Preseason favorites Central Catholic, Woodland Hills set for quarterfinals
Central Catholic and Woodland Hills were the preseason favorites to meet at Heinz Field.
Instead, they’ll settle for Newman Stadium.
The Class AAAA finalists from last season, No. 3 seed Central Catholic (9-1) and No. 6 Woodland Hills (8-2) will cross paths a couple of weeks earlier than most expected in a quarterfinal matchup Friday night at North Allegheny.
“We both got tripped up a little,” Central Catholic coach Terry Totten said.
Both were cruising toward a conference title before a late-season stumble knocked them off course.
Central Catholic lost to Pine-Richland in Week 8. The 48-28 loss exposed a Vikings defense that allowed just three touchdowns in the first seven weeks.
Woodland Hills lost to Penn Hills in Week 9. The Wolverines offense averaged 38.5 points before the 22-15 loss to their rival.
Now both face the same question: Have they recovered from those difficult losses?
“We feel we have,” Totten said. “This will be a real good test for that. We’ll have the answer to that question Friday.”
Both had lopsided first-round wins. Central Catholic beat No. 14 Norwin, 42-7. Woodland Hills beat No. 11 North Hills, 41-2.
“I think we’ve regrouped,” Woodland Hills coach George Novak said. “It’s playoff time. You lose you’re out. So everybody’s focus goes up in practice, and you spend a little bit more time on the game plan. I’m sure they’re doing the same thing.”
Central Catholic won 27-7 in last season’s WPIAL championship. Its most recent quarterfinal matchup was in 2009, when Woodland Hills won 36-3.
“You expect to see them at some point (in the playoffs),” Totten said, “either now or then.”
Combined, the teams have made 14 championship appearances since 1999. Only three times in that 15-year span did the Class AAAA final not include one of the two.
“Central and Woodland Hills, we probably have as many Division I athletes as anyone in the playoffs,” Novak said. “I think it’s going to be a great football game.”
Both teams have solid lines and strong backfields.”
Woodland Hills features Penn State recruit Miles Sanders, a junior who leads his team with 1,132 yards and 18 touchdowns on 97 carries. Teammate Jo-El Shaw has 696 yards and 10 touchdowns, and quarterback Jeremiah Jones has 843 yards passing, 367 rushing and 11 combined touchdowns.
Sanders and Shaw scored twice each last week.
“You’ve got to be as physical as they’re going to be,” Totten said. “And you’ve got to limit their big plays. They can go to the house at any time.”
Central Catholic can, too.
The Vikings had an 84-yard touchdown run by Ronnie Jones and a 66-yard punt return by Johnny Petrishen last week.
Central Catholic has three rushers with at least 400 yards and five touchdowns. Senior running back Grant Foster leads with 714 yards and 16 touchdowns on 109 carries.
“It will be hard-fought,” Totten said. “I think it will be a classic matchup between us, like we’ve had over the years.”