CTK ’14: WPIAL AA Interstate Conference Preview
Monday, August 18, 2014 | 5:26 PM
The WPIAL’s Interstate has changed. There are no longer exits for Jeannette and Greensburg.
Jeannette and Greensburg Central Catholic both dropped from Class AA to A this season and both teams played in the Interstate Conference last year. One other team is out of the Interstate this year as Yough moved up to Class AAA.
The two new teams in the Interstate are Burgettstown and McGuffey, who both played in the Century Conference a year ago.
The loss of Greensburg Central Catholic and Jeannette makes this conference a little weaker. A different team has won the conference title the past four years – Mount Pleasant, Washington, Jeannette and Greensburg Central Catholic.
Here is an overview of the Interstate:
A lack of players has been a problem at Brownsville the past few seasons, but so has a lack of offense. The Falcons scored only 96 points in 10 games last season.
But maybe that offense will improve this season with the return of Marcellous Grooms at quarterback and Byron Mayers at running back. They were the team’s top two scorers a year ago.
It will still be tough for Brownsville this season, but there a couple teams that the Falcons might be able to compete with.
BURGETTSTOWN BLUE DEVILS
The Blue Devils move from the Century to the Interstate and will be looking for their first victory since the 2011 season. Coach Terry Havelka’s team has lost 21 games in a row, the second-longest losing streak in the WPIAL behind Shaler’s 22.
Jake McKee had close to 400 yards rushing last year. Quarterback Robert Dupain returns along with receivers Jake Shipley and Dylan Dhans. They hope to give a spark to an offense that averaged only 7.9 points a game.
The defense must improve also as the blue Devils gave up a whopping 47 points a game last season. Other returning starters are receiver-defensive back Brandon Soll, defensive back Brad McLaughlin, linebacker Cole Larocka, lineman Brad Hucik, lineman Aaron Bonacci and tight end-linebacker Scott Schmidt.
There is a new man in charge of the Cougars. Donnie Militzer takes over after one season as Gateway’s coach. Militzer believes he has a team that could fight for a playoff spot after finishing 2-7 last season.
Seven starters return on offense and six on defense. Matt Carr is back at quarterback and Trey Douyon at receiver. Other returning starters are receiver-defensive back Greg Arnold, running back-linebacker Keenan Griffith, linemen Kevin McClellan, Chad Waggoner and Mason Thomas, and lineman-linebacker Jake Lemmon.
Defense has been the main issue for the Cougars as they allowed only 41 points a game last season.
The Trojans were winless a year ago, but a move down from Class AA should help make this team a little more competitive.
Tim Sweeney is the new coach and he is quite familiar with Derry football. He is a 1985 Derry graduate who also was an assistant at Derry from 2006-09. He takes over a team that hasn’t had a winning season since 2000.
A top priority for Sweeney is to improve the Trojans’ defense after they gave up a WPIAL-worst 56.3 points a game last season.
The offense has some potential with the return of running backs Josh Flack and T.J. Balega. Josh McCleary and Tyler Savage are two of the top returnees on the lines.
After consecutive 5-5 seasons in the Century Conference, the Highlanders are looking to make a big step up in the Interstate this season.
Third-year coach Ed Dalton features one of the conference’s best running backs in James Duchi, a 6-foot, 200-pound senior who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards each of the past two seasons. With Duchi, the offense has plenty of potential, but Nate Whipkey also returns at quarterback. Adam Narigon is at split end.
Other returning starters on offense are center Dean Pawlak, tackles Ryan Steinstraw and A.J. Johnson, split end Connor Thompson, fullbacks Steve Clemens and Joe Towsend and slotback Shawn Sanders.
Steinstraw, Logan Imas and Johnson return on the defensive lines. Duchi and Clemons started at linebackers. Marcus Czulewicz, Shawn Sanders, Connor Lindsay and Clemens return in the secondary.
MOUNT PLEASANT VIKINGS
After winning the conference last year and finishing with a 10-1 record, the Vikings might take a step down this year because graduation took away a number of top players, including standout running back Tyler Mellors and quarterback Ryan Gumbita, who were the leading rusher and passer in school history.
Only three starters return on both sides of the ball. Center Nathan Pieszak, receiver Trevor Salopek and guards James Smail and Josh Lind return on offense. Linebacker Ethan Charlesworth and Jonah Long return on defense.
Brian Prinkney, a linebacker, is a player who also could have an impact and kicker Zach D’Amico made first-team all-conference last year.
Despite the inexperience, look for the Vikings to challenge for the top spot again.
It’s not like the Scotties have become a conference juggernaut, but after a number of years of being a doormat, this team has been much more competitive recently. Southmoreland has won four games three of the past four years.
Southmoreland won three of its final four games last season and hopes to continue where it left off. The Scotties feature one of the top running backs in Class AA in Jake Pisula, who rushed for 1,609 yards on 280 attempts a year ago. Look for him to be a workhorse after averaging 28 attempts a game last season.
Brennan Brunner returns at quarterback for the Scotties and Jake Beistel made all-conference lineman last year as a sophomore.
WASHINGTON LITTLE PREXIES
When star running back Shai McKenzie went down with a season-ending knee injury last season, many wondered what would happen to the Little Prexies. All they did was come together and finish second in the conference.
McKenzie is now at Virginia Tech and many feel Washington is good enough to climb to the top of the Interstate ladder this season. Malik Wells and Jordon West stepped in for McKenzie last season and performed admirably. Wells had more than 600 yards rushing and West close to 500.
Thomas Cherry figures to be one of the conference’s best linemen after making first-team all-conference last year as a sophomore. Khalid Blount also is back. Keep an eye on 6-2, 280-pound offensive tackle Zach Blystone, who will play after he missed last season. Blystone transferred from Charleroi and the WPIAL ruled him ineligible, saying he transferred because of athletic intent.
Other returning starters are quarterback Jonathan Spina, tight end-defensive end Nate Swart, tackle John Williams and receiver-defensive back Jerrell Dates.
Maybe the Interstate should beware of Waynesburg. Eight starters return on offense and eight return on defense for coach Russ Moore.
John Glen Davis was an all-conference defensive back a year ago and also led the team in rushing with 976 yards on 139 carries. Hunter Cenname was second on the team in rushing with 683 yards on 113 attempts and also plays linebacker. Colby Collins returns at quarterback.
Other returning starters are linebacker Austin Herrod, tight end-linebacker Colin McCracken, receiver-defensive back Dom Sarra, linemen Sam Augustine and W.D. Belding and fullback-lineman Jacob Tretinik.
MSA SPORTS PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:
1. Washington Little Prexies
2. Mount Pleasant Vikings
3. McGuffey Highlanders
4. Waynesburg Raiders
5. Charleroi Cougars
6. Southmoreland Scotties
7. Derry Trojans
8. Brownsville Falcons
9. Burgettstown Blue Devils
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