Five things to watch in Week 11 of high school football
By: Chris Harlan
Thursday, November 8, 2018 | 5:48 PM
Washington and Steel Valley are powerhouse programs that rank among the WPIAL elite.
But the rest of this year’s Class 2A quarterfinal field should provide hope to any struggling football team that dreams of someday finding success. Consider that Burgettstown, Charleroi, Freedom, Mohawk, Shady Side Academy and South Side Beaver all endured a winless season in the past five years.
Shady Side Academy was winless in 2016. Charleroi and Mohawk combined went 0-18 in 2015. A few years earlier, Burgettstown, Freedom and South Side Beaver all finished 0-9 in 2013. All six hired new coaches, rekindled their programs, and now at least one will visit Robert Morris’ Walton Stadium in two weeks to compete for a WPIAL title.
Six-class expansion also was a positive factor for some. Their combined record this season is 56-7.
Key in that rebuilding effort was boosting the players’ confidence, said fourth-year Burgettstown coach Mark Druga, who took over a Blue Devils program that went winless in both 2012 and ‘13.
“The athletes had to believe that we could win,” said Druga, a former Burgettstown assistant, “and (believe) that what the coaches were teaching was successful as long as they bought in.”
A last-minute, 21-20 victory over Derry late in his first season as coach provided proof.
“We won on essentially a Hail Mary with 5 seconds left,” Druga said. “That just put us on the map of legitimacy. … They bought in and then they saw results, and that has just continued ever since.”
In Friday’s quarterfinal matchups, No. 2 seed Burgettstown plays No. 7 Freedom, and No. 3 Steel Valley faces No. 6 Washington, while No. 1 Shady Side Academy faces No. 8 South Side Beaver, and No. 4 Charleroi faces No. 5 Mohawk on the other side of the bracket.
Druga and Mohawk’s Tim McCutchen are in their fourth seasons. South Side Beaver’s Luke Travelpiece is in his third. This is the second season for Shady Side Academy’s Chuck DiNardo. Freedom and Charleroi (Lance Getsy) each have first-year coaches.
First-year Freedom coach Russ Barley resigned in late October, replaced by interim coach John Rosa.
2. Six rematches on playoff schedule
Woodland Hills and West Allegheny have a knack for close games.
A botched extra-point attempt with 85 seconds left cost Woodland Hills a chance to force overtime against West Allegheny in Week 5 this season. West A won 14-13.
It was the latest in a series of mostly close games between two storied WPIAL programs. The most memorable in the series was a 42-41 overtime win by West A in 2014.
They will rematch again Friday night in a WPIAL Class 5A quarterfinal at North Hills.
“You’ve got two great programs,” Woodland Hills coach Tim Bostard said during This Week in the WPIAL on the TribLive HSSN. “West Allegheny and Bob Palko have the eight WPIAL championships. He does a great job with a bunch of hard-nosed kids. … And then you’ve got us, the program that George Novak built. These kids are just trying to keep their tradition alive and keep battling.”
There are six rematches in this week’s schedule, including both semifinal clashes in Class 3A.
No. 1 seed Aliquippa faces No. 4 Beaver Falls at Ambridge. No. 2 Derry faces No. 3 North Catholic at Hempfield. Neither outcome was close the first time. Aliquippa defeated its Beaver County rival 39-0, while Derry defeated North Catholic, 27-0. Both regular-season matchups were in Week 4.
The other rematches pair North Allegheny and Seneca Valley, Pine-Richland and Mt. Lebanon, and Gateway and Franklin Regional. The regular-season winners were North Allegheny, 10-6, Pine-Richland, 42-24, and Gateway, 63-3.
3. Class A contenders clash
Before Clairton dominated Class A, Rochester ruled the WPIAL’s smallest classification. The Rams reached the finals 11 times and won seven titles in a two-decade span from 1991-2010.
Now, eight years have passed since they last reached Heinz Field.
However, in recent postseasons, it’s Jeannette — not Clairton — that became their roadblock. The Jayhawks ended Rochester’s playoff run in both 2016 and ‘17. Rochester lost 30-26 to Jeannette in last year’s quarterfinals and 30-20 in the 2016 semifinals.
The two teams meet again Friday in a semifinal at Canon-McMillan. Jeannette (11-0) is seeded first and Rochester (10-1) is fourth.
4. Championship-caliber quarterfinal
Steel Valley vs. Washington is a match good enough for Walton Stadium.
Instead, the WPIAL Class 2A finalists from a year ago will rematch at Elizabeth Forward in a championship-caliber quarterfinal Friday night.
Neither team won its conference outright this year, earning both lower-than-expected seeds from the WPIAL football committee. Steel Valley (9-1) was seeded third and Washington (10-1) was sixth. That decision placed the two title contenders in the same quarter of the bracket.
Washington defeated Steel Valley, 37-10, in last year’s championship. Steel Valley won the title in 2016, defeating Neshannock, 49-14.
5. Bouncing back from injury
Shady Side Academy quarterback Skyy Moore and Aliquippa wideout MJ Devonshire, two of the top players in the WPIAL, left playoff wins early last week. Moore left with an ankle injury and Devonshire was shaken up on a hard hit.
Devonshire was cleared to return this week, but Moore’s availability remained in doubt.
Moore, a Division I recruit, led Shady Side to an undefeated record and the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. He surpassed 1,000 yards passing and rushing in the regular season for the second consecutive season.
Shady Side built an early lead last week with Moore in the lineup, and then held on to defeat No. 16 seed Serra Catholic, 22-20.
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.