CTK 2010 - WPIAL AAA BIG EIGHT Conference Preview
8/23/2010 - MSA Sports
There is no truth to the rumor that the section formally known as the Big Seven Conference in Class AAA was considering a name change to the Big One Conference. Instead, they will change to reflect the number of TOTAL teams in the conference to the Big Eight.
However a case could be made for the Big One, with that one being the WPIAL football machine known as Thomas Jefferson. In the ten years since the Y2K century began, the Jaguars have won or shared the conference championship in nine of them, including four straight outright titles. The only hiccup came in 2005 when TJ finished second behind West Mifflin.
The conference actually welcomes two new teams moving up from Class AA as the South Park Eagles from the AA Century Conference and the McGuffey Highlanders from the AA Interstate Conference look for success 'playing up' this fall. Ringgold has moved over from the Big Seven to the Keystone Conference.
Here is a look at the Big Eight for this season with a predicted order of finish at the end:
BELLE VERNON LEOPARDS:
The Aaron Krepps era got off to an exciting start last year as Belle Vernon finished tied for third place in the conference behind Thomas Jefferson and Chartiers Valley with an overall regular season record of 5-4. The Leopards were very competitive and in every game, including a tough 26-20 loss to TJ in what would be their only loss in the final four weeks of the regular season. The campaign ended in Round One with a heartbreaking 21-20 loss to Uniontown.
Krepps hopes to build off that fine season, but will have plenty of holes to fill after graduation, including all-conference offensive tackle Tyler Sellew, all-conference punter Joe Walko and starting quarterback Brandon Dillmore.
However back for the Leopards to lead the offense is senior running back Matt Green, an all-conference performer last year and a member of the 2010 MSA Sports-Kennywood Park Preseason Team. Green was the fifth leading rusher in Class AAA last year gaining 1,122 yards and scoring 12 touchdowns. He rushed for 227 yards and two scores in the playoff lost to Uniontown. A coupe of underclassman to watch is running back/linebacker Adam Cole, who had a strong season last year as a sophomore plus a couple of junior wide receivers Ian Dobbins and Jake Burrit.
CHARTIERS VALLEY COLTS:
What if? That was the question many Chartiers Valley players, coaches and fans were asking themselves a lot last fall after a season ending injury to stud quarterback Wayne Capers knocked the Colts from being a championship caliber team to just a very good team. Very good was not enough to knock off Thomas Jefferson in the conference and not enough to advance past the opening round as Chartiers Valley, despite being the fourth-seed, lost to Hampton 19-7 in the First Round of the playoffs.
Well Capers and five other starters return on offense with six starters back on defense for Coach Chris Saluga, now in his ninth season at Chartiers Valley. After missing the postseason in his first year, Saluga has seen his team make the playoffs seven consecutive years with a very good shot at making eight in a row here in 2010.
Besides the return of the dynamic Capers, who can hurt you with his arm and his now healthy legs in the spread gun option offense, also back on offense is running back Dave Adams, slotback Sean Lapcevic, wide receiver Matt Noszka and offensive linemen Dylan Croftcheck and Mike Scanlon. On defense, returning starters back for the Colts are Croftcheck up front, Chris Barrett, Christian Kuntz and Michaels Shoats at linebacker and Noszka and Lapcevic at defensive back.
ELIZABETH FORWARD WARRIORS:
Out of conference, Elizabeth Forward was perfect in 2009. However playoff berths are not decided on non-conference victories. While the Warriors took care of Yough, Laurel Highlands and Derry, they finished tied for the basement with Ringgold in the Big Seven Conference at 1-5.
Now Garry Cathell tries to turn around EF's conference struggles in an effort to guide the Warriors to a WPIAL Class AAA playoff berth for the first time since 2005.
A pair of quarterbacks from last year, Nick DeBaldo and Corey Sevcik have graduated as have several other key players including Greg Sotereanos, however running back Brandon Hill is back. He had a pair of touchdowns in the Warriors lone conference victory last season over Ringgold.
It took four years of Class AA football for McGuffey to become a playoff team. From 2004 through 2007, the Highlanders were 16-20...competitive but not playoff worthy. However, Derek Bochna's resurrection of the Highlanders program picked it up a notch over the past two falls where McGuffey finished a combined 13-5 in the regular season with back-to-back postseason trips.
Now the program returns to Class AAA where McGuffey struggled mightily. In four years in Class AAAA from 2000 through 2004, the Highlanders were a combined 3-36, including winless campaigns in 2000 and 2002. Can McGuffey carry recent momentum and turn it into rare AAA success this century?
There are a lot of shoes to fill at running back with Trenton Bedillion, Logan McAnany and Nick Shuman graduating, but the starting quarterback returns in senior Derrick Whipkey. Trenton's brother Bevin Bedillion could play a bigger role in the offense this year as a junior.
SOUTH PARK EAGLES:
The drought continued last year for South Park. The Eagles finished 4-5 and on the outside looking in at the Class AA Century Conference playoff picture. The postseason play miss was the fourth straight year South Park was not traveling on the Highway to Heinz. The last playoff trip was when the Eagles won the WPIAL and PIAA championships in 2005.
There are a lot of questions surrounding the Eagles this year, but none more than who will tote the ball and try to fill the big shoes of graduated running back Shayne Dotson. Dotson was the top running back in all of Class AA and finished third overall in the WPIAL with 1,453 yards on 231 carries for an average of 6.3 yards per carry.
The Eagles have a pair of young signal callers returning in sophomore Nick Yobbi and junior Seth Dotson. One of those two could be moved to a running back spot. Senior tight end Dante DaBaldo provides a nice target in the passing attack along with junior wideout Dan Jena.
THOMAS JEFFERSON JAGUARS:
Even though some impressive streaks came to an end in 2009 for Thomas Jefferson, other continued in what was another memorable season for the Jaguars. Coming to and end were the runs of consecutive championships - back-to-back PIAA and a Class AAA record-tying 3 straight WPIAL titles. Also halted was the WPIAL record six straight trips to the district championship game. TJ did win a fourth straight conference title and have won or tied for the conference championship in nine of the ten years this decade. The Jaguars also stretched their record string of consecutive trips to the WPIAL Semifinals to twelve.
They don't rebuild at Thomas Jefferson, they reload and that’s what Bill Cherpak and his staff will be doing again this fall. Gone are seven first team all-conference players from last year including quarterback Sam Johnston (71 of 125 for 1580 and 19 touchdowns), wide receiver and linebacker Jim Giansante, tight end Anthony Greives, offensive guard Shane McNally, Defensive lineman Chris Heim and defensive backs Steve Licht and Ed Hasis.
But the cupboard is never bare in West Jefferson Hills as a pair of all-conference player’s return led by junior running back Ryan Ruffing. Last year as a sophomore, Ruffing was the team leading ground gainer as he rushed for 557 yards and 12 touchdowns on 95 carries before breaking his collarbone in Week 7 against Chartiers Valley. Also back to lead the defense is senior linebacker T.J. Matrascia, who was a member of the 2010 MSA Sports-Kennywood Preseason All-Star team. Matrascia also makes for a good one-two bunch at running back as he rushed for 335 yards and seven touchdowns on 67 carries in replace of Ruffing.
Also back is senior wide receiver Mike Terpin, senior back Joe Andreola and senior running back Dylan Breisinger who all saw valuable playing time last season.
For the fifth straight season, Trinity qualified for the postseason in 2009. However for the second straight year, the Hillers stay on the Highway to Heinz was a short one as they took the first exit after being shutout by Mars 17-0 in the First Round. Trinity has a nice mix of experience with 14 starters back and a strong sophomore class that will see plenty of action.
While quarterback Andrew Steratore with his 800 yards passing and nine touchdowns has graduated, senior Brad Martin appears to be poised to take over at signal caller with a pair of returning starters in the backfield in running back Ty Yocca and fullback Kyle McWreath. Versatile athletes Mike Cleveland and Ty Billie will be top targets.
Up front, JD George, Jay Murphy and Dom Raggi will anchor the line on offense, while Jon Crawford, Jordan Secreti, Bob Steinstraw and Xavier Severns will be in the pits on defense for the Hillers. McWreath and Raggi spearhead a talented Trinity group at linebacker.
WEST MIFFLIN TITANS:
Heeeeee's Back! After leaving to go 'home' and coach his alma-mater at Steel Valley High School four years ago, Ray Braszo returns 'home' down the road and back to West Mifflin High School. Braszo was 26-14 the past four seasons as the Ironmen's coach. He made the playoffs three times and was 10-1 in 2007. He coached at West Mifflin for 17 years before leaving after the 2005 seasons. His record was 100-76-3 and he guided the Titans to a pair of WPIAL Class AAA championship games.
The Titans will have big shoes to fill at quarterback with the graduation of Imir Sanders. One possibility is junior wide receiver Jordan McClung, who had a touchdown toss last year against Derry. Speaking of wide receivers, junior D.J. Hayes also returns in hopes of following up on a good sophomore season.
West Mifflin does have some talented running back returning for this fall including junior Shamar Greene, senior Colin Killins, junior Tyree Atkinson and senior Will Moody.
MSA SPORTS PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:
1) THOMAS JEFFERSON JAGUARS
2) CHARTIERS VALLEY COLTS
3) TRINITY HILLERS
4) WEST MIFFLIN TITANS
5) BELLE VERNON LEOPARDS
6) McGUFFEY HIGHLANDERS
7) SOUTH PARK EAGLES
8) ELIZABETH FORWARD WARRIORS