CTK 2011 – WPIAL AAAA NORTHERN SEVEN Conference Preview

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011 | 5:16 PM


For the past five years, either North Allegheny or North Hills has won the conference of northern suburban teams. It could be more of the same this year as many are pegging North Allegheny as the team to beat. But on the other hand, maybe there could be a Titanic uprising at the top.

North Allegheny is the defending WPIAL and state champion in Class AAAA. Although the Tigers lost many key players, they should still be a quality team. But the Shaler Titans have a number of top players returning from last year’s 5-4 team and could possibly challenge for the conference title.

Here is a look at the Class AAAA Northern Seven Conference for 2011.

BUTLER GOLDEN TORNADO:

Another new coach will try to break Butler’s long string of seasons with a playoff appearance. Clyde Conti takes over the Golden Tornado after Jim Rankin lasted only one year. It is the fourth new coach in six years for Butler. Butler hasn’t made the playoffs since 1998. On top of that, Conti takes over a team that hasn’t won a conference game the past four seasons. Conti has been a head coach for 30 years at a few different schools.

Conti was the offensive coordinator at Freeport the past two seasons, but was Slippery Rock High School’s coach from 2002-2008. He won two District 10 titles at Slippery Rock. He also was Clarion-Limestone’s coach for 22 years.

It has been bad offensively and defensively for Butler. The team hasn’t averaged more than 11 points the past two seasons. This year, Zach Rader is back at quarterback. Conti also mentions linebacker Bob Vernick as one of his top players.

Defensive lineman Ben McKnight and defensive back Jarrod Werth were honorable mention all-conference a year ago.

ERIE McDOWELL TROJANS:

Last year was the first time McDowell (located in Erie) was eligible for the WPIAL playoffs, and the Trojans finished in third place in the conference with a 4-2 record. They made the WPIAL playoffs, but lost in the first round to Gateway.

McDowell gave North Allegheny an extremely tough game last year before losing, 21-10. McDowell will need to improve defensively. The Trojans gave up 36, 25, 43, 27 and 37 points in games last year.

But the offense should be in good shape – and for one main reason. Greg Garmon. He is ranked among the best running backs in the entire state and Super Prep magazine ranks him the No. 21 running back in the entire country. He rushed for 1,225 yards on 141 attempts (8.7 average) last season and has narrowed his final list of colleges to North Carolina, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and West Virginia.

Also back on offense is tight end Luke DeHart, a first-team all-conference selection a year ago, and guard Mason Giacomelli, who figures to be a top lineman.

NORTH ALLEGHENY TIGERS:

North Allegheny lost many key players from last year’s state championship team. The Tigers have many holes to fill. But this is a program that doesn’t really ever rebuild. With a large roster, North Allegheny usually has talented players sitting on the sidelines every year.

A key to North Allegheny’s success last year was its lines. The offensive line was tremendous. Although some top players graduated, Pat Kugler, Pete Thistle and Zach Harvey are all returning starters. Kugler, whose father is the Steelers’ offensive line coach, is only a junior, but already has Division I scholarship offers. Thistle was first-team all-conference at center a year ago.

Alex Papson was a 4,000-yard rusher for his career, but has graduated. Papson was extremely talented, but a few other running backs showed plenty of promise last season when Papson went out with an injury. Papson was injured (collarbone) in the WPIAL championship game and didn’t play in three state playoff games.

In the state quarterfinals against State College, Vinnie Congego rushed for 142 yards on 24 carries and Alex DeCiantis 72 on 15 attempts. Congego is now a senior and DeCiantis a junior. Also, Isaiah Faulk transferred in from North Hills and might lend a helping hand in the backfield.

Nick Passodelis also returns at running back and Brendan Coniker at receiver.

A big question mark might be quarterback, but a new kid on the block might be the starter. Mack Leftwich moved into the district when his father, Spencer, became an assistant coach at Pitt. Spencer Leftwich was with new Pitt coach Todd Graham at Tulsa.

NORTH HILLS INDIANS:

No matter the situation and no matter the number of returning starters, it seems coach Jack McCurry and his staff always find a way for the Indians to be competitive – and then some. They were the No. 1 seed in the conference last year, were the only team to beat North Allegheny, and made it to the WPIAL semifinals for the second year in a row before losing to Woodland Hills.

But McCurry and his staff will be seriously challenged to make this team a contender for the conference title. Only three starters return on offense and two on defense. Andy Carfagna (6-4, 240) is a two-way starter and will be one of the best linemen in the conference. Andrew Ungerman (5-11, 250) also is back on the lines.

The other returning starters are linebacker Kevin Corcoran (6-2, 200), fullback Mike Sieber (5-9, 175) and running back-defensive back Tyler Reddick (5-10, 170).

North Hills is counting on some inexperienced players to come through this year. Anthony Rizzitano, a 5-9, 160-pound senior, takes over at quarterback for Taylor Schmidt, who graduated.

This is McCurry’s 34th season as the Indians’ coach.

PINE-RICHLAND RAMS:

Life in Class AAAA hasn’t been easy for the Rams. Sure, they made the playoffs twice since jumping up to the big boys in 2008. But the Rams haven’t finished above .500 in three Class AAAA seasons and their record is only 10-19.

Still, Pine-Richland has been extremely competitive in the Northern Seven and figures to be in the thick of the playoff race again. The Rams need improvement, especially on defense. They allowed 27.1 points a game last season. Coach Clair Altemus could have a fairly strong defensive front this year with Ben Balish and C.J. Jackson. Balish was second-team all-conference a year ago and Jackson honorable mention. Linebacker Matt Mahood and defensive back Steve Szelong also showed promise.

The Rams will need to establish a running game, but speedy running back Justin Williams (second-team all-conference has graduated). Brock Baranowski, a multi-purpose back, could have a big season.

Maybe home will be good for Pine-Richland as the Rams play three of their first four games at home.

SENECA VALLEY RAIDERS:

After missing the playoffs last season, things are looking up for the Raiders and third-year coach Don Holl. That’s because nine starters return on offense and seven on defense.

One of the team’s top players is junior quarterback Jordan Brown, younger brother of former standout quarterback C.J. Brown, who is now at Maryland. Jordan Brown showed promise last year as a sophomore after taking over for Donny Holl, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in late September. Brown thew for 279 yards in one game and finished 93 of 156 for 1,253 yards and nine touchdowns.

Forrest Barnes returns at running back, Olivier Philgene at receiver and Troy Witt at running back-receiver. David Miller is one of the most imposing linemen in the conference at 6-5, 305 pounds.

Other returning starters are running back-defensive end David Hall, guard Seth DeHart, center Kevin Locke, linemen Nick Dahlstrom, Matt Koerper and Nate Piedimonte, linebacker Joe Duggan, and defensive backs Brad Gresock and Gabe Edwards.

The offense was explosive at times last year, scoring 29, 33 , 41, 40 and 40 points in five games. But if the Raiders want in the playoffs, the defense must improve. In their five conference losses, they gave up 48, 47, 37, 41 and 35 points.

SHALER TITANS:

With a slew of returning starters, including a Penn State recruit, Shaler is certainly capable of finishing in the top two or three teams in the conference.

Eight starters return on offense and seven on defense. The best-known is tight end-linebacker J.P. Holtz (6-4, 245), who already has made a verbal commitment to Penn State. Because of injuries last season, Holtz had to move from tight end to running back, but he is back at tight end this season. He is a member of the MSA Sports Elite 11.

Senior Ryan Mincher (6-2, 170) just might be the best quarterback in the conference. In the 2010 regular season, he finished 78 of 154 for 1,150 yards and 13 touchdowns. Also back is the Titans’ leading receiver, senior Sean Gavin (6-2, 175), who caught 31 passes for 472 yards in the regular season.

Senior Jerrad Cook (6-1, 255) will be one of the conference’s top linemen. The Titans should be strong on the line because Tim Walters, Eric Schmitt, Nick Carey, Ross Budziszewski and Jesse Elrich.

Other returning starters are linebackers Brandon Berringer and Brandon Killian, and running back-end Troy Sciullo.

MSA SPORTS PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:

1. NORTH ALLEGHENY TIGERS

2. SHALER TITANS

3. ERIE McDOWELL TROJANS

4. NORTH HILLS INDIANS

5. SENECA VALLEY RAIDERS

6. PINE-RICHLAND RAMS

7. BUTLER GOLDEN TORNADO
 

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