CTK 2013 – WPIAL Triple-A Greater Allegheny Conference Preview

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Saturday, August 17, 2013 | 10:43 PM


Will the Greater Allegheny be as defensive again? Last year was the first season of the “new” Greater Allegheny, where nine teams were in the conference, including a few that used to play in the old Keystone Conference. Although the conference featured some standout offensive players, it seemed defense was the cornerstone of a number of teams. Mars, Franklin Regional and Knoch gave up less than 100 points in conference games.

No other conference in Class AAA had three teams give up less than 100 points in conference games.

Points could be hard to come by again in 2013. The main reason is some teams lost some key offensive players (except Mars).

Here is a look at the Greater Allegheny Conference.

DERRY TROJANS:

The Trojans won only one game last season, but third-year coach Al Gaiardo believes his team just might have enough to challenge for a playoff spot this year.

Six starters return on offense and five on defense from a team that was outscored 400-117. The offense averaged only 10 points in conference games last year and leading rusher-leading receiver Josh Wannamaker graduated. However, quarterback Kyle Holmes (6-3, 175, Sr.) is back. He played some last year and completed 42 of 104 for 556 yards.

The running game will be led by T.J. Balega, Josh Flack and Sal DeCario. Flack rushed for 250 yards on 34 attempts last season.

Other returning starters are receiver-defensive back Jaymie Howe, lineman Levin Humberger, tight end-linebacker Clint Beemon and lineman Lloyd Zulisky.

FRANKLIN REGIONAL PANTHERS:

The Panthers finished in a tie for second place last year in the conference and had the best defense in all of Class AAA. They allowed only 54 points in eight conference games.

Coach Greg Botta’s team is expected to be near the top of the conference again, but there are questions about the Panthers. They have a new quarterback and only three starters return on offense and two on defense.

Charan Singh, a standout receiver-defensive back last year, moves to quarterback this season. The 6-2, 192-pound senior is a good athlete and could end up as the Panthers’ top playmaker. Singh made first-team all-conference last year at receiver and defensive back.

The only other returning starters are receiver-defensive back Colin Jonov and guard-defensive end Adam Mihoci.

Brett Zanotto has some potential. He missed most of last season with a foot injury, but showed promise when he played, rushing for 160 yards on 27 attempts.

GREENSBURG-SALEM GOLDEN LIONS:

The Lions have a new man in charge as Dave Keefer takes over as coach. He wasn’t hired until late May, but it’s not like Keefer isn’t familiar with the program. He has been a Greensburg Salem assistant the past eight years.

Keefer takes over a team that has some promise. The Lions had only 13 seniors on last year’s roster, so a lot of young players saw action. That could pay off this year. One of those young players is quarterback Daniel Walters, who last year became the starting quarterback as a freshman. Walters is a good athlete. He finished last season completing 49 of 103 for 661 yards and also rushed for 170 yards on 59 carries.

Also returning in the backfield is running back Dom McKinley, who rushed for 345 yards on 77 attempts.

Linebacker Kenny Clark figures to be one of the defensive leaders.

The offense probably needs the most improvement from last year. The Lions finished in eighth place in the Greater Allegheny and scored only 136 points in nine games.

HAMPTON TALBOTS:

Hampton finished in a tie for second place in the Greater Allegheny last year. If the Talbots fill some holes created by graduation, there is reason to believe they could be fighting for one of the top conference spots again.

Quarterback Jon Nigro and leading rusher Anthony Bianco graduated. Those are big holes to fill. Some top linemen also graduated.

Hampton has one of the best receivers in the conference in senior Eddie Edwards, who caught 28 passes for 533 yards last season. John Floss also is back after catching 18 passes last season. Floss made first-team all-conference defensive back.

The Luther twins – quarterback-punter Ryan and tight end Colin – decided not to play football this year. They are concentrating on basketball.

HIGHLANDS GOLDEN RAMS:

Highlands played a number of young skill-position players a year ago and nearly made the playoffs. Those players are a year older, which means the Rams might be moving up the standings.

Coach Sam Albert has one of the best two-way players in the conference in Allan Cratsenburg. He was first-team all-conference at both tight end and linebacker.

As far as the skill position players go, Elijah Jackson made second-team all-conference at running back last year as a sophomore. Zach Mazur was a first-team fullback.

The player who will lead the offense is quarterback Blake Leri, who started last year as a sophomore.

HOLLIDAYSBURG GOLDEN TIGERS:

Maybe Tiger opponents will get Homered this year.

Hollidaysburg’s new coach is Homer DeLattre. He also is the school’s new athletic director. For the past 11 years, he was the head coach at Corry and turned around that program, tying a school record for wins in 2010.

DeLattre inherits a team that lacks experience. The Tigers were the fifth and final team from the Greater Allegheny to make the playoffs last year and finished 3-7. Hollidaysburg simply hopes to be competitive this season.

The only returning starters are junior running back-defensive back Reid Miller, lineman Reid Brinkhoff, linemen Zack Simpson and running back-linebacker Corey Dinges.

INDIANA LITTLE INDIANS:

It’s not often you can make this comment: Indiana has a Division I college player. But that’s the case this year as 6-5, 205-pound Darrious Carter already has committed to Temple. He was recruited by Temple assistant Terry Smith, the former head coach at Gateway. Carter can also play receiver.

With the return of some other key players from last year, the Little Indians just might contend for a playoff spot after finishing 3-6 last year and 3-5 in the conference.

Riley Stapleton returns at receiver. He was a second-team all-conference receiver last year. Cody Squiric figures to be one of the top defensive linemen in the conference.

KNOCH KNIGHTS:

The Knights tied Franklin Regional and Hampton for second place in the conference, but graduation hit Knoch hard, especially at the skill positions. Knoch has many question marks heading into the season.

This team might rely on defense, especially early in the season. Last season, Knoch had an excellent defensive team, allowing only 85 points in nine conference games.

On offense, quarterback Dakota Bruggeman, running back Ben Tackett and tight end Luke Kroneberg all graduated. They were the heart and soul of the offense.

Two of the top returners for coach Mike King are lineman Connor Shinksy and defensive back Adam Albert.

MARS FIGHTING PLANETS:

The Planets have won or tied for the conference championship three of the past four seasons. If they get some linemen to step up this season, another conference title could be in store for coach Scott Heinauer.

Mars must replace a lot of linemen from last year’s team that finished 9-2 and lost to West Mifflin the quarterfinals of the playoffs. If the linemen come through, Mars could have a very good offense again after 397 points in 11 games last season.

Mars’ offense will be centered around the running of Josh Schultheis, who had a terrific sophomore year when he rushed for 1,687 yards on 22 carries. Owen Nearhoof returns for his third season as the starting QB. He completed 44 of 92 for 738 yards last season.

Returning at fullback is Jason Lozzi, who rushed for more than 300 yards last season.

MSA SPORTS PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH IN THE GREATER ALLEGHENY CONFERENCE:

1.      Mars Fighting Planets

2.      Hampton Talbots

3.      Franklin Regional Panthers

4.      Highlands Golden Rams

5.      Indiana Little Indians

6.      Knoch Knights

7.      Greensburg-Salem Golden Lions

8.      Hollidaysburg Golden Tigers

9.      Derry Trojans

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