CTK 2011 – WPIAL AAA KEYSTONE Conference Preview

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011 | 10:25 AM


Although the Keystone Conference was winless once again in the 2010 postseason, the conference was improved. The addition of Franklin Regional helped strengthen the conference, and Ringgold had one of its best teams in a while.

This year should be a better year for the Keystone again. Maybe it won’t show in the postseason, but Franklin Regional is expected to be strong again, Greensburg Salem has a number of returning starters and Ringgold will be a conference title contender again.

Here is a look at the 2011 Keystone Conference:

ALBERT GALLATIN COLONIALS:

Two years ago, Albert Gallatin won three games, which was a sign of progress for the Colonials, who have been WPIAL doormats for years. But Albert Gallatin slipped again last year and won only one game. The team averaged only 9 points a game and gave up 41 a game in Jeff Rush’s first season as coach.

Things might not be any easier this season because Albert Gallatin lost a number of key players to graduation. The most notable loss was running back Grayling Sanders, who was a first-team all-conference selection last year.

The Colonials will be young. One of the young players is sophomore quarterback Rich Ohler, who played some last year as a freshman.

DERRY TROJANS:

After winning three conference games in the two previous seasons, and making the playoffs once, the Trojans took a few steps backward last year and finished 1-6 in conference play. But with five starters returning on both offense and defense, there is reason to believe Derry will be improved this season.

The Trojans have a new look this year with first-year coach Al Gaiardo. He was a Derry assistant under Greg Dorn and Jim Paul from 1998-2002 and used to be a head coach at Ligonier Valley. He spent the previous five seasons as the running backs coach at St. Vincent College.

Center-defensive end Zach Wisneski, a 6-2, 235-pound senior, is one of the conference’s best linemen. He was a first-team all-conference last year as a center. Also back on the lines are Adam Beich and Don Berkhammer, who played guard-defensive tackle, and offensive tackle-defensive end John Lukon, who is 6-5, 230.

Tailback Josh Wannamaker needs to have a big season for Deery to be successful. Also back is receiver-defensive back Colin Greene and tackle-linebacker Adam Nicely.

Finding a quarterback will be key. Talon Kriebel was one of the top passers in Class AAA last season, throwing for 1,280 yards in the regular season.

FRANKLIN REGIONAL PANTHERS:

Franklin Regional’s only loss in conference play last year was to Ringgold, and Franklin Regional lost a tough game in the first round of the playoffs to Rushel Shell and Hopewell. With nine returning starters, including one of the leading rushers in the entire WPIAL, Franklin Regional might be able to make a deeper run in the playoffs this season.

Junior Dane Brown is a 5-7, 180-pound halfback who had a gigantic sophomore season, rushing for 1,339 yards and scoring 21 touchdowns. Look for Brown to carry the ball often this season. Also returning at the skill positions is junior quarterback Nico Lodovico, who saw some time last year as a freshman. Mark Nicholas and Slater Simek return at receiver and Ben Groll is a 6-3, 220-pound tight end. Both Nicholas and Simek also play defensive back, and Nicholas was first-team all-conference at DB a year ago.

Ryan Hickey is a standout lineman who was a first-team all-conference guard last year as a junior. Other returning starters are center-nose tackle Luke Fleck, guard-defensive lineman Zac Ross, linebacker Cory Baumgardner and fullback Barry O’Block.

GREENSBURG-SALEM GOLDEN LIONS:

If talent at skill positions is key to a team, then this should be a good year for Greensburg Salem because the Lions might have the best skill overall in the conference.

Senior tailback Michael Kizzie (5-11, 175) was the sixth-leading rusher in the WPIAL during the 2010 regular season with 1,494 yards on 203 carries. Also back is quarterback Josh Falatovich, a 5-11, 180-pound senior who was 67 of 113 for 1,001 yards last regular season. Michael Nowicki was a first-team all0conference defensive back last year, but also plays receiver.

Waylon Fink is a 6-6, 225-pound senior tight end-defensive end and one of the team’s top starters. Overall, seven starters return on offensive and five on defense. The others are receiver-defensive back Will Maschmeyer, defensive back Ryan Short, offensive guard John Szmed and two-way tackle Clem Pantalone.

The Lions finished 5-2 in the conference last year and had an explosive offense at times. The defense was shaky in a few games (35 points to Hollidaysburg, 42 to Franklin Regional and 31 to Laurel Highlands), and must improve some.

HOLLIDAYSBURG GOLDEN TIGERS:

Hollidaysburg’s first season in the WPIAL last year had to be considered a success if making the playoffs is a barometer of such things. Hollidaysburg finished 6-4 overall, made the playoffs as the No. 4 team from the conference and lost a first-round game to Marks, 52-20.

The defense must get better, especially because the offense will be inexperienced at some of the skill positions, most notably quarterback. Chad Barton was the second-leading passer in the WPIAL in the 2010 regular season, behind only South Fayette’s Christian Brumbaugh. Barton threw for 1,931 yards in the regular season. T.J. Keefer was the fifth-leading receiver and he also graduated.

Kris Stern is a 5-9 senior who returns at running back. This team has some experience on the lines, though, as Clark McCready, Dan Nagle, Cody Keith, Matt Bardon and Matt Milardo all started last year. Brendan Gallagher is back at defensive back and Andrew Dick is a strong punter-kicker.

LAUREL HIGHLANDS MUSTANGS:

The Mustangs have a new man at the top this season as Zack Just is the new head coach. Just spent the past three seasons as the head coach at King William High School in Virginia. His team was 11-2 last year. He also spent five seasons as an assistant coach at schools in Virginia and South Carolina.

But Just is quite familiar with WPIAL football. He is a 1998 graduate of Greensburg Salem.

Just inherits a team that has only three starters back on both offense and defense from a team that finished 1-8 last season and was outscored, 338-150. But there is optimism surrounding the offense ando ne of the main reasons is 6-2, 190-pound senior quarterback Jake Riddell, who was the WPIAL’s fifth-leading passer in the regular season, completing 139 of 272 passes for 1,776 yards. That’s 30 passes a game, and it will be interesting to see if Just is as pass happy.

Justin Savage returns at tight end-linebacker and John Kemp at running back-linebacker. Other returning starters are linemen – Bobby Downs, Derrick Workman and Steve Guthrie.

RINGGOLD RAMS:

Although Ringgold lost many key players to graduation, there is reason to believe the Rams will conted for another conference title.

Quad Law returns at quarterback for his senior year. He is only 5-8, but is an excellent runner. This team has an abundance of speed as Law, running back Demetrious Louis and receiver Joey Wall were members of Ringgold’s 400-meter relay team that won a WPIAL championship in the spring.

Mike Beveridge is one of the best tight ends in the conference. Dom Affinito moves from offensive line to fullback and Lance Tritschler is back on the line.

And there is a new face on the team that could be big in Ringgold’s plans as running back-defensive back Fred Johnson, who was one of Uniontown’s top players, transferred to Ringgold. But he sustained a knee injury in the first week of practice and his status is up in the air.

UNIONTOWN RED RAIDERS:

Losing Johnson to Ringgold was certainly a blow to the Raiders. He rushed for 732 yards on only 94 carries last season and was a first-team all-conference defensive back. Also gone is fullback Jack Forsythe, who graduated after rushing for 537 yards, second-best on the team.

Ro Wilkerson, a senior, was the team’s third-leading rusher with 101 yards, but carried the ball only 22 times. Senior Joe Superick saw some time at quarterback completing 28 of 52 passes for 414 yards.

The top three tacklers on defense graduated, but linebacker Kerik Morris returns.

MSA SPORTS PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:

1. FRANKLIN REGIONAL PANTHERS

2. RINGGOLD RAMS

3. GREENSBURG-SALEM GOLDEN LIONS

4. HOLLIDAYSBURG GOLDEN TIGERS

5. UNIONTOWN RED RAIDERS

6. DERRY TROJANS

7. LAUREL HIGHLANDS MUSTANGS

8. ALBERT GALLATIN COLONIALS
 

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