CTK 2010 – WPIAL A BLACK HILLS Conference Preview

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Saturday, August 28, 2010 | 12:00 AM


Over the last 35 years, the WPIAL Class A football scene has been dominated by two conferences, the Big 7 and the Eastern Conference. From 1975 through 2006, the districts champion came from one of those two conferences. However the tide has turned over the last three years as the Black Hills Conference has laid the claim to being home of the WPIAL Class A champs.

Granted, Serra Catholic in 2007 and Clairton in 2008 and 2009 are old Eastern Conference teams who just recently moved into the Black Hills Conference. In fact, Clairton also won the 2006 WPIAL title as a member of the Eastern Conference. Nonetheless, success has finally come to this conference made up of southern Allegheny County and Washington County teams.

While the conference still has eight teams, there is a new look as Burgettstown has moved up to Class AA and Frazier has moved over to the Tri-County South while both Brentwood and Carlynton move over from the Eastern Conference.

Here is a look at the Black Hills with a predicted order of finish at the end:

AVELLA EAGLES

What a difference a year makes. In 2008, Avella made national headlines with a roster that never had more than 20 players and with a cheerleader turned defensive back playing so the Eagles could field a team late in the year. Now there is optimism this fall that the team can compete after a pair of wins last fall, including a conference victory in a shocking win over playoff bound Fort Cherry. The two wins matched the total number of victories over the previous six years at Avella.

The success last year has prompted Avella head coach Frank Gray to stay on beyond this upcoming season. Rumors were that this would be Gray's final season since he is also retiring as a teacher in the school district. But now he wants to continue to coach and hopefully continue the turnaround of the program.

The Eagles will rely heavily on a key player returning in senior all-conference wide receiver Jared Morgan. Avella will not have the services of junior wide receiver and safety Nathan Davis, who has transferred to Washington High School.

BENTWORTH BEARCATS

Lou Rood begins his second season as head coach at Bentworth and can go no where but up following his rookie campaign. The Bearcats finished tied for last place in the Black Hills Conference with the only section team they have been able to beat over the last two years…Avella.  A lack of punch on offense hurt Bentworth last year. They were shutout three times and scored only six points in their final four losses, this after scoring a combined 54 points in their first two weeks of the season.  All-conference defensive lineman Colton Korpus has graduated as has running back and leading scorer Joe Vahaly. However younger brother, sophomore Vincent Vahaly returns as does senior running back Brian Early.<br><br><b>

BRENTWOOD SPARTANS

Since moving back to Class A from Class AA in 2008, Brentwood has made back-to-back trips to the Class A playoffs out of the Eastern Conference, including a trip to the Quarterfinals last season where they lost to runner-up Rochester 38-12. The Spartans started 2009 with four straight losses before winning six straight until the second round loss.  The move to the Black Hills should be a good one for Brentwood if for no other reason than they have one of the top quarterbacks in the classification to lead the way. Senior Cory Bauer, entering his third year as the starting quarterback, was second a year ago amongst all Class A signal callers with 92 completions on 179 attempts for 1,184 yards and seven touchdowns in the regular season. A top target for the all-conference QB and defensive back will be wide receiver Brandon Pavlik, a senior all-conference defensive back.  Up front, both lines will be manned by a couple of seniors in all-conference tackle Mike Nikolich and center/linebacker Cody Donnelly for veteran Brentwood head coach Kevin Kissell.

CARLYNTON COUGARS

There is a lot of ‘new' going on this fall with the Carlynton football program. They have a ‘new' conference after moving over from the Eastern Conference, where they spent the past two years. The Cougars also have a ‘new' head coach in John Vaughn, who has been an assistant head coach at Penn Hills, North Allegheny, Shady Side Academy, Seneca Valley and most recently, Pittsburgh Central Catholic.  After struggling last season and finishing 2-7 overall, Carlynton does return one of its few bright spots from a year ago. Junior Nick Sappie was an all-conference offensive lineman AND all-conference defensive lineman from last fall.  Plus there are plenty of skilled players coming back in junior quarterback Tyrone Murray, senior running backs Jake Howard, Jake Hatcher and Dylan Ban. 

CHARTIERS-HOUSTON BUCCANEERS

For seven straight years, Chartiers-Houston has qualified for the playoffs out of the Black Hills Conference only to lose in the opening round on the Highway to Heinz. That string came to an end last fall, not with the Buccaneers winning a playoff game, but with the Bucs missing out on the postseason fun for the first time since 2002.  Leading Chartiers-Houston up front is Nate Grandelis, an all-conference performer on the defensive line as a sophomore last fall and was voted on to the 2010 MSA Sports/Kennywood Park Preseason Team. Another Bucs player who shined as a sophomore last season is quarterback Danny Lis. Lis finished 63 of 130 for 901 yards and eight touchdowns last fall.  The Chartiers-Houston ground attack will be led by the one-two punch of senior running back Joey Joscsak and junior running back Mykel Dorsey. Also back is one of the top kickers in all of the WPIAL, junior Zach Hamilton.

CLAIRTON BEARS

Clairton is attempting to make history this fall as they try to three-peat as WPIAL Class A champions. The Bears have won three of the past four titles and are the reigning PIAA state champions. But if Tom Nola, now in his ninth year at Clairton, can lead his team to another WPIAL championship, they will become only the second team in District 7 Class A history to win three in a row, following in Rochester's footsteps from 2000 through 2002.  All eyes will easily be on #7 in black and orange. Desimon Green is the 6-5, 220-pound quarterback and defensive end who has made a verbal agreement to the University of Pittsburgh. Green was 44 of 83 passing during the regular season last year for 1,011 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was also a force a d-end, although he plans to play some linebacker as well this fall. The Bears lost studs in back and receiver to graduation in Deontae Howard and Kevin Weatherspoon, however a pair of players hope to help fill those voids in senior running back Deon Ellis and junior wide receiver Trenton Coles.  While leader Eddie Ball has graduated from the defense, Clairton still returns three all-conference performers from a year ago that helped make-up one of the most dominant defenses in Class A last fall in the state. Senior linebacker Brandon Small and senior defensive back Josh Page are joined by junior all-conference lineman Carvan Thompson.

FORT CHERRY RANGERS

In the seven years since he took over the Fort Cherry football program from his legendary father Jim, the only head coach in school history, Tim Garry has guided the Rangers into the Class A postseason four straight years. However they are winless in those postseason contests and have scored only 19 points in four losses. Last year, Fort Cherry finished tie for second place in the Black Hills and was 7-3 overall, including losses to eventual champion Clairton, a playoff shutout by Brentwood and a mind-numbing loss to Avella that was one of the shockers of the 2009 WPIAL football campaign.  But as the Rangers look to continue their playoff streak with another strong season, they will rely on a familiar name to the program…Garry…in more than just one way. Junior Tanner Garry returns at quarterback and safety after completing 45 of 98 passes a year ago for 876 yards and nine touchdowns. Junior fullback and Tanner's cousin Corey Garry will also play linebacker. He was voted on as a member of the MSA Sports/Kennywood Park Pre-Season Team.   Fort Cherry won't just keep it all in the family. Leading rusher and senior Gary Kiefer is back after an all-conference season last year to lead the ground attack in 2010. Kiefer just missed the 1,000 yard mark in the regular season last year, finishing with 926 yards on 156 carries.  Junior split end Ryan Babirad and senior flanker Nick Hurley will help in the passing attack. While the likes of seniors Tanner Campbell and Jack Merckle along with juniors Greg Kumer, Jeff Whalen and Ben Bowman will lead the way up front on both sides of the line of scrimmage. 

SERRA CATHOLIC EAGLES

Over the last two decades, when Rich Bowen has coached Serra Catholic, good things happened to the Eagles. When he wasn't coaching…well, it has ranged from not so good to moribund. Bowen ended his second stint as Serra coached this off-season by taking an assistant coaching job at Waynesburg University. However a coaching shake-up down the road has led to an interesting coaching hire for the Eagles as long-time McKeesport assistant coach Jamie Eckels takes over at Serra.  Eckels brings his flex-bone offense to a very young team with only three starters back on each side of the ball. Who will run the offense at quarterback is a big question, but the eagles do have a couple of good running backs to lead the ground game in seniors Kyle Taylor and Desmond Ball. Both Taylor and Ball are also starting defensive backs.  Seniors James Bowen (6'2, 270), Cody Vickers (5'8, 230) and Marc Shively (5'9, 155) will help up front on the offensive and defensive lines for the Eagles. A strong core of juniors will also be counted on including linemen Cody DeCarlo and Jon Holmes, fullback/linebacker Tim Sowa, split ends Trevor Jaworksi, Dan Servich and Evan Bauder, tight end Colin Axelson.  

MSA SPORTS PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:

1) CLAIRTON BEARS

2) BRENTWOOD SPARTANS

3) FORT CHERRY RANGERS

4) CHARTIERS-HOUSTON BUCCANEERS

5) SERRA CATHOLIC EAGLES

6) CARLYNTON COUGARS

7) BENTWORTH BEARCATS

8) AVELLA EAGLES

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