Week Zero’s don’t-miss matchups in Westmoreland County

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Thursday, August 24, 2017 | 12:00 AM


NonCONFERENCE

GREENSBURG C.C. (2-8 in ‘16) at TUSCARAWAS C.C., OHIO (5-5 in ‘16)

7 p.m. Saturday

Last year: Greensburg Central missed the playoffs for the first time in 13 years in a top-heavy Eastern Conference that again has the top two ranked teams in Class A (Clairton, Jeannette). Tuscarawas 5-5 under coach Randy Churilla in the Inter-Valley Conference of the Ohio High School Athletic Association.

The buzz: GCC will take the field under first-year coach Aaron Smetanka, 28, a former North Catholic and St. Vincent quarterback who plans to overhaul the offensive and defensive schemes, albeit with inexperienced players.

Key players: Smetanka was working closely with a pair of quarterbacks in camp, senior Bruce Leonard and junior Max Pisula. Running back could be by committee with sophomores Zach Kuvinka and Tom Voelker in the mix. They will be key linebackers, as will junior Brando Ciccarelli. GCC could start eight sophomores on defense. Tuscarawas has to replace QB Dean Green, who threw for 1,350 yards. Sophomore Jake Miller was the leading candidate.

About the Centurions: They allowed the most points in the Eastern Conference last season (406).

About the Saints: Part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus, they also will have young starters at key positions.

NonCONFERENCE

2-A JEANNETTE (12-2 in ‘16) at EAST ALLEGHENY (7-4 in ‘16)

7 p.m. Friday

Last year: Jeannette reached the title game for the second straight season but lost to Clairton. Jeannette has four losses the last two years; all to Clairton. East Allegheny finished second in the Three Rivers Conference but lost to Freedom in the first round of the 2A playoffs.

The buzz: By all accounts, this could be Jeannette's year to challenge Clairton atop the Class A Eastern Conference and the WPIAL. Jeannette returns several athletic playmakers including Robert Kennedy, who takes over at quarterback. East Allegheny returns nine starters and has big-play potential with Division I prospect T.J. Banks, rated one of the best tight ends in the country.

Key players: Melik Gordon moves into the tailback spot for the Jayhawks and the junior has quick feet. But watch for Gordon, and a tall group of receivers led by 6-4 Marcus Barnes and 6-3 Tre Cunningham. Senior quarterback Tamaine Underwood is back after throwing for 1,547 yards and 17 TDs last season.

About the Jayhawks: Jeannette has missed the playoffs three times since ‘93.

About the Wildcats: They made a return to the playoffs last season after a four-year absence. EA began taking in Duquesne-area players in 2007 after the closure of Duquesne High School.

NOnCONFERENCE

LATROBE (1-9 in ‘16) at DERRY (11-1 in ‘16)

7 p.m. Friday

Last year: Latrobe took a 25-game losing streak into Week 9 last season but exploded offensively for a 63-6 win at Connellsville. Derry strung together a memorable and head-turning run to the WPIAL semifinals that brought fans out in droves, before falling to Aliquippa.

The buzz: New faces will dot the field at Trojan Stadium as both teams look to replace key graduation losses. While Derry brings back Ryan Polinsky (802 yards, 7 TDs) at quarterback, Latrobe will have converted tight end Jason Armstrong, who led Class 5A in receptions (45 for 702 yards, 10 TDs), under center. Derry grabbed last year's opener against Latrobe, 28-20. A trick pass play produced the deciding points.

Key players: Senior RB/DB Iven Etienne, who moved back to Latrobe from Idaho, can be an impact player. Shawn Broadway and Justin Flack are expected to be key ball-carriers for Derry.

About the Wildcats: Fourth-year coach Jason Marucco is trying to turn around a program that has three wins over the past three seasons and has not had a winning season since 2011.

About the Trojans: Coach Tim Sweeney is not putting that pressure on his team, rather initially focusing on basics and working new players into new roles.

NonCONFERENCE

MONESSEN (1-9 in ‘16) at CHARLEROI (5-5 in ‘16)

7 p.m. Friday

Last year: In the renewal of a Mon Valley rivalry, Charleroi defeated Monessen, 23-21, which allowed the bridge spanning the two communities to be called the Charleroi-Monessen bridge.

The buzz: Monessen has a new coach in Mike Blainefield and a new, fresh attitude. The Greyhounds showed improvement in their scrimmage against Frazier on Saturday. Charleroi finished 5-5 in 2016, but three of those wins were in nonconference games.

Key players: Monessen QB Cory Fleming will be in charge of running the spread offense. He'll probably throw more than 55 passes in 2017. Charleroi QB Geno Pellegrini earned all-conference honors last season after throwing for 1,013 yards and rushing for 521.

About the Greyhounds: Running back Vaughn Taylor will get the bulk of the carries. The 6-foot, 180-pound junior finished last season with 282 yards on 67 carries. The Greyhounds hope to improve on their 16.1 points-per-game scoring average.

About the Cougars: Charleroi returns nine starters on offense and eight on defense. Heading the list is Pellegrini, WR/DB Dakota Romantino (23 catches, 466, 6 TDs) and WR/DBs Ryan Workman and Travis Lytle.

NonCONFERENCE

MT. PLEASANT (7-4 in ‘16) at LAUREL HIGHLANDS (1-9 in ‘16)

7:30 p.m. Friday

Last year: Mt. Pleasant reached the WPIAL playoffs for the eighth consecutive season before falling to eventual WPIAL and PIAA champion Beaver Falls. New head coach Jason Fazekas was an assistant for 15 years. Laurel Highlands struggled to move the ball during a turnover-riddled 2016 season but returns three key lineman. Junior Conner Basinger will need to develop quickly at quarterback. The Vikings outran the Mustangs, 45-21, in last season's Week Zero opener.

The buzz: Fazekas wants to instill pride in the program by referencing some of the great teams of the past. Laurel Highlands competes in the Class 4A Big Nine and gave up a conference-worst 425 points last year.

Key players: Junior Lucas Pieszak has big shoes to fill at QB after Johnny Yester (St. Vincent) threw for 1,433 yards and 19 scores. Jake Dukman caught 14 passes and made 72 tackles.

About the Vikings: Gone are the leading passer, rusher and receiver from last season, but they can build around senior Cody Vokes (6-3, 260) on the lines.

About the Mustangs: With eight starters back on offense, including three lineman, there is experience but also question marks up front and defensively.

NonCONFERENCE

3-5A PENN-TRAFFORD (7-3 in ‘16) at NORWIN (5-6 in ‘16)

7 p.m. Friday

Last year: Penn-Trafford had a strong 2016 season, finishing tied for fourth place in the Big East, but missed the playoffs with the WPIAL only taking eight teams to the Class 5A postseason. Norwin made the playoffs for the third straight time, the first time in Class 6A, but fell in the first round. The Knights' last playoff win came in 2007.

The buzz: With most of its skill-position players back, experience up front and a talented kicker in place, Penn-Trafford has the potential for an extended season. Rival Norwin has several athletic playmakers and a veteran front line, which could give the Warriors issues. Penn-Trafford beat Norwin last year, 17-14, scoring 17 unanswered points, as John Gay ran for 153 yards and two TDs. The Warriors have won six in a row against their county rivals.

Key players: Cam Laffoon is back to lead the Penn-Trafford offense after throwing for 1,684 yards and 17 TDs. For Norwin, junior safety Jayvon Thrift has offers from Pitt and WVU.

About the Warriors: Defense was a strong point last year as they allowed a conference-low 15.1 points per game.

About the Knights: Senior Brock Dieter and sophomore Jack Salopek shared QB reps during seven-on-sevens.

NonCONFERENCE

YOUGH (4-5 in ‘16) at FREEPORT (4-5 in ‘16)

6 p.m. Friday

Last year: Yough went 4-5 overall and 3-4 in the Class 3A Interstate Conference and missed the playoffs last season. Freeport (4-5, 3-4) also fell short of the Class 3A playoffs out of the Allegheny Conference after finishing on a four-game losing streak. Neither team played a Week Zero game last season, instead opting for a second scrimmage.

The buzz: With no Week 1 game because Vincentian forfeited its season, the Yellowjackets hope to get off to a good start against the Cougars. Yough begins its season with three straight games on the road.

Key players: Yough features three players over 6-foot-4 and 285 pounds on the offensive and defensive lines. Freeport's Conor Selinger rushed for 529 yards and five scores last year, and he hopes to have an even bigger offensive role this season.

About the Cougars: With the size up front, led by senior Scott Houseman (6-5, 310), Yough hopes to get junior running back Dustin Shoaf going. Shoaf rushed for 1,077 yards and 12 touchdowns last year.

About the Yellowjackets: Jake Sarver returns as a receiving threat for Freeport, and he also was an all-conference kicker and punter in 2016.

Heritage CONFERENCE

MARION CENTER (1-9 in ‘16) at LIGONIER VALLEY (14-1 in ‘16)

7 p.m. Friday

Last year: Ligonier Valley opened its historic season by defeating Marion Center, 49-0, to gain early momentum in the District 6 Heritage Conference.

The buzz: Despite the transfer of 2016 starting quarterback Tyler Lightcap, now at West Shamokin, Marion Center coach Paul DeHaven said his team has become a tight-knit group. The Stingers are 3-17 over the past two seasons. Ligonier Valley returns a veteran squad that won the PIAA District 6 Class 2A title and advanced to the state semifinals. LV's first team defense didn't allow Chestnut Ridge or Berlin-Brothersvalley to score during Saturday's scrimmage.

Key players: Marion Center's Garrick Shellhammer returns to the line as the offense reverts back to the Wing-T spread. Ligonier Valley RB Aaron Sheeder rushed for 743 yards and 11 TDs last season.

About the Stingers: Marion Center returns numerous starters, including leaders Troy Lewis, Dylan Coss and Paul McClure.

About the Rams: Ligonier Valley will be breaking in a new quarterback in sophomore Sam Sheeder. His main targets will be Aaron Tutino and Jackson Daugherty, who combined for 99 catches and 27 touchdowns last season.

NonCONFERENCE

CANON-MCMILLAN (5-5 in ‘16) at KISKI AREA (4-6 in ‘16)

7 p.m. Friday

Last year: Canon-McMillan finished 2-4 in the Class 6A Southeastern Conference and missed the playoffs. Kiski Area went 4-4 in the Class 5A Big East but also failed to make the WPIAL playoffs.

The buzz: The Cavaliers will attempt to take down the Big Macs in head coach Sam Albert's debut and begin what they hope is a playoff campaign in 5A.

Key players: Ross Greece returns to the Kiski Area offense after he surpassed 1,000 rushing yards and collected 13 touchdowns. Canon-McMillan senior OT/DE Aaron Smith is a force in the trenches at 6-foot-2 and 285 pounds.

About the Big Macs: Canon-McMillan suffered a four-game losing streak last year after toppling Kiski Area in Week Zero. The Big Macs were 11th out of 14 teams in Class 6A scoring last year at 21.6 points per game. Their 42 points against Kiski Area was surpassed only by 43 scored against Shaler.

About the Cavaliers: Albert, who spent the past 13 seasons at Highlands, has won 133 games over 23 years at Highlands, Valley, Butler and Freeport. Last year's loss to the Big Macs in the opener was followed by four straight conference victories.

NonCONFERENCE

PLUM (2-7 in ‘16) vs. PENN HILLS (4-6 in ‘16)

7 p.m. Saturday at North Allegheny

Last year: Plum went 2-6 in the Class 5A Big East Conference and missed the WPIAL playoffs. Penn Hills also was absent from the postseason, as the Indians went 2-4 in the challenging Northern Seven in 6A.

The buzz: The longtime rivals meet in the final game of the Western Pennsylvania Legends Classic at North Allegheny. The teams last met in the first round of the 2014 WPIAL Quad-A playoffs, and the No. 13 Mustangs topped the No. 4 Indians, 17-6.

Key players: Anthony Little is back in the saddle at quarterback for Plum after throwing for 711 yards and six scores as a freshman a year ago. Penn Hills senior wide receiver Julian Major, a Michigan State commit, caught 31 passes for 433 yards and seven touchdowns in 2016.

About the Mustangs: Plum hopes to get the running game going with senior standout Corey Thomas, who will tote behind a quartet of returning linemen. Hunter Fields, at 6-3, is a receiving threat.

About the Indians: Penn Hills begins its season under the direction of coach Jon LeDonne, who was the coach at Shaler from 2014-16 (2-27). He was hired this summer to replace new Kiski Area athletic director John Peterman.

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