CTK 2013 – WPIAL Quad-A Foothills Conference Preview
Tuesday, August 13, 2013 | 2:34 PM
The Foothills Conference is made up of nine schools who played a lot of young players in 2012. While that led to a competitive conference and some exciting football a year ago, it also led to an 1-6 record in the postseason with only conference champion Gateway picking up a postseason victory in the 2012 WPIAL football playoffs.
There is an effort up and down the conference to shed that ‘weak link’ reputation the Foothills has when compared to the other Class AAAA conferences. In the 32-year history of WPIAL Quad-A football, Foothills Conference teams have captured gold only four times: Gateway in 1986, Connellsville in 1991, McKeesport in 1994 and only once since the turn of the century, when the Tigers won it again in 2005.
Coaching changes have come often in this conference, with Ray Reitz of Latrobe being the Foothills coaching grey-beard as he enters his fifth season at the helm of the Wildcats. The conference’s top two schools over the years, Gateway and McKeesport will have new head coaches in 2013, although the Tigers went back-to-the-future for their new field general.
With all that being said, there is a cautious optimism amongst coaches and team in the Foothills that 2013 could be special and equate into playoff success come November because of a lot of talent from each team returning here in 2013.
Here is a look at the Foothills Conference:
ALTOONA MOUNTAIN LIONS:
In only their third year back as a member of the WPIAL, Altoona made it to the postseason last fall as the first ever Quad-A wild card team as the Mountain Lions finished tied with Hempfield and Kiski Area for fourth place in the Foothills Conference. Altoona’s stay in the District 7 playoffs though was short and not so sweet as they lost in Round One to the eventual champion North Allegheny Tigers 42-14.
The Mountain Lions were crushed by graduation though, as they return only 3 starters from a year ago, all on defense. They include senior linebacker Colby Fink and senior defensive back Tyler Wray. A couple of necomers should help out up front with 6’4, 285-pound senior lineman Nate Farlow and 6’2, 235-pound junior lineman Jake Scheinberg.
Now in his second year at Altoona, head coach John Franco is going to hang his hat offensively on 6’3, 232-pound junior running back Kevin Givens, who is getting some Division I looks as a linebacker.
After a break out first season at Connellsville for head coach Dave McDonald in 2011 when the Falcons went from 1-8 to 5-5 and a playoff berth, the Falcons took a step back with a young team in 2012, finishing at 2-7 overall and 2-6 and a 7th place finish in the Foothills Conference.
However the hope in Fayette County is that the youth of last fall blossoms into a competitive team here in the autumn of 2013.
While the top two leading rushers from a year ago, Jordan McCrae and Zach Cree have graduated, back for his third year as a starter under center for the Falcons is quarterback Jade Maher. The senior was a second team all-conference QB a year ago. One of his top targets also returns in junior Darrell Ross, an all-conference honorable mention a year ago.
Up front on offense the Falcons will be led by second team all-conference lineman Austin Brooks and fellow senior Austin Heinbaugh, who was honorable mention all-conference last season. On defense, Connellsville will look to a pair of brothers in senior linebacker Jimmy DeMarco and junior linebacker Anthony DeMarco to help improve a unit that allowed 297 points in nine games last season.
The Terry Smith era has come to an end at Gateway High School. While the Gators could not shake the Buffalo Bills stigma of coming so close and not capturing the golden cigar after losing in the 2004, 2007, 2008 and 2009 WPIAL Quad-A championship games, their success under Coach Smith was tremendous with 101 wins in 11 years. The 2012 Foothills Conference championship was the Gators fourth outright title in the last six years.
But while Terry Smith has moved on to Temple University, the Donnie Militzer era is about to begin at Gateway High School. Militzer has both a high school and college coaching background with scholastic stops at Bishop Canevin, Peters Township and Carlynton. It helps that the Gators cupboard is hardly bare for the rookie head coach.
While Gateway did lose some very good talent to graduation, they return six starters on both sides of the ball, including four seniors studs who are getting Division I looks at either wide receiver and/or defensive back in Montae Nicholson (member of MSA Sports Preseason Elite 11), Delvon Randall, Anthony Davis and Ricky Rogers.
Also back are seniors Brenon Thrift (TE/LB), Zaihe Regus (RB/LB), Joe Robak (OL/DL) and Stephen Gross (OL/DL).
A couple of newcomers worth noting are senior quarterback Jimmy Moore, who takes over for Thomas Woodson, and a pair of sophomores in RB/LB Adam White and WR/LB Aidan Howard.
It was a magical start to the 2012 football season for Hempfield under new head coach Rich Bowen, who was living up to his reputation of turning down-trodden programs into winners quickly. The Spartans were 3-1 after four weeks, including a stunning upset victory over McKeesport in Week One. However key injuries sabotaged the Spartans season as Hempfield lost 4 of their last 5 regular season games and limped into the playoffs for the first time in 4 years where they fell to Seneca Valley 50-20 in the First Round.
But there is true excitement in the air at Hempfield as they prepare for the 2013 season with plenty of players back from the team that laid down the foundation of success early last fall.
Ty George is back at quarterback after the senior threw for 1,001 yards last year with four touchdown tosses while adding 423 yards on the ground. Senior all-conference wide receiver/defensive back DeLorian Day could also see some time at QB after he rushed for 458 yards last season and passed for 352 yards and three scoring passes.
The key for the Spartans might be trying to keep all-conference running back Joey DeFloria healthy, as he missed half of last year with a leg injury and also missed time two years ago as a sophomore. DeFloria rushed for 418 yards last fall and also had 264 receiving yards as a junior.
Up front, the Spartans are led by all-conference senior defensive lineman Max Adams, along with senior all-conference honorable mentions Anthony Moffs at center and Nathan Fleck at guard.
KISKI AREA CAVALIERS:
Hempfield ending a four year playoff drought wasn’t the only team from the Foothills Conference to taste postseason play again for the first time in a while. Kiski Area, under first year coach Dave Heavner, finished tied for fourth place with Hempfield and Altoona and qualified for the WPIAL football playoffs for the first time since 2006. The Cavaliers were thumped by Upper St. Clair 49-0 in Round One, but it was a great first step for a young team cutting their teeth last fall.
Now loaded with experience, Kiski Area is looking for bigger and better things here in 2013. The Cavs have 9 players returning on both sides of the ball.
On offense, the running back tandem of Patrick Turner and Lincoln Clayton return, as does tight end Shane Kuhn along with wide receivers Tanner George and Joey Brungo. The O-line is anchored by center Anthony Iacovino with guards Andrew Yohe and Sam Bowser returning as well as tackle James Roundtree.
On defense, Bowser (DT), Yohe (DT), Turner, Roundtree (DE), Clayton (LB), Kuhn (LB) and Brungo (DB) are joined by linebacker Alex Polka and defensive end Jesse Noble. The kicking and punting duties will be handled by Adam Mitcheson.
A very young team a year ago struggled at 2-7, the worst record in the four year resume for head coach Ray Reitz at Latrobe. The hope is that the experienced gained and the lumps received last year will help grow the Wildcats into a playoff team for the first time since 2009.
The quarterback position is in the good hands of senior Logan Carns, a three-year starter under center who was honorable mention all-conference last season with 692 yards passing with five touchdown tosses to go along with his 546 yards on the ground with three running scores.
Also back with two years starting experience under their belts are junior running back/linebacker Luke Monteparte, senior tight end/linebacker Dylan Kovatch and junior cornerback Alec Hoopes.
Up front on both the offensive and defensive lines, the Wildcats will be led by seniors Josh Nunez and TJ Greene along with junior Cody Henry.
Latrobe has to improve on some sour numbers on both sides of the ball from a year ago. The ‘Cats scored the 5th fewest points (13.2 ppg) and allowed the fifth most points (33.4ppg) in Class AAAA last year.
With George Smith as head football coach at McKeesport High School, the Tigers won 198 games in his 28 years from 1982 through 2009 with two WPIAL and PIAA championships in 1994 and 2005. However after Coach Smith left in 2009, the Tigers made the playoffs in 2010, 2011 and 2012, but didn’t have that Quad-A bite that opponents were used to feeling. McKeesport went a respectable 19-11, however they were 0-3 in the postseason.
With McKeesport returning to George Smith as its new/old head coach, it likely means a return to the punishing ground attack and the flex-bone offense that the Tigers have always been known for through the years. It also could mean big numbers for returning running back Michael Moore.
The Tigers do have some experience on the lines with center Tomi McKelvey, tackle Justice Smith and defensive lineman David Hatcher. Linebacker Khaleke Hudson will lead a defense that allowed 198 points a year ago and was in the middle of the pack in Quad-A in points allowed.
Under veteran head coach Art Tragesser, Norwin has averaged 2 wins and 7 losses in his three years. The Knights hit that average directly last season when they finished tied for last place with Latrobe in the Foothills Conference.
Norwin will have a nice mix of senior experience and young talent as they look to make a push to the postseason for the first time since 2010.
The Knights have a senior oriented line with 6’1, 205-pound Garrett Cockeram, 6’0, 195-pound Devin McCurdy, 6’3, 255-pound Luke Milcic and 6’0, 200-pound Jake Reid.
At the skilled position, Norwin has depth at wide receiver with seniors Kyle Baum, Billy Zatezalo and junior Logan Deri along with seniors Chris Alesius, Jake Kijucaric and junior Zach Hall. Senior newcomer Zach Tinsley will help lead the run attack while sophomore quarterback Nick Amendola returns under center to lead a Knights attack that hopes to improve on the just over 15 points per game average from 2012.
After winning the Foothills Conference championship in 2011, John Ruane’s Warriors finished second behind Gateway with a 7-1 Foothills Conference record, 7-2 overall before they lost a heartbreaking 30-27 decision at home to Pittsburgh Central Catholic in the First Round of the WPIAL football playoffs.
With six players returning on both offense and defense, Penn-Trafford hopes to make another strong push for a conference title.
With first team all-conference quarterback Dorian Stevens gone after graduating, the Warrriors will look to turn to sophomore signal caller Brett Laffoon. The young QB will rely on the one-two running attack punch of senior Tom Stinelli and junior Devin Austin along with standout senior wideout Ryan Marasti.
Several seniors return to anchor both the offensive and defensive lines including 6’2, 260-pound tackle Adam Polakovsky, 5’10, 265-pound tackle John Wilkie and 6’2, 250-pound center Jack Brady. They will be joined by upstart junior guard/defensive end in 6’2, 250-pound Trey Brandford.
Other Warriors to watch this season on the defensive side of the ball is senior linebackers Fred Cook and Josh McElrone along with senior safety Brendan Reddy.
MSA SPORTS PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH IN THE FOOTHILLS CONFERENCE:
1. Gateway Gators
2. McKeesport Tigers
3. Hempfield Spartans
4. Penn-Trafford Warriors
5. Kiski Area Cavaliers
6. Latrobe Wildcats
7. Connellsville Falcons
8. Norwin Knights
9. Altoona Mountain Lions
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