WPIAL football conference preview: Class A Tri-County South

Monday, August 21, 2017 | 6:54 PM

The favorite

Fort Cherry (9-2 overall, 6-1 Tri-County South in 2016)

The Tri-County South runner-up last season, Fort Cherry returns a talented offensive attack that averaged a conference-best 33.2 points last season. The group will be led by versatile senior Ryhan Culberson, a dual-threat quarterback who also can play receiver and cornerback and averages 45 yards on punts. He will be complemented in the backfield by junior all-conference fullback Zach Vincenti and running backs Matt Staley and Nick Candelore, as well as fellow QB Brady Whalen. Four starting linemen also return.

The contenders

Carmichaels (7-3, 7-0)

Carmichaels returns seven starters on offense, including three senior all-conference linemen: Tim Currey, Austin Strahan and Evan Burnett. Senior Brennen Pelzer returns after running for 464 yards and 10 scores and earning all-conference laurels. The Mighty Mikes will miss graduated QB Johnny Christopher, who combined for 1,400 yards passing and rushing.

California (6-5, 5-2)

Senior running back Jonathan Wood scored nine touchdowns last season en route to earning all-conference honors. Cochise Ryan, a QB/RB/DB, also was an all-conference pick last season after scoring six times. The group will rely on returning all-conference lineman Braden Collins and TE/LB Ben Bilitski.

Mapletown (5-6, 4-3)

The Maples will look to return to the playoffs behind a strong running game led by senior all-conference tailback Dylan Rush and senior lineman Tanner Weston. Senior TE/DE Ron Burkoholder-Walter also returns.

West Greene (3-7, 2-5)

West Greene has nine starters back on offense, including sophomore RB/LB Ben Jackson, who was all-conference last season after rushing for 1,199 yards and 10 scores. Senior QB Zach Pettit (17-45, 216 yards, 2 TDs; 780 rushing yards) was an all-conference selection as well. They will miss 6-foot-8 lineman Craig Weaver, who graduated.

Avella (2-9, 2-5)

After starting 1-1 last season, Avella endured a six-game losing streak and missed the postseason. The Eagles will miss QB Dalton Simonelli, who threw for 1,473 yards and ran for 373. They also graduated leading receiver Garrett Geresti (675 yards, 11 TDs).

Jefferson-Morgan (1-9, 1-6)

Senior RB/WR/LB Colten Davidson is back after rushing for 300 yards and catching 17 passes for 213 yards, combining for three scores. Also back are two-way linemen Tyler Wilson and Michael Ludrosky.

Monessen (1-9, 1-6)

After missing the playoffs for the third straight season, the Greyhounds will move to the spread offense and utilize several talented skill players, notably senior QB Cory Fleming and junior RB Vaughn Taylor.

Players to watch

Ryhan Culberson

Fort Cherry, sr., QB/WR/S/P

Culberson was all-conference after throwing for 763 yards and 13 scores and running for 1,128 yards and 22 TDs.

Ben Jackson

West Greene, so., RB/LB

A three-sport standout for the Pioneers who also plays basketball and runs track, Jackson gained nearly 2,000 yards last season to earn all-conference honors as a freshman.

Dylan Rush

Mapletown, sr., RB/DB

At 5-9, 180 pounds, Rush isn’t the biggest back, but he is productive. He gained 1,852 yards on 300 carries and scored 22 times.

Games to watch

9.30 California at Monessen

California won 24-22 last season en route to a playoff berth.

10.13 Jefferson-Morgan at Carmichaels

This longtime rivalry game was a blowout last season, 46-0 in favor of the Mikes.

10.20 Carmichaels at Fort Cherry

Carmichaels won 16-7 last season to capture the TCS title.

Fast facts

• Fort Cherry was the lone TCS team to win a playoff game last season, topping Sto-Rox, 28-14, in the first round. Avella, Mapletown, California and Carmichaels were outscored by a combined 198-71.

• Former Monessen and Georgetown player Mike Blainefield takes over for Joe Salvino as coach of the Greyhounds.

— Bill Hartlep

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