Scholastic Notebook – 11/04/2011

Friday, November 4, 2011 | 12:51 PM

The WPIAL football playoffs start Friday night and never before has the postseason picture looked so perfect.

Although the WPIAL started crowning football champions in 1914, the league didn’t have playoff games until 1971. A total of 12 teams head into this year’s playoffs with perfect records. That is the most EVER since the WPIAL started playoff games.

This year’s playoff field includes three undefeated teams in all four classifications. They are Pittsburgh Central Catholic, Penn-Trafford and North Allegheny in Class AAAA, Knoch, Franklin Regional and Central Valley in Class AAA, Seton-LaSalle, Jeannette and Aliquippa in Class AA, and Sto-Rox, Clairton and Bishop Canevin in Class A.

For Jeannette, this is the 16th time the team has finished undefeated and untied in the regular season. That is the most in WPIAL history. For Aliquippa, it’s the 12th, and the 11th for Clairton.

But for Sto-Rox and Knoch, this is the first time in school history the teams finished the regular season undefeated and untied (there was no overtime in WPIAL football until 1995). This is also Central Valley’s first undefeated season, but the school has been in existence for only two years.

The 12 undefeated teams is an unusually high number. Last year, there were 10. In 2007, there were nine. In 1999, there were nine. But in many years, there were five or fewer. There were only four undefeated teams in the 2003 playoffs. There were only three in 1991, 1988 and 1987. There were only two in 1985.

So put it all together, and this is an unusually “perfect” season. It will be interesting to see how many of those perfect teams win championships.

Singing Conwell’s Praises

Upper St. Clair coach Jim Render is obviously biased towards Dakota Conwell, the Panthers’ senior quarterback-linebacker. But Render believes there isn’t another WPIAL player like Conwell.

“I think he’s the most exciting player in the WPIAL,” Render said. “I’m not being critical of anyone else. But he does it all.”

Conwell needs only a little more than 100 yards to reach 1,000 yards rushing for the second consecutive season. That’s pretty impressive for a quarterback. Conwell doesn’t throw all that much, but he is 39 of 72 throwing for 791 yards.

And he also plays linebacker, although he hasn’t played defense in a few games because of injuries. He is the primary reason Upper St. Clair is 8-1.

“If I wanted to turn him loose and have him carry the ball 25, 35, 40 times a game, his stats would be way, way up there,” Render said. “But we’ve gotten into some situations in some games where we just didn’t need him to play.”

In other words, USC crushed teams and Conwell was lifted from the game early.

Conwell has made a verbal commitment to Pitt and was recruited to play linebacker.

“I love the kid offensively,” Render said. “But that’s why I’m a high school coach and not a college coach.”

Shell’s Quest for Record

Hopewell’s Rushel Shell will continue his chase of the state rushing record tonight when the Vikings play at Indiana. He is 496 yards away from the record of 9,027, set by Jeremiah Young, a 2008 graduate of Steelton-Highspire.

Shell will most likely move into second place on the state’s all-time list tonight. He is currently third with 8,531 yards and needs only 65 yards to surpass Ryan Brumfield, who had 8,595 yards at Owen J. Roberts High.

Last week, Shell passed two more players on the top five list. One of them was East Stroudsburg’s James Mungro, who played in the NFL.

His Old Team

The Peters Township-Pittsburgh Central Catholic game tonight might turn into a blowout. But it is interesting from at least one aspect. Peters Township’s star running back is playing his old team.

Peters Township senior Andrew Erenberg played at Central Catholic as a freshman and saw considerable playing time on the varsity. Now he goes against some of his old buddies.

A Peters Township loss will put an end to a fine career by Erenberg. He has school records for career yards rushing (3,125), touchdowns (45) and points (272).

Playoff Factoids

* Laurel Highlands plays at Central Valley tonight. Laurel Highlands has never won a WPIAL playoff game. Central Valley has never lost a district playoff game. Central Valley won a WPIAL title last year in its first year of existence.

* Ellwood City plays at Freeport and Ellwood City hasn’t won a playoff game since 1987.

* Clairton plays host to Cornell. Clairton has won 12 WPIAL playoff games in a row. Meanwhile, Cornell has never won a playoff game in school history.

Team Out of the Playoffs

The WPIAL isn’t the only league that tries to take a stand on high school recruiting and student-athletes who transfer for athletic purposes.

In New York, an undefeated team will not play in tomorrow’s championship game after a state appeals judge refused to lift a suspension for recruiting violations.

Skaneateles Central was found to have an assistant coach who improperly recruited players from other schools. So the governing body of athletics in the school’s area voted to suspend the team for the remainder of the season.

The school took the case to court, saying the penalty was too severe and the team should be allowed to play for the Section III Class C championship. But a judge upheld the league’s ruling.

Championship Run – Times Two

Is there a school in the WPIAL right now that has more successful boys AND girls soccer programs than Peters Township?

The WPIAL soccer championships are tomorrow and Peters Township’s boys and girls teams are in the finals – again. This is the fourth consecutive year in the title game for the Peters Township girls. The boys are in the title game for the sixth time in seven years.

Three championship games will be played at Baldwin Saturday and three at Elizabeth Forward. All six title matches will be broadcast here on the MSA Sports Network.

Running for History?

The PIAA cross country championships are this Saturday in Hershey. One of the WPIAL runners who has a decent shot at winning a title is North Hills’ Margo Malone. If Malone wins, she will put herself in some elite company.

The last WPIAL girl to win a Class AAA title at the PIAA level was West Allegheny’s Christine Taranto in 2002. Over the past 25 years, the WPIAL has had only four girls win PIAA titles at the Class AAA level. Besides Taranto, the others are North Allegheny’s Stephanie Madia (2001), North Hills’ Jill Kern (1990) and Baldwin’s Carole Zajac (1988-89).

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