CTK ’14: WPIAL A Eastern Conference Preview
Sunday, August 24, 2014 | 8:09 PM
In the new-look Eastern Conference, four teams return while there are five news kids on the block. But with the pedigree of most of the newcomers, you can see why they are considered the Fearsome Foursome.
Here is the resume for the five new entrants into the Eastern Conference. Ten WPIAL football championships in the last eight years, two perennial powers in Class AA moving down to Class A and a team that set a district and state record 66-game winning streak along with the team that eventually broke that historic run.
This could mean a tough 2014 campaign for Eastern traditionalists Leechburg, Riverview, Springdale and Wilkinsburg who finished a combined 8-28 a year ago and were all home listening to the postseason on MSA Sports.
Here is a look at the new Eastern Conference:
It is a new era of Clairton football starting in 2014, and Bears fans can only hope that this new era is just half as good as the old era was. With the record winning streak and title run behind them, Clairton kicks off a new season with a new head coach as long-time assistant and former Bears star Wayne Wade takes over for Tom Nola, who left in the off season to become head coach at Gateway High School.
Even though Clairton did not win another championship last season, they did finish 8-1 in the regular season and tri-champs in the Black Hills Conference before losing to Sto-Rox in the Class A Semifinals. That Bears team a year ago was young, which means they return plenty of experience and lofty expectations.
Junior Aaron Mathews was the team’s leading quarterback last year hitting on 41 of 60 passes for 515 yards and six touchdowns. He also was the team’s leading rusher with 1.010 yards and 15 touchdowns. But he will shift to his true position at wide receiver while senior Ryan Williams takes over at quarterback. Williams threw for 329 yards and eight touchdowns last fall.
The Bears rushing attack will be manned by the explosive combo of junior Harrison Dreher and sophomore Lamont Wade. Dreher rushed for over 500 yards and added over 200 yards in receptions while scoring a combined five touchdowns. Wade rushed for over 600 yards and added seven touchdowns a year ago despite missing most of the season with a knee injury.
The lines up front have size and experience with the return of seniors Raymone Clifford (6-3, 190), Will Hampton (6-3, 285) and Israel Melvin (6-2, 288).
GREENSBURG CENTRAL CATHOLIC CENTURIONS:
While it was an average year by Greensburg Central Catholic’s standards at 5-5 overall, the team once again did make the playoffs and is hoping to regain its championship touch with the move down to Class A.
GCC does have some experience returning under center. A year ago, starting signal caller Chase Keller went down with an injury, but that allowed now junior Tommy Pellis to pick up valuable playing time. Pellis finished the season hitting on 51 of 98 passes for 866 yards and six touchdowns.
The Centurions have a couple of standouts to anchor the line in senior Jake Wallace, a 6’0 260 center and defensive tackle who was an all-conference pick in 2013 thanks to four sacks and 39 tackles. Junior Jake Weir, a 6’3 230 tight end/defensive end was another all-conference pick last fall. He finished his sophomore season with 28 tackles and eight sacks. Also returning up front are three juniors in Tom Slavic, Jack Kilkeary and Brian Pevarnik.
With the team’s leading rusher and receiver from a year ago graduated in Tyler Balla, GCC will lean on plenty of newcomers at running back and receiver including junior running back Jacob Nesser and junior wide receiver J.P. Ellis to help fill the void.
2013 was a down year for football at Jeannette. For the first time this century, the Jayhawks were spectators for the district playoffs after finishing 4-5 overall and in fifth place, one game out of a postseason berth in the Class AA Interstate Conference. After years of playing up in Double-A with a Single-A enrollment, school officials made the tough decision to move down into Class A with the hopes they can get back to being a dominant force in their classification.
A stud on the hardwood, senior Julian Batts proved he is a stud on the gridiron as well with a solid 2013 season. Batts connected on 61 of 110 passes for 900 yards and seven touchdowns. He also rushed for 123 yards and four scores a year ago.
Another top offensive threat both as a runner and receiver is running back Zack Altieri. The senior rushed for 250 yards and had 212 yards in receiving on only 12 carries with a total of four touchdowns. Also in the skilled position mix will be senior running back Terell Canady, sophomore running back Kareem Hall, junior wide receiver Swade Redman and junior tight end Jefferson Jones.
The ‘Hawks will be green up front with senior Joey Soles the lone returning lineman. Jeannette will look to junior twin brothers Hakeim and Hassani Stikkel-Headan to help solidify the team in the trenches.
LEECHBURG BLUE DEVILS:
2013 was another tough season on the gridiron at Leechburg, but the Blue Devils did finish 2-6 in the conference and in a tie for sixth place, one of the highest finishes in a nine-team conference for the team in years.
The biggest returning starter for Leechburg is one of their biggest players. 6’3, 255-pound senior Jordan Comonis will help anchor the line. Comonis has been an all-conference lineman in each of the last two seasons. Also helping him up front will be senior guard Devin Myers, senior end Zach Lewis, sophomore tackle Logan Bowser and sophomore center Dan Jones.
Alex Sipolino has graduated for the Blue Devils, but junior Josh Stearman is ready to take over at quarterback. 2013’s leading rusher Alex Kalmar has also graduated, so a combination of senior Colton Seibert-Reed and junior Darius Bennis will try to get the ground game going this fall.
Also gone is the team’s top three leading receivers from a year ago, but Quentin Wolfgang is prepared to take over as the top target. The senior did average over 14 yards per reception last year and scored two touchdowns. He may also be the team’s top place kicker. Wolfgang may also see some time at running back.
There will be plenty of new faces for Andy Pacak’s Monessen squad after 13 players graduated from a 10-2 campaign, a share of the conference championship and a berth in the Class A Quarterfinals. Despite the loss of experience and the move into a rugged new section, there is still plenty of optimism for the ‘Hounds.
Most of it center on the return of Noah Rullo. The senior signal caller enjoyed a break out year in 2013 as he hit on 68 of 126 passes for 1,308 yards and 19 touchdowns.
While the top three rushers from a year ago are gone, Junior Demond Jordan saw some time last year and gained 216 yards on 15 carries and four touchdowns. Senior Irvin Green was in the same boat last year, catching 9 passes for 212 yards in limited play with five touchdowns. Senior wide receiver Lavelle Rush is also expected to contribute to the Greyhounds passing attack.
A pair of senior linebackers is expected to lead the way on defense in 6’1, 190-pound Brandon Lenhart and 6’0, 210-pound Tyleir McKita. The Monessen defense was the second stingiest in the Black Hills Conference a year ago.
Jason Cappa has big shoes to fill after becoming the fifth head coach in Riverview history. But he’s not trying to fill the shoes of his predecessor, Todd Massack. He’s following in his legendary father’s footsteps. Jake Cappa coaches the Raiders for 16 year through 2002, including a WPIAL championship in 1997. Sadly, Jake passed away this past May.
Jason hopes to turn his alma mater around as they have become Raiders of the Lost Art of the Postseason. Riverview last qualified for the WPIAL playoffs in 2007 and are a combined 17-39 the last 6 years, 5-22 the last 3 years and an Eastern Conference basement dwelling 1-8 a year ago.
Getting the start at quarterback for the Raiders this fall will be senior Tyler Negro. After seeing time under center a year ago, Negro completed 10 passes for 94 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore running back Nasan Tibbens has caught the eye of the new coaching staff and will help lead the Riverview ground attack. Senior wide receiver Raymar McCombs and senior tight end Jacob Massack return to help in the passing game. McCombs led the team in receptions last season with an average of 14.9 yards per catch and three touchdowns.
A couple of skilled players from last fall have moved to help an interior line that was hit by graduation. A pair of seniors in wide receiver Jared Culligan and fullback Dillon Provenza move up front to join junior Will Singleton, junior Vince Fiore and sophomore Josh Bennett.
SERRA CATHOLIC EAGLES:
Seven years ago, Serra Catholic was on top of the Class A world after winning a WPIAL championship and a PIAA runner-up trophy. But the Eagles wings have been badly clipped in the last four years. Not counting a forfeit win over Imani Christian in 2013, Serra is a combined 5-32 since 2009, with their last victory on the field coming in a 14-0 triumph over Avella on October 14, 2011. Now playing in a bolstered Eastern Conference and with only 24 players on the roster to begin the season, more lean times might lie ahead for Serra. However there is some talent in those limited numbers.
One of the top players coming back though suffered a major injury in a Week One scrimmage as senior Zac Quatrone suffered a broken collarbone. Quatrone hit on 76 of 163 passes last year for 1,011 yards and five touchdowns. The duo threat was also the team’s leading rusher with 1,047 yards on 177 carries and 15 touchdowns. Yes, he led the team in scoring as well and will be a huge loss for the Eagles.
Whoever takes over under center has top target Joe Satira back. The senior wide out had 47 receptions for 697 yards (14.8 yards per catch average) and five touchdowns. Junior Hamden Wyatt ran for 250 yards and caught 11 passes for 166 yards and scored four touchdowns.
Up front, Serra Catholic will rely on 5-10, 225-pound senior Taysaun Owens and 5-8, 190-pound junior lineman Jake Alfer.
It was a rare down year for the Dynamos in 2013 as they finished 3-6 overall and in fifth place in the Eastern Conference. In his third year, head coach Dave Leasure looks to crack that ‘Fearsome Foursome’ and get back into the playoffs.
One thing Springdale will have to improve is their team scoring, which was last in the nine-team conference a year ago with only 91 points scored. The teams leading passer and rusher from a year ago returns in the form of one player in quarterback Daniel Franskousky. The senior hit on 26 of 59 passes for 392 yards and a touchdown along with 409 yards rushing and four scores a year ago.
Senior h-back Adam Lock returns after leading the Dynamos in 2013 with 15 receptions for 241 yards for a 16.1 yards per catch average and three touchdowns. Lock was also an all-conference and MSA Sports/Kennywood Preseason All-Star member at linebacker.
Other returning starters for Springdale include senior fullback/linebacker Austin Kline, senior split end/defensive back Mike Banachoski and junior tight end/linebacker Eric Lovic.
Former head coach and Springdale icon Chuck Wagner joins Don Boulton as a pair of 79-yard old assistant coaches to bring wisdom and experience to Coach Leasure’s staff.
2014 marks the 100th Anniversary of the very first WPIAL football championship. It was awarded to Wilkinsburg High School. The Tigers earned the first championship settled on the field a year later when they defeated Pittsburgh Fifth Avenue. Another small roster of around 20 players will be an obstacle for a Tigers program that finished 2-7 last year and hasn’t qualified for the district playoffs in a dozen years and haven’t won a postseason game this century.
Ryan Cox had graduated, leaving a gap to fill at quarterback. No problem for Jonathan Carpenter. After a couple of years of snapping the ball at center, Carpenter will now take the snaps in the rare move from center to quarterback.
Senior running back Marcus Williams will get most of the totes in the run game. He average 6.2 yards per carry a year ago with three touchdowns. Senior Marelle Turner will also help in the run game. Sophomore Robert Higgenbotham returns after leading the Tigers in receptions a year ago, averaging 15.3 yards per catch.
Up front with Carpenter moved on offense, Wilkinsburg will rely on senior Roland Dowden, junior Stephon Byrd and sophomore Micah Stoner.
MSA SPORTS MSA SPORTS PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:
1. Clairton Bears
2. Greensburg Central Catholic Centurions
3. Jeannette Jayhawks
4. Monessen Greyhounds
5. Springdale Dynamos
6. Riverview Raiders
7. Wilkinsburg Tigers
8. Leechburg Blue Devils
9. Serra Catholic Eagles
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