By Adam C. Warner
SportsPower Senior Editor
Pennsylvania plays host to some of the nation's most competitive playoff games this weekend as some teams are already in the regional semifinals. All of the traditional powers do battle this weekend, including Jeannette and Garnet Valley in the Keystone State, and St. Peter's Prep in New Jersey.
Aliquippa Quips (9-2, State PR: 78.02, Class Rank: 12) vs. Shady Side Indians (11-0, State PR: 88.89, Rank: 5): Shady Side is coming off a 28-14 quarterfinal win over Center Area thanks to 178 combined rushing yards and three scores from Roman Sandoval and Brian Nickel, but Aliquippa enters with plenty of momentum after steamrolling previously unbeaten and favored Greensburg Central Catholic, 32-14. The Quips are riding a seven-game winning streak into the contest and will look to take down their second straight undefeated team en route to the Class AA WPIAL Finals at Heinz Field. Meanwhile, Shady Side is unbeaten for a reason, and a big factor has been the team’s dominant defense, which has posted seven shutouts this season in just 11 games.
Beaver Falls Tigers (11-0, State PR: 93.10, Rank: 2) vs. Jeannette Jayhawks (10-1, State PR: 86.32, Rank: 6): Two Keystone State Class AA juggernauts go head-to-head in what shapes up to be a sensational semifinal matchup. The Tigers are seeking revenge after being trounced by the Jayhawks in last season’s WPIAL Final, 61-12. Beaver Falls has fared well this season against winning teams, going 5-0 vs. foes with a State PR of 62 and above. On the other side, Jeannette poses as a daunting challenge with its big three attack of running back Jordan Hall, Moziah Harris at wideout and Cameron Baradziej at quarterback. Expect this one to go down to the wire.
Clairton Bears (11-0, State PR: 85.60, Rank: 4) vs. Rochester Rams (10-1, State PR: 75.51, Rank: 9): The Clairton Bears have been nothing short of unstoppable this season, scoring at least 37 each game while posting six shutouts along the way. The Bears have allowed just 30 points the entire season. With that said, it appears they should have no problem with Rochester this weekend, but Clairton hasn’t met an opponent this strong before. Rochester enters after riding a second-half explosion of offense to a 35-14 win over W. Beaver in the WPIAL quarterfinals. Running back Trey Johnson has been a one-man wrecking machine for the Rams this year. Look for him to play a key role in this game.
McKeesport Tigers (9-2, State PR: 85.42, Rank: 14) vs. Bethel Park Black Hawks (10-0, State PR: 94.34, Rank: 5): Buoyed by their flexbone offense and a crushing defense, the Tigers have made it back to the WPIAL semifinals by defeating defending PIAA AAAA champ Pittsburgh Central Catholic, a perennial contender that knocked them out the past two years. Running back Nico Price – who had 193 rush yards and three scores last week -- is the go-to player for the Tigers. But Bethel Park has been perfect this season despite a gauntlet of a schedule, which includes wins over Penn Hills and North Hills. QB Erik Olson and tailback Lyle Marsh head an elite cast for the Black Hawks and should be major players this weekend.
Highlands Golden Rams (11-0, State PR: 91.28, Rank: 2) vs. Blackhawk Cougars (10-1, State PR: 87.72, Rank: 5): The Golden Rams squeaked into the AAA semifinals following a 35-34 OT win over Montour last week, which was decided on a failed two-point conversion attempt. Highlands has proven to be excellent in close games this year, going 5-0 overall in contests decided by eight points or less. That bodes well for the team’s matchup with Blackhawk, which should be a tight battle. Meanwhile, aside from a hiccup vs. West Allegheny on Oct. 3, the Cougars have been a formidable team since the get-go. With quarterback Zack Hayward at the helm, in addition to athletic back Bryan Stefanik, Blackhawk can win behind a balanced offense and hard-nosed defense.
Liberty Hurricanes (10-1, State PR: 93.03, Rank: 6) vs. Emmaus Hornets (10-1, State PR: 89.23, Rank: 10): After falling to North Penn to commence the season, the Hurricanes have won ten straight games behind a ball-controlling offense and stellar defense. The streak includes several wins over state powers Parkland, Northampton and Bethlehem Freedom. However, Emmaus should be Liberty’s biggest test yet. Leading the cast is quarterback Matt Johnson, running back C.J. Billera and a defense that has posted five shutouts this season. These teams are extremely even, so expect this PIAA playoff game to be the same.
Schuylkill Haven Hurricanes (11-0, State PR: 89.57, Rank: 1) vs. Williams Valley Vikings (11-0, State PR: 84.82, Rank: 4): The Hurricanes will showcase their prolific offense this weekend in the Class A District 11 championship against a capable Williams Valley squad that also enters undefeated. Schuylkill Haven has averaged 49 points per game this year, but will be hard-pressed to continue the trend against the Vikings. Williams Valley has won each game by 12 points or more, so it will be interesting to see how the squad handles a game which may very well go down to the wire.
Garnet Valley Jaguars (11-0, State PR: 92.48, Rank: 7) vs. Pennsbury Falcons (9-2, State PR: 76.50, Rank: 24): After a trip to the PIAA finals last season, Garnet Valley is looking to make a return visit, but first they will have to get past a dynamic Pennsbury team. Behind playmakers Jared Bonacquisti, Tim Keyser, Marcellus Inrving and Chris Palaio, the Jags implement a multi-back system on offense and have used it to great success this year in controlling the clock and keeping defenses on the field. The Falcons will likely be facing its toughest opponent all year and will need to put forth their best effort. Pennsbury is only 1-2 this season against teams with a rating of 70 and above. Fullback Rich Applegate will need to be effective moving the chains if he wants his team to have a chance vs. the No. 2 seed.
Bayard Rustin Golden Knights (10-1, State PR: 79.82, Rank: 15) vs. Pottsgrove Falcons (10-1, State PR: 80.98, Rank: 12): The Golden Knights find themselves in the Class AAA District 1 semifinals thanks in part to a tough defense that hasn’t allowed more than 14 points in a game all season. Last week’s 27-14 win over Strath Haven was the team’s first-ever postseason victory. Rustin will certainly run often with dynamic back Rondell White, who scampered for 193 yards and four touchdowns a week ago. On the other side, the Falcons are also riding the coattails of a nine-game winning streak, but will now face their first team with a state power rating of 70 or higher. Sophomore quarterback Terrell Chestnut leads the way as a two-way threat.
Portage Area Mustangs (11-0, State PR: 76.28, Rank: 7) vs. Purchase Line Red Dragons (10-0, State PR: 74.67, Rank: 12): Behind a rushing attack that has averaged 351 yards per game, the Mustangs aim to continue the trend this weekend in the District 6 Class A semifinals. Mike Sinosky, Tommy Burgan and company will look to run, run and run some more thanks to an elite offensive line. Meanwhile, Purchase Line features a high-powered rushing attack of its own that has amassed 3,277 yards, as Damian Fry, Joe Doland and Bobby Freno will take the bulk of carries. This battle of unbeatens could be epic.
Ridgewood Maroons (6-2, State PR: 72.00, Rank: 20) vs. Bloomfield Bengals (5-3, State PR: 58.00, Rank: 44): Two athletic football teams meet on the gridiron this weekend in the quarterfinals of the North 1, Group 4 playoffs. Despite losses to Montclair and Don Bosco Prep midway through the year, the No. 2 Maroons are back on track and will be seeking a long playoff run and Chuck Johnson’s squad should be prepared. Bloomfield has been inconsistent at times, but has the ability to pull off the win over the higher seed Maroons this weekend. These two teams are very even and will look to mix things up offensively.
Non Public Group IV
Red Bank Catholic Caseys (8-0, State PR: 87.48, Rank: 3) vs. St. Peters Prep Marauders (6-2, State PR: 76.69, Rank: 16): A pair of perennial powers meet head-to-head this weekend in Northern New Jersey. As the No. 3 seed, Red Bank has yet to be tested this year through eight games, but that will likely change against St. Peter’s, a state finalist last season. After suffering back-to-back losses to two of the nation’s best teams in St. Joseph and Good Counsel (Md.) to open the season, the Marauders have reeled off six straight wins in dominating fashion. Last weekend’s 21-7 win over Hoboken proved that St. Peter’s has the ability to come away with a victory vs. Red Bank this weekend. Who will prevail?
Class AA Playoffs
New Rochelle Huguenots (9-1, State PR: 72.34, Rank: 16) vs. LaSalle Cadets (8-2, State PR: 71.28, Rank: 20): The top two seeds do battle in the Empire State this weekend in the Class AA quarterfinals. The Cadets have struggled against competition with a power rating of 70 and above and the Huguenots at 72.34 will be no exception. Perhaps last month’s 41-39 win over Saratoga Springs (PR of 71.21) will be a sign of things to come. Meanwhile, New Rochelle has won nine games in a row after falling to Carmel in overtime to commence the season. But the Huguenots trounced Carmel 34-0 last week to advance once step closer to a state title, an indication that this team is peaking at the right time. Expect a knock-down-drag-out battle this weekend.
To contact senior editor Adam C. Warner, send an e-mail to email@example.com.