CTK 2015 – Class AAA Parkway Conference Preview

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Thursday, August 20, 2015 | 9:36 PM


It wouldn’t exactly be going out on a limb to predict that a team from the Parkway Conference will make the WPIAL Class AAA championship. After all, the past six Class AAA champs have come from the Parkway. In fact, over those six seasons, 10 of the 12 title game participants have come from the Parkway.

It’s very likely that the Parkway will have another team in the championship game this year. But figuring out who that team will be isn’t easy.

Heading into the season, there doesn’t seem to be an overwhelming choice as the top team in the Parkway. West Allegheny met Central Valley in the past two title games, but both teams were hit hard by graduation and might not be quite as strong heading into the season. Montour is a team to watch, but the Spartans lost their quarterback to a season-ending knee injury.

One-third of the teams in the conference have new coaches. The most significant change is at Blackhawk, where Joe Lamenza takes over for Joe Hamilton, who coached the Cougars for almost four decades.

Here is a look at the teams in the Parkway Conference:

AMBRIDGE BRIDGERS:

The Bridgers haven’t made the WPIAL playoffs since 2005, but optimism is in the air in Dan Bradley’s second year as coach.

Ambridge played a number of sophomores last year who showed promise. The Bridgers finished 3-6 and one game out of a playoff spot. Those sophomores are now a year older and hoping to help Ambridge to a memorable year.

Many of those sophomores flashed potential at the skill positions last year. Austin French completed 102 of 188 for 1,397 yards and 19 touchdowns. Diaquan Alston rushed for 409 yards on 73 attempts and Romnn Shell 378 yards on 80 attempts. Shell made second-team all-conference. Tariq Jones also got 32 carries. Those skill position-players are the main reason for the optimism.

But Ambridge also has one of the better linemen in the conference in two-way player Pat Gregory. He was a first-team all-conference offensive lineman. Jones will be one of the leaders on defense at the linebacker position.

BLACKHAWK COUGARS:

It will be strange not to see Joe Hamilton on the Blackhawk sidelines. He coached the Cougars for 39 seasons and won four WPIAL titles. He coached at a few other schools and finished as the second-winningest coach in WPIAL history with a record of 342-170-11 in 49 seasons.

Now comes another Joe. Lamenza has head coaching experience. He was West Mifflin’s coach in 2006 and spent the past four seasons at Mohawk, where he had a 7-29 record. He takes over a program that has had three-consecutive three-win seasons. Lamenza will look for running back-defensive back Austin Javens to be a leader. Brandon Butcher is a top linemen returning.

CENTRAL VALLEY WARRIORS:

The Warriors had been blessed with two big-time players the past few seasons. First, there was Robert Foster, who is now a receiver at the University of Alabama. Then, there was Jordan Whitehead, who is vying for playing true as a true freshman defensive back at Pitt.

Central Valley doesn’t have a playmaker like Foster or Whitehead. The Warriors also lost some key players to graduation. But Mark Lyons has built a “program” at Central Valley and the winning should continue. Whether that means a second-consecutive WPIAL title is another story.

A player to watch is senior quarterback Chris Callaghan. When John George went out with an injury last season, Callaghan took over and had some shining moments. He completed 76 of 120 for 1,314 yards and 13 touchdowns. He could be one of the top passing quarterbacks in Class AAA.

Kurt Reinstadler is a big-play receiver after catching 29 passes for 618 yards a year ago. That’s 21.3 yards a catch.

Central Valley needs to find some capable running backs, though. The top five rushers from last year all graduated. Kyle Vreen did carry 40 times for 259 yards.

Brandon Whoric figures to be one of the top linemen in the conference.

CHARTIERS VALLEY COLTS:

Niel Loebig begins his third season as the Colts coach, with hopes of improving on seasons of 2-7 and 1-8. The Colts could have one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the conference and will probably rely on him heavily this season.

Jake Collins is back for his senior year. He completed 51 of 108 for 741 yards. Those aren’t eye-popping numbers, but he also rushed for 567 yards on 119 carries. Also returning in the backfield is Dom Pocci, who carried 31 times for 235 yards.

At receiver, Chartiers Valley is counting on Delmar King and Jared Nelson.

While the Colts need improvement in many areas, their defense must make the biggest gains. A year ago, Chartiers Valley gave up 39 points a game.

HOPEWELL VIKINGS:

For the first time in 15 seasons, Dave Vestal won’t be on the sideline coaching for Hopewell. Vestal spent the past 14 years coaching Hopewell and won one WPIAL and one PIAA title. He left to take over at Seneca Valley.

Mark Washington takes over for Vestal. Washington is no stranger to Hopewell football of the Parkway Conference. He coached Moon the past four seasons but was not re-hired this year.

Washington takes over a program that has hit hard times. The Vikings have won only one game the past two seasons combined. They had trouble on both sides of the ball last season, giving up 45 points a game, the highest of any team in Class AAA. Hopewell scored only 12 a game. Only two other teams in Class AAA scored fewer points.

The No. 2 and 3 rushers from last season do return. They are Marko Loncar (372 yards on 92 attempts) and Chuck Metz (221 on 42). Griffin Curry is a receiver-defensive back to watch.

MONTOUR SPARTANS:

Montour certainly has high hopes for this season after going 7-3 in 2014. But the Spartans’ spirits were dampened in June when quarterback Randall Labrie sustained a torn ACL. Labrie was the starter last year and was considered to be one of the top quarterbacks in the conference this year after completing 94 of 155 for 1,161 yards.

While developing a quarterback will be key, there are still high hopes because of the return of a number of other players. Dave Haseleu will lead the running game after rushing for 1,070 yards on 164 attempts a year ago. Zach Jablonski was a second-team all-conference lineman.

Tyler Carswell is a versatile receiver-defensive back. He was a first-team all-conference defensive back in 2014.

Zach Herskovitz returns at receiver after having some good moments a year ago, catching 18 passes for 315 yards. A few other top returnees are lineman Mike Arnold and linebacker Zach McGowan.

MOON TIGERS:

The Tigers have a new man in charge. Judging from his resume, he will probably demand toughness. Brendan Hathaway is Moon’s new coach. He is a former former Marine.

Hathaway has head coaching experience. He was Coudersport’s coach for two years before going on to turn around a Slippery Rock High School program. Slippery Rock was 10-1 and 11-1 the past two seasons.

He takes over a Moon program that made went 4-6 and 6-4 and made the WPIAL playoffs the past two seasons. But Mark Washington wasn’t brought back as coach.

Moon lost some key players to graduation. Matt Dunning returns after rushing for 343 yards on 50 attempts last season. Draper Gilliam was a second-team all-conference defensive back.

NEW CASTLE RED HURRICANE:

If the return of experienced, talented skill-position players mean success, then it should be a successful season for New Castle.

The Red Hurricanes made the playoffs in 2014 for the second consecutive season, and coach Joe Cowart has a number of skill-position players returning. Quarterback Pat Minenok is a dual threat who started last season. Daylyn Glenel made second-team all-conference. He scored a team-high 12 touchdowns a year ago and had three-consecutive 100-yard games at one point.

Minenok has some speedy players at receiver. Sophomore Marcus Hooker, the younger brother of Ohio State player Malik Hooker, started last year and has loads of potential. Geno Stone will be the other wideout and Cameron Stone in the slot. Jared DeHaas anchors the line.

New Castle’s defense must improve after giving up 32 points a game last season. Minenok is back at linebacker and will play alongside Nick Terloar. DeHaas anchors the line.

WEST ALLEGHENY INDIANS:

The Indians have been in the WPIAL title game three consecutive seasons. This year’s team doesn’t appear as strong as the past few. But come late November, don’t be surprised if West Allegheny is still playing.

Coach Bob Palko, who has seven WPIAL titles, has a team with some experienced players, but he and his staff also have some big question marks at a few positions.

The Indians have one of the best running backs in Class AAA. In fact, Terence Stephens just might be one of the best running backs in the WPIAL. He has some Mid-American Conference colleges recruiting him. Stephens is a senior who had 912 yards rushing on 131 attempts last season. Look for Stephens to also take direct snaps in the “wildcat” formation.

Also returning is Whitney White, who averaged 10.7 yards a carry last season, rushing 61 times for 655 yards.

Derek Clontz will be one of the conference’s best linemen. Kieran Firment is a 6-4 junior to watch on the lines.

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH IN THE PARKWAY CONFERENCE:

1.      Montour Spartans

2.      West Allegheny Indians

3.      New Castle Red Hurricane

4.      Central Valley Warriors

5.      Ambridge Bridgers

6.      Blackhawk Cougars

7.      Moon Tigers

8.      Chartiers Valley Colts

9.      Hopewell Vikings

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