CTK 2010 – WPIAL AAAA NORTHERN SEVEN Conference Preview
Wednesday, August 18, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Erie McDowell is back in the Northern Seven Conference. This time for real. In 2006 and 2007, McDowell played a conference schedule, but McDowell could not qualify for the WPIAL playoffs because it was still a District 10 team. When the playoffs would come around, McDowell would compete in District 10.
The past two seasons, McDowell played a Foothills Conference schedule. But once again, the Trojans’ games didn’t count in the standings and they were not eligible for the WPIAL playoffs.
But this season, McDowell is a full-fledged member of WPIAL football. The Trojans’ games count in the standings and they are eligible for the playoffs.
That gives this conference a little different look. It certainly gives the conference a stronger team because McDowell was 8-3 last season and lost in the first round of the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs to State College by only 16-7. State College went on to make it to the PIAA final.
Here is a look at the Northern Seven Conference, with a predicted order of finish following the team-by-team breakdowns:
BUTLER GOLDEN TORNADO
It’s been 12 years since Butler qualified for the playoffs. In hopes of trying to give the program an uplift, Butler’s school board is trying a veteran coach who had plenty of success at another school.
Jim Rankin, who had a number of good years as North Allegheny’s coach and also at Ellwood City, is the new coach at Butler. He succeeds Jeff McAnallen, whose contract was not renewed after going winless in two of his three seasons as coach.
Rankin takes over a team that has won only four conference games in the past six seasons. On top of that, most of Butler’s top players from last year graduated. Don’t expect a .500 season fight away, but don’t be surprised if Rankin somehow pulls out a couple wins with this team.
ERIE MCDOWELL TROJANS
When watching Erie McDowell’s offense, you see a lot of one thing: Running the football.
McDowell uses an option offense that can give defenses fits. Last year, McDowell averaged 319 yards rushing a game. The Trojans threw only 56 passes all year and completed 16. But quarterback Zach Greenawalt has graduated. He was the team’s leading rusher with 853 yards.
Some other key players graduated, but enough return to make the Trojans a true challenger for the conference crown.
McDowell had four players rush for 400 yards or more last season. The top two rushers graduated, but Greg Garmon (6-2, 205 pounds) ran for 584 yards as a sophomore. Senior Jeremy Baronner had 418 yards.
On defense, 6-6, 240-pound defensive end is getting feelers from Division I colleges. Baronner is a talented linebacker who had 40 tackles last season. Tyler Covatto is a lineman to watch.
NORTH ALLEGHENY TIGERS
Many are picking the Tigers as one of the top five teams in Class AAAA. And don’t the rich get richer? North Allegheny had two pretty darn good players move into its district in the spring. When Sean Kugler became the Steelers offensive line coach, he moved his family from Buffalo, where he coached last year with the Bills, and into the North Allegheny district.
Rob Kugler is a 6-3, 230-pound senior tight end-defensive end who was all-Western New York last year. He already has made a verbal commitment to Purdue. His brother Patrick is a talented sophomore lineman who also is 6-3, 230.
The Tigers should have a strong running game with Alex Papson, who rushed for 1,090 yards on 152 attempts last season. Matt Steinbeck showed promise, rushing for 157 yards on 17 attempts and also catching 12 passes for 225 yards.
But quarterback is a question mark. Justin Brozick graduated. Mike Buchert, son of assistant coach Mike Buchert Sr., might be ready to step in and take over.
The defense has potential. Justin Haser is a 6-5, 225-pound lineman who was first-team all-conference last year. Steinbeck was first-team all-conference at defensive back. Kevin Cope also is one of the top returnees at defensive back.
NORTH HILLS INDIANS
f the Indians can develop some running backs, they feel like they could be in the thick of the race for the conference title.
The lines could be a strongpoint, led by senior Dan Heinauer, who figures to be one of the top linemen in the conference. His father, Scott, is Mars’ coach.
Taylor Schmidt is back at quarterback. He came on at the end of the season when North Hills made a run to the WPIAL semifinals, knocking off McKeesport and North Allegheny in the first two rounds. Schmidt completed 88 of 183 passes for 907 yards and four touchdowns. He is probably more dangerous as a runner, gaining 609 yards on 117 carries last season. Although Schmidt is a solid quarterback, his future is in baseball. He already has made a verbal commitment to the University of Cincinnati.
Mike Sieber and Isaiah Faulk are two running backs with promise.
On defense, Brody Zangaro was a first-team figures to be one of the conference’s best defensive backs after making first-team all-conference a year ago.
Pine-Richland has only three starters returning on offense and three on defense from a 3-6 team, but the Rams have two of the best skill-position players in the conference.
Senior split end Tommy Berexa (5-10, 170) was the second-leading receiver in the WPIAL during the regular season with 45 catches for 597 yards. Running back Justin Williams, a 5-9, 175-pound senior, rushed for 1,110 yards on 166 attempts.
Pine-Richland will have a new quarterback, though. Andy Borgen (6-1, 190) takes over. Other returning starters are linebacker Conor Mineer, linebacker Matt Mahood, lineman Mark Bland and defensive back Steve Szelong. Christian Holowchak should be one of the conference’s best kickers.
SENECA VALLEY RAIDERS
If having an experienced, successful quarterback is a key to a good season, then things are looking good at Seneca Valley.
Senior quarterback Donny Holl is the son of second-year coach Don Holl. Last year, the younger Holl completed 109 of 215 passes for 1,137 yards and also rushed for 269 yards in leading the Raiders to a playoff berth as the No. 3 team in the conference.
Holl’s top receiver, Jordan Glaser, also returns. Pat Kulp and Jeff Palmer are two linemen to watch.
Overall, Seneca Valley might not have an overwhelming team, but it appears the Raiders are definitely good enough to challenge for the third or fourth playoff spots.
Shaler had eight first-team all-conference selections a year ago, but every one of those players graduated. The biggest loss was do-it-all Jesse Della Valle, running back-receiver-defensive back who is a walk-on at Penn State.
Overall, the Titans lost their two leading rushers, their quarterback and plenty of other players. But Coach Neil Gordon has always seemed to find a way to make his teams competitive, even when he was at Penn Hills for 20 years.
Shaler features J.P. Holtz, a tight end-linebacker who is one of the top players in a WPIAL junior class that is loaded with major-college prospects. Holtz is one of those prospects.
But overall, Shaler’s string of seven consecutive playoff appearances could be in jeopardy. On the other hand, the Titans should be in the battle for that fourth and final playoff spot.
MSA SPORTS PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:
1) NORTH ALLEGHENY TIGERS
2) NORTH HILLS INDIANS
3) ERIE McDOWELL TROJANS
4) SENECA VALLEY RAIDERS
5) SHALER TITANS
6) PINE-RICHLAND RAMS
7) BUTLER GOLDEN TORNADO