CTK 2015 – Class A Big 7 Conference Preview

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Friday, August 28, 2015 | 10:08 AM


There was a time when the Big 7 Conference was the ‘Parkway Conference’ of Class A. In the 15 years span from 1990 through 2004, the Big 7 was home to the championship seasons. Most of those were garnered by the incredible run by Rochester (7), however South Side, Western Beaver and even former member Farrell also contributed to the ‘golden era’.

However a Big 7 Conference team has not won a WPIAL championship since the Rochester Rams most recent title in 2004.

Of course, the record setting run by Clairton with seven of the last nine district Single-A crowns has a lot to do with it. Three times in the last five years, a Big 7 Conference team has made it to Heinz Field only to lose…2010 when Rochester lost 12-0 to Clairton, 2012 when Sto-Rox fell to the Bears 58-21 and in 2013 when the Vikings made it back-to-back silver when they lost to Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic 14-0.

Neshannock has come close, but the Lancers recent surge on the gridiron has ended three straight years with losses in the WPIAL Class A Semifinals.

Does the ten year golden drought come to an end?

Here is a preview of the Big 7 Conference:

NESHANNOCK LANCERS:

The Lancers will look once again to get to Heinz Field and the WPIAL championship. Head coach Fred Mozzocio is in his fourth season and has led Neshannock to three-straight Semifinal trips. Neshannock took eventual champion Clairton to overtime before falling to the Bears a year ago.

Gone is running back Eli Owens. He returned from a knee injury to run for 1,253 yards and 13 touchdowns last year. But the Lancers cupboard is not bare for 2015 and Neshannock will again be favorite to win the Big Seven and will be on a short list of WPIAL title contenders.

One of the main reasons why is quarterback Frank Antuono. In his first year as a starter, he threw for 1,750 yards with 20 touchdowns. The junior signal caller also averaged over five yards per carry while scoring twelve touchdowns. Look for the Lancers to continue the offensive numbers in 2015.

Another reason why the Lancers should not miss a beat is senior running back Robert Lindsey. As a junior, the powerful back averaged seven yards per carry and ran for twelve touchdowns. Look for junior Danny Welker and senior Jonah Vitale to contribute to the offense, along with junior tight end Ty Sear. At 6-5 and 255 pounds, Pitt, Penn State and Iowa State are on his recruiting trail.

The offensive line is also strong with junior center Sean Doran and senior guard Matt Natale as anchors. Natale is a three year starter on the right side.

On the defensive side, Antuono could be better chasing the football. Sear and Doran anchor the line, Lindsey and Vitale are the outside linebackers. Natale starts in the middle, while Welker is at strong safety.

RIVERSIDE PANTHERS;

The Panthers returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2007, when they qualified out of the Tri County North. Riverside found Class A to their liking, beating Beth-Center in the first round of the playoffs. Tom Liberty leads the Panthers for his fifth season, he has 35 players on the roster.

Riverside used a spread offense to go 6-5 overall, 4-3 in the conference. The Panthers scored 274 points last season. Senior quarterback Jason Dambach leads the offense, he threw for over two thousand yards and 18 touchdowns as a junior and was just recently selected to play in the Blue-Grey All American Bowl after the season. Villanova and Cornell are among his college choices, he enters the season as a MSA Sports Player to Watch.

Dambach will have a main target to throw to, someone he is very familiar with in his brother Austin. The pair hooked up for the go-ahead score in the playoff win. The sophomore is listed at 6-2 and runs a 4.6 40 yard dash.

Senios Mark Glevicky and tight end Hunter Paff anchor the offensive line. Paff and Garrett Bishop will start at linebacker. The three along with Dambach are the team’s captains.

The defense must continue to get better, allowing 277 points, an average of 25 points per game. However that is a far cry from two years ago when the Panthers allowed 41 points per contest.

ROCHESTER RAMS:

After making the playoffs every season since 1996, the Rams missed out for a second straight year. Rochester started the season 0-4 and never recovered, going 3-6 overall and 1-6 in the conference. Eugene Matsook begins his 16th season as head coach, he looks to get the Rams back to the playoffs.

The Rams are once again led by senior running back Montrail Stroizer. As a junior, Stroizer ran for 1,042 yards and eleven touchdowns, hw was named as a MSA Sports Player to Watch.

Zach Smith anchors an offensive line, he is also a Player to Watch. The offense averaged 23 points per game, defense is where Rochester must improve, allowing 28 points per contest.

SHENANGO WILDCATS:

The Wildcats found the playoff exit last season for the first time since 2006. Shenango went 6-1 in the Big Seven, falling only to Neshannock and made the Quarterfinals before running into the Clairton Bears. 

The 7-4 record was a drastic change from a 2-7 finish in 2013, one of the best turnarounds in Class A. Third year head coach Mike Commesso looks to make it two straight playoff trips and challenge the Lancers for the conference title.

Shenango returns their two top scorers from last year in seniors Tyler Root and Hunter Waskin. Each scored eleven times, Root was the team’s leading rusher. He posted 200 yard plus games against both Rochester and Riverside. Root was named as a MSA Sports Player to Watch. The Wildcats also have the services of Jason Wallace for another season, who added close to 600 yards and five touchdowns in 2014.

The Wildcats also return their quarterback in Evan Kendall. Big things are expected from the senior in 2015. His most experienced targets will be Root and Waskin out of the backfield and tight end Brandon Ryder. Scoring points was not a problem for Shenango, averaging 25 points per game.

Defense will be an area of concern for the Wildcats this year. Shenango scored 283 points but allowed 284. In the four losses Shenango gave up 33 to Neshannock, 42 to Avonworth, 49 to Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic and 68 to Clairton. Those numbers will have to improve if Shenango is to be among Class A’s elite.

Shenango returns seven defensive starters. Key players include Kendall, Brett Hoover and Walace at linebacker and Waskin in the secondary. Hoover also made the watch list as did
Kendall as the punter and Dylan Kleckner as placekicker. The latter converted 35 PATS and two field goals.

SOUTH SIDE BEAVER RAMS:

The Rams made one of the best turnarounds in Class A, ending a twelve game losing streak. South Side went 7-4 overall and 5-2 in the conference to make the Highway to Heinz for the first time since 2009. Three of those four losses were to teams that made the semifinals.

Head coach Glenn McDougal starts his third season in his second go-around with the Rams. McDougal led the Rams to the WPIAL and PIAA championship in 1999. 42 players are listed on the roster for the season.

Junior quarterback Robbie Heberle continues to develop, he threw six touchdowns last season. Senior Cameron Smith accounted for over 900 yards in 2014 with 25 catches for 452 yards. The wide receiver added 477 yards rushing and averaged 18 yards per carry.

Senior Que Thompson added 390 yards and three scores. Another senior is Kyle McLaughlin, he will start both ways and is a MSA Sports Class A Player to Watch on the defensive line.

The Rams made a great improvement on the defensive side, going from an average of 34 to 20 points allowed. 

UNION SCOTTIES:

The 2014 season started on a high note for the Scotties, defeating Rochester 26-22 at home in comeback fashion. That would be it for Union as they dropped the next eight games.

Head coach Stacy Robinson returns for his 19th season at his alma mater, he also doubles as the athletic director. The Scotties last made the playoffs in 2012.

On offense Jordan Best will be counted on to do a little of everything for the Scotties. He is a MSA Sports Class A Player to Watch as a wide receiver. Just a guess that Best will be that and a lot more for the Scotties.

Union also got a great surprise when senior Joe Gunn transferred from New Castle. Gunn was a two-way starter for the Red Hurricanes and will fall right into a major role for the Scotties. He has signed to play baseball at Ball State University.

Hopefully, Union can battle youth in 2015 as last year’s line was made up of almost all underclassmen. Will the Scotties have some of those young players develop into players.

VINCENTION ACADEMY ROYALS:

The Royals begin their second season of conference play, going 2-7 overall and 2-5 in the inaugural season in the Big Seven. Vincentian Academy was in line for a playoff spot early before a four game losing streak ended those hopes.

A new boss who is really an old boss takes over the program. Todd Hazlett, who led Deer Lakes from 2007-2012 including a playoff trip in 2010, returns as the head coach. He served as interim coach in 2013 when Tim Storino was suspended for that season for recruiting violations. Storino was let go by the school after last season.

Hazlett will have 27 players in camp to start 2015. Key returners include senior Nick Barto led the Royals in rushing last year and added ten catches. Junior David Fleming was the leading receiver and is listed as both a quarterback and wide out this year. Another junior, Cam Kreutzer is also listed at quarterback. Senior Paul Adams anchors the defense at linebacker, he is also a good blocking tight end.

WESTERN BEAVER GOLDEN BEAVERS:

The Golden Beavers struggled at home in 2014, going 1-4 on the way to a 2-7 overall record. Western Beaver was 2-5 in the conference, two three-game losing streaks and only averaging 14 points per game on offense certainly didn’t help.

Head coach Matt Gray returns again to the sidelines, he must find a way to replace eight seniors, including quarterback Hunter Roknich.

The Golden Beavers have a variety of underclass talent that will be counted on heavily. However Western Beaver does have four starters in the trenches in Cory Chaffee, Anthony Ward, Gary Smith and Nick Cusano.   

Western Beaver missed the playoffs in 2012 and again last year this decade. They will have to improve a defense that allowed 30 points per game to reverse that trend.

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH IN THE BIG 7 CONFERENCE:

1.      Neshannock Lancers

2.      South Side Rams

3.      Shenango Wildcats

4.      Rochester Rams

5.      Riverside Panthers

6.      Vincentian Academy Royals

7.      Western Beaver Golden Beavers

8.      Union Scotties

 

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