Previewing the WPIAL quarterfinals
Below is a look at some of the top WPIAL quarterfinal matchups:
2-Penn-Trafford (10-0) vs. 7-North Allegheny (8-2)
7:30 p.m. Friday at Fox Chapel
Winner gets: No. 3 Central Catholic (9-1) or No. 6 Woodland Hills (8-2).
The buzz: The Tigers scored a 24-0 win over Upper St. Clair in the first round while the Warriors rallied in the second half for a 40-13 win over Fox Chapel.
Key players: North Allegheny QB Jeff Clemens is a dual-threat with 1,146 passing yards, 440 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns. Devin Austin is Penn-Trafford’s top offensive playmaker with more than 1,300 total yards and 19 touchdowns.
About the Tigers: Michael Pope leads the offense in rushing with 523 yards and four touchdowns. The NA defense is giving up 12.2 points per game with three shutouts. LB Layne Skundrich has 71 tackles and seven sacks. Clay Byerly is averaging 26.4 yards on kick returns.
About the Warriors: The defense continues to have the lowest points allowed average in Class AAAA at 8.2 points per game. Brett Laffoon has thrown for 1,499 yards and 19 touchdowns with two interceptions as the offense is scoring 40.9 points per game. Kicker Casey Aunkst, also a member of the girls soccer team, has made 49 PATs and three field goals.
Prediction: Penn-Trafford, 24-17
1-Pine-Richland (10-0) vs. 8-Altoona (8-2)
7:30 p.m. Friday at Gateway
Winner gets: No. 13 Plum (8-2) or No. 5 McKeesport (9-1).
The buzz: Pine-Richland has continued to roll the competition in the playoffs as it did during the regular season, and the team is firing in all three phases of the game. Altoona is fresh off winning its first ever WPIAL playoff game.
Key players: Pine-Richland is balanced on offense with QB Ben DiNucci, WRs Mike Merhut and D’Ondre Gastion and RB Connor Slomka. Altoona is led by RB Eli Mencer and QB Devin Miller.
About the Rams: While Pine-Richland’s offense is balanced, and the defense improves every week, the Rams special teams was the difference last week. By setting up a short field on numerous occasions, the Rams offense seldom had to go far for a touchdown.
About the Lions: Mencer shredded the Bethel Park defense last week with 206 yards and three touchdowns. He will have to help his team control the clock and keep the ball away from Pine-Richland’s offense.
Prediction: Pine-Richland, 38-13
13-Plum (6-4) vs. 5-McKeesport (9-1)
7:30 p.m. Friday at Norwin
Winner gets: No. 1 Pine-Richland (10-0) or No. 8 Altoona (8-2).
The buzz: The Quad East rivals meet for the second time this season with a trip to next week’s semifinals on the line. Plum upset No. 4 Penn Hills, 17-6, last week, while McKeesport raced past No. 12 Mt. Lebanon, 35-10.
Key players: McKeesport’s Khaleke Hudson was deeply involved in the Oct. 10 meeting at Plum. He rushed for 115 yards, caught two touchdown passes and threw a 40-yard halfback pass. Against Mt. Lebanon, he had 103 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Plum senior RBs Zach Martin and Andrew Soxman combined for 133 rushing yards in Friday’s win over Penn Hills.
About the Mustangs: The Plum defense was on display against Penn Hills, posting four sacks, an interception and limiting the Indians to just 34 yards passing. Last Friday’s victory snapped a nine-game playoff losing streak. The Mustangs are gunning for their first trip to the WPIAL semifinals since 1996.
About the Tigers: McKeesport rushed for almost 300 yards against Mt. Lebanon and held the Blue Devils to only 184 yards of total offense. The Tigers smothered the Plum offense in Week 7, holding the Mustangs to 11 yards. McKeesport holds a 17-4 all-time record against Plum and has won the past seven meetings.
Prediction: McKeesport, 17-14
1-Central Valley (10-0) vs. 8-Indiana (7-3)
7:30 p.m. Friday at Butler
Winner gets: No. 4 Hampton (9-1) or No. 5 Ringgold (9-1).
The buzz: Central Valley has advanced past the quarterfinals each year since its creation in 2010. Indiana exited the playoffs with a quarterfinal-round loss to the No. 1 seed in 2013 and 2010.
Key players: While senior do-it-all and Pitt commit Jordan Whitehead grabs the headlines for Central Valley, RBs Preston Johnson and Ryan Roberson also propel the Warriors’ ground game. WRs and brothers Riley and Dylan Stapleton are tall targets for Indians QB Jacob Zilinskas.
About the Warriors: They cranked out 28 first-quarter points but also eased up a bit early and gave up their second-highest point total of the season in a 48-26 win over Laurel Highlands in the first round. Whitehead scored four times in the win, with each touchdown play measuring at least 70 yards.
About the Little Indians: They finished with their second-highest point total of the season in a 42-12 win over West Mifflin. Zilinskas scored on three short runs in the win.
Prediction: Central Valley, 35-21
6-Franklin Regional (7-3) vs. 3-West Allegheny (9-1)
7:30 p.m. Friday at North Hills
Winner gets: No. 2 Thomas Jefferson (10-0) or No. 10 Mars (7-3).
The buzz: Last week, both Franklin Regional and West Allegheny posted first-round shutouts. The Panthers beat No. 11 Belle Vernon, 20-0, while the Indians topped No. 14 Knoch, 38-0. West Allegheny upended Franklin Regional, 21-12, in the Class AAA semifinals last year.
Key players: Franklin Regional ran for 212 yards last week — Brett Zanotto had 56 yards and two touchdowns, Santino Birty had 59 yards and a score, and Jacob Ross tallied 97 yards on the ground. West Allegheny QB Andrew Koestler completed 7 of 11 passes for 113 yards and a touchdown last week.
About the Panthers: Zanotto and fellow linebacker Andrew Brncic each had 11 tackles last week, while linebacker Nate Fleck had 10 stops, and safety D.J. Riga recorded nine tackles.
About the Indians: West Allegheny features a strong group of running backs, and last week, Chase Dillon led the way with 135 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. West Allegheny is chasing a third straight WPIAL title. The Indians rank fourth in the WPIAL in scoring defense at 12.5 points per game behind Thomas Jefferson (9.0), Hampton (11.2) and Mars (12.4).
Prediction: West Allegheny, 24-20
4-Hampton (9-1) vs. 5-Ringgold (9-1)
7:30 p.m. Friday at West Allegheny
Winner gets: No. 1 Central Valley (10-0) or No. 8 Indiana (7-3).
The buzz: Both teams sport talented, dual-threat quarterbacks. Nico Law leads Ringgold and Nick Grabowski paces Hampton.
Key players: Hampton has a good ground attack with Grabowski, Matt Rech and Nick Worobij. Hampton also has a versatile receiver and return man in Nate Hyre. Ringgold will lean on Law, who threw for a touchdown last week and returned an interception for another score.
About the Talbots: It is no secret Hampton will strike with the ground attack led by Rech, while keeping the defense honest with the threat of Grabowski’s passing ability. Hyre also could provide a spark with his return ability.
About the Rams: Ringgold has gone on a tear since losing the opening game of the season to Thomas Jefferson. The Rams’ defense has only allowed 28 points in its last three games, and only allows an average of 17 points per game.
Prediction: Ringgold, 21-20
2-Thomas Jefferson (10-0) vs. 10-Mars (7-3)
7:30 p.m. Friday at Chartiers Valley
Winner gets: No. 3 West Allegheny (9-1) or No. 6 Franklin Regional (7-3).
The buzz: Don’t expect much passing, as Thomas Jefferson runs a wildcat offense and Mars employs a wing-T attack. TJ defeated No. 15 Moon, 49-14, last week in the WPIAL first round. Mars defeated No. 7 Montour, 42-27, last week.
Key players: Thomas Jefferson senior RB Austin Kemp (224 yards) and sophomore RB Quinton Hill (170 yards) combined for 394 yards and five touchdowns against Moon. Mars’ senior FB Ori Rinaman rambled to 239 yards and scored all six of his team’s touchdowns against Montour.
About the Jaguars: The Jaguars rank among the WPIAL leaders with a 47 ppg offensive average and 9 ppg defensive average. The Jaguars, who have scored 40 or more points nine times this season, rushed for 459 yards against Moon, and did not attempt one pass. Sophomore Zane Zandier sparked TJ’s defense with a 75-yard interception return for a touchdown.
About the Planets: The Planets have won six of their past seven games, including a 20-14 upset of previously undefeated Hampton in Week. 9. The Planets own a 30.9 ppg offensive average and 12.4 ppg defensive average.
Prediction: Thomas Jefferson, 35-14
6-Apollo-Ridge (9-1) vs. 3-Washington (10-0)
7:30 p.m. Friday at Latrobe High School
Winner gets: No. 1 Aliquippa (10-0) or No. 7 Mt. Pleasant (8-2).
The buzz: Two of the highest scoring teams in Class AA will meet in the first football game on the new turf field at Latrobe High School.
Key players: Sophomore Duane Brown leads Apollo-Ridge with 28 touchdowns, via rushing, receiving and on returns. He also has passed for 758 yards and 13 scores. Brown shares time at QB with Tre Tipton, who has rushed for 984 yards and passed for 501. For Washington, QB Jonathan Spina has thrown for 1,122 yards with 17 touchdowns, Malik Wells is the top rusher with 1,192 yards and 14 touchdowns, and Dequay Isbell has 18 catches for 571 yards and 11 scores.
About the Vikings: High-scoring Apollo-Ridge (46.9 ppg), fresh off its first home playoff win in school history, is seeking its first trip to the semifinals.
About the Prexies: While Apollo-Ridge is more fast-paced and scores quickly, the Prexies are more deliberate and use more clock. That doesn’t mean they can’t also score quickly, however.
Prediction: Apollo-Ridge, 48-42
7-Mt. Pleasant (8-2) vs. 2-Aliquippa (10-0)
7:30 p.m. Friday at Canon-McMillan
Winner gets: No. 3 Washington (10-0) or No. 6 Apollo Ridge (9-1).
The buzz: This will be the second meeting between these two teams this season. Aliquippa hammered Mt. Pleasant, 63-14, in a nonconference matchup in Week 8, but the stakes are much higher this time around as both teams will be looking to secure a spot in the Class AA semifinals. Aliquippa also beat Mt. Pleasant, 43-6, in the quarterfinals of the 2012 season.
Key players: Senior RB Trevor Salopek is a big-play threat who ignites the Mt. Pleasant offense. Salopek rushed for 282 yards on 16 carries and scored on runs of 15 and 73 yards to lead the Vikings to a 38-0 win over Shady Side Academy in the first round of the playoffs. Kaezon Pugh (13 carries, 201 yards, 3 TDs), DiMantae Bronaugh (16-113-2) and Anthony Barton (5-105-1) each had a big game on the ground in the Quips’ 55-20 first-round win over Kittanning.
About the Vikings: This is the third straight season in which Mt. Pleasant has advanced into the quarterfinals. However, the last time Mt. Pleasant won a quarterfinal game was in 1996 when the Vikings defeated Valley, 35-21, in the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs.
About the Quips: Aliquippa has played in the last six WPIAL Class AA title games, winning the championship game in 2008, 2011 and 2012.
Prediction: Aliquippa, 42-21
5-Seton-La Salle (9-1) vs. 4-Highlands (10-0)
7:30 p.m. Friday at Valley
Winner gets: No. 1 South Fayette (10-0) or No. 9 South Park (8-2).
The buzz: Highlands is attempting to advance to the WPIAL semifinals for the first time since 2008. Seton-La Salle is in the midst of its own drought, having last made the semifinals in 2011.
Key players: Seton-La Salle RB Rick Mellick rushed for 129 yards and two touchdowns in a 20-0 victory over McGuffey in the first round of the playoffs. Highlands RB Elijah Jackson rushed for 170 yards and two touchdowns in a 24-19 victory over New Brighton last week.
About the Rebels: Last week marked Seton-La Salle’s third shutout of the season. The Rebels’ defense held nine of their first 10 opponents to 20 points or fewer, with No. 1 South Fayette the exception. QB Tyler Perone adds balance to the offense, with his 1,858 passing yards and 22 touchdowns complementing Mellick’s running.
About the Golden Rams: Highlands is seeking its first 11-0 start since 2008, when the Golden Rams fell in the WPIAL Class AAA semifinals. Sophomore QB Brayden Thimons rushed for 130 yards and a key fourth-quarter touchdown last week. Along with Apollo-Ridge, Highlands broke the Allegheny Conference’s two-year playoff victory drought.
Prediction: Highlands, 35-28
1-South Fayette (10-0) vs. 9-South Park (8-2)
7:30 p.m. Friday at Peters Township
Winner gets: No. 4 Highlands (10-0) or No. 5 Seton-La Salle (9-1).
The buzz: South Fayette has defeated South Park all three times since the Eagles most recently joined the Century Conference, including a 59-20 win in the third week of the season.
Key players: South Fayette senior QB Brett Brumbaugh has thrown for 2,298 yards and 30 TDs with just four interceptions. South Park QB Nick Scholle has thrown for 497 yards, but leads the team in rushing with 165 carries for 911 yards and 18 TDs.
About the Lions: The defending WPIAL and PIAA champs have now won 26 straight games and have scored at least 40 points in every game this season while giving up 11 points per game.
About the Eagles: Last week’s first-round win over Beaver was South Park’s first playoff win since moving down to Class AA in the 2012 season.
Prediction: South Fayette, 49-14
5-Avonworth (9-1) vs. 13-Riverside (6-4)
7:30 p.m. Friday at Moon
Winner gets: No. 1 CWNC (10-0) or No. 9 South Side Beaver (7-3).
The buzz: Avonworth wants a rematch with conference rival Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic but must find its way past the upset-minded Panthers first.
Key players: Senior MLB Brandon Wasko anchors an Avonworth defense that allowed just 7 points in its last four games combined. Riverside QB Jason Dambach is over 2,000 yards passing for the season.
About the Antelopes: Wasko and Jamal Hughley pace a balanced, ground-oriented offense that goes well with Avonworth’s stifling defense. The Antelopes blanked Mapletown, 34-0, in the first round.
About the Panthers: A goal-line stand and forced fumble in the game’s final 30 seconds allowed Riverside to complete a comeback win over No. 4 Beth-Center in the first round. Dambach found his brother, Austin, for a 23-yard score that served as the game-winner.
Prediction: Avonworth, 28-21
1-Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic (10-0) vs. 9-South Side Beaver (7-3)
7:30 p.m. Friday at Geneva College’s Reeves Field
Winner gets: No. 5 Avonworth (9-1) or 13-Riverside (6-4).
The buzz: The defending WPIAL and PIAA champs have shown no signs of slowing this season. South Side Beaver has bounced back nicely after finishing winless a season ago.
Key players: Trojans RBs P.J. Fulmore, Jerome Turner and Mario Latronica have combined for 48 rushing touchdowns this season. Senior Nathan Block is the Rams’ workhorse with 233 carries for 1,679 yards and 22 touchdowns.
About the Trojans: Latronica and Fulmore each rushed for more than 100 yards and scored three touchdowns when North Catholic scored a season-high 69 points in its first-round win over Avella.
About the Rams: They had 20 points in the first half of their 26-12 win over Frazier last week. Block rushed the ball 41 times for 200 yards in the victory.
Prediction: CWNC, 35-21
6-Jeannette (9-1) vs. 3-Neshannock (10-0)
7:30 p.m. Friday at Deer Lakes
Winner gets: No. 2 Clairton (10-0) or No. 7 Shenango (7-3).
The buzz: While No. 1 Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic and No. 2 Clairton received most of the headlines, No. 3 Neshannock also has posted an unblemished record. Even though Jeannette is seeded sixth, many felt the Jayhawks were good enough for a No. 4 seed.
Key players: Jeannette senior QB Julian Batts has completed 45 of 79 passes for 751 yards and 11 touchdowns. He’s also rushed for a team-high 719 yards and 12 touchdowns. Neshannock QB Frank Autuono has completed 71 of 119 passes for 1,446 yards and 17 touchdowns.
About the Lancers: RB Eli Owens has rushed for 973 yards and scored 13 touchdowns. Neshannock defeated Greensburg Central Catholic, 48-3, in the first round of the playoffs. Rocco Fazio and Robert Lindsey have each rushed for more than 316 yards.
About the Jayhawks: Jeannette likes to spread teams out and run the football. It has six players who average 9.7 yards per carry. Kareem Hall has rushed for 542 yards and 11 touchdowns. Zack Altieri and Terrel Canady are dangerous WRs. Jeannette defeated Brentwood, 50-19, in the opening round of the playoffs.
Prediction: Jeannette, 28-27
7-Shenango (7-3) vs. 2-Clairton (10-0)
7:30 p.m. Friday at Chartiers-Houston
Winner gets: No. 3 Neshannock (10-0) or No. 6 Jeannette (9-1).
The buzz: Clairton has scored 672 points this season, the most of any Pennsylvania team through 10 weeks. The Bears rank as the eighth-highest scoring team in state history.
Key players: Shenango RB Tyler Root averages 11.2 yards per carry. Clairton RB Lamont Wade averages 17.0 yards per carry and has gained 1,613 yards. QB Ryan Williams needs 93 yards to reach 2,000 yards passing this season.
About the Wildcats: Shenango was beaten by top-seeded Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic, 49-16, in its final regular-season game but bounced back to beat Springdale, 35-7, in the first round of the playoffs as Hunter Waskin scored a pair of touchdowns.
About the Bears: Wade rushed for 269 yards and six TDs and Williams passed for 237 yards and rushed for 51 yards in Clairton’s 62-3 rout of Chartiers-Houston in a first-round playoff game.
Prediction: Clairton, 52-7