CTK 2011 – WPIAL A EASTERN Conference Preview

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Sunday, August 28, 2011 | 2:42 PM


This is a conference that has a lot of new faces – and a couple of old faces.

Avonworth, Leechburg, Northgate and Wilkinsburg all have new coaches. Meanwhile, Springdale coach Chuck Wagner and Bishop Canevin coach Bob Jacoby have 84 years of head coaching experience between them.

A year ago, this conference had a three-way tie for first place with Avonworth, Springdale and Bishop Canevin all finishing 7-1. North Catholic grabbed the fourth playoff spot.

This year might be very similar. The race for the top spot seems to be a battle between three or four teams, although a number of coaches believe Springdale is the definite favorite.

Here is a look at the Class A Eastern Conference:

AVONWORTH ANTELOPES:

The school opened the head coaching position in the winter and Jason Kekseo was gone. But the Antelopes are quite familiar with their new coach. Duke Johncour was an Avonworth assistant coach the past 10 seasons under Kekseo and Jim Wehner. He was most recently the defensive coordinator.

Johncour has enough returning starters to make for a highly competitive team again. It will be interesting to see if the defense remains as strong. Under Johncour last year, the Antelopes allowed only 37 points in eight conference games.

The defense has two solid linebackers in Ricky Lawniczak and Zane Schilling. A.J. Mang returns at defensive end.

The offense has plenty of potential. Brian Vales, a 6-2, 190-pound senior, was a second-team all-conference quarterback last season. Lawniiczak was a first-team all-conference running back. Seniors on the offensive line are Brian Bartram, Clayton Cuteri, Tyler Noethiger and Derrick Ott. Mike Giampole looks like a good tight end.

BISHOP CANEVIN CRUSADERS:

Bob Jacoby is in his 39th season as the Crusaders’ head coach, and has a record of 221-165-7. The Crusaders have some talent at the skill positions, but the offensive and defensive lines are inexperienced.

Bobby Gustine is only 5-7, but he is one of the big-play receivers in the conference. He had 28 receptions for 604 yards last season, and also had three kick returns for touchdowns. Also back on offensie is running back Casey McCaffrey, who had 371 yards rushing last season. Kevin Mechas takes over at quarterback this season.

Jim Tersak is a junior lineman who gets rave reviews from Jacoby. Last year as a sophomore, he played four different offensive line and four different defensive line positions.

Overall, five starters return on both offense and defense. The others are receiver Colin Jones, defensive back Jordan Maloney, center A.J. Mancini, linebacker Sal Oliverio, tight end-defensive end John Bridge and linebacker Mike Dunn.

Dunn, who also plays offensive tackle, was the team’s leading tackler last season. Oliverio is in his third season as a starter.

LEECHBURG BLUE DEVILS:

The Blue Devils have a new coach in Mark George, who takes over a program that hasn’t had a winning season since 1991. The team’s last playoff appearance was 1988.

Leechburg saw a little progress last season, winning three games, the most since 2003. A few players who made second-team all-conference graduated. D.J. Oberdorf returns after making first-team all-conference defensive back last year. Jake Iellimo showed promise last year as a receiver.

NORTH CATHOLIC TROJANS:

Brandt Gribbin will go from catching passes to throwing them.

Gribbin, a senior, moves from receiver to quarterback. He had 591 receiving yards last season. He got experience at QB last season when he played the position in a WPIAL quarterfinal loss to Avonworth because starter Martin Long had an injury.

Bobby Stark returns in the backfield. Pat Corcoran and Joe Lamb return on the lines. North Catholic lost one of its better players when Ryan Lewis transferred to Montour.

NORTHGATE FLAMES:

T.J. Wiley takes over as coach after Mike Pipak resigned in June. Wiley was Penn-Trafford’s head coach for the 2009 season and also had been an assistant at Shaler under Jacques DeMatteo and Neil Gordon.

Senior Jon Girvin could be one of the best quarterbacks in the conference. He is a three-year starter and has good size at 6-5, 220. Wiley plans to run the spread offense this season.

The running backs in Northgate’s offense will be Cody Walter and Mackenzie Quinn. Rob Jones and Justin Parra look to be the top receivers. Greg McGrail is back on the offensive line. Walter was a second-team all-conference receiver a year ago.

On defense, the linebackers should be solid with Jones, Quinn and Girvin.

OUR LADY OF THE SACRED HEART CHARGERS:

This is the second year of the program and look for the Chargers to be much improved from their 1-8 season. The reason is because coach Bill Daniels played a number of underclassmen who gained valuable experience. Overall, eight starters return on both offense and defense.

One of the team’s top players is tailback Isiah Neely, who rushed for 850 yards last season. He will be a key player in OLSH’s plans. Gregg Ott is a 6-3, 200-pound fullback-linebacker who showed plenty of promise last season.

Guard-linebacker Bryce Gerboc and receiver-defensive back Chris Gamcik are two other top returnees.

Other returning starters are two-way linemen Max Muzik, Jeff Molinaro and Pete Lockovich; and receiver-defensive backs Jared Hall and Mike Ravas.

O.L.S.H. will start a sophomore at quarterback – Bill Mulcahey (5-10, 170).

RIVERVIEW RAIDERS:

The Raiders missed the playoffs by a game last season. Although some key players graduated, there is reason to believe coach Todd Massack’s team will be in the hunt for a playoff spot once again. Six starters return on offense and five on defense.

The team’s leading rusher and receiver have graduated, but 6-4, 195-pound quarterback Jacob Milberger is back at quarterback. Corey Bickert returns at receiver and Sean Provenzo at fullback.

Three starters return on the line – Brandon Peluso, Regis McGill and Bobby Scott.

SPRINGDALE DYNAMOS:

This is Chuck Wagner’s 50th season coaching football, and 47th as a high school head coach. the Dynamos should have one of the best running attacks in Class A, even though leading rusher Bill Arch graduated.

Quarterback Joe Killian rushed for 797 yards last season. Running backs Chris Liberto added 713 and 687, respectively. Caled Whelan also will be a running back this year. Liberto also was an all-conference linebacker last season.

The lines should be solid also with the return of a few starters. Tom Citrone (6-1, 270) is back at center. Nick Korzon (6-3, 230), Nick Welsh (6-0, 205) and James Murray (6-2, 260) also are back.

Other returning starters are tight end-linebacker Don Haney and wingback-linebacker Mitch Paskorz, Matt Weber was first-team all-conference at kicker.

All told, this is shaping up as a very good Springdale team.

WILKINSBURG TIGERS:

Brian Tarrant is the Tigers’ third new coach in three seasons. He played QB for the Tigers and graduated in 1994. Tarrant had been a defensive coordinator for Wilkinsburg.

The Tigers won two games last year after winning only one in the three previous seasons. Wilkinsburg will rely heavily on running back Rasheed Howard, who rushed for 759 yards last season and caught 26 passes for 428 yards. Both were team highs. Eric Triplett will be the team’s quarterback.

On defense, Gary Gates led the team in tackles in 2010. Junior lineman Kevin Germany is another one of the team’s top players.

MSA SPORTS PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:

1.  SPRINGDALE DYNAMOS

2.  BISHOP CANEVIN CRUSADERS

3.  AVONWORTH ANTELOPES

4.  NORTH CATHOLIC TROJANS

5.  RIVERVIEW RAIDERS

6.  NORTHGATE FLAMES

7.  LEECHBURG BLUE DEVILS

8.  WILKINSBURG TIGERS

9.  OUR LADY of the SACRED HEART CHARGERS

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