WPIAL Class 3A football breakdown: Aliquippa to be challenged in defense of PIAA title

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Wednesday, August 14, 2019 | 11:18 AM


When Mike Warfield took over the storied Aliquippa program last season, the bar was set high for the first-year coach.

With a roster full of Division I athletes such as M.J. Devonshire (Kentucky), Will Gipson (Pitt) and Solvauhn Moreland (Ball State), the Quips charged through their competition on the way to their first state championship since 2003.

So the question is: How does Warfield improve on his first year at the helm?

“I try to put the focus on preparing ourselves every day, doing the best we can and working as hard as we can,” Warfield said. “I try not to think about records. I try not to compare teams because each team is different, and each season is different.”

Warfield implemented an air raid type of offense last season that took opponents by storm. The Quips scored a WPIAL-high 704 points.

But, as Warfield mentioned, each season is different, and the Quips still are searching for this year’s identity.

“We do have some talent this year, but each team’s skill set is different,” Warfield said. “We just have to see who or what gives us the best chance to win.”

Like Aliquippa, some of the top teams from 2018 are reloading. WPIAL runner-up Derry lost 16 seniors to graduation, Elizabeth Forward lost 11, Freeport 16 and Beaver Falls 13. It’s a type of turnover that could signify a changing of the tides and indicate the classification is up for grabs.

“Every season is a clean slate,” Derry coach Tim Sweeney said. “It’s one of the refreshing things. Every year, teams change so much just because of attrition.”

North Catholic fell victim to graduation like other teams but in terms of production rather than numbers. The Trojans lost just seven seniors but need to replace their top two receivers and leading rusher.

Coach Pat O’Shea said he believes their preparation from last year will counteract the loss of production.

“There were kids that were right behind (the seniors), and we made sure their backups were well prepared,” O’Shea said. “So I think as a coaching staff one of the things we’re excited about is the amount of experience we have coming back. A lot of the kids have gotten a lot of time playing over the last few years, and they know our system.”

While the Trojans will lean on experience to reload for another playoff run, Elizabeth Forward will count on the culture that has been established over the past few years.

Since Mike Collodi became coach, the Warriors have gone from a three-win team to an eight-win team in four seasons, have won back-to-back conference championships and, in turn, established a winning culture.

After losing several of his team’s statistical leaders, Collodi is certain the culture they’ve established will outweigh their youth.

“We are going to be young, but that’s a good thing because these young guys have seen what it takes to turn around a program,” Collodi said. “Their youth isn’t going to hinder their performance because they are hungry, and they want to continue that tradition of winning at Elizabeth Forward.”

In Class 3A, every year is different. While some teams remain at the top, others take advantage of a special group of players who allow them to be successful for the stretch run. Coach Mark Lyons believes his Central Valley team could have that type of group this year.

After winning five of their final six regular-season games, including a 14-8 win over Aliquippa, the Warriors finished the 2018 season on a high note. They return several key players and are confident for the upcoming season.

“That was very important for us, being that we were so young,” Lyons said. “A lot of the guys have some valuable experience, and they were able to figure it out and get it going in the right direction. They kind of used that as a springboard for this offseason.”

Just one team in WPIAL Class 3A will feature a new head coach this season. Matt Weiss takes over at Hopewell. The Rochester grad, who replaces Mark Washington, spent the past 10 seasons on the staff at his alma mater.


THE FAVORITE

1. Aliquippa (16-1)

The Quips will look different after capturing the WPIAL and PIAA Class 3A championships last year. But in his first year at the helm, coach Mike Warfield showed his ability to change schemes and adapt to the strength of his team.

Preseason rankings

2. North Catholic (10-2)

3. Elizabeth Forward (8-2)

4. Central Valley (5-6)

5. Derry (11-2)


THE STARS

Gavin Adams — Derry, sr., OL/DT

Adams helped clear the way for two seniors who each rushed for more than 1,000 yards as Derry reached the WPIAL championship. The 6-4, 280-pound first-team all-conference tackle has an offer from St. Francis (Pa.).

Seth Fischbach Burrell, sr., WR/DB

Fischbach scored 5 touchdowns last season for a running team. But with a new quarterback running coach Shawn Liotta’s explosive and fast-paced offense, Fischbach expects a breakout year.

Zuriah Fisher — Aliquippa, Sr., LB/TE

He’s one of the most highly-recruited talents in Class 3A, with more than two dozen FBS offers. He helped Aliquippa capture a WPIAL and PIAA championship last year and will step into the spotlight this season.

Zack Rocco — North Catholic, sr., QB/SS

The 6-foot-3, 235-pound quarterback threw for nearly 2,000 yards and 26 touchdowns last year, but the Trojans were depleted by graduation. Look for Rocco to play a bigger role on both sides of the ball.

Logan Shrubb Keystone Oaks, jr., QB

The dual-threat quarterback accumulated a total of 2,488 yards last year. With his leading receiver and rusher gone, he’ll carry more of the load as a junior.


DON’T MISS

Sept. 20: Derry at North Catholic

Derry handed North Catholic both of its losses last season, and the teams were two of the top three in the conference. After graduating key contributors, both teams will be looking to re-establish themselves.

Oct. 11: Freeport at Burrell

Freeport is looking to build on 2018. Burrell is looking to establish itself as a contender. This game could have playoff implications for both.

Oct. 25: Central Valley at Aliquippa

The Warriors spoiled Aliquippa’s perfect season last year, and while the Quips lost plenty of Division I talent, Central Valley could be a sleeping giant in Class 3A. This Week 10 game should be an exciting matchup.


TEAM PREVIEWS

Aliquippa

Beaver Falls

Burrell

Central Valley

Deer Lakes

Derry

Elizabeth Forward

Freeport

Hopewell

Keystone Oaks

Mt. Pleasant

North Catholic

Quaker Valley

South Park

Uniontown

Waynesburg

Yough


BREAKDOWNS

6A | 5A | 4A | 3A | 2A | A

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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