CTK 2012 – WPIAL A Big 7 Conference Preview

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Friday, August 24, 2012 | 9:48 AM


The Class A Big Seven Conference may have underwent the biggest changes of all the conferences in the WPIAL. Gone are the Cornell Raiders with that school dropping football. Entering in the conference are the OLSH Chargers, who challenged for the playoffs in only their second year of football, along with the Laurel Spartans, who went to the Class A Semifinals in 2009.

The conference underwent a huge change on the head coaching front as three of the eight schools will have new bosses entering the season.

A conference member has played for the WPIAL title the last four seasons, but all four times, has fallen to Clairton in the title game. Will the Big Seven winner put an end to the reign of the Bears, we shall see:

Here are previews of all the teams and the predicted order of finish in the Big 7 Conference:

LAUREL SPARTANS:

The Spartans were just a slipping defender on a muddy field away from making the Class AA playoffs in the MAC, but Laurel fell to Ellwood City and saw their playoff hopes slide away.

Laurel finished 4-4 in the Midwestern and 4-5 overall. The Spartans had trouble converting last season, falling short in the red zone. Laurel averaged just 19 points per game and allowed 22. Look for those numbers to improve as the Spartans come back to the Big Seven.

The Spartans will enter 2012 with two big losses in the backfield. All-time leading scorer, rusher and four year starter Dylan Jones has graduated. Starting quarterback Brandon Ritchie is a senior but has decided to concentrate on his baseball career in 2012.

The cupboard is not bare though for head coach Jerry Holzhauser, but some players may be in different roles. Junior Josh Dando has started the last two years at wide receiver, he will figure in the quarterback mix as will junior Kyle Forbes. 40 players in all suited up for the Spartans on the first day of camp.

Senior James Steele, who started at wide receiver last season, and sophomore Matt Conway will battle for the running back spot. Senior tight end Conor Melichar also returns.

The offensive line has two returning starters in seniors Cody Clem and Dylan Ritchie.

Dylan Ritchie, Clem, Melichar and Dando are all starters on defense. Dando handled the punting last season, senior Joseph Johnson did the placekicking.

Laurel did not make the playoffs for both of their seasons in the MAC, the Spartans made the playoffs, Laurel was the last team to knock off the Clairton Bears in 2009, the Spartans rode that victory to the semifinals, where they fell to the Bears.

NESHANNOCK LANCERS:

Neshannock is one of those teams with a new boss heading into 2012. Fred Mozzocio takes over for Pat Cuba, who resigned after a 5-4 finish last season. Mozzocio served as an assistant coach at both New Castle and Shenango before coming to Neshannock. The Lancers have 39 players in camp, most of those have worked very hard during an off season conditioning program.

Defense is where Neshannock has excelled the last two seasons, having allowed just 16 and 17 points per game. Three key players return from that defense. Senior Kienan Owens was nominated for consideration for the MSA Sports/Kennywood Park pre-season team, he will play defensive end. The Lancers also return key members of the secondary in seniors Alex Welker and John Conglose. Both Welker and Conglose were members of the two-time WPIAL baseball championship teams, Conglose was named to the second team all conference. Junior Ralph Dovido will also start at defensive end and be counted on heavily.

An area the Lancers will have to improve is offense, Neshannock scored just 11 points per game last season and finished 3-4 in the conference, plus turned the ball over at critical times in three consecutive losses to Sto-Rox, Western Beaver and Cornell.

Both senior Michael Sanflippo and junior Ernie Burkes moved around the backfield, both saw time at quarterback, Burkes also played receiver and running back, Sanflippo was a wide out. Burkes was the Lancers' big play guy, he scored five touchdowns and averaged 27 yards per reception and 7.9 yards per carry.

Conglose, Kienan Owens and Matt Davies will see time in the backfield. Welker will figure in the offense as will sophomore Elijah Owens. Welker was named to the honorable mention conference team as a wide receiver with sixteen catches, as was Keinan Owens as a running back.

Neshannock has not made the playoffs since 2004, when they were a member of the Tri-County North, the Lancers are among a crowded field of playoff contenders for 2012.

OUR LADY of the SACRED HEART CHARGERS:

The Chargers just missed out on the playoffs in the tough Eastern Conference, going 5-4 overall and 4-4 in conference play. Coach Bill Daniels had his team in position for a playoff berth, the Chargers will be a favorite for one of the four spots in the Big Seven with six offensive and eight defensive starters returning.

RB Isiah Neely returns for 2012, Neely was nominated for consideration for the MSA Sports/Kennywood Park pre-season team and no wonder, he ran for 1,562 yards last season and 22 touchdowns.

Junior QB Bill Mulcahey didn't have to throw a lot of passes last season, most of his completions were on short routes. But that may change in 2012 to open up running lanes for Neely. His main target should be junior tight end Nick Metz. Senior James Livingston likely will be the wide receiver.

Senior Max Muzik should be an anchor on both lines at guard and defensive end. Senior Evrim Yilmaz and Jay Pflugh will also figure on the line.

Neely leads the secondary, juniors Tom Marra and Mike Ravas head up the linebacking core. Sophomore Joe Sebes will also start at linebacker.

Senior Adam LaCaria does both the punting and placekicking duties.

ROCHESTER RAMS:

The Rams missed out on what seems like their annual trip to Heinz Field, falling in the semifinals to Clairton. Rochester finished with a 10-2 record. The Rams also saw their sttreak of conference championships end, finishing 6-1 with the only conference loss coming to Sto-Rox.

The Rams claimed the conference title for the last three years prior to 2011 and have won or tied for the championship in seven of the last ten seasons, a very nice record for head coach Gene Matsook, in his 13th season as the head coach.

All of the coaches in the Big Seven are counting the days until Todd Weischedel graduates. Weischedel has been named all conference on both sides of the ball for all three seasons. He was named to the MSA Sports/Kennywood Park pre-season team as a linebacker, he was also named lineman of the year in the Big Seven by the coaches.

Freshman Preston Johnson did enough to impress the Big Seven coaches, he was honorable mention both as a running back and linebacker, running for 440 yards.

Senior quarterback Ben Richko is back for head coach Gene Matsook. Richko doesn't get a lot of attention but threw for 671 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2011, he also scored 3 touchdowns.

Seniors Alyjah Elmore and Jay Ratti will see time at receiver and in the secondary.

Senior lineman Kris Bedkovich will help out both Johnson and Weischedel on the defense.

Two more seniors, Jonathan Kerr and Torin Criswell figure in the mix on both lines, along with senior Ian Duchene at tight end and linebacker.

SHENANGO WILDCATS:

The Wildcats finished 3-6 overall and 2-5 in the conference last season. Shenango was 0-4 at Glenn Pop Johnston Stadium/Frank Bongivengo Field in 2012. Coach Ryan Mayo is entering his sixth season, under Mayo the Cats' are 6-14 at home, with what should be a huge advantage, playing on Saturday night.

Shenango had 47 players at the start of camp, but a small senior class. Junior Anthony Prestopine took over at quarterback in 2011 for Tynan Greer, who since transfered to Montour. Prestopine ran for 313 yards and six touchdowns to lead Shenango in scoring.

A key returnee for the Wildcats is senior tight end Matt Pherson, he was named second team all conference. Pherson also played linebacker and excelled there as well.

Shenango played with almost an all underclassmen line last season, with several players battling for spots.

The Wildcats have not made the playoffs since 200 and hope to end that string this season.
 

SOUTH SIDE BEAVER RAMS:

The Rams have not won a conference game in two seasons, they finished 0-9 last season. But the man who led the Rams during their glory days in the late 90's will return to the sidelines. Glenn McDougal takes over as head coach after an 11 year absence.

McDougal led the Rams for nine seasons, compiling a 57-36-2 record. The Rams went 15-0 in 1999 and won both WPIAL and PIAA crowns. Expect to see a version of the Delaware Wing T offense back at South Side this season.

Senior Devon Hample led the team in rushing with just 237 yards, he returns. Senior quarterback Jon Magusiak spent a lot of time running for his life last season, he threw for 1,006 yards, but also tossed 16 interceptions.

Seniors Nason DeVittis and Jordan Herder were both honorable mention on the offensive line. South Side has only seven seniors on the roster.

STO-ROX VIKINGS:

The Vikings finished 12-1 last season and fell to Clairton in the WPIAL title game. Sto-Rox claimed the conference title, knocking off long time champion Rochester to go 7-0 in league play.

But the Vikings suffered a huge loss during the early summer as head coach Ron Butschle announced his resignation for personal reasons. Butschle coached the Vikings for 16 of the last 22 seasons. Assistant coach Dan Bradley takes over, having been the offensive coordinator under Butschle. Bradley has coached under Butschle for the last 12 seasons.

The Vikings have one of the most talented players in Class A in senior quarterback Lenny Williams. That was one of the reasons that Sto-Rox racked up 517 points last season, just shy of 40 points per game. Williams finished second in the WPIAL with 2,177 yards passing and 31 touchdowns. He also ran for over 600 yards and ten scores.

Senior Brendan Blair will take over in the backfield, he'll also start at linebacker. Senior Ben Shackleford will be the main target at receiver.

Senior Yusef Chandler opened the holes on the offensive line, he was named first team all Big Seven last year.

The defense was also strong, allowing just 64 points total in conference play and 147 overall. The Rox D lost a ton, with four first team all conference players gone, but junior Jesse Rippole remains on the defensive line, he was a second team nominee. He'll get help from brother Jason Rippole and Mike Riley.

Also, look for bigger things this season from linebacker Jerrell Hutson. Shackleford is a four year starter at defensive back. Williams led the Vikings in interceptions as a freshman.

The Vikings have volleyed between Class AA and A over the last few seasons, but seemed to have found a home in the Big Seven. Sto-Rox has qualified for the post-season in the last four years and seems a good bet to make it five straight.

UNION SCOTTIES:

The Scotties finished 2-7 last season and 1-6 in the conference. But Union played almost all underclassmen for the last two seasons and have an experienced but small team for 2012. Union dresses just 24 players at the start of camp, which is situation normal for head coach Stacy Robinson, but 11 of those are seniors. So the future is now for the Scotties.

Quarterback Joe Salmen returns for Union. Salmen threw for 940 yards as a junior and nine touchdowns. The three sport star is a threat to take off and run at any time.

RB Drew Robinson is always a spark for the Scotties, he received all conference recognition in 2011 on offense and in the secondary.

WR Wayne Seamans can be either a deep threat or possession receiver for Union. Seamans was honorable mention in the secondary last season.

Another one of the seniors is Tre Majors, he was named second team all conference at tight end, he also excelled on the Union defense.

Up front, Seth Baker stood out on the Union line, he also garnered second team all conference honors. Austin Smith started at linebacker last season, but at Union, you have to adjust, Smith has moved to the defensive line for 2012.

Union lost five straight games to end the season, three of those losses were by one, five and three points, that held the Scotties from playoff contention.

Union has not been to the playoffs since 2003, the longest streak of any current conference member. Look for the Scotties to challenge for a spot if they can remain healthy.

WESTERN BEAVER GOLDEN BEAVERS:

The Golden Beavers made the playoffs again last season, going 5-5 overall and 5-2 in the Big Seven. But head coach Matt Gray looks to replace two big holes in his offense for 2012 as both Dustin Creel and Eric Blinn have graduated.

Western Beaver has made the playoffs for the last two seasons and nine of the last eleven seasons. The Golden Beavers have not claimed the top spot since 2007.

What the Golden Beavers do not have this time around is experience, just four starters on each side of the ball return, Western Beaver has only four seniors, two who start.

Senior Zach Perry is going to be called on more on the offensive side of the ball, he excelled on defense at linebacker last season. Perry received honorable mention status as a running back, he was named second time on defense. When he did get the ball, Perry shined, running for 458 yards and grabbing 15 passes.

Sophomore Hunter Roknich will take over at quarterback, he did see some time as a freshman. Junior Billy Drear will also be in the backfield and also play receiver.

Senior tackle C.J. Fray anchors the offensive line along with junior guard Matt Girting. Girting will also start at defensive end, Drear will be a linebacker, with Roknich in the secondary.
 

MSA Sports Predicted Order of Finish:

1.  Sto-Rox Vikings

2.  Rochester Rams

3.  Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Chargers

4.  Laurel Spartans

5.  Western Beaver Golden Beavers

6.  Neshannock Lancers

7.  Union Scotties

8.  South Side Rams

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