WPIAL Class A football quarterfinals preview

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Thursday, October 29, 2020 | 4:36 PM


WPIAL Class A quarterfinals

No. 6 Avella (5-2) vs. No. 3 Jeannette (6-1)

7 p.m. Friday at McKee Stadium, Jeannette

On the air: Video at TribHSSN.TribLive.com; Audio at 95.3 FM.

Winner plays: Winner of No. 2 Rochester (6-1) and No. 7 Springdale (5-2), 7 p.m. Nov. 6 (site TBD)

Coaches: Ryan Cecchini, Avella; Roy Hall, Jeannette

Players to watch: K.J. Rush, Avella (Jr., 6-2, 225, QB); Roberto Smith Jr., Jeannette (Sr., 6-1, 185, RB)

Last week: Avella 14, Carmichaels 7; Jeannette 55, Greensburg Central Catholic 0

WPIAL playoff seasons: Avella, 10; Jeannette, 42

WPIAL playoff records: Avella, 1-7-1; Jeannette, 54-33

Four downs:

1. Avella surprised many people by finishing second to California in the Tri-County South Conference. The Eagles rebounded from a disappointing 41-31 loss at Bentworth in Week 6 to upset Carmichaels, 14-7, to clinch the school’s 10th playoff berth. The Eagles have dropped their past seven playoff games, including a 50-6 decision to Clairton in their last appearance in 2016.

2. Eagles quarterback KJ. Rush has connected on 53 of 109 passes for 823 yards. He’s thrown six touchdowns and has been intercepted 12 times. Junior Brandon Samol is his top target with 19 catches for 215 yards. Senior Tanner Terensky has 14 catches for 328 yards and five touchdowns.

3. Jeannette has run off six consecutive victories since falling to No. 1 Clairton, 34-28, in Week 1. The Jayhawks, since spotting Springdale a 21-0 lead, have outscored their opponents 140-7 in the past 11 quarters. Included in that streak are a 49-0 win against Bishop Canevin and a 55-0 win against Greensburg Central Catholic.

4. Jayhawks senior running back Roberto Smith Jr. is coming off a huge game against Greensburg Central Catholic. He rushed for 115 yards on 10 carries, scored four touchdowns, threw a touchdown pass of 42 yards to James Sanders and blocked a punt, all in the first half. He was 2 for 3 for 48 yards in relief of freshman quarterback Brad Birch.

Extra points: This is the 42nd time Jeannette has qualified for the WPIAL football playoffs. The Jayhawks’ record is 54-33-1. Jeannette lost a 16-7 decision to Sto-Rox in the 2019 playoffs. The Jayhawks have won nine WPIAL titles (1932-AA, 1939-AA, 1956-AA, 1971-A, 1981-AA, 1983-AA, 2006-AA, 2007-AA, 2017-A). … The Eagles have won or shared three WPIAL titles (1941-B, 1957-B, 1961-B). … Jeannette has defeated Avella the past two seasons in nonconference games, 55-7 in 2018 and 54-0 in 2019.

No. 8 OLSH (5-2) vs. No. 1 Clairton (6-0) at Norwin

7 p.m. Friday at Neil C. Brown Stadium, Clairton

On the air: Audio, video on TribHSSN.TribLive.com

Winner plays: Winner of No. 5 Shenango (6-1, 6-1) at No. 4 California (6-0, 6-0), 7 p.m. Nov. 6 (site TBD)

Coaches: Dan Bradley, OLSH; Wayne Wade, Clairton

Players to watch: Bobby Brazell, OLSH (Sr., 5-9, 170, WR); Brooklyn Cannon, Clairton (Jr., 5-10, 150, WR)

Last week: OLSH 42, Northgate 19; Clairton 45, Springdale 10

WPIAL playoff seasons: OLSH, 5; Clairton, 35

All-time playoff records: OLSH, 4-3; Clairton, 67-23

Four downs:

1. The Chargers established themselves as Big Seven contenders with convincing wins over Cornell, Burgettstown and Fort Cherry in the first three weeks of the season. They lost their last two road games, however, to Rochester and Shenango, both playoff teams.

2. OLSH all-purpose back Jay Pearson is a big-play threat. He had a 92-yard scoring run and a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown over the final two weeks of the regular season. He had an 85-yard kickoff return score and an 80-yard receiving touchdown against Burgettstown.

3. Clairton got its grudge match out of the way early this season, beating Jeannette, 34-28, in the de facto Eastern Conference championship game in Week 1. After that, the Bears have rolled in traditionally dominant Clairton fashion, never scoring fewer than 45 points and never giving up more than 18.

4. Good luck stopping Clairton’s playmakers. Donte Sanders is a game-breaking running back with 83 carries for 1,195 yards and 19 touchdowns. Stack the line of scrimmage too much and Jonte Sanders is a true dual-threat quarterback with a penchant for big plays in the passing game.

Extra points: Over the last 12 years, only three teams can say they’ve beaten Clairton in a WPIAL playoff game — Sto-Rox in 2013, Jeannette in 2017 and OLSH in 2018, a 27-7 semifinal win for the Chargers en route to a WPIAL title. Clairton got a measure of revenge, blanking OLSH, 41-0, in a first-round game last year. … Clairton won the 700th game in school history last week. The 67 playoff wins are second to Aliquippa in the WPIAL. … The Bears have won 14 WPIAL titles and have qualified for playoffs each of the last 15 seasons.

No. 5 Shenango (6-1) at No. 4 California (6-0)

7 p.m. Friday at Ernie Berger Stadium, California

On the air: Audio on 590 AM, 101.1 FM and on TribHSSN.TribLive.com

Winner plays: Winner of No. 8 OLSH (5-2) vs. No. 1 Clairton (6-0), 7 p.m. Nov. 6 (site TBD)

Coaches: Jimmy Graham, Shenango; Ed Woods, California

Players to watch: Reis Watkins, Shenango (Sr., 6-3, 220, RB); Jaeden Zuzak, California (Sr., 5-10, 206, RB)

Last week: Rochester 13, Shenango 0; California 10, Monessen 0 (Monessen forfeit)

WPIAL playoff seasons: Shenango, 13; California, 23

All-time playoff records: Shenango, 5-12; California 7-2-1

Four downs:

1. Shenango entered its Week 7 showdown against Rochester looking for a win to finish off a perfect regular season and an outright Big 7 Conference championship. It didn’t happen. The game was first delayed nearly two hours because of a police situation near Rochester High School. Then, with the Wildcats trialing 13-0 in the third quarter, the game was delayed by lightning and then suspended until Saturday. Neither team scored after the game resumed, and the Rams prevailed and finished as co-champions with the Wildcats.

2. The Wildcats played without their big gun on offense as senior running back Reis Watkins missed the game with a high ankle sprain. Despite missing the game and part of another, Watkins is the fourth leading rusher in the WPIAL with 1,226 yards on 108 carries with 21 touchdowns. Shenango is hopeful Watkins will be able to play in the quarterfinals.

3. California’s sixth win of the season was so easy, it didn’t even have to suit up and take the field. Week 7 turned into an off week for the Trojans as their scheduled game with Monessen was declared a 10-0 victory as the Greyhounds forfeited their final three games of the season. The win gave Cal the Tri-County South Conference championship outright.

4. The off week didn’t help senior running back Jaden Zuzak, who finished second in the WPIAL regular season rushing race to Teddy Ruffner of Mars. For the season, Zuzak has 1,366 yards on 87 carries for a robust 15.7 yards per carry average. He is, however, still on top of the district scoring board with 25 touchdowns and four extra points.

Extra points: This is the first gridiron meeting between Shenango and California. Shenango is hoping to win its first playoff game since 2015 when it defeated Springdale, 23-10. … A win puts the Wildcats into the WPIAL semifinals for the first time since 1987. … California completed the school’s fifth undefeated regular season in school history. The Trojans were perfect in 1925, 1948, 1949 and 2017. … The Trojans have reached the district playoffs for the 17th time in the last 22 seasons.

No. 7 Springdale (5-2) at No. 2 Rochester (6-1)

7 p.m. Friday at Rochester Football Field, Rochester

On the air: Audio at 92.1 FM and TribHSSN.TribLive.com

Winner plays: Winner of No. 3 Jeannette (6-1) vs. No. 6 Avella (5-2), 7 p.m. Nov. 6 (site TBD)

Coaches: Seth Napierkowski, Springdale; Gene Matsook, Rochester

Players to watch: Legend Ausk, Springdale (Jr., 6-1, 160, QB); Denny Robinson, Rochester (Jr., 5-9, 160, RB/OLB)

Last week: Clairton 45, Springdale 10; Rochester 13, Shenango 0

WPIAL playoffs seasons: Springdale, 18; Rochester, 28

All-time playoff records: Springdale, 20-14; Rochester, 59-19-1

Four downs:

1. Rochester, under veteran head coach Gene Matsook, lost just once in the regular season, a 21-19 upset at the hands of Fort Cherry on Oct. 9. The Rams needed two days to top Shenango, 13-0, in the regular-season finale to claim their piece of the Big Seven Conference title.

2. In a defensive struggle against Shenango, Rashawn Reed collected 71 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries, while Denny Robinson added 71 yards on 19 rushes. Reed and Robinson have combined to score more than two dozen touchdowns this season for the Rams.

3. Springdale’s two losses this season came against No. 1 Clairton and No. 3 Jeannette in Eastern Conference play. The Dynamos led the Jayhawks 21-0 and 28-21 before falling, 36-28, on Oct. 9. Despite those setbacks, the WPIAL committee selected Springdale to receive one of the two wild-card playoff berths.

4. Dmitri Fritch, at 6-foot-4 and 185 pounds, has proven himself to be one of the top receivers in Class A this season. Junior quarterback Legend Ausk has returned to form after missing most of last year with a collarbone injury. Senior Cavin Kindler and juniors Logan Dexter and John Utiss also are threats to make plays.

Extra points: Springdale seeks its first WPIAL playoff victory since a win at Carmichaels in 2016. The Dynamos are the last Alle-Kiski Valley team to win a WPIAL title (2003). … Springdale and Rochester have met in the playoffs three times in four years from 2003-06. The Dynamos won 24-23 in triple overtime in the 2003 semifinals, and the Rams were victorious in the 2005 semifinals and 2006 quarterfinals. … Rochester has won eight WPIAL titles, including five from 1998 to 2004.

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