CTK 2013 – WPIAL Double-A Interstate Conference Preview

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Monday, August 19, 2013 | 3:32 PM


Over the past four seasons, four different teams have won the Interstate Conference championship. It was Washington last year, Jeannette in 2011, Greensburg Central Catholic in 2010 and Mount Pleasant in 2009.

The race for the 2013 conference crown looks to be among those same four teams.

All four have some firepower that could lead a team to the conference title. Washington made it to the WPIAL title game last year and has super running back Shai McKenzie. But the Little Prexies still have a lot of holes to fill.

Here is a look at the Interstate Conference:

BROWNSVILLE FALCONS:

There is nowhere to go but up for the Falcons.

Coach Von Braddock’s team has finished in last place the past two seasons and the Falcons didn’t win a game in 2012. While Brownsville must improve in a number of areas, offense was lacking the most last year. The Falcons scored only 55 points, the second-lowest total in the WPIAL. Only Burgettstown (47 points) scored fewer points.

But maybe the offense will improve this year as the Falcons played a number of young players last year. Those players gained valuable experience and could raise their games a level this year. Marcellis Grooms ran for 227 yards on 64 attempts last season as a freshman.

Byron Mayers ran 63 times for 184 yards as a sophomore.

CHARLEROI COUGARS:

The Cougars are coming off consecutive 2-7 seasons, but there is reason to believe they should be improved this season.
Brandon Bowman figures to be one of the team leaders and will certainly be one of the top linebackers in the conference. He made first-team all-conference a year ago. Bowman also plays running back and rushed for 268 yards on 57 attempts a year ago.
Zach Blystone is a promising junior lineman who goes 6-3, 250 pounds.

Brennan Matthews returns at quarterback. A year ago, he completed 42 of 79 for 571 yards.

Also back is versatile Eric Johnson. He led the team in rushing last year with 303 yards on 34 carries and also led in receptions with 25. Look for those numbers to go up this year.

It will still be a great challenge to make the playoffs, but with those skill-position players returning, things are looking up for the Cougars.

GREENSBURG CENTRAL CATHOLIC CENTURIONS:

The Centurions finished 6-4 last season and in fourth place in the conference. That was their lowest finish since 2002. That year the Centurions finished 4-5 and in fourth place and did not make the playoffs.

The Interstate is top heavy with good teams this year and the Centurions are one of them. It would not be surprising to see GCC challenge for the conference title. But the competition is so stiff, it also wouldn’t be surprising to see them finish fourth again.

A trio of talented players brings attention to the Centurions. Chase Keller is one of the top quarterbacks in Class AA and is multi-talented. He completed 86 of 151 for 1,378 yards last season, and also rushed for 577.

Nate Stone is a 6-1, 235-pound linebacker who has some heavy interest from Division I-AA colleges. He had 100 tackles last season and also is a running back.

Stone and Seth Warburton have to be one of the best linebacker duos in Class AA. Warburton led the team in tackles last season and is in his third year as a starter.

Mike Reardon and Nick Ireland are among the linemen.

Fill in the rest of the puzzle, and it could be a very good year for GCC. And we will know right away if GCC can play with the best. The Centurions open against Washington.

JEANNETTE JAYHAWKS:

The Jayhawks lost a number of key players to graduation, but the cupboard isn’t bare. Plus, history says Jeannette will be fighting for the conference title. The Jayhawks usually are at the top or near the top of the conference.

Quarterback Seth Miller and leading rusher Jordan Edmunds have graduated. Julian Batts, a junior and son of Jeannette basketball coach Adrian Batts, will take over the quarterback duties.

This could be a breakthrough year for Damone Morton, who can play running back, receiver and linebacker. Michael Wise is a talented linebacker-tight end and Matt Howard is the top returning lineman.

A number of games will be big for Jeannette, but they will be on the big picture once this year, playing host to Washington in a Thursday night game televised by Root Sports.

MOUNT PLEASANT VIKINGS:

The Vikings finished in third place in the conference last year. If having a potent one-two running and passing punch means a lot, then things are looking good for coach Bo Ruffner’s team this year.

Senior Ryan Gumbita is a talented, 6-4, 205-pound quarterback. He completed 44 of 86 for 789 passing yards a year ago and also rushed for 273 yards on 62 attempts.

Tyler Mellors, a 5-7, 170-pound senior, is poised for another big year after rushing for 1,490 yards on 168 attempts a year ago. Brett Fess and Ryan Ballew also saw some action at running back. Ballew also plays defensive back.

Mellors has a chance to become the school’s all-time leading rusher and Gumbita the school’s all-time leading passer.

Overall, six starters return on offense and four on defense. Other starters are linemen Dante Porter, Jessie Leonard and Eric Klejka, tight end Marcus Malara and linebacker Luke Liprando.

SOUTHMORELAND SCOTTIES:

The Scotties have a new man at the helm. Mark Adams is the new coach after spending two years as an assistant. He has head coaching experience, though. He was Leechburg’s coach from 2007-10, although he had only a 6-30 record.

Adams takes over a team that finished 3-6 last season. Southmoreland showed some offensive punch at times, averaging 20 points a game. The team won three of its final five games and hopes to build off that momentum.

The Scotties also played some young players who gained valuable experience. The roster had only 10 seniors. The biggest problem will be finding a replacement for quarterback Dakota Datz, who threw for 595 yards and rushed for a team-high 891.

The running game has potential, though. Jake Pisula rushed for 760 yards on 137 carries last year as a sophomore. Other top returnees include junior tight end Chas King and sophomore lineman Jake Beistel.

WASHINGTON LITTLE PREXIES:

Led by star running back Shai McKenzie, the Little Prexies are again thinking big, despite the loss of some key players from a team that went to the WPIAL title game before losing to Aliquippa.

McKenzie is talking about setting the WPIAL single-season record for rushing yards. He came close last year with close to 2,700 yards. The record is 2,740 by Rushel Shell. McKenzie is heavily recruited and has narrowed his list to Pitt, Virginia Tech, Florida State, Georgia Tech and Arkansas.

Finding a capable quarterback will be a key for the Little Prexies. The offensive line returns Xavier Darden and Anthony Byrd.

The defense will be led by quarterback Chase Caldwell. The offense was good last year, obviously, with McKenzie. But the Little Prexies hope to have another strong defensive team. They allowed only 75 points in conference games, the lowest in the Interstate.

WAYNESBURG RAIDERS:

It is the second season for Russ Moore’s second stint as coach. Moore, who coached Waynesburg to a WPIAL title in 1999, hopes for a little more success than his first season. Waynesburg finished 1-8 last season, with the only win against Brownsville. Waynesburg had most of its trouble on offense, averaging only nine points a game.

The offense could be improved this year, simply because of a year of experience. Waynesburg used two quarterbacks last year in Bo Hampson and Colby Collins. Both are back. Collins finished 21 of 49 for 276 yards and Hampson 16 of 32 for 188 yards. Hampson also rushed for 252 yards.

Dominick Sarra, who led the team in receptions last year, also returns.

YOUGH COUGARS:

Yough finished one game out of the playoffs last year, one game behind Greensburg Central Catholic. Yough had a 4-5 record and there is reason to believe good things could happen again this season on Cougar mountain.

The Cougars have a lot of potential at the skill positions. Tyler Donahue returns at quarterback after a big junior season. He completed 95 of 189 passes for 1,255 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also rushed for 283 yards.

Clay Waldron returns at receiver-running back. Last year as a sophomore, he rushed for 345 yards on 49 attempts and also caught 26 passes for 405 yards. Joe Pleva also returns at receiver.

Overall, seven starters return on offense and nine on defense. Jake Brundage, Chandler Daniel, Shaun Phillips and Tom Sever return on the lines. TE-LB Lucas Richardson, RB-LB Nick Payne and TE-LB Rob Molnar also are back.

MSA SPORTS PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH IN THE INTERSTATE CONFERENCE:

1.      Washington Little Prexies

2.      Mount Pleasant Vikings

3.      Jeannette Jayhawks

4.      Greensburg Central Catholic Centurions

5.      Yough Cougars

6.      Charleroi Cougars

7.      Southmoreland Soctties

8.      Waynesburg Raiders

9.      Brownsville Falcons

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