WPIAL Big Game Hunting – Week One 2015

Wednesday, September 2, 2015 | 9:16 PM

The 2015 WPIAL football season will culminate in the crowning of football champions for the 101st time in WPIAL history, and no, Don Rebel has not covered all of those games. He had an out of town meeting in 1938 and a really bad cold kept him away once in the late forties, but he will be there this year. Also, Big Game Hunting will be with you the entire length of the high school football season as well. From week one through Heinz Field and then with every District 7 team as they continue into the PIAA Playoffs BGH and the MSA Sports Network will continue to provide you with the best, most thorough and up-to-date coverage of all the teams you love, and even the teams you love to hate. We kick-off the 2015 campaign with the defending champions from each classification. And so, as a doctor from Murrysville once said, “Let’s go Big Game Hunting!”

AAAA Northern Eight Conference

Pine-Richland Rams (0-0)(0-0) vs Shaler Titans (0-0)(0-0) Friday September 4th @ 7:30 PM at Pine-Richland Stadium broadcast on the MSA Sports Network by Adam Hoerner and Cory Campano

The Rams lost a ton to graduation, gone are DiNucci, Slomka, and Mearhut from the defending champions’ roster. That’s their leading passer, rusher and both their top two receivers gone. Head coach Eric Kasperowicz won’t make any excuse though. You can bet on that. In fact, Kasperowicz told BGH, the goals never change, even though the players do, “Last year, in only our second year, the PR Football program made significant strides. We captured our first AAAA conference championship with wins over key conference rivals, and won the programs 4th WPIAL Championship and first in AAAA. Led by the most prolific AAAA offense in state history, and an aggressive, gutty defense, we made it to the PIAA Championship game in Hershey, only to fall just short to the defending state champions. While the outcome wasn’t what we would have liked, the record books show we put on the greatest offensive performance in championship game history both by our players and the team. More importantly, we set the bar for what the Pine-Richland football program aspires to accomplish every year.”

The Rams have some returnees up front at the offensive tackle position, and they also have tremendous numbers on the football team this year.

Anthony Battaglia is back on both sides of the ball as a skill player, solid receiver who last year caght 35 passes for over 500 yards and six touchdowns. Battaglia is also a very solid defender.

Sophomore Phil Jurkovec will be in the mix to become the signal-caller that replaces DiNucci for the Rams. Jurkovec has the size, vision and athleticism for the job, he will be challenged by Max Devinney. 

The Shaler Titans are looking to snap a 31 game losing streak here in the 2015 campaign. Head coach John LeDonne begins his second season as the mentor of the Titans.

Shaler will be facing a tall task working for that win in a fully-loaded Northern Eight conference. One of the strengths of the Titans could be in the secondary where all four players return with some experience.

The Titans not only have to overcome the brutal conference slate but also must find a way to overcome the mental hurdle that carrying the 5th longest losing streak in WPIAL history brings with it. That hurdle will be the toughest test the Titans face this year.

 AAA Parkway Conference Central Valley Warriors (0-0)(0-0) vs Montour Spartans (0-0)(0-0) Friday September 4th @ 7:00 PM at Central Valley high school broadcast on the MSA Sports Network and WKPL FM 92.1 by Rob Matzie and Johnny Lee, also broadcast on the MSA Sports Network and WMBA-AM 1460 by Tom Hays and Bruce Frey

No week one warm-up games here in the Parkway my friends. This is a huge game to kick-off the 2015 campaign. This game could end up having repercussions that we talk about with regard to the top-seed in the AAA playoffs during the playoff pairings show here on the MSA Sports Network.

Gone for the defending champs are John George and Jordan Whitehead.

But the cupboard is not nearly bare for Mark Lyons. The bulk of the offensive and defensive lines return, and also back, is quarterback Chris Callaghan who tossed for more than 1300 yards in relief of George last season. Look for Kyle Vreen who rushed for nearly 300 yards last year to have a bigger role in the running game for Central Valley as well.

  The fact that the Warriors were so loaded with game-breaking playmakers offensively for the last few season also may have distracted people from the fact that they have had one of the top defenses in the WPIAL consistently. While the athletes are a part of that, so are coaching and teamwork, and tenacity. None of those things have graduated. The Warriors are a contender, in the Parkway, and that makes you a contender for the WPIAL title.

Montour figured to be a huge contender with nearly everyone returning from a team that gave both the big dogs in the Parkway everything they might could have wanted last year. In fact after calling the Montour loss to West Allegheny last year I was convinced the Spartans would be my first pick for the 2015 WPIAL AAA championship.

Those expectations took a hit this summer when incumbent quarterback Randall Labrie suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Lou Cerro still has a very talented football team returning that will now be led by senior Tyler Carswell who moves from wideout to signal-caller to replace Labrie.

Carswell’s top target will be Tom Sylvester, but it says here keep your eyes on tight end Trent Vietmeier who is a big target at 6’3’’ 210 pounds and also as tough as nails.

Vietmeier will also help a strong, experienced offensive line block for one of the top returning running backs in AAA in senior David Haseleu who rushed for nearly 1200 yards last season and also scored 19 touchdowns.

‘Captain Lou’, is not as loaded as we thought he might be, but he is still loaded. The Captain stopped by to tell BGH about the upcoming opener, “We have a lot of experience, a lot of players that have been 2 year starters, but going in to Central Valley, especially after winning a WPIAL title and state runner-up finish, will be a tough task for an opener. We are still finding our way, but we will be ready.”

We have no doubt about that. The defending champ’s opener is always featured in week one of BGH as has been the tradition, but this game would have been the game in AAA either way.

AA Century Conference South Fayette Lions (0-0)(0-0) vs East Allegheny Wildcats Friday September 4th @ 7:00 PM @ East Allegheny high school broadcast on the MSA Sports Network by Josh Rowntree and James Dotson

No football team in Pennsylvania has ever lost more to graduation than Joe Rossi’s South Fayette Lions. Gone are Brett Brumbaugh and his record setting numbers throwing the football. Losing a lot, does not mean you don’t still have a lot coming back and that is the case for the two-time defending WPIAL and PIAA Champions.

South Fayette enters the 2015 campaign with a 32 game winning streak and something to prove to their doubters.

Back for the Lions this year their entire starting offensive line from last season, and a guy who rushed for more than 2,000 yards last year as a junior in Hunter Hayes. Also back are wideouts Nick Ponikvar and Danny Trimbur.

Also back for the Lions almost all of a defense that allowed the second fewest points per game in AA all of last season.

That supporting cast should make the transition to a new quarterback an easy one for the Lions. Whether it is sophomore Drew Saxton or junior Mike Speca that gets the call to make the calls for the Lions, look for the Lions to make a run at a third straight WPIAL title here in 2015.

East Allegheny will look to build on a 4-6 campaign in 2014. Third year head coach Mike Pecora likes what he has returning for the Wildcats this seas, and rightfully so.

Senior quarterback Deion Smith can run it or throw it and is the prototypical “read option” quarterback. Last year he rushed for over 600 yards and scored seven touchdowns, while also tossing for over 900 yards and a dozen scores.

The Wildcats lost their top two receivers to graduation but look for sophomore T.J. Banks to become a big time playmaker on the offensive side of the ball this year as a big target for Smith. Banks is already a fantastic defensive end drawing D-1 interest.

Brian Malloy will lead a very young group of running backs for East Allegheny, but that group will be running behind a very talented and experienced offensive line.

A Non-Conference Clairton Bears (0-0)(0-0) vs California Trojans (0-0)(0-0) Friday September 4th @ 7:00 PM @ Neil Brown Stadium in Clairton, PA broadcast on the MSA Sports Network by Greg Warnock and Kyle Dawson

Da Bears! Once again Clairton will be a heavy favorite in single A. The Bears will go in hunt of their 7th WPIAL championship in the last eight years. Head coach Wayne Wade will sit out the first game of the year for the Bears serving a one-game suspension for the team’s frustrated reaction to a late call in their PIAA championship game loss to Bishop Guilfoyle.

Back is Lamont Wade after a sophomore season in which he rushed for a WPIAL record 2,725 yards and scored 38 touchdowns. Here is the kicker that no one ever adds to that note, Wade wasn’t even the Bears starting running back until week four. He only had seven carries through the first two weeks of the season!

QB Ryan Williams was lost to graduation but Aaron Matthews will move back to quarterback, where he played in his sophomore season, and keep that Bear offense running smoothly. Oh, by the way Matthews last year was 4 of 4 passing for 212 yards and two touchdowns. If Coach Wade wants to shift Matthews back out to wide receiver where he creates massive match-up troubles for every single A team with his size and athleticism, there are several young talented arms waiting in the wings.

Harrison Dreher also is back after missing significant time due to injury last season. Look for the senior to be playing with a chip on his shoulder this year.

Jyleel Hall and Dan Payo are a pair of four returning starters on the offensive line for Clairton this season.

I don’t see Clairton losing a football game this season, there I said it, I am allowed I am a lowly pundit but I look for Clairton to be 16-0, I will be stunned if that doesn’t happen. The only possible reason it would not, injuries. The Bears talent is never-ending but their roster remains one of the smallest in the WPIAL. A sudden rash of injuries is the only thing capable of stopping them.  

Darren Dillow will have his first game as a head coach for the California Trojans be, on the road, against Clairton. This is the ultimate baptism by fire. Coach Dillow will find out a whole lot about his club and how they will compete in the Tri-County South this season.

KC Zajicek will be a key for the Trojans and will be a jack of all trades, running throwing and even sometimes catching passes. He returns after scoring nine touchdowns last season.

Tyler Troutman will see time under center as well for the Trojans. The offensive and defensive lines for California will be a strength once they get into conference play led by senior Mason Grillo, and junior 245 pounders Nick Barron and James Harris.

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