CTK 2011 – WPIAL AAA PARKWAY Conference Preview

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Saturday, August 20, 2011 | 11:31 PM


There are many things you need to know about the Parkway Conference. The first is that making the playoffs will likely lead to a trip down the Highway to Heinz to the Class AAA Championship Game. A team from the conference has played for the championship in five consecutive seasons, with the last two title games being all Parkway affairs with West Allegheny-Hopewell in 2009 and Montour-Central Valley in 2010.

Members of the Parkway dominated outside of conference play, going 13-3 in non-conference games, with two of the losses coming to Quad-A teams. No other Class AAA conference had a winning record in non-conference play, the best was the Greater Allegheny at 10-11.

Making it thru the Parkway is so tough, Rivals.com placed the conference among the top 15 conferences in the NATION. No other conference in Pennsylvania was mentioned, three of the 15 are from Texas. The conference will also be showcased on a national stage on October 14th when Hopewell plays at Central Valley at 6 pm. The game will be televised by ESPN U. Root Sports is also featuring the conference on September 16th as Central Valley travels to New Castle, both of those games and many more will be available thru the MSA Sports Network.

The Parkway has been known over the last couple of seasons for it’s running backs, and there are some good ones again this year, but it might also be the Year of the Quarterback. Of ten quarterbacks listed in our Players to Watch in Class AAA, six are from the Parkway, and that doesn’t include a sophomore sensation up in Darlington.

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

AMBRIDGE BRIDGERS:

The Bridgers finished 2-7 overall and tied for the bottom spot in the conference with a 1-6 record.

But the numbers are up at Ambridge and second year head coach Neil Tkatch is excited about the 2011 season. Ambridge has over 50 players in uniform in the first week of camp with 14 returning starters and some underclassmen challenging for other spots.

One of those battles is at quarterback as three players compete for the starting job, senior Joe Baran, and juniors Bennie Tompkins and Nick Santiago. Senior T.J. Dlubak returns at fullback, after rushing for over 600 yards as a junior. Dlubak looks to be the number one option, in an option offense for the Bridgers.

Coach Tkatch said his senior class really committed in the off-season program, he is counting on that class for leadership on and off the field in 2011. The program should help the offensive line as all five starters return this season.

The Ambridge defense will have a new look this season, and should be much improved. Junior inside linebacker Cody Jones will be a key in the new look and should have a great year, according to Tkatch. The Bridgers allowed almost 36 points per game in 2010, a number that will have to change if Ambridge is to compete.

Ambridge has not made the playoffs since 2005. While Coach Tkatch did not predict a playoff run for the Bridgers, he expects a major improvement in the record for this team.

BLACKHAWK COUGARS:

The Cougars missed the playoffs in 2010 going 3-4 in Parkway play and finished 5-4 overall. It was the second straight season that Blackhawk did not make the Highway to Heinz, they have not been in post-season play since falling to Thomas Jefferson in the 2008 championship game.

Head coach Joe Hamilton is the dean of the coaches in the Parkway by far and away, starting his 35th season and with 328 career wins. The Cougars have a diamond in the making at quarterback with 6-4 sophomore Chandler Kincade.

Blackhawk has a trio of running backs returning. Senior fullback Mike Shansky, senior tailback Brandon Mansell and junior tailback Cole Chiappialle will all see carries. Shansky excelled around the goal line last season, scoring thirteen touchdowns.

Senior Nick Martin returns in the slot, also returning is senior wide receiver Josh Desmond.

Defensively, Shansky and senior Steve O’Hara anchor the linebackers. Desmond returns at corner and Martin and senior Brendan Kearney will be the safeties. Shansky was nominated for consideration for the MSA Sports/Kennywood Park pre-season team.

The downside for the Cougars in 2011 could be the offensive line, as no starters return for this season.

CENTRAL VALLEY WARRIORS:

Several of the coaches in the Parkway called the Warriors, “the great unknown” in the 2010 preseason, following the merger of the Center and Monaca districts into one. By the final week of November, everyone knew just what Central Valley had to offer. The Warriors finished in a third place tie with Hopewell at 4-3 and were seeded 14th by the WPIAL steering committee. Three weeks later after wins over Ringgold, Knoch and Thomas Jefferson, Central Valley was playing for a WPIAL title.

The Warriors handled Parkway rival Montour 24-7 at Heinz Field to claim championship gold in the program’s first year. Central Valley fell to Erie Cathedral Prep in their first PIAA playoff game 31-21 to finish the season at 10-4.
Now Head Coach Mark Lyons knows his team will have a target on their backs as the defending champs.

The Warriors return one of their biggest weapons during that playoff run. Robert Foster is back as a do-everything player for the Warrior offense. He’ll run and receive and also return kicks. Foster was named to the MSA Sports/Kennywood Park Pre-Season team as a receiver.
Senior quarterback Matt Bradford returns, Bradford again took over the reigns last season and helped to lead the Warriors on the playoff run. Bradford had experience in stepping in as the starter, he did the same for Monaca as a freshman and helped lead the Indians to the title game. Bradford is a Player to Watch in 2011 along with another receiver Chad Phillis.

Jake Turley will anchor the offensive line, he became the second member of the family to be named to the MSA Sports/Kennywood Park Pre-Season team, joining brother Lukas from last season. Austin David was also named to the pre-season squad on the defensive line. Phillis is also a force on the defensive side at linebacker, he is a Player to Watch there as well.

The defense was intense for Central Valley, the best in the conference, only allowing just under 14 points per game.

HOPEWELL VIKINGS:

The Vikings rallied to finish tied for third in the conference in 2010 at 4-3 and defeated Franklin Regional in the first round of the playoffs, before falling to Thomas Jefferson in the quarterfinals.

When you talk Hopewell over the last three seasons, the name Rushel Shell comes up very quickly. Shell is ranked as the second best college prospect in Pennsylvania and among the top fifty recruits nationwide. The 5-11 215 pound senior will go down as one of the top rushers in the history of Pennsylvania football.

Shell rushed for 2,102 yards in the regular season and scored 25 times. He has started since day one of his freshman season, he needs 881 to become the leading rusher in WPIAL history. He has 6,766 yards entering 2011. He would need to rush for 1,677 yards to move into second place in Pennsylvania history and needs 2,262 yards to break the current record held by Jeremiah Young of Steelton-Highspire.

Shell was named to the MSA Sports/Kennywood Park Pre-Season team in 2011 and the Pre-Season Elite 11. The Vikings are scheduled to play Central Valley on national television on October 14th, Shell has said in several media reports that he will announce his college decision at that time.

But if you look at Hopewell, it’s not all Shell providing the offense for the Vikings. Senior QB Nolan Harmotto came into his own during the charge to make the post-season. Harmotto is a Player to Watch in the upcoming season. Senior Zach Romah and junior Mike Tempalski will help open the holes for Shell from the fullback slot.

Junior wide receiver Adam Murray will be a target for Harmotto as will senior Wiley Belknap. Zack Gula will be at tight end, Tempalski could also line up there. Senior Harry Davis will anchor the offensive line at 5-11 and 275 pounds.

On defense, Davis will be up front with Shell and Murray as the outside backers. Gula, Romah and Tempalski will be inside. Harmotto and senior Keenan Barrett will be the key defensive backs.

The Vikings also return junior kicker Nate Bowden.

The Vikings will have to avoid the close games, easier said than done in the conference. Seven of nine regular season games were decided by less than ten points. Hopefully for head coach Dave Vestal’s sake, Hopewell games this season will not come down to the final play.

MOON TIGERS:

It has been a rough few years for the Moon Tigers, missing the playoffs again in 2010, going 1-6 in the Parkway and 3-6 overall. Over a four year span, Moon has won just four games, including a 1-24 record in conference play.

The Tigers will try and turn things around in 2011, and with a new head coach. Mark Washington replaces Jon Miller. Washington was the defensive coordinator at Aliquippa for the past five seasons and he is looking forward to the challenge.

New offensive coordiator Brandon LeDonne, also from Aliquippa will have some talent to work with. Caleb Jakiel will get the nod at quarterback for the Tigers, he also made the MSA Sports Player to Watch list in Class AAA, along with running backs Anthony Colaianni and Dan Dellovade and wideouts Mitch Matey and Garrett Mont.

Defensively, the Tigers will be led by linebackers Ben Dunning and Dellovade, both are Players to Watch, along with Tim Martin in the secondary. Moon allowed 30 points per game last season, that number needs to drop if the Tigers will compete in the conference.

MONTOUR SPARTANS:

The Spartans ran the table thru the Parkway and into the WPIAL title game in 2010, before falling to Central Valley at Heinz Field. Montour finished at 12-1 and the Spartans are sure to think they have unfinished business in 2011 with many key players returning from last year’s conference championship team that head coach Lou Cerro can call on at any time.

Running back Julian Durden dazzled in his first season as a Spartan, pilling up 1,549 yards in the regular season, with a nine yard average and 24 touchdowns. Durden shined in the playoffs, running for almost 500 yards for a total of 2,028 yards and 28 scores. Durden was named to the MSA Sports Pre-Season Elite 11.

Quarterback Dillion Buechel was super efficient on the Spartans’ drive to a conference title, going 105 of 177 for 1,536 yards and 18 touchdown passes. Buechel added another 500 plus yards on the Highway to Heinz.

Also back for Montour are the two top receivers in 2010, junior Devin Wilson with 38 catches for 595 yards and Darren Massey with 34 catches for 525 yards and another 11 in the post-season. Wilson has received three scholarship offers for basketball and has not decided on what sport he will play in college. And don’t forget senior slot back Aaron Reed.

Buechel and Wilson were nominated for the MSA Sports/Kennywood Park pre-season team.

Now, if that wasn’t enough, let’s talk blocking for all of the offensive weapons. Senior fullback Anthony Rippole is a three year starter, as is lineman Dom Martinelli. Another pair of seniors, Joe Victorelli and center Matt Christiansen, along with junior Matt Barone will open up the holes or give Buechel time to throw. With all that back, it would not be a stretch to expect similar numbers from the Montour offense, which averaged 32 points per game in 2010.

Defensively, Martinelli and Christiansen will start both ways on the line. Rippole will be at inside linebacker and the secondary has some serious speed with Massey, senior Sherrod Naylor, Reed and Wilson all back. Lineman Tyler Haddock is also a Player to Watch.

The Spartans have a deep roster, with 65 players entering camp.

NEW CASTLE RED HURRICANE:

2010 was a winning season for the Red Hurricane, finishing 5-4, but the Canes were 3-4 in Parkway play and missed the post-season. Ne-Ca-Hi looks to get back on the Highway to Heinz for the first time since 2009, when they defeated Greensburg Salem in a 45-38 shootout before falling to conference rival West Allegheny in the quarterfinals.
New Castle also suffered a loss before play even began in 2011, as senior running back Justin Fleo went down with a torn ACL and likely will miss the entire season. That takes away a major weapon from head coach Frank Bongivengo’s offense.

Senior quarterback Johnny Matarazzo threw for huge numbers in 2010, finishing sixth in the WPIAL with 1,649 yards. The 6-4 senior was 109 of 208 and threw for nine touchdowns. Matarazzo is also on the Class AAA Player to Watch list.
New Castle still has some serious weapons with junio running back Jalen Holmes, who ran for 864 yards and a 7.9 yard rushing average last season. Holmes was the leading scorer for the Canes’ with twelve touchdowns and is a Player to Watch in 2011.

Senior WR Marcus Carter also returns, he had 31 catches for 570 yards. Carter was nominated for consideration for the MSA Sports/Kennywood Park pre-season team as did senior offensive lineman Chris Avery. Coach Bongivengo said Avery does everything the same way from practice to games, with high energy and giving 110 percent.

Junior Darrien Rice is also expected to contribute both as a wide receiver and in the secondary. Senior Joe Noviello will help Avery anchor the offensive line, while senior Joey Ambrosini will again start at linebacker for the Canes.

New Castle has 51 players in camp, but that only consists of sophomores thru seniors, the Canes’ will go back to playing a ninth grade schedule. Coach Bongivengo said that move should help New Castle better develop their freshman class.

As mentioned above, New Castle will host Central Valley on September 16th. As for the Root Sports telecast, Bongivengo said while it is added pressure, it is a great opportunity for exposure for the kids and the New Castle program.

WEST ALLEGHENY INDIANS:

The Indians suffered a great loss in 2010 when Mike Caputo went down in the first game of the season. West Allegheny rebounded from that to go 7-4 overall and 5-2 in the conference, including a playoff win over Trinity in the first round.

The Indians could be quarterback oriented once again in 2011, after using a Wildcat offense the last two seasons with Mike Caputo and Aaron McKinney. Both are gone but Dylan Bongiorni is back. The senior threw for 949 yards and seven touchdowns during 2010, in his first season at West A. Bongiorni transferred from Burgettstown, he threw for over one thousand yards as a sophomore. Bongiorni makes the Player to Watch list for the second consecutive season.

Senior Mike O’Donnell returns as his main target. Senior Tanner Cogar could be the other receiver. The backfield will see a mix of senior Wes Thomas, junior Nick Halbedl, senior Mike Frankowski and sophomore Tony Delmonico.

The offensive line will see junior Billy Steele and senior Lance Johnson, along with tight end Zech Medved.

Head Coach Bob Palko knows what it takes to compete in the conference. Palko starts his 16th season at West Allegheny, he has won 137 games with the Indians.

MSA SPORTS PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:

1. MONTOUR SPARTANS

2. CENTRAL VALLEY WARRIORS

3. HOPEWELL VIKINGS

4. WEST ALLEGHENY INDIANS

5. NEW CASTLE RED HURRICANE

6. BLACKHAWK COUGARS

7. MOON TIGERS

8. AMBRIDGE BRIDGERS
 

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