WPIAL football conference preview: Class A Big Seven

Tuesday, August 22, 2017 | 5:42 PM

The favorite

Rochester (11-1 overall, 8-0 Big Seven in 2016)

Rochester rolled to 11 straight victories before falling to Jeannette, 30-20, in the WPIAL semifinals last season, outscoring opponents 316-95. The Rams graduated first-team all-conference QB Ian Kouba, but have talent returning. On defense, senior safety Caleb Collins is back after being named the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year last season. Collins also will get a heavy load of carries in the offensive backfield. Junior defensive back Darius Goosby also is an impact player.

The contenders

Northgate (10-2, 7-1)

Bolstered by a runner-up finish in conference play and a trip to the WPIAL semifinals last season, the Flames have high expectations behind senior RB Surron Adams, who was a dual-threat quarterback last season and a unanimous all-conference selection on offense and defense as a defensive lineman. Five starters return on offense and four on defense. They will miss leading receiver Mike Allen, who graduated.

OLSH (7-3, 6-2)

Led by junior QB Tyler Bradley, OLSH hopes to return to the postseason after averaging 36.2 points last season. Also back is junior RB/DB Austin Wigley, who ran for nearly 1,000 yards and 15 TDs.

Sto-Rox (6-5, 5-3)

Five starters return on both sides of the ball for the Vikings, who reached the playoffs last season. Senior TE/LB Taiwan La’rue made 80 tackles last season, and senior RB/DB Davonte Williams led the team in rushing with 294 yards and five scores. Sophomore Eric Wilson will be under center after throwing for 636 yards and six scores last season.

Shenango (4-6, 4-4)

A playoff team a year ago, Shenango returns seven starters on both sides of the ball, including QB/DB Max Reamer (977 yards, 10 TDs), leading rusher Brayden Smiley (539 yards, 5 TDs) and RB Josh Young (362 yards, 3 TDs). Linemen Sam Miloser, Dakota Peters and Andrew Seitam also return.

Western Beaver (4-6, 2-6)

Senior QB/LB Jeddy Young returns for his third season under center and is a threat to throw and also run. Senior Roman Greene (6-2, 320) is back to anchor the lines.

Summit Academy (3-6, 2-6)

A school for court-adjudicated youths, Summit rarely returns many starting players. Summit will lean on juniors Victor Ocasio at linebacker and Brian Colbert at end.

Union (3-7, 2-6)

Union won three of four games mid-season but three-game losing streaks bookended the run to keep the team out of the playoffs. All-conference senior DB Tre’ Charles anchors the defense and will be a key playmaker on offense. Union will rely on a strong front seven on defense, including senior lineman Reno Million, an all-conference selection last season.

Cornell (0-9, 0-8)

Nine starters are back on both sides of the ball for Cornell, including sophomore QB/S Zaier Harrison and senior WR Stefan Blacksone.

Players to watch

Surron Adams

Northgate, sr., RB/DL

The 5-foot-6, 180-pound senior ran for 1,125 yards and 24 touchdowns and also threw for 1,642 yards and 12 scores last season.

Tyler Bradley

OLSH, sr., QB

Bradley completed 119 of 202 passes for 2,400 yards and 23 touchdowns last season to earn second-team all-conference recognition.

Caleb Collins

Rochester, sr., RB/S

The reigning conference Defensive Player of the Year returns as a leader on defense for the Big Seven favorite. He ran for 798 yards and caught 24 passes for 360 yards, combining for 17 scores.

Games to watch

9.1 Northgate at OLSH

The Flames got off to a good start last season with a 40-6 victory.

9.29 Northgate at Rochester

This game decided the conference title last season, with Rochester winning 30-26.

10.28 Sto-Rox vs. OLSH at Moon

Playoff positioning likely will be on the line in this Big Seven battle.

Fast facts

• Sto-Rox started 3-0 last season before dropping three straight games to Rochester, Northgate and Washington, being outscored 130-27 in that stretch. The Vikings bounced back with three straight wins.

• Veteran Rochester coach Gene Matsook was named the Big 7 Coach of the Year last season.

— Bill Hartlep

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