CTK 2011 – WPIAL AAA GREATER ALLEGHNEY Conference Preview

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011 | 10:21 AM


Quietly, the Greater Allegheny Conference in Class AAA has become a primetime postseason player…at least in the First Round. A year ago, the four playoff teams (Mars, Knoch, Indiana and Highlands) in the GAC were a combined 3-1, giving the conference a 6-2 record in the opening round of the WPIAL playoffs the past two years.

The problem is while the members of this conference have been tremendous in Round One, their track record quickly goes downhill afterward. They are 2-4 in the Quarterfinals and 0-2 in the Semifinals the last two years, plus the last time a current member of this conference won a WPIAL football championship was 33 years ago when the Knoch Knights captured the 1978 WPIAL Class AA crown.

Will this be the year for postseason success for the conference or will Week 11 continue to spell doom for these Alle-Kiski and Butler/Indiana county teams?

Here is a look at the Class AAA Greater Allegheny Conference for 2011.

HAMPTON TALBOTS:

In 2008, Hampton finished with a disappointing 1-8. However in 2009, the Talbots bounced back to finish 5-4 and make the playoffs. Upset wins over Chartiers Valley and Uniontown put Hampton into the Class AAA Semifinals where they bowed to Hopewell.

Now in his 6th season at Hampton, Jacque DeMatteo hopes his Talbots can bounce back in 2011 much like they did in '09. Last year, Hampton finished 2-4 in the Greater Allegheny Conference and 2-7 overall.

Several two way players who saw some playing time last year will play key roles in this year’s success for the Talbots. They include senior Zach Anderson (OT/DE), senior Nick Yaroszewski (TE/LB), senior Michael Carone (TE/LB), junior Noah Shulman (TE/LB), junior Jacob Hart (FB/LB), senior Ryan Gally (RB/LB), senior Matt Hyre (RB/LB), junior Frank Bello (RB/DB), sophomore Jonathan Floss (RB/DB), senior Ben Kraus (WR/FS), junior Jacob Adams (WR/DB), junior Andrew DeMichiei (WR/DB), junior Tom Radziminski (WR/DB) and sophomore Edwin Edwards (WR/DB).

The voice of the Hampton Talbots, Dennis Fisher says a pair of seniors will likely battle for the starting quarterback job in Scott Greer and Derek McMillen, however there may be an underclassman or two who might win the job.

A young team with not a lot of size up front on both sides of the ball will challenge this Hampton team, a challenge like in 2009, they hope to be able to meet with success.

HIGHLANDS GOLDEN RAMS:

Highlands football fans must be dizzy by now. The pendulum that is Golden Rams football keeps swinging back and forth from great highs, to forgetful lows.

In 2008, Highlands was undefeated through eleven weeks before losing to Blackhawk in the WPIAL Class AAA Semifinals. Then the following year, The Rams were not as golden as they went from perfect to winless before beating Valley in the final game of the regular season for their lone win.

Last year though, the good was back as Highlands finished 5-4 and qualified for the playoffs for the fourth time in five years. Now instead of going back to an off year, Golden Rams coach Sam Albert (8th season) hopes to build on the success of last year with another deep run into the postseason.

Leading the way for Highlands will be one of the top linemen in the district in Jake Witucki. The 6-foot-5, 280-pound lineman is an all-conference offensive tackle, but will also play defensive tackle this season. Witucki made a verbal commitment to Kent State back in July. He was also offered scholarships by Akron, Temple, Youngstown State and Eastern Michigan. He will be joined on the lines by all-conference teammate Reily Shane.

Also back is Gage Clark, an all-conference defensive back who underwent surgery in the offseason on an injured shoulder, which cut short his season at quarterback a year ago. The 6-3, 205-pound senior passed for 293 yards on 28 completions in 2010 and also rushed 66 times for 250 yards and four touchdowns.

It appears though Highlands may be without the services of senior wide receiver/defensive back Jerrail Carver, whose eligibility for the upcoming football season is up in the air. Carver's case was heard by the WPIAL in June, and he was denied athletic eligibility for the 2011-12 school year. Under PIAA rules, students are allowed to play sports in a maximum of eight semesters from grades 9-12. The issue is whether Carver has exceeded that limit in his time at Valley High School. He has appealed the decision. Carver caught a team-leading 18 passes for 298 yards and four touchdowns.

INDIANA LITTLE INDIANS:

In 23 years of playing football in the WPIAL, Indiana has made it to the district playoffs five times and have two postseason victories. However two of those appearances and both Highway to Heinz wins came in the last three years, including 2010 when the Little Indians finished in third place in the Greater Allegheny Conference and an 8-3 overall record which included a First Round playoff win over Belle Vernon 42-38 followed by a Quarterfinals loss to Montour 36-14.

Indiana head coach Mark Zilinskas begins his 10th season as head coach and 23rd overall year with the Little Indians program that has a .540 winning percentage over the last five years, which trails only Mars and Highlands overall in the conference.

The Little Indians will miss quarterback Kyle Edgar, who finished 7th among WPIAL Class AAA passers with 1,232 yards and 12 touchdowns. However his top target does return in all-conference receiver Tyral Veney who helped the explosive Lil Indians offense which average over 39 points per game in their seven wins.

Another all-conference performer last year is back to anchor the lines in defensive stalwart Sean Gibbon.

KITTANNING WILDCATS:

While Mars has found success moving up from Class AA to Class AAA, it has been a little tougher sledding for Kittanning. The Wildcats have missed the playoffs in two of the three years in Class AAA and hit what they hope is rock bottom a year ago when they finished 1-8 for the season.

But Kittanning does have experience back, especially at the skilled positions. Sam Panchik, who begins his 10th season at the helm of the Cats feels they have a shot at the playoffs IF they stay healthy since an overall lack of numbers has really hurt the team depth chart.

Back again to run the offense is senior quarterback Trevor Harmon. He has a trio of senior running backs he will lean on in Alex Lane, Andrew Scholl and Jud Toth, who will also see some time at receiver.

Also back are senior linemen Zach Johns at 5'10, 220-pounds, Zack Knize at 5'11, 238-pounds and Brandon Petras at 6'0, 170-pounds give Kittanning size and experience up front. 6'3, 210-pound junior Vince Mead is back at both tight end and defensive line for the Wildcats.

KNOCH KNIGHTS:

Knoch thought they had something special going through the first eight weeks of the 2010 season. They were a perfect 5-0 in the conference and 8-0 overall and ranked #6 by the MSA Sports Network. But that special feeling faded quickly when the Knights lost the conference championship game to rival Mars 23-12 and after an opening round playoff victory over Greensburg-Salem, saw their season end with a 16-0 whitewash at the hands of the eventual champion Central Valley Warriors.

Perhaps Mike King's team just needed to wait a year for that "special season" to take place. With many key players returning, the bulls eye is on the Knights as King begins his 14th season at the helm in Saxonburg.

One of the top running backs in Class AAA returns in Andrew Rumberg-Goodlin, who rushed for 1,092 yards and averaged nearly nine yards per tote. He also scored 18 touchdowns.

Also back is quarterback Kyle Kenyon, who threw for over 700 yards and had ten touchdowns a year ago. But it is not a lock that Kenyon will be under center all of the time for the Knights. 6'5 junior wide receiver Dakota Bruggeman may also see some time at the quarterback position. Bruggeman, who had 19 receptions for 439 yards and six touchdowns last fall, also was 7 of 8 passing for 115 yards and a pair of scoring strikes.

On defense, Mac Megahan was an all-conference defensive back a year ago as a junior. No matter who is chucking the pigskin, Megahan also will start at wide receiver.

MARS FIGHTING PLANETS:

Of all of the WPIAL football teams, Mars ranks #13 with a .750 winning percentage in the last five years. That puts the Fighting Planets amongst Class AAA teams behind only Thomas Jefferson, which at .930 is second overall. This while Mars had to make the adjustment from life in the Class AA Tri-County North Conference to the Class AAA Greater Allegheny Conference.

In those three years in Class AAA, Scott Heinauer (now starting his 20th season at Mars) has guided his team to a second place finish in 2008, co-champs in the conference in 2009 and an outright conference championship in 2010.

Back to back conference titles will be tough to do for what will be a very young Planets squad. There are only five seniors on this years team. Gone are running back Austin Miele, who rushed for over 4,000 yards in his career at Mars, quarterback Eric Gozak who three for over 1,000 yards a year go, and 2010 leading tackler Seth Geyer.

Some of the new faces on the scene for the Fighting Planets will be sophomore quarterback Owen Nearhoff, junior running back Chris Smith and sophomore running back Jason Lozzi.

The three returning starters on offense are senior tight end Brian Cassidy, junior center Jackie Mettus and junior guard Jacob Wright. Four starters are back on defense for Mars including senior lineman Elliot Noodward, juniors Austin Bitzer and Chris Panza and junior linebacker Connor Biggs.

VALLEY VIKINGS:

At the midway point of the 2009 season, Valley was 3-2 and in the hunt for a playoff spot. Since then though, they have lost 14 consecutive games including an 0-9 mark last year in which they were outscored 374-47 with five shutouts.

The rebuilding begins with first year coach Mark Kaczanowicz taking over the Vikings program which returns five starters on offense and four on defense.

After starting last year as a freshman, sophomore signal caller Ty Matthews is back along with two of his favorite targets, senior wide receiver Von McMillan and junior wide out Dom Johnson. The offensive line returns two starters in senior Chris Ploski (6'0, 250) and junior Bryant Ludwiczak (5'11, 220).

Four juniors are back on the defensive side of the ball including defensive end Khanaan Briggs, outside linebacker Kevin Frame and defensive backs Jaden Walker and Chaz Cheetham.

Among the newcomers for Valley this season is sophomore backup quarterback Tyler Balla, who will see some time as a wide receiver and defensive back.

MSA SPORTS PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:

1. KNOCH KNIGHTS

2. MARS FIGHTING PLANETS

3. INDIANA LITTLE INDIANS

4. HAMPTON TALBOTS

5. HIGHLANDS GOLDEN RAMS

6. VALLEY VIKINGS

7. KITTANNING WILDCATS
 

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