2021 WPIAL Class 3A football breakdown: Central Valley the heavy favorite again

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Tuesday, August 24, 2021 | 6:01 AM


Last season, Central Valley outclassed everyone in Class 3A.

The Warriors breezed through the WPIAL and PIAA playoffs and capped it off by winning the school’s first state title.

Central Valley averaged 50.1 points and allowed 9.8. While those numbers might be hard to duplicate, the Warriors remain the team to beat.

They are led by Pitt recruit Sean Fitzsimmons, who plays defensive end. Linebacker Matt Merritt returns with an added position, quarterback.

“I think we have the best defense in the state,” Merritt said. “The offense is young, but we still have enough to be state champions.”

Also back is running back Landon Alexander, who rushed for 1,443 yards and scored 20 touchdowns.

There are a bunch of teams that are eager to dethrone the Warriors.

Elizabeth Forward, which lost to Central Valley in the WPIAL final, returns a strong nucleus and is favored in the Interstate Conference. Returning are lineman Nick Murphy and running back/linebacker DaVontay Brownfield.

South Park and South Allegheny return numerous starters and look to challenge the Warriors for the conference crown.

Avonworth, which was left out of the WPIAL playoffs in 2020, returns with a chip on its shoulder. The Antelopes return a veteran line led by Kevin Felter.

Keystone Oaks was hit hard by graduation and must replace quarterback Logan Shrubb, who scored 12 touchdowns, rushed for 869 yards and threw for 941 yards and three touchdowns.

North Catholic is favored to win the Allegheny Seven Conference and will rely on veteran quarterback Joey Prentice, who passed for 1,208 yards and 16 touchdowns. He also rushed for 568 yards and 12 scores.

The Trojans defense should be helped by Chase Arrington, a talented junior cornerback who transferred from Gateway.

Ben Lane, a do-everything player for Freeport, is expected to help the Yellowjackets challenge for the conference title. He will play running back and defensive back for Freeport.

THE FAVORITE

1. Central Valley (12-0)

The Warriors will be looking for their third consecutive WPIAL title and fifth in school history. They dominated Class 3A, averaging 50.1 points per game. Senior running back Landon Alexander, who rushed for 1,443 yards and 20 touchdowns, will be asked to carry the load. End Sean Fitzsimmons, a Pitt recruit, and linebacker Matt Merriott look to lead another strong defense.

Preseason rankings

2. Avonworth (4-3)

3. North Catholic (8-1)

4. Elizabeth Forward (8-1)

5. Freeport (3-3)

THE STARS

Kevin Felter, T, Avonworth

The Antelopes return numerous starters and Felter, a senior two-time all-conference tackle, leads the way. The 6-foot-3, 295-pound Felter is starting to drawing interest from college coaches.

Sean Fitzsimmons, DE, Central Valley

The Pitt recruit will be counted on to head the Warriors defense. Central Valley allowed 9.8 points per game and Fitzsimmons was a big reason why. He has great size and quickness.

Landon Alexander, RB, Central Valley

The Warriors lost a lot of offensive weapons from the 2020 state championship team. Alexander gets overlooked even though he was among the team’s most dangerous offensive weapons. He’ll be Central Valley’s main focus this season.

Joey Prentice, QB/S, North Catholic

Prentice will be starting his third season as starting quarterback for the Trojans. He threw for 1,208 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2020. He’s also a standout safety on defense. He’ll be counted on to lead North Catholic.

Ben Lane, QB, Freeport

Talk about Mr. Everything. Lane did it all for the Yellowjackets offense. He completed 46 of 81 passes for 769 yards and seven touchdowns. He rushed for a team-high 348 yards and six touchdowns. He caught five passes for 99 yards and a score. He also returned kicks.

DON’T MISS

10.1: Keystone Oaks at Avonworth

These teams will be battling for second place in the Northwestern Six Conference. A year ago, Keystone Oaks’ 20-13 victory kept Avonworth from making the WPIAL playoffs. You can bet Avonworth has this game circled on the calendar.

10.8: Elizabeth Forward at South Allegheny

A slow start in 2020 cost the Gladiators a shot at the WPIAL playoffs. Even though they graduated running back Antonio Epps, the Gladiators return 17 starters and hope to dethrone Elizabeth Forward as Interstate Conference champions.

10.22: North Catholic at Freeport

The Allegheny Seven Conference should be on the line when these rivals bang heads late in the season. Both teams return veteran quarterbacks and a good nucleus around them. This should be a fun, intense battle.

Paul Schofield is a TribLive reporter covering high school and college sports and local golf. He joined the Trib in 1995 after spending 15 years at the Daily Courier in Connellsville, where he served as sports editor for 14 years. He can be reached at pschofield@triblive.com.

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