CTK 2011 – WPIAL AA ALLEGHENY Conference Preview

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Saturday, August 27, 2011 | 10:19 AM


Either Ford City or Shady Side Academy has won or tied for the conference championship six years in a row. Don’t look for the trend to stop this season.

Ford City and Shady Side Academy are pegged by many coaches as the teams to beat in the Allegheny Conference. A year ago, Ford City finished first and Shady Side Academy fourth.

But it could be an interesting race for the other playoff spots. Last year, this conference featured a team that made the WPIAL playoffs for the first time in school history. On the flip side, this conference has a team that hasn’t won a game since 2007.

Here is a look at the WPIAL Class AA Allegheny Conference.

APOLLO-RIDGE VIKINGS:

The Vikings have a new man in charge this season as John Skiba takes over as coach. He inherits a team that hasn’t won more than three games in three seasons since moving up from Class A in 2008. The Vikings made the playoffs in 2007, their final year in Class A.

Skiba was an assistant coach at Pine-Richland the past 11 seasons and was at Freeport the four years before that. He played college football at Pitt.

There is reason for some optimism as six starters return on offense and five on defense. Josh Zelonka, a 6-4, 190-pound senior, is a talented quarterback-defensive back who plans to continue his career at the Naval Academy.

Brad Campbell is a fullback-linebacker who was first-team all-conference a year ago. Skiba also expects big things from receiver Anthony Bozzarelli.

Other returning starters are linemen Jim Vensel, Jacob Gembella, Matt Thomas and Anthony Filler. Steve Babyak returns at tight end-linebacker, Ben Carnahan at receiver-defensive back and Zach Long at receiver-defensive back.

BURRELL BUCCANEERS:

Burrell also has a new coach in Kevin Horwatt, who takes over for longtime coach Tom Henderson, who resigned in January. Horwatt is a former Burrell player.

Burrell should have one of the conference’s best quarterbacks in senior Zack Middleby, who threw for a little more than 1,000 yards last season. Middleby has a talented receiver to throw to in Cole Bush, who caught 33 passes last season. Bush also is an all-conference linebacker.

James Liput, who played some at quarterback last season, will be one of the running backs. Juniors will make up the heart of the offensive line.

DEER LAKES LANCERS:

Deer Lakes was one of the feel-good stories in WPIAL football last year as the Lancers qualified for the playoffs for the first time in school history. If experience means anything, the Lancers will have a hard time repeating last year’s success.

Many of coach Todd Hazlett’s top players have graduated. The only returning starters are senior running back-linebacker Cody Fleming, senior defensive back T.J. Trocki, senior free safety Matt Schultz and senior receiver Jordan Fragapane.

Among the eight Allegheny teams, Deer Lakes had the second-highest scoring offense in conference games last season. Getting that offense into gear again will be a key, but the Lancers might have to rely more on its defense this season.

FORD CITY SABERS:

After missing the playoffs in 2010, the Sabers rebounded nicely last season, won the conference championship and made it to the WPIAL semifinals. Don’t be surprised if Ford City makes it two titles in a row this season.

Ford City figures to have a strong running attack with the return of running back Devan Willyard. As a freshman two years ago, Willyard rushed for 407 yards on 55 carries. He became a bigger part of the offense last season and rushed 132 times for 646 yards. Gaining 1,000 yards this season shouldn’t be out of the question in Ford City’s winged-T offense.

Another player to watch on Ford City’s offense is David Lattanzio, a junior who takes over at quarterback. Although the Sabers lost some key linemen to graduation, they still have all-conference guard Jake Klingensmith.

FREEPORT YELLOWJACKETS:

After finishing 7-4 last year and knocking off Jeannette in a first-round playoff game, coach John Gaillot has a young and inexperienced team this season. Only four starters return on offense and three on defense. Is that enough to put the team into the playoffs for the fourth year in a row?

Junior Brendan Lynch is back at quarterback-defensive back. But the rest of the skill-position players are thin on experience. Three linemen return – Jon Turner, Sean Carson and Brian Walsh.

SHADY SIDE ACADEMY INDIANS:

Shady Side Academy just might have the best all-around player in the conference in Reggie Mitchell, who already has accepted a scholarship to the University of Wisconsin. Mitchell is a 6-foot, 175-pound senior who plays quarterback and defensive back. He was recruited by Wisconsin to play defense.

With Mitchell and cast, Shady Side Academy appears to be good enough to challenge for a conference title. Coach Dave Havern’s team should be strong on the lines with the return of two all-conference players – Andy Geisler (6-0, 240) and Jake Ellis (6-2, 218). Ellis will play tight end. Geisler is a four-year starter.

Speaking of four-year starters, Jared Brevard will likely be one of those. A sophomore, Brevard started last season as a freshman running back and rushed for better than 500 yards.

SUMMIT ACADEMY KNIGHTS:

The Knights have gotten close to a playoff berth a few times in recent years, but still haven’t qualified for the postseason. Last year, they finished 3-6 overall and 2-5 in the conference.

It’s hard to predict how Summit Academy will be from year to year, because the school for adjudicated youth has pretty much an entirely new cast of players every year.

WEST SHAMOKIN WOLVES:

The Wolves enter the season on a 34-game losing streak. Can they end it? Well, this is one of coach Josh Gilliland’s more experienced teams. Is that enough to win a game? That’s questionable. It didn’t help that a few players transferred to other schools.

One of West Shamokin’s best players is unquestionably Blake Copenhaver. He is a junior fullback-linebacker who started since his freshman season. He rushed for 242 yards last season and was one of the leading tacklers on defense. He figures to play a big role this season.

While West Shamokin needs improvement in all areas, what the Wolves need most is offense. They scored only 41 points in 10 games last season.

MSA SPORTS PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:

1. SHADY SIDE ACADEMY INDIANS

2. FORD CITY SABERS

3. BURRELL BUCCANEERS

4. FREEPORT YELLOWJACKETS

5. DEER LAKES LANCERS

6. SUMMIT ACADEMY KNIGHTS

7. APOLLO-RIDGE VIKINGS

8. WEST SHAMOKIN WOLVES
 

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