Trib HSSN high school football team of the week for 2023 Week 9

Monday, October 30, 2023 | 7:35 PM

The 2023 football season in the WPIAL will be remembered for great sudden turnaround success stories for plenty of programs throughout the district.

South Side is not one of them.

It has been a steady build in recent years toward a perfect regular season this fall and a top seed in the Class A playoffs for the Rams.

“These guys have been playing together for a long time,” South Side coach Luke Travelpiece said. “I’ve been watching them since the time they were in the youth programs up through and we have a number of guys who have been a three- or four-year starter for us. To see everything come together for them here in their senior year and watch them reap the benefits of all the time and effort they put in is exciting.”

South Side clinched at least a share of its first conference title since 1999 with a win over defending district champion Union in Week 8. The Rams sealed the deal on the outright Big 7 Conference championship with the program’s 300th victory Friday at home in a 33-7 win over playoff-bound Rochester.

“We knew we had the opportunity to compete with the others teams in (the Big 7), but it’s a very tough section,” Travelpiece said. “You look back at what happened last year in the playoffs and three of the final four (were from the Big 7) and Union brought a lot of talented players back. So we knew we had to get to the end of the regular season healthy and put ourselves in position. It’s been a work in progress in trying to improve each week and thankfully we’ve been able to do that.”

There were two undefeated teams in Class A: South Side and Black Hills Conference champion Fort Cherry. The WPIAL football steering committee went back and forth on which team should be No. 1 before deciding on South Side.

“I had people asking me coming into (Week 9) about the No. 1 seed and quite honestly, Fort Cherry is a great team and we have a lot of respect for them,” Travelpiece said. “We got together with them the last few years for 7-on-7. Last summer, I had no idea who this Matt Sieg kid was. Then he starts throwing the ball around and I’m thinking this kid has a great arm, and then in his second game, he runs for over 300 yards. We have a lot of respect for them.”

The Rams don’t have a player like Matt Sieg that they rely on. They have great depth at the skilled positions with quarterback Brody Almashy, running backs Ryan Navarra and A.C. Corfield and contributions from Carter Wilson, Mateja Pavlovich, Dom Colalella and Ben Bird.

“We’re fortunate in that we do have a lot of depth,” Travelpeice said. “The stat I keep going back to is our top three rushers are averaging 10 yards a carry, so for opposing defensive coordinators, that makes it hard to prepare for. With the misdirection we try to do, we are trying to put them in conflict. Our offensive line does a great job of creating holes and lanes for those guys. It’s a truly unselfish team.”

The Rams have the second highest scoring offense in Class A, averaging 47 points per game, but their defense has dominated as well. South Side has the top defense in the class, allowing only 8 points per game.

“That’s been a point of emphasis for us the last couple of years and our defense has improved each and every week,” Travelpeice said. “We focus on lining up, playing our gap and flying to the football. Thankfully we have some great athletes out there who are able to execute it.”

A perfect regular season doesn’t guarantee anything in the postseason. The playoffs begin for the top-seeded Rams on Friday at home against No. 16 Monessen (4-6).

“They’ve actually won three of their last four games by pretty convincing scores,” Travelpiece said. “They are young with only two or three seniors and their running back (TyVaughn Kershaw) is only a sophomore. Coach (Wade Brown) is doing a great job down there with where that program was when he inherited it. They come to play, they execute, and they’re fundamentally sound. We have to prepare for a dogfight on Friday.”

Week 9 honorable mentions

Penn Hills Indians

Last year, Penn Hills was a heartbroken spectator for the district postseason when it lost out on tiebreaker points in the Class 5A Northeast Conference. This year, the Indians took it upon themselves to win every conference game they played so there would be no use for an abacus in Week 9. Senior quarterback Julian Dugger rushed for 140 yards and threw for 92 yards and two touchdowns, including the game winner on a 26-yard pass to Cameron Thomas in the waning minutes of a 26-21 win over Woodland Hills, eliminating the rival Wolverines from the postseason chase.

Kiski Area Cavaliers

Through five games this season, the outlook was not looking bright for Kiski Area. The team had dropped its first two Class 4A Greater Allegheny Conference games and was 1-4 overall. However, coach Sam Albert righted the ship and the Cavaliers won four of their last five games and three in a row, including their must-win home game Friday against Armstrong. Junior quarterback Carson Heinle completed 13 of 23 passes for 236 yards and two touchdown tosses to Terry Martin and Isaiah Gonzalez, plus he ran for 92 yards and a score in the 42-34 playoff-clinching victory over the River Hawks.

Ellwood City Wolverines

For the first time since 2011, the Ellwood City football team is headed to the postseason. The Wolverines sealed the deal with an impressive rout of their rivals from Riverside. Junior running back Elijah Palmer-McCane rushed for 154 yards and four touchdowns while junior quarterback Chris Smiley hit on 9 of 14 passes for 170 yards and a 47-yard touchdown pass to junior Declan Gray that highlighted a 21-point first quarter that led to an early celebration in a 41-0 shutout of the Panthers.

2023 teams of the week

Week 8 – Central Valley Warriors

Week 7 – Mars Fightin’ Planets

Week 6 – Pine-Richland Rams

Week 5 – Moon Tigers

Week 4 – Thomas Jefferson Jaguars

Week 3 – Knoch Knights

Week 2 – Waynesburg Central Raiders

Week 1 – Aliquippa Quips

Week Zero – Mt. Lebanon Blue Devils


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