CTK ’16: 3-A Allegheny Conference Preview

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016 | 5:32 PM


The Allegheny Conference in the new six classification format looks a lot like the old Allegheny Conference – with a little southern flavor to it.

Six of the teams in the 2016 Allegheny are longtime members Apollo-Ridge, Burrell, Deer Lakes, Freeport, Shady Side Academy and Valley. Those who departed are Highlands, West Shamokin and Summit Academy. Highlands will play in 4A, Summit Academy in 1A while West Shamokin dropped out of the WPIAL.

Giving the Allegheny a southern twist are Keystone Oaks and Seton-LaSalle. They are examples of two teams that were drastically affected by the six-class idea. They have always played in conferences with other teams from the south or west. Now, for every road game, Keystone Oaks and Seton-LaSalle will have to go through the tunnels.

But Keystone Oaks and Seton-LaSalle will add to the strength of the conference. Both are expected to challenge for the top of the conference.

This conference has had a constant changing of the guard in recent years. Six different teams have won the conference over the past six years, or at least tied for the conference title. A few of those schools aren’t even in existence any more. The past six conference winners have been Ford City, Shady Side Academy (tied with Freeport), Burrell (tied with Freeport), Kittanning, Highlands and Freeport.

Here is a look at the new Allegheny Conference:

APOLLO-RIDGE VIKINGS

The hottest topic concerning this team is will be Duane Brown be able to play – and when? Brown is an outstanding running back-defensive back who is one of the best all-around players in the WPIAL. Last season, he rushed for 1,590 yards and led the team in receptions with 19. As a sophomore, he played some at quarterback.

But Brown sustained a torn ACL in the spring. His status is not known but reports have Brown possibly returning to the team in the third or fourth week of the season. That would be gigantic for Apollo-Ridge. Brown was a first-team all-conference selection last year at running back and defensive back.

Even if Brown returns, he might not be 100 percent. So, Apollo-Ridge will have to develop other runners. The Viking are looking at senior Brett Coleman and sophomore Alex Gamble, among others, to lead the running game. Coleman did carry the ball 34 times last season. At quarterback, Apollo-Ridge will turn ot junior Kyle Fitzroy.

Senior Matt Sells (5-9, 258) is one of the top returning linemen from a team that gave up 27 points a game last season.

BURRELL BUCCANEERS

After an 0-9 season in 2014, the Bucs took some positive steps forward in 2015, finishing with a 4-5 record in coach Dave Bellinotti’s first year as acoach. There is reason to believe this team could challenge for a playoff spot, and two of the reasons are Max Garda and Jack Ryan.

Garda is in his third year as a starter.  A year ago, he completed 59 of 120 for 953 yards. He also led the team in rushing with 784 yards on 167 carries. If having an experienced, successful quarterback is key in high school, then things are looking up for the Bucs.

As for Ryan, he came on as a runner last season, finishing with 314 yards on 64 carries

All told, things are looking up for the Bucs, but line play could be a big key for them.

DEER LAKES LANCERS

After winning only one game last season, Deer Lakes bounced back, finished 6-4 last season and made the playoffs. A big reason for the Lancers’ turnaround was the emergence of Hunter Burns, who came virtually out of nowhere to finish second in the WPIAL in rushing behind Zane Dudek.

Burns has graduated – and is there another Hunter Burns somewhere at Deer Lakes? Josh Solomon will take over as the feature back, a junior who is 5-10, 170 pounds. The Lancers lost just about every offensive linemen, though. Billy Palmiere is back for his fourth year as a starter on the offensive line.

Jake Spirnock shows promise at receiver. Also back are TE-LB Nino Itri and senior WR-DB Vince Sammartino. The Lancers’ fortunes could hinge on senior quarterback David Fleming, a 6-foot receiver who transferred from Vincentian.

FREEPORT YELLOW JACKETS

This is sort of a new start for Freeport. The team will no longer play at James Swart Memorial Field, its home for more than 70 ears. Now the team moves to an on-campus facility.

The Yellow Jackets have won or tied for the conference title three of the past five seasons. It will take a great effort for Freeport to finish on top this season. Most of the team’s top players graduated. One of the biggest holes is at quarterback, where Ryan Weigold graduated after throwing for 2,171 yards last season. Junior Jake Sarver and sophomore Austin Romanchak were battling for the position. Sarver also is an excellent kicker.

Finding a running back also will be key. Ian Miller rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season, but graduated. The good news if that some linemen return. One of them is Noah Freeman, who was a first-team all-conference selection as a junior.

KEYSTONE OAKS GOLDEN EAGLES

The Golden Eagles could end up with the gold trophy for conference champions. Seven starters return on offense and defense from a team that went 5-5 and made the playoffs out of a tough Century Conference.

Coach Greg Perry has been known for developing quarterbacks, and he has another good one in Alex Smith, who was one of the WPIAL’s leading passers last year, completing 131 of 214 for 2,027 yards and 16 touchdowns. He’s 6 feet 4, 190 pounds and is a dual-threat QB, also rushing for 533 yards last season.

Nick Hrivnak returns after catching 37 passes a year ago, second-best of the team. Also back is 5-8 senior Dylan Knorr, who caught 33 passes in 2015.

Finding a running game will be key for the Eagles. The lines have returning starters in Tim Mazzarini, Christian Forissi, Tyler Caragein and Jerry Volpe. Other returning starters include RB-LB Devin Thomas, DB Michael Dauer, DB Ryan Tarr and linebackers Dan Black, Joey Tortorella and Dylan Holland.

SETON-LaSALLE REBELS

The Rebels have undergone some major changes for this season.

First, two months ago, Damon Rosol surprised a lot of folks when he resigned as coach for personal reasons. He also stepped away as the school’s athletic director. Bill DeBaldo, former AD at South Park and Clairton, has taken over the AD position.

The new coach is Rob Carter, who is no stranger to Seton-LaSalle football. He is a 1998 Seton-LaSalle graduate who has been an assistant coach for the Rebels for years.

Months before Rosol quit, Seton-LaSalle standout Paris Ford transferred to Seton-LaSalle. On top of that, Nolan Addiatici is no longer the starting quarterback. He has moved to wide receiver. Taking over at QB is Matt Banbury, a 6-foot, 180-pound junior.

One thing that hasn’t changed with the Rebels and that is Lionel Deanes is still in the backfield. Deanes had a tremendous sophomore season, rushing for 1,266 yards and averaging 11.1 yards a carry. Some starters return on the offensive line as well.

Seton-LaSalle finished third in the Century Conference last year behind South Fayette and Steel Valley. The Rebels could very easily climb to the top of their new conference.

SHADY SIDE ACADEMY INDIANS

It was a rough 2015 season for the Indians. Injuries were a big factor in Shady Side missing the playoffs for the first time since 2006. It was the Indians’ first losing season since 2005. If Shady Side Academy is to rebound, it will have to do it with a small roster. The Indians have only 27 players this season.

One of the biggest objectives should be to improve the offense. Shady Side Academy averaged only 12 points a game last season. Leading rusher Eric Harris graduated. But among the returnees is Brian Foster, who carried 70 times for 344 yards last season. At quarterback, Skyy Moore takes over. Clayton Krol is back after catching a team-high 16 passes last season.

The lines could be solid with the return of Cole Newman, Tyler Hackaday, Peace McAlister and Josh Morrow.

VALLEY VIKINGS

After just missing out on the playoffs last year and also in 2014, Valley is eyeing a postseason berth this season. There is good reason for optimism as seven starters return on both offense and defense from a team that was 5-4 last season. Valley was close to having six or seven wins as two of the losses were by a total of three points.

This year, the Vikings will be led by experienced lines. But they will have to break in a new quarterback as well as develop a running game. Three different players were expected to battle for the quarterback job. A player to watch on offense is 6-5, 245-pound tight end Kane Piroch.

Valley looks to be counting on sophomore Deonte Ross to make a contribution at running back, along with a few other players.

MSA SPORTS PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:

1.      Keystone Oaks Golden Eagles

2.      Seton-LaSalle Rebels

3.      Freeport Yellow Jackets

4.      Valley Vikings

5.      Apollo-Ridge Vikings

6.      Burrell Buccaneers

7.      Deer Lakes Lancers

8.      Shady Side Academy Indians

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