The Fumbler: Warming to task as playoffs heat up

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With the weather approaching wintry conditions, the race to get to Heinz Field is reaching its boiling point.

Tonight is the time when those tedious days and nights of weightlifting and tiring conditioning drills in the offseason and preseason camp -- not to mention the success and improvement throughout the previous 12 games -- will hopefully pay off.

Talk to a lot of players who have played in a WPIAL championship game, and they'll tell you that walk through the tunnel onto the Heinz Field turf is something they'll never forget.

Sixteen teams will shoot for their dreams tonight, with eight teams qualifying for next Friday's final. The Fumbler wishes good luck to all.

Thoughts on who will take home the winning trophy in any of the four classes? Email The Fumbler with your picks at

The Fumbler went 13-4 last week, making him 41-9 (.820) in the playoffs and 514-128 (.800) for the season.

Here are his thoughts on this weekend's matchups. All WPIAL semifinal games will begin at 7:30 tonight.

Class AAAA

North Allegheny (11-0) vs. Seneca Valley (10-1) at North Hills -- The Fumbler doesn't believe in witchcraft, but is it possible that North Allegheny coach Art Walker casts a spell on Seneca Valley when the teams meet? After all, Seneca Valley is 16-3 since early last season, but is 0-3 against the Tigers in that span. Spell or no spell, North Allegheny is the better team and will soon be one win away from a "three-peat." Winner: North Allegheny.

Upper St. Clair (10-1) vs. Woodland Hills (9-2) at Baldwin -- One thing is for sure: Both teams will be well coached. There are few around as good as Upper St. Clair's Jim Render and Woodland Hills' George Novak. Woodland Hills started its season with a 31-12 loss to Upper St. Clair and will end it with one, too, giving the Panthers a championship rematch with North Allegheny. Winner: Upper St. Clair.

Class AAA

Thomas Jefferson (11-0) vs. West Allegheny (10-1) at Bethel Park -- Thomas Jefferson has a potent passing game led by Joe Carroll and his 37 touchdown passes. West Alle-gheny will pound the ball on the ground behind a rushing attack that boasts four players with more than 450 yards rushing each. The Indians have allowed just one touchdown their past five games. Winner: West Allegheny.

Central Valley (9-2) vs. West Mifflin (10-1) at North Allegheny -- This is a tough one for The Fumbler. Prior to the playoffs, he picked Central Valley to win it all. He's going to side with his gut feeling, however, and go against the Warriors this week. West Mifflin's Jimmy Wheeler will produce yet another 200-yard rushing effort. Winner: West Mifflin.

Class AA

Aliquippa (11-0) vs. Jeannette (10-1) at Peters Township -- When these teams played in last year's final, Aliquippa needed a touchdown in the final minute to beat the Jayhawks. It won't be as close this time around. The Quips' running backs and defense are just too good. Winner: Aliquippa.

South Fayette (11-0) vs. Washington (11-0) at Chartiers Valley -- What will win out? South Fayette's lethal passing attack or Washington's powerful run game? The Fumbler believes the Lions simply have more weapons. The much anticipated South Fayette-Aliquippa title-game matchup will come to fruition. Winner: South Fayette.

Class A

Clairton (11-0) vs. Neshannock (10-1) at Chartiers-Houston -- Has anyone ever run for more than 1,000 yards in the WPIAL playoffs? In two postseason games, Clairton star Tyler Boyd has 534 yards and nine touchdowns. Tonight, his team will tie a state record with their 59th win in a row and advance to their fifth consecutive final. Winner: Clairton.

Sto-Rox (10-1) vs. North Catholic (9-2) at Dormont Stadium -- The last time North Catholic played at Dormont Stadium -- just last week, actually -- the Trojans opened a lot of eyes by knocking off perennial power Rochester. But Sto-Rox is much better than Rochester and will add a second title game rematch to the WPIAL championship slate. Winner: Sto-Rox.

PIAA Class AAAA Playoffs

Perry (8-2) vs. Erie McDowell (5-5) at Fairview, today 7 p.m. -- Will City League champ Perry show any rust after a bye week? The Commodores better not because The Fumbler thinks McDowell is much better than its record indicates. James Conner is a Pitt recruit who rushed for 131 yards and four touchdowns in McDowell's previous game. Winner: Erie McDowell.

PIAA Class AAA Playoffs

University Prep (6-3) vs. Clearfield (11-0) at Clarion University, Saturday 1 p.m. -- How about University Prep's Akil Young throwing for 462 yards last week, the second most in PIAA playoff history? While Young was chucking the ball, Clearfield was defeating the Chucks (Punxsutawney) behind 233 yards rushing by quarterback Christian Lezzer. Winner: Clearfield.



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