CTK ’16: 3-A Interstate Conference Preview

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016 | 4:06 PM


You could say the road to the top of the Interstate has gone through Washington in recent years. Washington won the Class 2A Interstate Conference three of the past four years.

But a journey through the Interstate this year will not include a stop at Washington.

Under the new classification system, Washington is longer in the Interstate. The Little Prexies are a Class 2A team.

The departure of Washington isn’t the only change in the Interstate. Charleroi, Burgettstown and Brownsville also have dropped to Class 2A. Meanwhile, the Interstate adds Elizabeth Forward and Yough, which played in 3A last season. Also, South Park moves over from the old 2A Century Conference.

Here is a look at this year’s Interstate:

DERRY TROJANS

Derry hasn’t made the WPIAL playoffs since 2009 and only three times in the 2000s. But the Trojans have realistic hopes about the postseason this year.

First off, this conference isn’t overly strong. But only the first two teams are guaranteed a playoff spot, with possibly a third as a wild card. But Derry was 5-4 last year and has a number of starters returning. One of the best is Tyler Balega, who led the team in rushing with 662 yards and also was the team’s leading scorer with 12 touchdowns. In addition, he was a first-team all-conference defensive back last year.

The quarterback position is unsettled, like it was last year. Having a serviceable QB will be key for the Trojans. Owen Whitacre led the team in receptions and also returns. Overall, though, the offense has to improve. The Trojans averaged only 15 points a game last season.

On the lines, returning starters are Matt Marron and Hunter Edmiston. Linebacker Noah Wiencek leads the defense. Also back is WR-DB Josh Bauer.

ELIZABETH FORWARD WARRIORS

Mike Collodi begins his second season as the Warriors’ coach, and things are looking up for Elizabeth Forward. The Warriors played in Class 3A last season in the Big 10.

Eight starters return on offense and defense. One of the best is senior TE-DE Hunter Safran. The quarterback will be Steve Mayernik. He didn’t set the world on fire last year with only 351 yards passing and 211 rushing. But he does have plenty of experience, entering his third year as a starter.

The lines figure to be strengths of this team. Anthony Brinson is 6-2, 315, A.J. Ackerman 6-4, 275 and Rick Cialone 5-10, 260. All three are returning starters. Developing a running game is much needed after leading rusher Connor Hinchey (1,066 yards) graduated. Jonathan Devine figures to play some at receiver and running back.

The defense will be spearheaded by Tyler Ocilka, who also plays fullback. Other returning starters are WR-DB Gavin Martik, WR-DB Jon Devine and FB-TE-LB Nick Wardropper.

McGUFFEY HIGHLANDERS

It seems a number of teams have a good amount of returning starters in this conference. McGuffey is one of those teams. Coach Ed Dalton returns 17 starters from a team that went 6-4 and made the playoffs before getting trounced by Freeport, 45-6.

McGuffey has one of the best quarterbacks in Class 3A in senior Marcus Czulewicz, who was the first-team all-conference QB last season. In the regular season in 2015, Czulewicz completed 76 of 137 for 957 yards and also rushed for 787 yards on 124 carries.

Leading the running game will be Adam Townsend, who was the team’s second-leading rusher a year ago with 636 yards on 135 carries.

On the lines, Chase Miller, Marko Olivarez and Ed Singles should lead the way. The defense has nine returning starters and the secondary should be very good with Czulewicz, Gillespie, Teague Nicolella all returning.

MOUNT PLEASANT VIKINGS

Mount Pleasant has finished first or second in the Interstate for three consecutive seasons, and don’t look for things to change this season. Many are picking Mount Pleasant as the team to beat in this conference.

Mount Pleasant has a number of key players back from last year, including some talented skill players. This conference has a number of experienced, successful quarterbacks and Johnny Yester is one of them. A year ago, Yester completed 76 of 122 for 1,164 yards.

Also returning is Chris Wagner, the team’s leading rusher a year ago with 941 yards on 128 carries. Keith Kalp was the team’s second-leading receiver with 21 catches for 398 yards.

Coach Bo Ruffner likes his team’s lines as four starters return. One of the best is OT-DE Kurt Aumer, who had 13 tackles for losses last year. He has committed to Monmouth, a college in the Northeast Conference. Also back are linemen Jacob Shafley, Nick Fazekas and Matt Grant.

Wagner will be one of the top defensive players at linebacker while Kalp is the leader in the secondary.

SOUTHMORELAND SCOTTIES

Will the longest current WPIAL playoff drought come to an end this year? Well, with the playoff format Southmoreland will find it tough to get into the postseason for the first time since 1979, but there is reason for hope.

Southmoreland has some talent at the skill positions. At quarterback, both Jonathan Leighty and Jaden Datz played last year. Datz is more of a runner and led the team in rushing with 897 yards on 182 attempts. Leighty threw more, completing 39 of 104 for 435 yards.

Coach Mark Adams also has his top receiver back in Mike Moresea, who caught 31 passes for 375 yards. Southmoreland also could be bolstered by the return of Tommy Pisula, who sustained a torn ACL in the first game last year. He could be a receiver or running back. Two years ago, he showed promised in the backfield as a sophomore.

On defense, Moresea should be a leader at linebacker.

SOUTH PARK EAGLES

The Eagles ended last year on the upswing, winning four of their final five games to finish 4-5. They are hoping to carry that momentum into this season. Second-year coach Marty Rieck has some experienced players returning, including 10 full-time starters.

One of the returnees is senior quarterback-defensive back Jordan Kmonk, who threw and rushed for a little more than 500 yards last season. Adam Morris returns at running back, but he also is one of the top defensive players at free safety. Morris had 62 tackles last season.

Isaiah Mack showed plenty of promise last year as a sophomore and returns at running back and linebacker. Sebastian Anthony is a top lineman.

Other returning starters are FB-LB Cam Ruggles, OL-LB Mike Mehalic, TE-DE Paul Partee, WR-DB Aaron Walker and TE-LB Matt Blackburn.

WAYNESBURG RAIDERS

Russ Moore is back as Waynesburg’s coach. He was out for a few months. Moore resigned shortly after the season ended, but returned a few months later. This is his 21st year as coach in two different stints at Waynesburg.

After making the playoffs in 2014, Waynesburg slipped to a 1-8 record in 2015. Improvement is needed most on offense. Waynesburg averaged only 12 points a game last season. But if experience means anything, then Waynesburg should improve. Colin McCracken, a 6-1, 195-pound senior, returns as the starting quarterback. McCracken led the team in rushing last year. Also back is Zach Eisminger, who is 5-10, 210 and was the team’s second-leading rusher last year as a freshman.

Jacob McCallum figures to be one of the top receivers and Derek Wilson is back at tight end.

McCracken also is a starting linebacker on defense and McCallum returns at defensive back along with Derek WIlson. The lines have a number of returning starters, including offensive guard Jacob Berrier, offensive tackle Chase Owens, offensive guard-defensive end Spencer Lesinski, center Nathan Hinerman and defensive end Eli Kiger.

YOUGH COUGARS

Scott Wood is the new coach at Yough and he takes over a team that played in WPIAL Class 3A last season. The Cougars were 2-7 in 2015 while playing in the Big 10. A drop to the Interstate might help make Yough more competitive.

Six starters return on both offense and defense. Wood can build around a senior quarterback who is on the smallish side, but will be big for the Cougars. Ryan Everly is only 5-9, 180 pounds, but a year ago he completed 85 of 173 for 1,229 yards and also rushed for 592 yards on 100 carries.

The hopes are that a running back will emerge who can be counted on to lead the rushing attack. Leading rusher Eric Borkovich graduated. Dustin Shoaf could step into the role of top back. At receiver, Brian Donahue returns.

On the lines, Scott Houseman is one to watch. Actually, you can’t miss him. He’s a 6-4, 310-pound junior. Shoaf will be one of the defensive leaders at linebacker. Other returning starters are lineman-linebacker J.J. Harris, receiver-defensive back Chanze Spoonhoward and lineman-linebacker Levi Graft.

Fullback-defensive back Jacob Lauteri is a player to watch.

MSA SPORTS PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

1.      Mount Pleasant Vikings

2.      McGuffey Highlanders

3.      Elizabeth Forward Warriors

4.      South Park Eagles

5.      Yough Cougars

6.      Derry Trojans

7.      Southmoreland Scotties

8.      Waynesburg Raiders

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