW CASTLE RED HURRICANES
Speed, speed and more speed will be the motto for the Red Hurricanes in 2013 with what some are calling the fastest team in New Castle history.
Under first year head coach Joe Cowart, the Red Hurricanes finished 4-5 last season and 3-5 in the Parkway but the Canes missed the playoffs for the third straight year, falling to Hopewell in the season finale.
Much of the attention will be focused on senior WR/DB Malik Hooker, who committed recently to Ohio State for the secondary. Hooker will be a big part of the offense in 2013, he grabbed 13 passes in 2012 for 333 yards, he also averaged almost ten yards per carry and scored 11 touchdowns.
QB Julian Cox has committed to Villinova, he threw for 627 yards and nine touchdowns last season, he also averaged over seven yards per carry as the team’s second leading rusher, he scored eight touchdowns.
New Castle had no issues scoring last season, averaging 26 points per game, but the defense allowed 24, a tight margin which leads to very close games in an ultra competitive conference.
Senior Drew Allen was named to the all-conference team in the secondary, he’ll be joined by Hooker and another speedster, senior Jake McPhatter. Another senior, Josh Baker returns to anchor the line, he received all conference honorable mention on both sides of the ball.
What could be an issue for New Castle is the schedule, which has the Red Hurricanes at Central Valley, Ambridge and Montour in the first four weeks of the season.
WEST ALLEGHENY INDIANS
The Indians shared the conference title with a 7-1 record and ended 12-2 and claimed WPIAL gold with the win over West Mifflin at Heinz Field. Using a stingy defense that only allowed 10 points per game and a tough as nails ground game that uses multiple formations and backs, Coach Bob Palko has many of those pieces back for 2013.
QB Andrew Koester is only a junior, he threw for 907 yards and six touchdowns. Koester will have to cut down the interceptions, he tossed seven picks last season. Senior Nick Daigle returns at wide receiver.
It also doesn’t hurt that West A returns over 2400 yards of rushing and 32 touchdowns from a year ago. Senior Chayse Dillion led the Indians with 952 yards and 12 scores, junior Armand Dellovade racked up 778 yards and ten td’s and senior Tory Delmonico averaged 6.5 yards per carry and also scored ten times. With those numbers, West Allegheny can hold onto the ball, while racking up points and keep the defense off the field.
While it is true that the Indians suffered some losses up front on both sides of the ball, there are some returners that will step up into bigger roles for 2013.
Dellovade received all conference honors at inside linebacker and senior Jake Johnson was honorable mention in the secondary.
MSA SPORTS PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH IN THE PARKWAY CONFERENCE:
1. West Allegheny Indians
2. Central Valley Warriors
3. Montour Spartans
4. New Castle Red Hurricane
5. Hopewell Vikings
6. Ambridge Bridgers
7. Blackhawk Cougars
8. Moon Tigers
9. Chartiers Valley Colts