CTK 2010 – WPIAL A EASTERN Conference Preview

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Sunday, August 29, 2010 | 12:00 AM


Let's first get something straight about geography. Section 1 of WPIAL Class A is known as the Eastern Conference. It used to be a fitting name because most of the teams in the conference were from the Eastern area. But the conference has changed a great deal over the years. The name has stayed the same, but really, this year you could call this the Eastern-Northern-Southern-Western Conference.

The Eastern Conference has a compass pointing in all directions. Teams from the East are Riverview, Wilkinsburg, and you could say, Leechburg. From the North, you have North Catholic, Northgate and Avonworth. Springdale is sort of Northeast. Now this year, you have a Southern and Western flavor with Bishop Canevin and a new program to the WPIAL – Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in Moon Township.

How much has this conference changed over the years? Well, 10 years ago the Eastern Conference was made up of Greensburg Central Catholic, Riverview, Clairton, Duquesne, Wilkinsburg, Leechburg, Springdale and Serra Catholic.  North Catholic won the conference last year, and it looks like there could be a pretty good battle to finish first this year as a handful of teams appear capable of finishing on top.

Newcomers to the conference this year at Bishop Canevin, Northgate and OLSH. Bishop Canevin and Northgate moved down from Class AA. Brentwood and Carlynton moved out of the conference.

Here is a look at the Eastern Conference, with a predicted order of finish at the end:

AVONWORTH ANTELOPES

After a number of down years, it seems this program has turned the corner under coach Jason Kekseo and might be a perennial contender for the conference title. The Antelopes have been 8-3 and 11-1 the past two seasons.  Avonworth has had a good playmaker the past two seasons. In 2008, it was running back Khiry Watts. Last year, it was quarterback Jim Zubik. This team doesn't seem to have a playmaker of that caliber, and the Antelopes lost some other top players to graduation. But Kekseo still figures this team will be competitive.  Milton Loop was a first-team all-conference offensive lineman last year. He is the leader o the lines that also feature Bryan Bartram and Scott Barlek.  Andrew Niklaus will lead the running attack and Brian Vales moves from receiver to quarterback. 

The defensive leader is unquestionably Eddie Kurtz (5-10, 220), who was fist-team all-conference last year.

BISHOP CANEVIN CRUSADERS

Coach Bob Jacoby's team finished 4-5 last year, but that was in the tough Class AA Century Conference. A drop down to Class AA will certainly help the Crusaders. But so will the return of eight returning starters on offense and six on defense.  The offense should have a nice one-two punch with quarterback Matt Butter and running back Chris Walko. Travis Lohr returns at running back/linebacker and Bobby Gustine is back at receiver.  Returning linemen are Joe Zimmer, George Boulos, Matt Pekular and Nick Sylvester. Boulos is a four-year starter. The line is one of the strengths of the team and should help get the Crusaders' runners plenty of yardage. Bruce Maloney returns at defensive back and Sal Oliverio at linebacker.

LEECHBURG BLUE DEVILS

The Blue Devils haven't had a winning season since 1991 and have won only three conference games the past six years – all against Wilkinsburg. Don't look for a playoff berth this year, but maybe there is reason for a little optimism because four honorable mention all-conference players return.  They are running back Jared Kalmar, receiver Garrett miller and linemen Ethan Vigna and Tyler Foster. While the defense hasn't been good, offense was the biggest problem last year as the Blue Devils averaged only nine points a game.

NORTH CATHOLIC TROJANS

The Trojans would've had one of the best one-two offensive punches in Class A. Martin Long is back at quarterback and Julian Durden was expected to return at running back. But Durden, who led the team in rushing last year, transferred to Montour. He was first-team all-conference last year.  That means North Catholic might rely even more on Long, who helped the Trojans win the conference title last year and make it to the WPIAL semifinals. Long, a varsity starters since his freshman year, threw for 1,249 yards and 12 touchdowns and completed 57 percent of his passes.  Finding a capable running back will be a key. Jeremy Johnson looks like he'll be the No. 1 back.  The defense will be led by linemen Phil Jandrakovic, who was first-team all-conference a year ago. Jesse Mahon also returns on the line. He is a four-year starter.  Overall, look for the Trojans to challenge for the conference title, if the running game comes around for Coach Bob Ravenstahl.

NORTHGATE FLAMES

A drop from Class AA to A is probably welcomed by Northgate. Since moving up from Class A to AA in 1998, the Flames were below .500 every year except two. One was 2000, when they finished 5-5, and the other 2003 when they were 9-2. A year go, Northgate was 1-8 and scored only 95 points.  Coach Mike Pipak has five starters returning on both offense and defense. Quarterback Jon Girvin has good size at 6-4 and was a part-time starter a year ago. The Flames have some size up front with Connor Doscher (6-3, 230), Chase Staiger (6-0, 250) and Rodney Payne (6-2, 240). They might do a good job of hiding 5-7 running back Vacek.

OUR LADY of the SACRED HEART CHARGERS

OLSH has been in the WPIAL in many other sports for years, but never had a football team until this season. Bill Daniels, a former Pitt quarterback in the early 1970s, is the Chargers' coach.  Who knows what the team will be like as a number of OLSH players have never played high school football. But the Chargers do have running back Isiah Neely, who showed promise while playing for Cornell under a cooperative sponsorship. Brandon Adams has looked good on the lines.  Other players expected to help are fullback-linebacker Greg Ott and tight end-defensive end Julian Falascino.

RIVERVIEW RAIDERS

After making the playoffs four years in a row, the Raiders have missed the postseason the past two seasons. They finished 3-6 last season overall and 3-4 in conference.  But with five starters returning on offense and four on defense, the Raiders might be able to battle for one of the final playoff spots.  Back on offensie is 6-1, 175-pound senior Terrel Craighead. Coach Todd Massack used him and Jacob Miberger at quarterback last season, but Craighead will move to running back and Miberger, a 6-4 junior, will play quarterback full time. Brandon Seachrist returns at receiver along with Corey Bickert while Brandon Wilhelm is back at tight end. Center Justin Lezark returns on the line.

SPRINGDALE DYNAMOS

Longtime coach Chuck Wagner has turned Springdale into a team that is now regularly at the top of the conference. The Dynamos have had eight consecutive winning seasons and they have won 64 games during that time.  Springdale should have one of the best two-pronged running attacks in the conference. Senior Bill Arch ran for 738 yards on 69 carries last year. Also back is sophomore Sean Dugan, who ran for 559 yards on 89 attempts last season.  But Dugan is a two-way standout. As a freshman last year, he led the team in tackles with 74 and 30 assists. Dugan and Arch, who also plays defensive back, were both second-team all-conference a year ago.  Watch offensive lineman-nose guard Jake Summill, who was second-team all-conference a year ago.  Other returning starters are fullback-linebacker Chris Liberto, tight end-defensive end Justin Deily, lineman Nathan Joyce, receiver-defensive back Kyle Hohman, wingback-linebacker John Blazonczyk and defensive back Brandon Brusher.

WILKINSBURG TIGERS

Wilkinsburg has won just one game the past three seasons and first-year coach Ralph Brandon will try to bring new life to the Tigers. There is reason for a little optimism and it starts with Robert Taylor, a 6-1, 185-pound senior who was the team's leading rusher last season.  The new quarterback is junior Maleek Terry, who transferred from out of state. Former quarterback Rasheed Howard will play running back and receiver.  Kevin Germany and Shequille Barnett anchor the lines on defense.

MSA SPORTS PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:

1) NORTH CATHOLIC TROJANS

2) SPRINGDALE DYNAMOS

3) BISHOP CANEVIN CRUSADERS

4) AVONWORTH ANTELOPES

5) RIVERVIEW RAIDERS

6) NORTHGATE FLAMES

7) LEECHBURG BLUE DEVILS

8) OUR LADY OF THE SACRED HEART CHARGERS

9) WILKINSBURG TIGERS

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