Westmoreland County’s don’t-miss matchups for the opening round

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Wednesday, November 1, 2017 | 7:15 PM


Class 6A First round

8-Norwin (5-5) at 1-Pine-Richland (10-0)

7:30 p.m. Friday

Last week: Norwin defeated Hempfield, 24-14. Pine-Richland rolled past North Allegheny, 48-28.

The buzz: Norwin has been one of the more sound defensive teams in the WPIAL this season, allowing just 15.4 points per game. But the Knights have not seen a quarterback like Pine-Richland standout Phil Jurkovec, a Notre Dame recruit.

Key players: Middle linebacker John Piekut is the heart of the defense for Norwin. He had a game-sealing, 2-yard interception return for a touchdown last week at Hempfield. Quarterback Jack Salopek continues to progress in the pocket. For Pine-Richland, Jurkovec is where it starts, but watch running backs Jordan Crawford (900 yards, 19 TDs) and Kenny White (405 yards, 8 TDs).

About the Knights: A strong group of linebackers fuels the defense, but the secondary will be tested. Junior safety Jayvon Thrift will try to deter Jurkovec's options. The Knights have 12 sacks, 36 tackles for losses and seven interceptions.

About the Rams: They have not scored fewer than 41 points in a game and have an average margin of victory of 38.3 points. Pine-Richland is chasing its third WPIAL title and first since 2014.

Class 5A First round

8-Fox Chapel (6-4) at 1-Penn-Trafford (9-1)

7:30 p.m. Friday

Last week: P-T fell to McKeesport, 27-24. Fox Chapel routed Plum, 42-14.

The buzz: P-T hopes to bounce back from its first loss of the season, while Fox Chapel attempts to feed off a big victory over Plum.

Key players: Fox Chapel quarterback Nick Gizzo has carried the ball 199 times for 1,239 yards and 18 touchdowns. He also has thrown for 763 yards (57 for 119) and five scores. Penn-Trafford running back John Gay IV heads into the postseason with a team-best 1,088 yards and 14 TDs on 125 carries. He tallied 182 yards and a TD last week.

About the Foxes: Fox Chapel qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2014. The Foxes have won five straight after dropping four of their first five games. The running game is averaging 289.1 yards and tallied 380 yards in last week's victory over Plum.

About the Warriors: Penn-Trafford returns to the playoffs after missing out last season. The Warriors were the only team in Class 5A to allow an average of fewer than 10 points per game (9.3). P-T and Fox Chapel last met in the first round of the WPIAL Quad-A playoffs in 2014, and the Warriors won 40-13 en route to the semifinals.

Class 5A First round

5-Franklin Regional (6-3) at 4-Upper St. Clair (7-3)

7:30 p.m. Friday

Last week: Franklin Regional lost to Gateway, 33-17. Upper St. Clair fell to Woodland Hills, 9-7.

The buzz: Two longtime coaches — Franklin Regional's Greg Botta and Upper St. Clair's Jim Render — square off with similar-style teams. They play tough defense and like to control the ball on offense. Franklin Regional defeated USC, 28-21, in the 2002 playoffs.

Key players: Franklin Regional is led by senior center/linebacker Bryce Lauer, the Panthers leading tackler. Upper St. Clair is led by quarterback Jack Hansberry, who has completed 91 of 173 passes for 1,376 yards and nine touchdowns.

About the FR Panthers: Franklin Regional has battled through numerous injuries in 2017. Senior athlete Nate Leopold has filled in at quarterback when needed and is the leading rusher (523 yards), receiver (20 catches for 310 yards) and scorer with six touchdowns.

About the USC Panthers: Upper St. Clair features a strong running attack with Colin McLinden, who has 760 yards and 12 touchdowns, and Hansberry, with 526 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Class 4A First round

7-Mars (6-4) at 2-Belle Vernon (9-0)

7:30 p.m. Friday

Last week: Mars lost to Knoch, 21-10. Belle Vernon coasted to a 42-0 win at Ambridge.

The buzz: Belle Vernon completed its second undefeated season in three years and wants to make a lengthy playoff run with one of its more talented teams. The Leopards lost in the first round last season to West Mifflin. Mars has played a brutally tough schedule, with losses to South Fayette, Thomas Jefferson and Montour.

Key players: Jake Pfrogner is the go-to receiver for sophomore quarterback Jake Hartman, and the Leopards like to use a running back by committee with four backs with more than 30 carries. Hartman has 15 TD passes. Wing-T-infused Mars is led by running backs Garrett Renke (474 yards), Chuckie Green (469) and Teddy Ruffner (462).

About the Fighting Planets: Typically known for a strong defense and running game, the perennially-strong Planets have allowed just 16.3 points a game.

About the Leopards: An opportunistic defense has been a quick field-flipper for Belle Vernon all season. The team has 13 fumble recoveries and 10 interceptions.

Class A First round

14-Monessen (3-7) at 3-Jeannette (9-1)

7:30 p.m. Friday

Last week: Monessen defeated Mapletown, 30-6. Jeannette lost to Clairton, 40-6.

The buzz: First-year coach Mike Blainefield helpedMonessen return to the playoffs after a disappointing 2016 season. The only time these schools have met in the playoffs was in 1972. The game finished tied 14-14, but Jeannette was awarded the win because it had more yards. There was no overtime rules in place. Jeannette tries to rebound after a loss to Clairton that likely cost the Jayhawks the No. 1 seed.

Key players: Monessen athlete Isaiah Beltram has rushed for 194 yards and has 12 catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns. Jeannette senior Tre Cunningham has 18 catches for 202 yards and also is the team's kicker with 35 extra points and two field goals.

About the Greyhounds: Monessen qualified for the playoffs with a win against Mapletown. The Greyhounds are trying to return as a powerhouse program.

About the Jayhawks: First-year quarterback Robert Kennedy has guided the offense well, throwing for more than 1,000 yards and 21 touchdowns and running for 760 and 19.

District 6-AA First round

8-West Shamokin (6-4) at 1-Ligonier Valley (10-0)

7 p.m. Friday

Last week: West Shamokin outscored Meyersdale, 32-18. Ligonier Valley blanked Berlin Brothersvalley, 41-0.

The buzz: The returning District 6 champion Rams open defense of their title by facing conference foe West Shamokin, which Ligonier Valley defeated, 42-0, on Sept. 29.

Key players: West Shamokin junior running back Dan Goldstrohm has rushed for a team-high 683 yards and eight touchdowns. Ligonier Valley running back Jackson Daugherty has rushed for 719 yards and caught 26 passes for 610 yards. He has scored 20 touchdowns.

About the Wolves: West Shamokin relies on the strong running attack of Goldstrohm and senior Jacob Szul, who has gained 613 yards. Junior quarterback Tyler Lightcap has completed 55 of 92 passes for 690 yards and eight touchdowns. Szul also has 21 catches for 296 yards.

About the Rams: Ligonier Valley posted its seventh shutout of the season last week during its Appalachian Bowl victory. The defense has allowed 26 points this season, while the offense has produced 494.

Class 6A First round

5-North Allegheny (7-3) at 4-Mt. Lebanon (6-4)

7:30 p.m. Friday

Last week: North Allegheny lost 48-28 to Pine-Richland to snap a six-game winning streak. Mt. Lebanon lost 34-24 to Bethel Park.

The buzz: The Tigers, who finished third in the Northern Seven at 4-2, defeated the Blue Devils, 44-27, on Sept. 29. Mt. Lebanon was second in the Southeastern at 5-1.

Key players: North Allegheny quarterback Luke Trueman has thrown for more than 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns and has added 830 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. Mt. Lebanon quarterback James Stocker has thrown for nearly 2,000 yards and 12 touchdowns despite missing time with an injury.

About the Tigers: North Allegheny averaged 36.2 points this season while allowing 19.6. Turner White leads the team in rushing with 862 yards and 12 scores.

About the Blue Devils: Mt. Lebanon, which has outscored opponents 314-266, features a dynamic passing attack. Wide receiver Aidan Cain sent WPIAL regular season records for receptions (93) and receiving yards (1,648).

Class 6A First round

6-Penn Hills (7-3) at 3-Bethel Park (8-1)

7:30 p.m. Friday

Last week: Penn Hills lost 21-0 to Central Catholic. Bethel Park clinched the Southeastern Conference title with a 34-24 win over rival Mt. Lebanon.

The buzz: A spot in the semifinals is on the line. Bethel Park lost in the first round last season, but has won five straight. Penn Hills, which missed the 2016 playoffs, won its first three games before falling to Pine-Richland.

Key players: Penn Hills quarterback Hollis Mathis has guided an explosive aerial attack with 2,093 yards and 23 touchdowns, but Penn Hills has added balance in the running game with Tank Smith and Tim Smith, who have combined for nearly 1,000 yards on the ground. Bethel Park running back Tanner Volpatti has rushed for more than 1,100 yards and 22 TDs in an offense built to control time of possession.

About the Indians: Receivers Dante Cephas and Daequan Hardy each have more than 30 catches and 700 yards.

About the Black Hawks: Bethel Park's only loss came to No. 1 Pine-Richland, 54-20. A rematch could happen in the semifinals. John Doleno is a valuable weapon on offense with 209 receiving yards and 643 rushing yards. He has scored 12 times.

Class 5A First round

6-McKeesport (7-2) at 3-West Allegheny (7-2)

7:30 p.m. Friday

Last week: McKeesport defeated top-seeded Penn-Trafford 27-24. West Allegheny saw a two-game winning streak snapped with a 27-20 loss to Moon.

The buzz: This game is a rematch from last season's WPIAL Class 5A championship that West Allegheny won 38-37. West Allegheny kicker D.J. Opsatnick booted a field goal as time expired to send the game into overtime, and QB Nick Ross ran in a 2-point conversion in OT to win the game.

Key players: McKeesport is led by a three-pronged rushing attack, with Layton Jordan (968 yards, 14 TDs), John Harper (825 yards, 14 TDs) and Carlos Acie (613 yards, 8 TDs). The West Allegheny run game is paced by Will Weber and Dante Flati, who each have more than 400 yards on the ground. Weber has scored 10 touchdowns.

About the Tigers: McKeesport scored a bounce-back win last week after losing 21-18 to Gateway in Week 8. The Tigers had won six straight to that point. They are averaging 35.3 points.

About the Indians: West Allegheny started 5-0 before a loss to Upper St. Clair. The Indians, who finished second in the Allegheny Nine, are averaging 29 points per game.

Class 4A First round

6-Trinity (6-3) at 3-Thomas Jefferson (8-1)

7:30 p.m. Friday

Last week: Trinity defeated Ringgold, 55-34, for its third straight win in the Big 9 Conference. Thomas Jefferson defeated West Mifflin, 37-7, to finish second in the Big 9.

The buzz: Trinity is looking to avenge a 35-0 loss in Week 2, with a first-round upset over the conference-rival Jaguars.

Key players: Trinity's Joe Koroly is one of the WPIAL's leading rushers with more than 1,800 yards and 23 touchdowns. Thomas Jefferson's balanced offensive attack is led by quarterback Shane Stump (1,217 yards, 18 TDs) and running back Justin Vigna (1,264 yards, 20 TDs).

About the Hillers: Since starting 0-2, Trinity has outscored opponents 313-125.

About the Jaguars: The two-time defending WPIAL champion Jaguars were ranked No. 1 in Class 4A for most of the season before falling to Belle Vernon, 21-17, in Week 7. TJ, which averages 43.7 points, features Pitt recruits Devin Danielson and Noah Palmer on the offensive line.

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