CTK ’16: 1-A Big 7 Conference Preview

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Tuesday, August 30, 2016 | 6:24 PM


Many things have changed in the WPIAL football world but one thing that hasn’t is the Big Seven Conference. All but one of the current teams has been a conference member at some point and the addition of Northgate will only add to the offensive firepower that teams have shown over the years.

With the change of classifications also comes a change in the playoff format. The top 5 teams will make the post-season along with a wild card. Should a Big Seven team be successful on the playoff road, Heinz Field will not be at the off ramp. The AA and A championship games will be played at Robert Morris’ Joe Walton Stadium, which also serves as the home of the OLSH Chargers.

Below is a preview of every team and the predicted order of finish for the season ahead.

CORNELL RAIDERS

Football returns to Cornell after a 4-year absence. The Raiders last competed in 2011, going 5-5 and making the playoffs out of the Big Seven. Ed Dawson returns as coach.

The Raiders are expecting big things from a pair of underclassmen, freshman QB Ziarre Harrison and junior WR Marquise Wheeler.

Senior RB Dante Scarpone and sophomores WR Justin Walsh and RB Nahdama Luster will also be counted on.

The line could be a work in progress as Corey Johns is the only player with experience, starting a couple of games as a freshman for Quaker Valley. Look for Billy Walsh to find a spot opening holes.

Scarpone will start at middle linebacker and Justin Walsh will be at cornerback. Safety Keshawn Sheppard, like Wheeler comes to the program as part of a co-opp agreement with Holy Family Academy in Emsworth.

The Raiders return to the field on September 2nd, hosting Mapletown.

NORTHGATE FLAMES

Northgate missed the post-season in a tough way, losing 50-49 to Avonworth in the final game. TJ Wiley is the head coach and brings back several key starters from an offense that averaged 29 points per game.

QB Stefon Adams threw 11 touchdown passes, he has worked hard to improve his throwing. Surron Adams and Kenny Azzarello return at running back while WR Mike Allen could have a breakout year. WR’s Chad Anderson and Elijah Thomas could also contribute, both are first -time players.

Ray Mangone and Caleb Turner anchor the offensive line along with TE Chase Rowsey.

The Flames also return 8 defensive starters. Stefon Adams is the leader from the secondary as a 3-year starter. Allen and Azzarello will also be DB’s.

The defense allowed only 22 points per game last year, even with giving up 50 in the finale.

OUR LADY of the SACRED HEART CHARGERS

2015 was not a good year at OLSH. The Chargers went 0-9 and have lost 11 straight games. OLSH scored only 70 points and allowed 393, the most allowed in Class A. Adding to the bad numbers, the Chargers were blanked in 4 games.

Good news for Charger fans is that Dan Bradley, who turned around an Ambridge program that was down and out, has taken over as head coach.

Matt Schnarre scored almost half of the points with 6 touchdowns. He was a wildcat QB last year, but will be both a fullback and wide out this year as well as a free safety.

WR Dante Trombetta will be counted on to provide leadership, he returns after suffering a punctured lung in his junior year. He also lines up at outside linebacker.

Weston Roberts will start on both the offensive and defensive lines. Nick Garncik will be at safety.

The Chargers have never made the playoffs in their 6-year history, however under Bradley, who had success at Sto-Rox as well, that this could be their year.

ROCHESTER RAMS

Eugene Matsook is in unfamiliar territory entering 2016. The 17-year head coach has seen his Rams fail to qualify for the post-season the last 3 seasons. The Rams have 631 wins in the program history, one of 4 Beaver County teams with over 600 wins. (Aliquippa, 687, Beaver Falls 635, Beaver 624)

Ian Kouba threw 5 touchdown passes as a junior, he will be the QB. Junior Caleb Collins scored 4 times and Chris Hayes will start at fullback. Sophomore Noah Whiteleather will also see carries.

Junior WR Mahlik Strozier has missed the past 2 seasons but is ready to return, he will be flanked by Nick Grossi. Junior TE Elijah Goosby also is a multi-year starter.

OT Andrew Massey and C Tyler Borzyn are returning starters. Brandan Pfeuffer, sophomores Tanner Shrum and Justin Nadzam, freshman Caleb Smith, and junior Chandler McGurk will fill out the other spots.  

Massey was all-conference on the defensive line, sophomore Darius Goosby will be at end. 

Kouba is outstanding at linebacker, Hayes and Collins will also start there. Strozier, Whiteleather and sophomore Tyreek Sherod will start in the secondary

SHENANGO WILDCATS

The Wildcats come off a 8-3 record in 2015 and a 2nd straight trip on the Highway to Heinz. Shenango won the Big Seven crown for the 1st time since 2003 and Mike Commesso was named the conference Coach of the Year.

The bad news is that Shenango must replace all 11 starters from an offense that averaged 29 points per game. Junior Max Reamer will take over at QB, replacing Evan Kendall. Lou Domenick will start at RB,  Bret Hoover was valuable as a goal line back, scoring 4 times, he also returns. Josh Young may also see some carries. Shane Trott will lead the receiving core along with Dom Data, Matt McMillen and Jason Kraner.

It is on the defense where Hoover shined bright last year, named as the conference Defensive Player of the Year. Hoover made over 100 tackles as a junior, he was all-conference as a sophomore from his linebacker spot.

NG Breden Carbone and DE Christian Amabile were starters last year and a big part of a defense that only allowed 11 points per game. Amabile gained first team all-conference honors.

Shenango does not have a Week Zero game, the Cats’ open up at Rochester on September 2nd. 40 players will take the field into the opener

STO-ROX VIKINGS

The move up to the AA Century Conference was a trip the Vikings would like to forget. After winning 12 games in 2013 and going to Heinz Field, the Rox struggled in the AA Century Conference, going 1-8 both seasons and allowed a whopping 43 points per game in 2015.

Sto-Rox also struggled to score points, averaging just 14 per game. The Vikings enter the year on a 7 game losing skid.

Junior QB Deion Liddell did throw for over 650 yards and 5 touchdowns, but transferred to Montour.  Brady Doubt added 15 catches, he start at QB this season. Watch out for freshman QB Eric Wilson in the future or sooner.

Running backs will be by committee with returning juniors Davonte Williams and William Johnson plus sophomore Vincent Eggleston. The receiving core are all seniors in LaVaughan Hawkins, Seth Alexander and Ray-mon Gee.

Ray Corcoran is the only senior returner on the line but sophomores Andrew Frenzley and Dylan Sewell started as freshmen.

On the defensive side, junior Antwon Ebore has started on the front line for 2 years. Johnson also returns. The linebackers are strong as Doubt shined brightest on defense, making 80 tackles and had 2 sacks to gain all-conference recognition. Alexander, Gee and Dayshawn Sanders also will start.

Hawkins made 40 tackles in the secondary and has drawn interest from Cal U. Williams will also start on defense. Head coach Jason Ruscitto called Alexander, Saunders and Corcoran his leaders.

The Vikings host Vincentian Academy on August 26th.

SUMMITT ACADEMY KNIGHTS

Even with Cornell returning to WPIAL football after their absence, the Knights are the most unknown team in every season. The school sees the roster change not year to year, but game to game and sometimes from practice to practice.

Since making the post-season in 2013, the Knights have lost 19 straight games and allowed an average of 40 points per game last year.

Steve Sherer returns for his 17th season to lead the Knights into the 2016 campaign which starts on September 3, hosting Western Beaver.

UNION SCOTTIES

Head Coach Stacy Robinson is the dean of coaches in the conference and will fight the same battle as always entering 2016, a limited number of players. Union will suit up just 23 kids for the season but as one of the smallest football schools, it’s something that Robinson and his staff expect.

The Scotties were 5-5 last year and made the playoffs, despite having trouble finding the end zone at just an average of 18 points per game.

Junior RB Tre’Von Charles is a key returning weapon for Union along with K’Von Huddleston. Rissuan McKnight transferred from Woodland Hills and will also be in the backfield. WR’s Jalil and Jamil Williams are returning starters. Junior Evan Pinkerton opened the season as the starting QB but was injured in the 1st series against Laurel. Freshman Tyler Benedict had to take over in his absence.

Opening the holes will be lineman Tim Quigley, Zach Montswil, Doug Schmidt and Jacob Thomas.

The defense was not a major issue, allowing 27 points per game. The Scotties open on August 26th at Laurel.

WESTERN BEAVER GOLDEN BEAVERS

2015 was a year Matt Gray would like to forget. The Golden Beavers finished 0-9 and scored just 70 points while allowing a whopping 361. Both of those numbers will have to balance out if Western Beaver is to get back to playoff contention and end a 10 game skid.

Western Beaver has a very small senior class with 3 returners from 2015. The Golden Beavers suited up a total of 20 freshman or sophomores last year. Those players will continue to grow and help bring back Western Beaver football. A new spread offense should create more scoring opportunities this season.  

The offense will be led by Brett Gailey, who racked up over 500 rushing yards and 5 scores. Junior Lou Hapach led the team in catches and was second to Gailey in rushing yards. Also look for receivers Nate Gray and Turner Anthony along with QB Jeddy Young to fill out several roles in the Western Beaver offense. Sophomore Raven Chandler could see some carries.

The linemen will consist of Dylan Styen, Roman Greene, Chad Plumley, Tyler Hawkins, freshman Zach Altenbaugh and Nate Hoffman.

The Golden Beavers opened up on the road with a win on August 26th at Avella.

MSA SPORTS PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:

1.   Rochester Rams

2.   Sto-Rox Vikings

3.   Northgate Flames

4.   Union Scotties

5.   Shenango Wildcats

6.   Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Chargers

7.   Western Beaver Golden Beavers

8.   Summit Academy Knights

9.   Cornell Raiders

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