A fumble here. A fumble there. A fumble everywhere.
The cold weather and snowy field conditions had something to do with it. A few sets of butterfingers did, too. Some big hits and crafty strips certainly played a role.
There were a total of 16 fumbles in the four WPIAL championship games contested Saturday at Heinz Field. Every time The Fumbler saw players dive for a loose ball, it caused him to dive into his memory.
As the Fumbler watched the best teams the WPIAL has to offer, he began to contemplate some other "bests" of the 2013 season.
It's time to hand out the Fumblies.
The Fumblies honor the best of the best in the WPIAL and City League.
And the winners are ...
Player of the Year -- Montae Nicholson, Gateway. Nicholson has been known to dye his hair yellow, a look The Fumbler thinks is pretty fresh. Nicholson, though, didn't need any coloring to stand out this season. All he had to do was take the field and be himself. Nicholson, a senior with a few dozen scholarship offers, was terrific as a wide receiver, defensive back and on special teams. Come to think of it, "special" would be the best way to describe him. Of his 15 touchdowns, nine came on plays of at least 40 yards. His future is even brighter than that hair.
Coach of the Year -- Bob Ravenstahl, Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic. Friday night, Pittsburgh mayor Luke Ravenstahl lit the city's Christmas tree for the final time before his term ends in January. A day later, his father, Bob, was the guiding light for North Catholic, which won its first WPIAL championship with a 14-0 win against Sto-Rox in the Class A title game. When he lost his quarterback to a season-ending injury a month ago, coach Ravenstahl made the bold move to put his star running back behind center. It paid off. Christmas came early for the Trojans.
Game of the Year -- South Fayette 34, Aliquippa 28, Nov. 23. Bone-chilling weather? Check. Game-changing plays? Check. A memorable ending? Check. Some controversy? Check. The WPIAL Class AA showdown lived up to its billing ... and then some. South Fayette's Brett Brumbaugh showed off his golden arm. Aliquippa's Terry Swanson and Dravon Henry flashed their talent time and time again. In the end, it was Conner Beck stretching the ball across the goal line in the final minutes that gave South Fayette a touchdown and soon after a title.
Moment of the Year -- Monessen ending Clairton's 66-game winning streak. "The Streak" was going to end eventually, and with the Bears fielding such a young team this season, most anticipated it would happen this fall. It was just a case of "when" and "against whom." Monessen served as the kryptonite to Clairton's super run. On Sept. 20, the Greyhounds departed Clairton having terminated the country's longest winning streak after a 42-24 victory.
Who would you give Fumblies too? Let The Fumbler know by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Fumbler went 2-2 with his WPIAL championship picks (West Allegheny and South Fayette were his wins). For the season, he is 530-119 (.816).
Here are his thoughts on how the WPIAL champions will fare in their PIAA playoff openers.
Central Catholic (13-0) vs. McDowell (7-5) at Erie Veterans Stadium, 1 p.m. Saturday -- No need to send the Central Catholic defense a Happy Holidays card. A Get Well card would be more appropriate. The group is flat-out sick. Linebacker Niko Thorpe was one of the stars of the Vikings' WPIAL championship win against Woodland Hills. He got into the backfield so quickly, the back of his jersey should have read "Thorpedo." This will be a long bus ride for the Vikings, but their postseason ride will continue. Winner: Central Catholic.
West Allegheny (13-0) vs. Erie Cathedral Prep (12-0) at North Allegheny, 7 tonight -- West Allegheny has won 21 of its past 22 games, claiming two WPIAL titles in that time. The only blemish was a 27-13 loss to Cathedral Prep in last year's PIAA playoffs, a game that West Allegheny led at halftime. Cathedral Prep went on to win the state championship. The saying goes "Revenge is a dish best served cold," right? Well, it will be frigid tonight. Winner: West Allegheny.
South Fayette (13-0) vs. Karns City (12-1) at Clarion University, 1 p.m. Saturday -- If South Fayette chooses, the Lions can pound the ball on the ground and beat foes with a "meat-and-potatoes" approach. Or they can flaunt a dynamic passing attack that serves as their bread and butter. The Fumbler's belly was full after Thanksgiving dinner, but this food talk has him eyeing the refrigerator once again. Meanwhile, the Lions are hungry for their first state title. Winner: South Fayette.
Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic (13-0) vs. Tussey Mountain (11-2) at Hampton, 7 tonight -- North Catholic isn't the only team new to this PIAA playoff thing. Tussey Mountain, located in Saxton, is making its maiden voyage after becoming the first Bedford County team to win the District 5 Class A title in nearly two decades. North Catholic has made history and also has history on its side. A WPIAL team has advanced to the Class A semifinals each of the past 15 seasons. Winner: North Catholic.