CTK 2015 – Class AA Allegheny Conference Preview

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015 | 8:07 PM


You could say variety has been a big part of the Allegheny Conference in recent years.

Since 2010, five different teams have either won the conference title or tied for first place. During that time, the only team to win the conference outright or tie for first in more than one year is Freeport, which tied for first in 2011 and 2012.

The other teams to win or tie were Ford City (2010), Shady Side Academy (2011), Burrell (2012), Kittanning (2013) and Highlands (2014).

Who will win the conference this year? There are some differing opinions as to who is the team to beat, although Highlands probably gets the nod. But this is for sure: The conference has a different look this season.

Ford City and Kittanning are no longer in the conference. Those two schools merged to form Armstrong High School and Armstrong is a Class AAA team in the Greater Allegheny Conference. The WPIAL moved Summit Academy out of the Midwestern and into the Allegheny to give the conference nine teams.

Here is a look at the Allegheny Conference:

APOLLO-RIDGE VIKINGS:

Apollo-Ridge is coming off one of the best seasons in a long time as the Vikings finished 9-2 and in second place in the conference. Apollo-Ridge had a terrific one-two punch of players who were quarterback, running back and receiver all in one. One of those players is back.

Tre Tipton is now at Pitt, but Duane Brown returns. Both Tipton and Brown rushed for more than 1,000 yards. Brown, a junior, completed 48 of 88 for 929 yards and also rushed for 1,219 yards on 135 carries. And don’t forget he also caught 13 passes for 159 yards.

Big things are expected of Brown, but Apollo-Ridge also has something else big – Eric Moran. A senior lineman, Moran is 6-6, 320 pounds.

With Brown, Apollo-Ridge has the makings of a potent offense again. The Vikings almost had three 1,000-yard rushers last year as Jonah Casella ran for more than 900 yards. But he graduated.

While the offense has plenty of potential again, the defense was shaky at times last year, allowing four teams to score 28 points or more.

BURRELL BUCCANEERS:

The Bucs have a new man in charge as Dave Bellinotti is in his first year as coach. Burrell and Bellinotti can only go up after the Bucs didn’t win a game last year and were outscored, 378-97. This was only two years after Burrell tied for the conference title. Bellinotti is a 1988 Burrell graduate who was a player on the Bucs’ 1986 WPIAL championship team.

While the offense had trouble scoring last season, things could be better this year because of some experienced players. Although they didn’t have overly impressive statistics, senior Jason David did lead the team in receptions last year with 23 while Noah Hanna rushed for a team-best 257 yards.

As of early in preseason, Burrell was still using juniors Brandon Artman and Max Garda at quarterback. The line could be solid with the return of three starters – Austin Hatbob, Cody Venanzio and Bobby Scherer.

DEER LAKES LANCERS:

After winning only one game over the past two seasons, second-year coach Steve Sciullo is expecting improvement this season. The Lancers have to get better in a number of areas, but especially offensively. They averaged only 15 points a game last season and 13 the previous year.

The strength of this team looks like the lines. Sciullo counts seven linemen who have started at least one game. All five offensive linemen weigh at least 245 pounds and they are Cody Edwards, Nathan Morrissey, Geoffrey Matthews, Billy Palmiere and Brandon Zilavy.

Scott Kelly is the returning starter at quarterback and Hunter Burns looks like the top running back.

On defense, Tom Schiavone and Nino Itri are two linebackers and two of the top players.

FREEPORT YELLOWJACKETS:

The Yellojackets missed the playoffs by a game last season, and standout quarterback Andrew Romanchak (1,922 passing yards) graduated. But this team should be in the thick of the playoff hunt again.

Freeport features one of the top players in Class AA in Logan Thimons, a senior who already has made a verbal commitment to West Virginia University. Thimons was the Valley News Dispatch Defensive Player of the Year in 2014 and led the team in tackles. He will play tight end and anywhere on defense from the line to linebacker.

On offense, Ryan Weigold takes over at quarterback for Romanchak. Freeport is expected to throw often again this season – and why not? Weigold has what could be one of the best stable of receivers in Class AA.

Dylan Hochbein was the WPIAL’s second-leading receiver last season with 54 catches. Only Indiana’s Riley Stapleton caught more passes in the regular season. Dylan is back along with his twin brother, Brandon, who had 29 catches. Also returning is Justin Brestensky, who had 24 receptions.

Lineman Bobby Jendrejewski is one of the other top returnees.

HIGHLANDS GOLDEN RAMS:

The Rams won the conference title last season after moving down from Class AAA. Coach Sam Albert’s team is capable of winning another conference title.

Standout running back Elijah Jackson graduated, but plenty of talent returns. And plenty of players are out for the team as the Rams’ roster stood at 67 for the preseason. One of the best players in the conference figures to be quarterback-linebacker Brayden Thimons. A junior, Thimons has great size at 6-4, 225 pounds. Some compare him to former standout Highlands quarterback Jeff Sinclair. Incidentally, Sinclair is now Highlands’ quarterback coach.

Thimons was a first-team all-conference linebacker a year ago. On offense, he ran for 491 yards and threw for 663 as a sophomore. Highlands will need to develop a capable running back with the departure of Jackson.

The line features senior Emilio Seymour. He’s only 5-9, 170, but he was a first-team all-conference pick a year ago.

There is an interesting story with the wideouts on the team. Junior Mitch Dezort is a standout basketball player who is out for football for the first time. Also coming out for football at receiver was Jamison Nee, another talented basketball who transferred from Vincentian. Tyler Alworth is another basketball player out for football.

SHADY SIDE ACADEMY INDIANS:

Shady Side Academy finished 6-4 and tied for third in the conference last year. The Indians seem like a definite playoff team again and might have enough to challenge for the top of the conference.

Eight starters return on offense and seven on defense. One of the top returnees is Mike Ware, who made first-team all-conference on the defensive line. Ware is 6-4, 250 and also will play tight end on offense.

The top two rushers from last year graduated, but Eric Harris seems primed to take over. Doc Szlachetka didn’t have healthy passing statistics last year, but a season as the starting quarterback is valuable.

Returning on the lines are Trip Calihan, Luke Fitzgerald and Tom Thorp. Jordan Conn will be one of the defensive leaders from his linebacker position. Returning starters at defensive back are Szlachetka, Clayton Krol and Eric Yoest.

SUMMIT ACADEMY KNIGHTS:

The Knights are new to the conference. Well, not really. They played in the conference for a number of years, but were moved out and placed in the Midwestern last year. The WPIAL moved Summit Academy back this season.

Two years ago, Summit Academy finished fourth in the Allegheny and qualified for the playoffs since joining the WPIAL. Does Summit Academy have a chance at the postseason again? Well, the Knights were 0-9 last year in the Midwestern and it’s always hard to say with this team because it has a new roster every season.

Summit Academy is a school for adjudicated youth near Butler and students often are there for only one year. Summit Academy had a few other decent years previously in the Allegheny and coach Steve Sherer has a knack for molding new players into a competitive team.

VALLEY VIKINGS:

Muzzy Colosimo is in his second year as coach and he believes the Vikings have the makings to be better than last year’s 3-6 team. Seven starters return on offense and six on defense. A few freshmen also might start.

Valley will count plenty on senior quarterback Phil Petit, who also was the starter last year. Tyson Hill led the team in touchdowns last season with eight and also returns at receiver. James Bradley and Jorden King will handle the bulk of the load in the running game.

One of the top linemen returning is Jonus Fair.

The defense must improve. The Vikings started 3-2 last season, but when playing the big boys of the conference in the final four games, things didn’t go well. Valley gave up 35, 34, 42 and 39 points in its final four games.

WEST SHAMOKIN WOLVES:

The Wolves finished last season with a 5-5 overall record. Only three starters return on both offense and defense, but coach Jon McCullough believes this team could be in the fight for a playoff spot.

Brandon Stover takes over at quarterback. Alex Lasslo was the starter last year, but Stover played some. Zac Horner, who rushed for more than 1,100 yards last season, has graduated. Zach Bower and Jarrett Kintz could become factors in the running game. Kintz was injured last season.

On the lines, Hugh McClafferty and Jake Brint are back. Brad Shaffer is a 6-4, 270-pound lineman who is expected to make contributions along with fullback-linebacker Andrew Cline.

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH FOR THE ALLEGHENY CONFERENCE:

1.      Highlands Golden Rams

2.      Shady Side Academy Indians

3.      Freeport Yellowjackets

4.      Apollo-Ridge Vikings

5.      Valley Vikings

6.      West Shamokin Wolves

7.      Deer Lakes Lancers

8.      Burrell Buccaneers

9.      Summit Academy Knights

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