Scholastic Notebook – 12/02/2011

Friday, December 2, 2011 | 3:34 PM

If you look back at what made this a WPIAL championship season for the Montour football team, there were a number of factors. Having talented offensive players might be the primary reason.

But another big reason might have been a change in personnel late in the season.

After the first six games, the Spartans were 4-2, and fresh off a 27-16 loss to Central Valley. It wasn’t like Montour was horrible defensively, but Coach Lou Cerro and his staff felt something had to be done to strengthen the defense in order to make the team championship caliber.

So Cerro and his staff made a handful of changes on defense – and ended up with WPIAL gold medals in their hands.

One of the major changes was moving Aaron Reed from safety to middle linebacker, and moving Anthony Rippole from linebacker to defensive end. Nick Arnold was inserted into a defensive tackle spot. The Spartans also started rotating defensive ends more.

“We made the changes after the Central Valley game,” Cerro said. “Rip didn’t say a word when we moved him and he’s done great there [at defensive end]. It was no knock on Rip. We just needed to get faster on defense. We were giving up 300 yards on the ground sometimes. We had to do something.”

In the first six games, Montour allowed an average of 17.8 points. In the seven games after that, the Spartans allowed an average of only 12 points a game. Montour’s defense against Knoch’s running game in the WPIAL Class AAA championship was superb.

“The changes just made us a little quicker and a little tougher, and I think it showed,” Cerro said.

During the course of the past few seasons, Cerro said there was a knock on his team that maybe it wasn’t “tough enough” to win a championship. Forget that criticism now.

“We heard from day one this season that we weren’t the toughest team in the world because we have so many athletes who can run by people,” Cerro said. “I think as the season went on, we became tougher.”

When asked if the lack of toughness criticism was accurate, Cerro said, “Maybe a little bit. We were tough, but not the toughest team, let’s put it that way.”

Now, Montour is championship tough.

Statistical Matters

It seems like three of the four WPIAL champions in this weekend’s PIAA football Quarterfinals are heavy favorites to move on to the Semifinals. That would be Clairton (Class A), Aliquippa (AA) and North Allegheny (AAAA). Montour isn’t a heavy favorite in Class AAA against a good Grove City team.

Exactly how good – or bad – the WPIAL teams’ opponents are obviously isn’t known for sure, but all four of the WPIAL teams will face some players with big statistics.

In Class AAAA, North Allegheny plays State College Saturday at Altoona. North Allegheny already defeated State College, 53-21, in the first game of the season. But State College has running back Jack Haffner, who has rushed for 2,050 yards on 262 carries.

In Class AAA Firday night, Montour faces a Grove City team that averages 342 yards rushing a game. The Eagles have four running backs with at least 300 yards rushing.

In Class AA Friday night, Aliquippa faces Moniteau, which features quarterback Kyle Armogast. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound senior has completed 98 of 189 for 2,029 yards and also rushed for 1,286 yards on 193 attempts.

In Class A, Clairton faces a North Star team that the Bears defeated, 52-0, in last year’s Quarterfinals. This North Star team has quarterback Max Strasier, who has thrown for 2,121 yards and ran for 603.

The Undefeated Ones

Three of the WPIAL teams in the PIAA playoffs have undefeated records – North Allegheny, Aliquippa and Clairton. This is only the seventh time the WPIAL has sent three or more undefeated teams to the PIAA playoffs, which started in 1988. The others were 1989, 1992, 1994, 1999, 2006 and 2007.

Three times, the WPIAL has sent four undefeated teams to the PIAA playoffs. They were 1992 (Upper St. Clair, Blackhawk, East Allegheny and Rochester), 1999 (Woodland Hills, West Allegheny, Waynesburg, South Side) and 2007 (Pittsburgh Central Catholic, Thomas Jefferson, Jeannette and Serra).

The Replay Says …

There was a controversial call in last week’s WPIAL Class AAAA championship when North Allegheny’s Brendan Coniker caught a 23-yard touchdown pass with 27 seconds left in the first half. Many have said replays clearly show Coniker wasn’t close to being inbounds when he caught the ball. The replay of the catch was shown a handful of times on the big screen at Heinz Field as Upper St. Clair fans booed.

Many fans have said the officials should’ve overturned the call because of the replay, but the use of replay is not allowed in high school football.

The only high school sport where officials are allowed to check a replay is basketball. However, replay can only be used in a state championship game and only at the end of a game to determine if a last-second shot was good or not.

Lincoln Park Coach Out

Lincoln Park boys basketball coach Mark Javens will not be with the team for the first four games of the season because he has been placed on administrative leave by the school.

A former Lincoln Park player filed a formal complaint with the WPIAL, alleging misconduct by Javens and also recruiting of players. The WPIAL had a hearing with all parties involved last month. While the WPIAL did not hand out penalties after the meeting, it did direct Lincoln Park to investigate the charges more thoroughly and consider placing penalties on Javens.

Although Lincoln Park athletic director Mike Bariski said the investigation cleared Javens of any wrongdoing, the school wanted to comply with the WPIAL’s wishes. So the school put Javens on administrative leave for the first four games, and the school also is requiring him to take coaching and leadership classes.

Javens can still conduct practices with the team during his administrative leave.

D-I for Merckle

Fort Cherry’s Jessie Merckle has made a verbal commitment to attend Wake Forest for track and field. Merckle is the two-time WPIAL Class AA javelin champion. She also is one of the top players on the Rangers’ basketball team.

Merckle is believed to be the first female athlete ever from Fort Cherry to get a Division I athletic scholarship.

Where Are They Now?

* Former Mount Lebanon girls basketball star Madison Cable hasn’t played a game yet for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Cable sustained a stress fracture in her foot and is expected to be out possibly through December.

* Belma Nurkic, former star girls basketball player at Baldwin, is seeing considerable playing time in her freshman season at Duquesne University. She is fourth on the team in scoring at 7.8 points a game.

* Duquesne is loaded with WPIAL players. Four of the team’s top five scorers are from the WPIAL. Upper St. Clair’s Alex Gensler leads at 19.6 points a game. Southmoreland’s Vanessa Abel is third at 11.6. After Nurkic, Beaver’s Carly Vendemia is fifth at 7.8. The Dukes are 4-1.

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