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High School Spotlight

December 14, 2010

It may be official. In fact, it is official. The supply of superlatives to describe what the Clairton Bears’ defense (including both first string and reserves) has accomplished these last trio of years is running lower than the supply of ice in the Arctic. They’ve put up some pretty remarkable numbers, given up practically nothing in terms of points, and have probably started to beg the question, “How long can/will this dominance continue?”

 

It’s an answer nobody really knows the answer to. But as Clairton’s defense continues to etch itself among the nastiest and most dominant in WPIAL history, sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

 

Clairton makes its third consecutive PIAA championship game appearance and will face District 2 champion Taylor-Riverside for all the marbles in Class A Friday afternoon at HersheyPark Stadium, with kickoff slated for 2 p.m. The Bears face a Riverside team that has allowed 34 points in five playoff games, with three shutouts.

 

Clairton won the WPIAL’s 30th PIAA championship last year, defeating District 6 champion Bishop McCort, 15-3. The Bears are one of two 2009 PIAA champions that have reached Hershey to defend their title – LaSalle College, in AAAA is the other. A total of 21 teams have reached the PIAA finals after winning a state title the previous year, and such teams are 14-7 overall.

 

In making its third consecutive state finals appearance, Clairton joins a list of PIAA affiliates with such a distinction that include Berwick (1994-’97), Southern Columbia (1994-’96; 1998-’06), Central Bucks West (1997-’00), Mount Carmel Area (1998-’00), Strath Haven (1999-’02), West Allegheny (1999-’01) and Rochester (2000-’02).

 

Those are some impressive names of programs, each with their own unique histories and traditions and stories. And Clairton is no exception – winners of 580 football games, eight WPIAL championships and an all-time playoff record of 48-24 (.667), the Bears have certainly proven to be a traditional state powerhouse. And prior to the state championship playoff format, final rankings were determined based on a formula known as the “Saylor Rankings,” compiled from 1914 to 1987 by former Penn State professor Dr. Roger Saylor. Between 1927 to 1959, Clairton finished ranked in Dr. Saylor’s poll 12 times, including a #1 finish in 1942. The Bears went 10-0 that season.

 

Clairton’s present run is nothing short of remarkable. Since 2003, the Bears have posted an overall record of 93-15 (.861). They’ve played in five WPIAL championship games since 2004, winning four titles. Prior to 2008, Clairton hadn’t made much of a splash in the PIAA playoffs, only reaching the semifinals twice and losing both times (in 1989 to Keystone and 2006 to West Middlesex). But now, no one can keep the Bears from Hershey.

 

Defense has played a major role in Clairton’s run to three consecutive state finals appearances. Since 2008, Clairton has only allowed four opponents (Farrell ’08, Steel-High ’08, Laurel ’09, Rochster ’09) to score double-digit points in a game. The last time Clairton allowed a team to score more than 20 points against it – 2008 – in the state finals against Steel-High. At that time, Barack Obama only bore the title “President-elect.” The Farrell and Steel-High games were the first time Clairton had allowed consecutive opponents to score 20 points against it since 2005, when the Bears began the campaign allowing five consecutive opponents (Washington, Rochester, Duquense, Serra Catholic and Riverview) to score between 20 to 34 points. Clairton went 1-4 in that stretch.

 

Since the start of the 2008 season, Clairton has posted 26 shutouts and held 43 of 47 opponents to eight points or less. The Bears’ record in that span – a whopping 45-2 (.957)!

 

If you thought last year’s edition of the Clairton defense was ridiculously good – that unit (including first string and reserves) allowed a scant 61 points in 16 games, just 3.8 points per game. This year, the defense (including first string and reserves) has yielded even less – just 36 points (2.4 points per game). Only five teams have managed to score a single touchdown, and Farrell holds the distinction of scoring the most points on the orange and black’s brick wall unit – with a measley eight points.

 

Keying the Bears’ defensive efforts are Desimon Green (who has amassed more than 70 sacks the last three years), Marquis Norris (6’5, 325 pounds of man), Devante Gardlock, Carvan Thompson, Erik Walker, Devante Dockery, Brandon Small, Josh Page (team leader in INTs), Trenton Coles (a PIAA track champion), Dion Ellis and Tyler Boyd.

 

Offensively, Green leads the reins of the Bears’ offense, having thrown for 1,729 yards and 28 touchdowns while running for 642 yards and 13 more touchdowns. Backs Karvonn “Mud Puppy” Coles and Boyd have combined for more than 1,200 rushing yards between them and 18 rushing touchdowns. Page (997 yards, 17 TD), Trenton Coles (349 yards, 7 TD) and Bishop Neal (134 yards, 5 TD) are the primary receivers in the Bears’ aerial assault.

 

The Bears’ offensive unit is fronted by an athletic line that includes Thompson (6’1, 225), William Ingram (5’9, 225), Keith Craven (6’1, 208), Norris and Walker (6’2, 205). Neal (6’1, 195) is the tight end.

 

Clairton’s 2010 team has scored 710 points (47.3 points per game) – the second highest total ever in the WPIAL and fourth-highest total in state history. Clairton became the first PIAA affiliate with three consecutive season of 600+ points scored, posting a 612-point output in 2008 and 634 points last year. The Bears also rang up points in bunches in 2007 (506), 2006 (480) and 2004 (478).

 

Can Clairton make it two PIAA titles in a row? Find out Friday afternoon.

 

Josh Yohe, sportswriter for the McKeesport Daily News (a part of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review family of newspapers) helped contribute information appearing in this preview.

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What seemed to happen with constant regularity once is now something to be treasured. From 1988 until 1997, it seemed that District 2 was a regular participant in PIAA championship games, making 13 appearances in that span and winning 10 titles.

 

But suddenly, those District 2 appearances in the PIAA finals dried up and practically vanished. Berwick’s regular PIAA AAA title game appearances were replaced by teams from Districts 1, 3, and 11. AA gave way to Districts 4 and 11. Class A became the “Southern Columbia Invitiational” (sounds almost like a catchy name for a golf tournament).

 

Now, for just the second time since 1997, and first time since 2007, a District 2 school has the chance to bring a long-awaited golden football back to northeastern Pennsylvania.

 

The order for the Vikings, though, is tall. Riverside will be opposed by Clairton (15-0) in the PIAA A state final at HersheyPark Stadium, with kickoff slated for 2 p.m. The Vikings must try to dent a Clairton defense that has pitched 10 shutouts and allowed only 36 points all season.

 

The order was tall for the last District 2 team to reach the PIAA finals – Dunmore – in 2007. The Bucks were charged with containing Pennsylvania’s most proficient scoring team ever, the Jeannette Jayhawks, who were keyed by Terrelle Pryor and Jordan Hall, both of whom had scored more than 30 touchdowns and both of whom are currently playing football at Ohio State. Dunmore couldn’t slow Jeannette, and lost via the mercy rule, 49-21.

 

Riverside is making its first PIAA finals appearance since 1997, when the Vikings reached the Class A title game against Sharpsville in a game played at Altoona’s Mansion Park Stadium. The Vikings’ current head coach, Harry Armstrong, was the quarterback of that Riverside team that fell to the Blue Devils, 10-7, and gave Mercer County its third consecutive PIAA championship victory in the state’s smallest classification. Back in the day, Armstrong was a career 4,200-yard passer and tailback Jeremy Ransom wound up finishing his career as a 4,000-yard rusher.

 

This latest edition of the Riverside Vikings doesn’t boast a career 4,000-yard rusher or passer. But it does boast a pair of 1,000 yard rushers in seniors Corey Talerico (1,068 yards) and Akron commit Nick Rossi (1,139 yards).

 

Teams with a duo of 1,000-yard rushers are not all that uncommon in the PIAA finals. From PIAA finalists from 2001 to 2009, there were 15 known teams with a pair of 1,000-yard rushers. Eight of those 15 teams won PIAA titles, and, impressively, from 2003 to 2008, at least one of the four PIAA champions from that given time frame had a pair of 1,000-yard rushers. The streak snapped last year when Manheim Central lost to Selinsgrove, 10-7.

 

This edition of the Riverside Vikings also boasts a pretty proficient quarterback. Talerico was already mentioned for his threat as a runner and his four-figure total of rushing yardage along with 16 touchdowns. Through the air, Talerico has posted an impressive 1,929 yards and 27 touchdowns against nine interceptions, completing 124-of-199 passes.

 

Talerico is, believe it or not, the 11th 1,000/1,000 quarterback to play in a PIAA championship game since 1996. Later Friday, Allentown Central Catholic QB Brendan Nosovitch will be the 12th. But for such quarterbacks, results don’t tilt one way or the other. They are split down the middle. In those 10 instances, 1,000/1,000 QBs that reach the PIAA finals are just 5-5 overall, with just two wins since 2006.

 

Beyond the duo of Rossi and Talerico, who have 38 rushing touchdowns between them, Paul Lassiter (92 rush, 601 yards, 6 TD) and Hakeem Lincoln (42, 362, 4) also get the job done on the ground. The aerial assault features a trio of primary targets – Skylar Lavage (51 rec., 881 yards, 12 TD), Tommy Armillay (31 rec., 499 yards, 8 TD) and Rossi (22 rec., 325 yards, 4 TD).

 

Riverside’s scored a total of 551 points (86th in state history) – an average of 36.7 points per game – which ranks third in school history. The ’97 team amassed 555 points (80th in the state) and the 2008 team scored a school-record 613 points (29th in the state). Coach Armstrong has a connection with all three 500-point scoring Riverside teams – coaching two and playing on one.

 

Riverside gained a lot of attention and notoriety in its first two PIAA playoff games, against Southern Columbia and Schuylkill Haven. The Vikings outscored both the Tigers and Hurricanes by a combined score of 77-0 and severly limited the primary weapon of choice for both teams – the ground game. Then, along came District 6 champion Bishop Carroll, who rang up over 200 rushing yards between feature back Ryan Woo and quarterback Josh Barzdo. Riverside’s defense (including first string and reserves) has posted four shutouts this season and limited seven opponents to seven points or less. In five playoff games, the Viking defense has allowed a grand total of 34 points.

 

Can Riverside overcome the great odds stacked against it and score District 2′s first PIAA championship since Berwick won in 1997? Find out Friday afternoon.

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For the second consecutive year, a football team led by a record-setting quarterback has found its way to the PIAA AA championship game. Last year, it was Kyle Smith (now at Central Michigan) and his more than 8,500 career passing yards and 118 touchdowns gracing Hershey’s turf as the Lancaster Catholic Crusaders put the finishing touches on a 21-14 victory over Greensburg Central Catholic. Oddly enough, Smith’s passing didn’t play a very large role in the game, which was played in snowy conditions.

 

Fast forward by one year, and the new record setter is a William & Mary commit from the WPIAL named Christian Brumbaugh. And Brumbaugh headlines a South Fayette football team that will invade Chocolatetown with a pretty proficient offense that has scored a boatload of points the last two weeks.

 

South Fayette will journey to Chocolatetown to face talented Philadelphia Catholic League champion West Catholic (12-2) for the PIAA AA championship Saturday afternoon at HersheyPark Stadium. Kickoff is slated for noon. South Fayette will be pitted against a West Catholic defense (including first string and reserves) that allows an average of 9.8 points per game.

 

Some around the state might be wondering, “Just who is South Fayette?” Sure, the Lions aren’t quite a household name or an established football power in the AA landscape like an Aliquippa or a Wilmington or a Lancaster Catholic, but the green and white might be one of the hottest AA football programs in the state at present. Consider: In the Lions’ last 26 games, they are 25-1 overall. The lone loss came to Aliquippa in the 2009 WPIAL AA quarterfinals, 47-34, after the Quips rallied with a 32-point fourth quarter for the win. Heck, prior to 2009, the Lions hadn’t won a football playoff game (WPIAL or otherwise) since it moved up to the AA classficiation.

 

Now, here’s a little more about that, “Who is South Fayette?” question. The Lions’ latest WPIAL football championship, won a little more than two weeks ago, is the third such title in school history. But the school’s first two WPIAL titles came very long ago, in 1936 and 1964. The Lions also lost a WPIAL title game in 1967 and reached the WPIAL A semifinals in 1999. South Fayette has a McDonald, Pa., mailing address and serves the municipality of South Fayette Township in southwestern Allegheny County. The varsity boys’ basketball team won the 2010 AA state championship over Philadelphia Strawberry Mansion. It gets done in the classroom, too, at South Fayette, as in 2009 the district’s eighth grade ranked 6th of 141 western PA middle schools for a three-year compilation of scores from PSSA tests, according to The Pittsburgh Business Times.

 

South Fayette’s football team has been pretty good at passing tests, too. In the last two weeks, the Lions have taken down District 9′s most prolific scoring team ever (Brockway) and a six-time state semifinalist that averaged over 220 yards rushing per game (Forest Hills). Before it played Aliquippa at Heinz Field, the Lions soundly defeated Beaver Falls in the WPIAL AA semifinals, holding a 48-7 lead at one point in the game. It wasn’t like Beaver Falls was a slouch, either. The Tigers, 43-7 overall since 2007, were making their fourth straight WPIAL semifinals appearance.

 

South Fayette, which plays in the WPIAL’s Century Conference, isn’t the first representative from this conference to reach the PIAA finals. Seton-LaSalle reached the 2002 state title game against Mount Carmel Area, falling, 18-13. South Park rallied in the 2005 AA finals against upstart Wilson Boro for a 28-17 victory. South Park also won the 1997 state title over South Williamsport.

 

Head coach Joe Rossi owns a career won-loss record of 61-33, and formerly led Riverview High School before arriving at South Fayette. Rossi has enjoyed the spoils of coaching a Lions’ squad that, over the last two football seasons, has scored 1,004 points (an average of 38.6 points per game) and defeated opponents by an average margin of over 19.5 points per game.

 

South Fayette has been especially dynamic this season, scoring 631 points (42.1 points per game). That’s the fifth-best single season scoring output ever in the WPIAL and 17th-best in state history. Only Aliquippa has held South Fayette below 30 points in the playoffs this season. The Lions have hung 40+ points on nine of its 15 opponents this season and topped the 50-point plateau on four such occasions.

 

The aforementioned Brumbaugh has made life a lot easier for Rossi. A senior, Brumbaugh has put up jaw dropping passing numbers, not just this season, but also in his career. The William & Mary commit has completed 227-of-342 passes for 3,620 yards and 50 touchdowns (tying Kyle Smith’s state record for TD passes in a season). The 3,620 yards rank as the third-highest output of individual passing yards in a season, trailing only former Mechanicsburg quarterback Zach Frazer (3,674 yards, 2004) and Brockway’s Derek Buganza (3,824 yards, 2009). The former WPIAL record for passing yards was owned by Seton-LaSalle’s Bill Stull (3,310 yards, 2004).

 

Here’s an interesting stat: as a sophomore, Brumbaugh threw for 1,175 yards and seven touchdowns (he missed some time with an injury that year). As a junior, he threw for 2,184 yards and 29 touchdowns. Now, with his current season stat line, it means that #7 has improved his season stat line each of the last two seasons by at least 1,000 yards and 20 TD.

 

For his career, Brumbaugh has thrown for 7,056 yards and 86 touchdowns. The 86 touchdown passes rank him 7th in state history and the 7,056 yards are 11th-best. Completing this prolific aerial assault are a corps of quality wide receivers in Tyler Challingsworth (71 rec., 1,044 yards, 9 TD), Jeff Davis (48 rec., 705 yards, 10 TD), Josh Patterson (37 rec., 598 yards, 13 TD), and Zach Challingsworth (36 rec., 789 yards, 10 TD). Leading the way on the ground is Davis, a senior who has 197 rushes for 1,535 yards and 14 TD. Fullback Trevor Fiorentini is seldom used, but he packs a punch, having scored 11 rushing touchdowns on a little more than 40 attempts.

 

Paving the way for the Lions’ offense is a line that averages exactly 243 pounds per man, led by Nick Faraci (6’2, 285), Tyler Chabali (6’0, 240), Keith Hitlan (6’1, 195), Nick Guyan (5’11, 210) and Sean Lacinski (6’0, 285). Nolan Spicer, a 265-pounder who played on both the SF offensive and defensive lines, has been injured for much of the season. Spicer made significant contributions on both sides of the ball for the Lions in 2009 and was one of the top returning sack artists on the Lions’ defense.

 

Tight ends Eric Myers and Tanner Courtad are both utilized as blockers and receivers, and both are also productive in their linebacker spots on defense. Junior Tyler Yee serves as the kicker.

 

Can South Fayette’s football team, like its basketball team, upend another traditional Philadelphia power to claim its first PIAA championship? Find out Saturday afternoon.

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Heartbreak. That could best describe West Catholic’s first experience in the PIAA finals two years ago. The Burrs had it all – a record-setting scoring machine, a trio of 1,000-yard rushers, a quarterback heading to Penn State, a sizeable offensive line, and plenty of speed to burn.

 

But in the end, District 10 champ Wilmington walked away with a 35-34 victory in double overtime. The Burrs’ juggernaut, which set the single-season Philadelphia Catholic League scoring record (775 points) and the school record for wins in a season (14), hed been denied its ultimate goal: bringing the PCL its first PIAA football championship.

 

Two years later, West Catholic has a chance to atone for that painful 2008 experience.

 

The Burrs will face WPIAL champion South Fayette (15-0) for the PIAA AA state championship Saturday afternoon at HersheyPark Stadium. Kickoff is slated for noon. West Catholic will have to contain a South Fayette offense that has scored 40+ points in nine of its 15 games.

 

The trophy cases at West Catholic are loaded with football hardware. The Burrs have won 519 football games in their history, and marked their 500th all-time victory during the 2009 season. Add to those more than 500 victories a total of 16 Philadelphia Catholic League football championships, three consecutive District 12 AA championships and three consecutive trips to the PIAA AA Eastern Finals. Owners of a 79-17 overall record (.822) since the start of the 2004 season, the Burrs have won a minimum of 11 games each of the last four years. In that span, from 2007-’10, West Catholic has gone 49-8 (.859).

 

If West Catholic were to claim the golden football Saturday, it could count itself among a group of 10 PIAA affiliates that won a state title on its second attempt after losing in its first appearance. The 10 schools with such a distinction are Aliquippa, Wilmington Area, Farrell, Rochester, Washington, Tyrone, Downingtown (unified), Wilson Area, Jeannette and Clairton.

 

Offensively, WC employs mostly a pro-I offense, and they execute the system well, averaging more than 369 yards of offense and 35.5 points per game. The bulk of West Catholic’s damage has been done on the ground – the Burrs average exactly 270 rushing yards per game, and, the last three games, the Burrs have posted rushing outputs of 298, 486 and 347 yards. The ground game (and the offense, in general) is keyed by an offensive line that averages 256 pounds per man – Dom DiGalbo (6’3, 255), Mike Makor (6’3, 305), T-J Waters (6’3, 215), Rodney Linder (6’0, 275) and Eric Wyant (6’3, 230).

 

In fact, according to Ed “Huck” Palmer, West Catholic’s rushing offense has been so good, it has had at least one back with more than 1,000 yards rushing each of the last 11 years. This year, Brandon Hollomon is that back – posting 1,444 yards on just 127 carries. Hollomon has run for 100+ yards seven times this season, including each of the Burrs’ last four games. Hollomon has scored 17 touchdowns, but he’s not the only threat to tote the rock. Senior Joshua Mathis adds 923 yards and 11 touchdowns on 135 carries and sophomore David Williams has 742 yards and 15 touchdowns on just 86 attempts.

 

The West Catholic aerial assault is keyed by senior Anthony Reid, who came to WC after Northeast Catholic closed its doors and ceased operations at the end of the 2009-10 school year. Reid has thrown for 1,307 yards and 13 touchdowns, and his favorite targets are Jaelen Strong-Rankin (29 rec., 661 yards, 8 TD) and Quran Kent (27 rec., 489 yards, 4 TD). TE Jim Lynch has also been a target for passes, as has Hollomon.

 

Defensively, Palmer noted West Catholic has shifted to a 3-4 defensive formation. DiGalbo, Kris Padgett and Lynch, along with Eric Rutherford and Devante Ford, all contribute on the defensive line. Lynch has posted 26 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks and Padgett has 45 tackles (15 TFL) and 4.5 sacks. Kevin Burns (97 tackles, 15 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries) and Waters (69 tackles, 8 TFL) key the linebackers, and Hollomon and Dave Sherman (26 combined passes defensed) lead the defensive backfield.

 

Between its first string and reserves on defense, West Catholic has allowed an average of 9.8 points per game, holding eight opponents to eight points or less, with one shutout.

 

Will West Catholic finally be able to hoist that long-awaited golden football trophy in Chocolatetown? Find out Saturday afternoon.

 

Ed “Huck” Palmer, team statistician for the West Catholic football program, contributed some of the information appearing in this preview.

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Harrisburg has waited for this moment for quite some time. The city watched as the Steelton-Highspire football community celebrated consecutive PIAA championships in 2007 and 2008. It watched as Lancaster-Lebanon League representatives Manheim Central and Lancaster Catholic reached the state finals last year, finishing 1-1. It came oh so very close to celebration and revelry in 2007 when the Harrisburg Cougars gave it their all in the Western Finals against eventual champion Pittsburgh Central Catholic, 14-6.

 

But now, for the first time since 1995, Harrisburg has one of its teams playing for a PIAA championship.

 

The Bishop McDevitt Crusaders will line up opposite against District 11 and Lehigh Valley Conference champion Allentown Central Catholic (15-0) Friday night in the PIAA AAA state championship game from HersheyPark Stadium, with kickoff slated for 7 p.m. McDevitt has won 11 consecutive games and will be tasked with corralling an ACC spread offense that has dropped a whopping 158 points on Abington Heights, Clearfield Area and Archbishop Wood – teams with a combined 2010 record of 38-3.

 

Bishop McDevitt’s only foray into the PIAA championship stage proved a successful one – the Crusaders blanked WPIAL champion Burrell 29-0 in the 1995 AA state final, played at Altoona’s Mansion Park Stadium. That edition of the Crusaders finished a perfect 15-0 and scored 472 points.

 

The ’95 edition of the Crusaders began a three-year run of consecutive District 3 AA championships, but forays into the playoffs from 1996-2005 always ended in disappointment. In 1996, it was Mount Carmel Area who eliminated McDevitt in the Eastern Final. In 1997, it was a stunning loss to District 11 champion Northwestern Lehigh. In 2004, Pittsburgh Central Catholic’s machine of a football team mowed down the Crusaders in the AAAA Western Final. A year later at the same juncture, McDevitt fell to McKeesport, 14-13. So no wonder head coach Jeff Weachter (career 112-41 record) and athletic director Tommy Mealy were talking about the proverbial monkey being removed from McDevitt’s back following a come-from-behind 24-21 victory over Erie Cathedral Prep last Friday night at DuBois’ E.J. Mansell Stadium.

 

The appearance in the AAA state final makes McDevitt just the sixth PIAA affiliate to play a state championship game in two different classfications, joining Dunmore (1989 – A; 2007 – AA); Seton-LaSalle (1990 – AAA; 2002 – AA); Bethlehem Catholic (1988 – AA; 1990 – AAA); Aliquippa (1988 – AAA; 1991, 2000, 2003 – AA); and South Williamsport (1993 – A; 1997 – AA). McDevitt joins Bethlehem Catholic as the only other PIAA affiliate to play a PIAA semifinal game in three different classifications. Both schools played in AA, AAA, and AAAA state semis.

 

Bishop McDevitt is looking to bring home District 3′s second PIAA AAA crown, but D3 schools are just 1-3 all-time in AAA state title games. No Mid Penn AAA school has ever played in a AAA state final – the four games have come courtesy of Lancaster-Lebanon League reps Conestoga Valley and Manheim Central.

 

These Crusaders, owners of an 85-17 record (.833) since the start of the 2004 season, certainly have some offensive fire power. Senior quarterback Matt Johnson, who committed to Bowling Green prior to the start of the season, has posted yet another outstanding season. Johnson has completed 183-of-279 passes for 2,742 yards with 25 touchdowns against only four interceptions. It’s Johnson’s third straight 2,000-yard, 20-TD passing season, which is nothing to sneeze at. #11 has thrown for 7,726 career yards (including a 214-yard effort against Erie Cathedral Prep) and 84 touchdowns. Johnson ranks 6th in the state in career passing yards and 9th in touchdown passes.

 

Johnson’s backfield mate, senior running back Jameel Poteat, is also putting together a solid season. Poteat, a Pitt commit, has run for 1,653 yards and 29 touchdowns on 292 carries, including a 29-carry, 110-yard effort against Erie Cathedral Prep. It’s Poteat’s second consecutive season with more than 1,650 rush yards and 25+ rushing touchdowns and third 1,000-yard rushing season in a row. For his career, Poteat has run for 4,761 yards and scored 74 rushing touchdowns.

 

But offensively, McDevitt is more than just Johnson and Poteat, though they certainly generate lots of headlines and publicity. Bishop McDevitt’s offensive line is every bit of the word huge, averaging an impressive 280.4 pounds per man. Seniors Justin Garlic (6’5, 295) and Tony Harris (6’3, 330) and juniors Kyree Ross (6’0, 253), DeAndre Lawson (6’0, 244) and Pat Narus (6’5, 280) have helped pave the way for the Crusaders to average 349.4 yards of offense and 35.4 points per game. But make note: Ross was injured during the second half of the Cathedral Prep game and did not return, which shifted Lawson to center and brought in Tom Scully (6’2, 212) to fill Lawson’s spot. If Ross cannot go Friday night, McDevitt’s OL average per man drops to 272.2.

 

Wide receivers Brian Lemelle (66 rec., 1,140 yds., 10 TD) and Shaun Seif (44, 639, 6) are the primary targets, but are by no means the only threats to catch passes. Seniors Poteat, Sean Barowski and Matt Boland have combined for 46 receptions, 527 yards and five additional touchdowns.

 

Defensively, McDevitt is paced by junior blue-chipper Noah Spence (team-leading 21 sacks). Spence not only has an impressive sack total, but he also leads the team in tackles, and is being courted by many major Division-1 football programs. To date, Spence has received verbal offers from more than one dozen programs, including Illinois, North Carolina State, Notre Dame, Penn State, Pitt, Tennessee and Southern Cal. Barowski, Brock Dean, Darnell Holland and Allen Hollman have all made significant contributions on the defensive side of the ball for McDevitt.

 

On special teams, sophomore Connor Maloney has converted 63 PATs and nine field goals, accounting for 90 of the Crusaders’ points scored this season.

 

McDevitt’s season scoring output of 534 points ranks in a tie for 111th in the state (with the 1996 Mount Carmel Area Red Tornadoes; 2004 Manheim Central Barons; and 2009 Farrell Steelers). That mark trails the school record of 563 points, established just last season. Impressive season scoring totals are par for the course with the Crusaders, who have topped the 450-point plateau in 2008 (490), 1996 (486), 1985 (478), 2007 (474) and the aforementioned 1995 team.

 

Does Bishop McDevitt have what it takes to slow down Allentown Central Catholic and bring District 3 its eighth PIAA title? Find out Friday night.

 

Rob Pugliese, Bishop McDevitt football insider & color commentator for PASportsRadio.com, helped contribute information appearing in this preview.

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Isn’t it fun sometimes to turn on a football video game, say maybe NCAA ’10, and play an entire season with a juggernaut football team just to see what stats and numbers you can pile up? But the difference is, that’s a video game. The only thing gained are maybe some bragging rights (if you beat some friends with the team) and a story to tell that few will likely believe.

 

Allentown Central Catholic, however, has been putting up ridiculous, almost video-game-esque numbers week after week after week. Just a suggestion, but maybe the Vikings should change the name of their offense from the “spread” to the “grand slam,” because they are always capable of hitting the proverbial home run on the gridiron from anywhere at any time.

 

The Vikings will face District 3 champion Bishop McDevitt (13-2) Friday evening at HersheyPark Stadium for the PIAA AAA state championship, with kickoff slated for 7 p.m. ACC is facing a McDevitt team that overcame an 18-point halftime deficit to defeat speedy and lightning-quick District 10 champion Erie Cathedral Prep in the Western Finals.

 

In the last two seasons, Allentown Central Catholic has reasserted itself among the elite AAA programs in the state of Pennsylvania, posting a 27-2 overall record and winning consecutive District 11 championships, the eighth and ninth District crowns in school history. In a way, it’s almost funny to think of having to include the word “reasserting” when discussing ACC as a state power. During the 1990s, the Vikings were among the elites in the eastern half of Pennsylvania, along with Berwick, Strath Haven and Manheim Central (Each AAA Eastern Final from 1992 to 2001 featured matchups of two of those four programs).

 

During the ’90s, ACC won District 11 championships in 1991, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997 and 1998, appeared in the 1993, 1996 and 1998 Eastern Finals and won a pair of PIAA titles (1993 and 1998). That all occurred under current Parkland head coach Jim Morgans, who has won more than 200 games in his career. Central Catholic defeated Blackhawk 40-0 in 1993 and Moon Township 10-0 in 1998 – becoming the only PIAA affiliate team to win each of its state championship game appearances via shutout. Only one other PIAA affiliate has multiple shutouts in state championship games – the Rochester Rams of the WPIAL, with two.

 

If Central Catholic wins Friday, it will join Thomas Jefferson as the only other PIAA affiliate to post a 3-0 record in state championship games.

 

ACC owns two of District 11′s three AAA state titles – the other belongs to Bethlehem Catholic, who won the 1990 crown with a 43-7 pounding of Seton-LaSalle. Overall, District 11 is 3-2 in AAA state title games – with Pottsville claiming consecutive losses in 2005 and 2006. In PIAA title games overall, District 11 is 10-8 (.555), last winning in 2008 when Bethlehem Liberty defeated Bethel Park, 28-21, in overtime.

 

Back in the ’90s, ACC plowed and powered through opponents with the Delaware Wing-T. Now, the Vikings flash and dash their way by you with one of the most potent spread offenses to ever emerge from the Lehigh Valley.

 

Central Catholic has scored a Lehigh Valley-record 635 points through 15 games, topping the previous standard set in 2006 by the PIAA AAAA runner-up Bethlehem Liberty Hurricanes (618). ACC’s 2010 season scoring output ranks 14th in state history and only trails the 2008 Schuylkill Haven Hurricanes (670 points) in District 11 history. ACC is averaging 42.3 points per game and has only been held below 30 points in one game this season (Whitehall, Week 6, held the Vikings to 21 points). The only other opponent with any success in limiting the scoring damage done to it was Downingtown East, who yielded 30 points to ACC in a Week 1 loss (30-21). The green and yellow have scored 40+ points in eight games and 50+ points in five.

 

And the keys to ACC’s engine, the straw to ACC’s drink, ACC’s engineer to the out-of-control freight train that averages 436.8 yards of offense per game, is junior quarterback Brendan Nosovitch. Physically, Nosovitch stands in at 6’3 and weighs 195 pounds. But he’s put up statistics, both this season and in his career, that make him about the size of football’s equivalent of a Ruthian giant.

 

It’s a pick-your-poison type of scenario for opposing defenses. Nosovitch has completed 170-of-290 passes for 2,876 yards and 42 touchdowns and added 191 rushing attempts for 1,600 yards and 22 additional touchdowns. In his career, Nosovitch has thrown for more than 5,200 yards and run for more than 2,760. His 66 career passing touchdowns rank him in a tie for 18th in state history with former LaSalle College quarterback John Harrison (2004-’07). As a sophomore, Nosovitch threw for 2,078 yards, ran for 1,163 and totaled 41 touchdowns combined rushing and passing, leading ACC to the AAA quarterfinals before bowing to Selinsgrove, 31-10.

 

Nosovitch is already attracting interest from major Division-1 football programs, according to Rivals.com, from programs like UCONN, Duke, Missouri, Nebraska, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Penn State, Pitt, Rutgers, Stanford and UCLA. Penn State is rumored to have verbally offered Nosovitch a scholarship.

 

Nosovitch is joined in the backfield by a sophomore named Colin McDermott, who has run for 1,648 yards and 16 touchdowns on 228 carries. McDermott was a non-factor against Archbishop Wood, but has been a nice compliment to Nosovitch in the spread attack who has, rather quietly, amassed his yardage. McDermott is on pace to run for more than 4,900 yards in his career.

 

When Nosovitch airs the ball out, he has a number of quality targets to throw to, namely junior Kevin Gulyas (71 rec., 1,220 yards, 18 TD), Jack Sandherr (27, 426, 5), Jalen Snyder-Scipio (23, 393, 6), Shane McNeely (20, 309, 6) and Noah Robb (14, 241, 3). McNeely sustained a leg injury in the Eastern Final against Archbishop Wood and did not return to the game.

 

Defensively, ACC is led by Teddy Airoldi (57 tackles, 4 sacks), G.B. Harkins (52 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 fumble recoveries), Jared Pitts (21 tackles, 5 sacks), Snyder-Scipio (18 tackles, 5 INT) and Robb (41 tackles, 2 sacks). The Vikings have given up some points this season (ACC allows an average of 14.8 points per game between first string and reserves combined), but are more than compensated when the ball changes hands back to the offense.

 

Can Allentown Central Catholic cement itself in the discussion as one of the greatest Lehigh Valley football teams with a PIAA championship to go along with all its other impressive stats? Find out Friday night.

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It only took six years, but North Allegheny head coach Art Walker is back on the PIAA’s biggest stage – the AAAA state championship game. Take a jog down memory lane, if you will, to the 2003 and 2004 PIAA finals when Walker guided Pittsburgh Central Catholic to Chocolatetown. His 2004 Central Catholic team claimed the state championship with a crushing victory over Neshaminy and became the first PIAA affiliate school to win 16 games in a season. After that ’04 season, Walker moved on to North Allegheny.

 

The only change in Walker’s move was trading the Viking horn helmet logo for a gold Tiger paw. Success soon followed, in the form of consecutive berths in the WPIAL AAAA semifinals in 2006 and 2007 – the latter team went 11-0 before falling to Gateway in a game played at Woodland Hills’ Wolvarena. After last weekend’s victory over Cumberland Valley, Walker’s career won-loss record now stands at 115-31.

 

Now, North Allegheny is playing for its first PIAA championship since 1990. The Tigers will tussle with Philadelphia Catholic League champion LaSalle College High School (13-1) Saturday evening at HersheyPark Stadium for all the marbles in the state’s largest classification. Kickoff is slated for 5 p.m. NA is facing an opponent in LaSalle that outscored its opposition 385-75 during an 11-week stretch of the 2010 season.

 

When North Allegheny last played for a PIAA championship, the PIAA finals were in their third year of existence. Only state semifinal and state title games were played at that time. And a gallon of gas in 1990, was, well, affordable. The Tigers wound up defeating District 1 representative and traditional Delaware County powerhouse Ridley, 21-14, in Hershey after sending District 10 rep. Erie Cathedral Prep home the week prior, 35-17.

 

35-17. Doesn’t that score sound familiar? It’s the same exact score posted in the Tigers’ victory over Cumberland Valley in the Western Finals last weekend.

 

And of the bulk of the WPIAL’s state title game representatives have come from geographic areas other than the northern suburbs (or points further north) than central, southern or eastern Allegheny County. The only “northern” AAAA representatives from the WPIAL to reach the PIAA finals are the 1990 NA Tigers, the 1993 North Hills Indians and the 1998 New Castle Red Hurricane.

 

There’s also another figure to keep in mind…WPIAL AAAA representatives in the PIAA finals have won four of the last five title games in which they’ve played. The lone exception was 2008, when Bethel Park fell to Bethlehem Liberty, 28-21, in overtime.

 

From a history standpoint, however, North Allegheny has a couple of factors working against it. This is the first time the WPIAL has faced the Philadelphia Catholic League in a AAAA playoff game. And, in PIAA AAAA title games in which the WPIAL is NOT the defending champion (excluding the inaugural 1988 title games), WPIAL schools are just 2-5 overall, with the two wins coming in 1993 and 2004.

 

A couple of weeks ago, NA sustained what appeared on the surface to be a major blow when its featured tailback Alex Papson was lost for the remainder of the season with a dislocated collarbone. Papson ran for more than 1,000 yards in his sophomore and junior seasons and had 2,482 yards and 32 touchdowns up until his season-ending injury. Papson finished his NA career with 4,831 rushing yards and 61 touchdowns. Suddenly, without #42, NA’s offense had ground to a halt against Woodland Hills, managing just 39 rushing yards and one first down for the remainder of the game. But since that night on the sandy turf of Heinz, some key reserves have stepped up to help spark the Tigers’ ground attack which averages more than 274 yards per game.

 

Vinnie Congedo, Alex DiCiantis (pronounced Dee-shaun-tis) and Matt Steinbeck have filled the void left by Papson. Congedo has run for 178 yards and two touchdowns the last two weeks, including a season-best 142 yards against State College Area in the PIAA quarterfinals. DiCiantis has scored four rushing touchdowns the last two weeks and has 32 carries for 169 yards in that same span. And Steinbeck, NA’s #2 back behind Papson all season, returned from an ankle injury to run for 161 yards against Cumberland Valley. Congedo, DiCiantis and Steinebeck have combined for 147 rushes for 964 yards and nine touchdowns this season. Quarterback Mike Buchert adds 310 rushing yards and four scores on the ground on 99 carries, including 50 yards against CV last week.

 

North Allegheny’s rushing offense has, the last two weeks, run for 627 yards (280 yards vs. State College; 347 yards vs. Cumberland Valley). The Tigers’ offensive line, anchored by Justin Haser (6’5, 245), Zach Harvey (6’2, 220), Pete Thistle (6’1, 220), Vince Czerniewski (6’1, 280), Pat Kugler (6’4, 270) and senior tight end Rob Kugler (6’4, 245) have bullied and battered the opposition. The Tigers’ OL has also provided pass protection for Buchert when he does throw, accounting for 1,008 yards and 11 TD on the year. Senior WR Dan Slivka (31 rec., 722 yards, 7 TD) is the featured passing target.

 

Defensively speaking, North Allegheny has really proven stout the last few weeks, and really, all season long. In terms of rushing defense, the Tigers have held their last three opponents (Woodland Hills, State College, Cumberland Valley) to a grand total of 121 rushing yards and just two rushing touchdowns. WH finished with 94 yards on the ground on 32 carries – led mostly by its Pitt-bound senior back Lafayette Pitts, who only ran for 49 yards on 18 totes in the WPIAL title game. State High only mustered 23 rushing yards and Cumberland Valley was held to four yards rushing on 17 team carries. Only six of North Allegheny’s 15 opponents have scored in double-digits against either the first-string defense or reserves. North Allegheny has allowed an average of 8.4 points per game and posted three shutouts.

 

The NA defense is paced by LBs Kevin Cope (149 tackles – 97 solo – 6.5 sacks), Seth Marx (87 tackles – 56 solo – 2 sacks) and Lucas Hook (73 tackles – 53 solo – 2 sacks); DLs Rob Kugler (59 tackles, 6 sacks), Haser (56 tackles, 8.5 sacks), Czerniewski (53 tackles, 8 sacks) and Nate Nachazel (34 tackles, team-best 9 sacks); and DBs Brandon Coniker (37 tackles, 4 INT) and Steinbeck (37 tackles, 3 INT).

 

North Allegheny’s kicker, senior Alex Greenblatt, has successfully converted 55 PATs and 10 field goals. He’s scored 85 total points. As a team as a whole, North Allegheny has scored 485 points (32.3 points per game), which is unofficially the 45th-best season scoring output in WPIAL history.

 

Will North Allegheny bring a PIAA championship back to Wexford? Find out Saturday evening.

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Championship teams don’t rebuild. They reload. Many apologies from this writer for beginning with an old and tired sports cliche, but for this edition of the LaSalle College High School Explorers, it is a fairly appropriate statement.

 

After the Explorers claimed the Philadelphia Catholic League’s first ever PIAA football championship with an impressive 24-7 victory over State College last December, graduation reared its ugly head. Gone was career 5,000-yard passer Drew Loughery. Gone were WRs Sam Feleccia and Connor Hoffman, as well as tight end Steve Jones. Gone were offensive linemen Steve Szostak, Matt DiGiacomo and Dylan Gavin; LBs Ryan Saraceni and Anthony Cognetti; DB Vinny Migliarese and Shane Brady.

 

The more things seem to change, though, the more they stay the same. Because the Explorers simply plugged up the vacancies with a new batch of capable and talented players with some key pieces returning from their PIAA title team, they are back on the AAAA championship game stage, in position to claim a second consecutive golden football.

 

LaSalle College will meet WPIAL champion North Allegheny (14-1) in the PIAA AAAA state championship game Saturday evening at HersheyPark Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 5 p.m. The Explorers enter the game on a 12-game winning streak, while North Allegheny has limited its two PIAA inter-district playoff opponents to a combined 28 yards rushing.

 

The Explorers cracked the national rankings prior to their Eastern Final game with North Penn, checking in at #22 in the nation by the USA-Today’s Super-25 high school football poll. LaSalle finished the 2009 season ranked #24 in the nation in the USA-Today poll. Playing for PIAA titles helps draw national attention – but so does winning 36 of your last 41 games and three consecutive Philadelphia Catholic League AAAA championships.

 

Overall, LaSalle has won 12 Philadelphia Catholic League football championships, its first coming in 1955. The Explorers have won 460 games as a member of the PCL since it began playing football in the league in 1920. But there were two brief stints in which LaSalle did not compete in the PCL (1921-’22; 1928-’33). The 2010 season included, LaSalle has posted 11 seasons of 10+ victories, and their 14 wins in 2009 tied the school record for victories in a season, established with the PCL championship team of 1998, which went 14-0. LaSalle has posted three undefeated and untied football seasons in its history – 1955, 1957 and 1998.

 

And since the PCL became affiliated with the PIAA in football, beginning in 2008, the league has posted a pretty impressive PIAA playoff resume. Between LaSalle, AAA power Archbishop Wood and AA power West Catholic, the PCL has won 16 PIAA inter-district playoff games against only 5 losses. That works out to a winning percentage of .761. The three schools have played in a combined eight PIAA Eastern Final games in the last three years, winning five.

 

LaSalle has some history on its side entering this matchup. Prior to 2010, among all four classifications, there were 21 instances in PIAA title games where a team reached the state finals in defense of a state championship victory the previous season. In those 21 instances, the defending champion won 14 times and lost the other seven. The two most recent successful defenses of PIAA titles occurred in 2008 – Thomas Jefferson won the AAA state title and Steelton-Highspire claimed the crown in Class A. You have to go back a little ways to find the last two unsuccessful defenses of PIAA titles. Rochester surrendured its state title crown to Southern Columbia in 2002 and Manheim Central did the same against Thomas Jefferson in 2004.

 

The Explorers have been dominant on the defensive side of the ball. Don’t be fooled by the 35 points and more than 300 yards of offense North Penn put up on the Explorers in the Eastern Finals into thinking LaSalle’s defense is second-rate. It is not. The only other team to score more than 20 points in a game against the Explorer defensive unit was New Jersey football power Bergen Catholic, who put up 22 points in a Week 2 victory over LaSalle. In its 14 games this season, the LaSalle defense (both first string and reserves) has allowed a total of 10.4 points per game, with four shutouts. In an 11-game stretch, beginning with West Catholic and ending with Easton Area, the Explorers’ defense (including reserves) yielded a grand total of 75 points (6.8 points per game).

 

Key contributors to the Explorers’ defensive unit include DLs Ryan Geiger and Joe Naji, LBs Connor Daly and Tim Wade, DBs Jamal Adbur-Rahman and Sean Coleman and S Kevin Forster.

 

Offensively, LaSalle has many varied and talented weapons. The Explorers are more of a running-oriented offense this year than last, but it’s the ground attack that helped them claim PIAA gold last season. Starting up front with the offensive line keyed by Geiger (6’1, 260), Naji (6’2, 225), Cameron Cappo (6’2, 215), Daniel Ezzo (6’5, 235) and Sean Toner (6’1, 225), LaSalle has churned out more than 3,100 yards and 43 rushing touchdowns as a team and averages 224 yards per game on the ground.

 

Three main players front the Explorers rushing attack – Abdur-Rahman, Wade and Forster. Abdur-Rahman, who is bound for Villanova, leads the trio with 1,705 yards and 24 touchdowns. For his career, Adbur-Rahman has recorded 3,911 rushing yards, leaving him just 89 yards shy of becoming the 4th PCL back (and first LaSalle back) with 4,000+ career rushing yards. Abdur-Rahman has also scored touchdowns receiving, on a kickoff return and an interception return this season. Wade, only a junior who also plays linebacker on defense, has run for 439 yards and scored six total touchdowns.

 

Forster can be utilized in numerous ways for LaSalle on offense. When junior field general Matt Magarity missed some games with injury, Forster took over the reins of the Explorer offense and ran a near-flawless spread-option attack. He’s run for 390 yards, thrown for 302 more, and reeled in 15 passes for 181 yards, accounting for 10 total touchdowns. Forster also leads the Explorers in interceptions, with six.

 

Magarity has connected on 80-of-145 passes for 1,149 yards and 13 touchdowns this season, and receivers Coleman (team-best 481 yards) and Colin Buckley (244 yards) are potential targets, as are Abdur-Rahman (287 yards) and Mike Piscopo (133 yards).

 

On special teams, sophomore kicker Ryan Winslow has proven a steady and accurate booter, converting 49 PATs and four field goals, scoring 61 total points (13 percent of LaSalle’s season scoring output).

 

The Explorers have scored 467 points this season, an average of 33.3 points per game. The 467 points is unofficially the ninth-best single season scoring output in District 12/Philadelphia Catholic League history, and betters LaSalle’s 2009 season scoring output of 456 points in 15 games.

 

Can LaSalle make it two state titles for the PCL in a row? Find out Saturday evening.

 

EasternPAFootball.com’s Armand “The Godfather” Vanore helped contribute some of the information appearing in this preview.

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