Scholastic Notebook – 12/21/2015

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Monday, December 21, 2015 | 10:15 AM


Pittsburgh Central Catholic won the very first PIAA Class AAAA championship in 1988.

On Saturday, Central Catholic won the last PIAA Class AAAA title as we know it.

And Central Catholic has to be the odds-on favorite to win the first PIAA 6A title.

Central Catholic won its latest title Saturday with a 21-18 victory against Parkland at Hersheypark Stadium. Because the PIAA is going to six classes next year, this was, in a sense, the last AAAA title under this system.

Although it has only been a day since Central Catholic’s latest title, it’s easy to look ahead and peg the Vikings as the team to beat next year in 6A. The Vikings will play in the largest class under the new system.

A number of key starters graduate from this year’s team. But a number of key starters return, and some backups showed plenty of promise. Most notable was junior running back J.J. Younger. He was a backup halfback, but he ran for a career-high 184 yards on 14 carries against Parkland. He came into the game with only 418 yards on 40 carries.

Central Catholic always relies on a running game. Although senior halfback Ronnie Jones graduates, Younger is back.  Plus, Central Cathoic will have another promising running back next year in Justice Evans.

Evans showed promise as a sophomore at Kiski Area two years ago when he rushed for 203 yards. He transferred to Central Catholic as a junior, but both the WPIAL and PIAA ruled Evans ineligible, saying he transferred for athletic intent. Evans had to sit out this season, but he will be eligible as a senior.

“They should make for a nice combo,” said Central Catholic coach Terry Totten after the PIAA title game about Younger and Evans.

But Central Catholic returns much, much more. Seven players who were listed as offensive starters for the title game will return next season. Five starters are back on defense.

Among the returnees is David Adams, a junior who is rated by scouting services as one of the top linebackers in the country. Two-way lineman C.J. Thorpe is another junior who has a number of Division I college offers.

Also back is Troy Fisher, who showed plenty of promise this year as a sophomore quarterback.

The entire starting offensive line was juniors – Thorpe, Jake Trautman, Donovan Slater and the Hinish cousins (Jake and Kurt). Plus, lineman Jamain Stephens is back on defense.

Defense Does it Again

The last time Central Catholic won a PIAA title before Saturday was 2007. The defeated opponent was the same.

Eight years ago, Central Catholic shut out Parkland, 21-0. Like the 2007 game, Central’s defense was again staunch this season.

Parkland got two late long touchdown passes to make things interesting this year. But until then, Central Catholic’s defense dominated. For the game, Central Catholic held Parkland to 39 yards rushing. That means in two PIAA title games against Central Catholic, Parkland had only 140 yards rushing. Parkland had 101 in 2007.

Only One Pass

It had been said by some that Central Catholic couldn’t win a state championship without having some success in the passing game.

Wrong.

Central Catholic completed one pass against Parkland. It went for 12 yards.

“This [Fisher] kid is going to be something when he grows up, but we had J.J. [Younger] going and then we got Ronnie [Jones] going,” said Totten. “You always want to get the ground game going.”

Pugh Finishes 17th

Aliquippa lost in the Class AA championship to Southern Columbia, 49-14. Aliquippa’s Kaezon Pugh came within 21 yards of finishing his career with 5,000 yards rushing. But Pugh still ended up 17th in WPIAL history.

Pugh finished with 4,979 yards on 533 attempts. He would’ve been the third Aliquippa runner with 5,000 yards. The others were Chico Williams and Dravon Henry.

Turnover Problem

Aliquippa set a PIAA championship game record with seven turnovers in its loss. A half dozen teams had six turnovers in a title game. The only WPIAL team with six turnovers in the final was Washington, which had six against Dallas in 1992.

Movin’ On Up

Under the six classification system next year, Aliquippa’s enrollment is small enough to place the Quips in Class A. But Aliquippa has decided to play in AAA next year.

Schools can play up in classification if they want and Aliquippa will most likely be placed in a AAA conference with Beaver Falls, Ellwood City and Central Valley, among others.

Unheralded Star

Pugh got plenty of publicity this year, and rightly so. Quarterback Sheldon Jeter and receiver Jassir Jordan also were big-name players for the Quips.

But a player who was extremely important to Aliquippa’s success was linebacker Darnell Gardner, even though he wasn’t as publicized as some other Aliquippa players. Gardner had eight solo tackles in the PIAA championship.

This should tell you how good Gardner was. Coaches in the Midwestern Conference selected him the conference defensive MVP.

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