South Xtra: Pats on back at halfway mark of '13

Brad Everett's High School Football Notebook

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October is only in its first few days, and we've already seen a bit of a transition in the local sports scene.

The Steelers are 0-4, causing many fans to say the season is over.

The Penguins played their season opener last night.

But in the world of WPIAL football, we're caught in between. It's Week 6, so the regular season is just past its halfway point.

That said, how about we give out some awards?

It's time for the Bradleys -- Midseason Edition.

Here is one writer's take on what or who stood out during the first half of the season among South Xtra area schools.

TOP PLAYER -- Jimmy Wheeler, West Mifflin Area. This speedster, whom his teammates call "Wheels," stomped on the gas pedal in the opening game and has not let up. Wheeler rushed for a career-high 360 yards to open the season. Last week, he topped that with 366 yards. Wheeler, who has said his goal is to rush for 3,000 yards (that would be a WPIAL single-season record), has amassed 1,312 yards and 17 touchdowns. He leads the WPIAL in both categories. The Titans (5-0) average a Class AAA-best 46.6 points per game.

BEST TEAM -- Upper St. Clair. Look up the word "dominant" in the dictionary and a team photo of the Panthers might be right next to it. Yes, the Panthers (5-0) are undefeated, but their excellence goes much beyond their record. The Panthers traveled to the Wolvarena to take on then-Class AAAA No. 1 Woodland Hills in the season opener, and came away with a 16-10 win. Since then, the Panthers have not surrendered a point. Four games. Four shutouts. The most impressive of the bunch was a 35-0 triumph at Penn Hills. No WPIAL team has surrendered fewer points. Running backs Mac Pope (eight) and Trevor Morrow (seven) have combined for 15 touchdowns.

BREAKOUT PERFORMER -- Matt Bernadowski, Elizabeth Forward. Everyone already knew about star quarterback JaQuan Davidson before the season, but Bernadowski's emergence has given the Warriors (4-1) another big-time playmaker. Bernadowski, a track standout who is one of the premier hurdlers in the state, has used his speed and athleticism to score 14 touchdowns. Not only has he developed a great rapport with Davidson, but he's also been a menace returning kicks. He's returned three punts and one kickoff for touchdowns.

TOP COACH -- George Smith, McKeesport. After taking three years off, Smith returned to the sideline and has picked up right where he left off. The Tigers (5-0), who went 21-9 and did not win a playoff game the past three seasons, are suddenly a contender for the WPIAL Class AAAA title. Smith has his flexbone offense clicking on all cylinders and the defense is giving up only 11.6 points per game. The Tigers could be destined for a Week 9 showdown with Foothills Conference co-leader Gateway.

BEST GAME -- Monessen 42, Clairton 24 (Sept. 20). The night "The Streak" came to an end. Clairton had won a state-record 66 games in a row and hammered Monessen, 52-7, last season, but the Greyhounds showed they didn't care much about history. Coincidentally, the streak began when Clairton topped Monessen on Sept. 11, 2009. The outcome of this season's meeting was much different. Monessen took control early and led, 28-0, before Clairton scored in the third quarter. Monessen's Clintell Gillaspie (16 touchdowns this season) was the star, rushing for 169 yards and scoring four touchdowns (three of which covered at least 60 yards).

KEY INJURY -- Shai McKenzie, Washington. McKenzie entered the season as arguably the area's "most hyped" player, but his high school career came to an abrupt end when he tore the ACL in his right knee against Charleroi Area in Week 3. In three games, McKenzie rushed for 650 yards and 11 touchdowns. McKenzie (2,689 yards and 42 touchdowns last season) is the type of talent who is irreplaceable, but coach Mike Bosnic and the Little Prexies (5-0) deserve a lot of credit for continuing their winning ways. The Little Prexies earned a huge 48-14 win at Jeannette, which entered that game at 4-0, last Thursday and could put themselves in the driver's seat for the Class AA Interstate Conference title with a victory against Mount Pleasant next week.

BEST PRESS BOX FOOD -- Washington. Someone once joked, "If it's not catered, it's not covered." Sports writers traditionally come to events hungry. It might have just been because it was the season opener, but Washington put together a nice spread for its game against Greensburg Central Catholic. The centerpiece was a sandwich ring that might have been the largest ever constructed in Washington County.



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