South Xtra: USC is out to justify its seeding

Brad Everett's High School Football Notebook

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And the No. 1 seed goes to ... Upper St. Clair.

The Panthers heard those words -- or something like it -- Monday night when they were named the top seed in the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs. The Panthers last earned the No. 1 seed in 2006. They went on to win the championship that season, but have not won one since.

This could be another golden season for Upper St. Clair, but the Panthers aren't the only South Xtra team with dreams of making it to Heinz Field. A total of 17 area teams qualified for the postseason, a group that includes Class AAA No. 2 seed Thomas Jefferson, Class AA No. 2 seed South Fayette and five-time defending Class A champion Clairton.

Here are one guy's predictions on who will hoist championship trophies on Nov. 23. Also, here's one sleeper team (seeded No. 5 or lower) from each class who could make some noise.

Class AAAA

The winner will be ... Mc-Keesport. The last time the Tigers were undefeated heading into the postseason, Brandon Short was their star player. Yeah, it's safe to say "first year" coach George Smith has his team playing well. The Tigers' flexbone offense is running like a well-oiled machine. Figuring out how to slow it down is a tall task with just a few days to prepare. Defensively, the Tigers are physical and have allowed the third fewest points in Class AAAA.

Sleeper: Gateway. Has there ever been a No. 7 seed this dangerous? Many would agree that the Gators have as much talent as anyone. They will have to beat North Hills and likely No. 2 Central Catholic to reach the semifinals, where they then might get a rematch with McKeesport. It's hard to count out a team with athletes such as Montae Nicholson and Delvon Randall.

Class AAA

The winner will be ... Central Valley. When West Allegheny won the WPIAL title last season, its only regular-season loss was to Central Valley. Look for the roles to reverse, with the Warriors avenging their only loss by beating West Allegheny in the title game. The Warriors have talented skill players (led by Jordan Whitehead), but it's a defense that has yet to allow more than 14 points in a game that will have them holding the championship trophy.

Sleeper: West Mifflin. If the Titans would have beaten Thomas Jefferson last week, they would have been in the conversation for the No. 1 seed. Instead, the Titans were hammered, 35-0. On the bright side, Thomas Jefferson is on the other side of the bracket. The Titans will ride WPIAL rushing leader Jimmy Wheeler until his wheels fall off.

Class AA

The winner will be ... Ali-quippa. South Fayette is explosive. Beaver Falls is very good. Aliquippa is, well, Aliquippa. The Quips are better than anyone at winning WPIAL titles, and coach Mike Zmijanac and company will soon get their third in a row and the school's 16th overall. The 34-28 win against Beaver Falls served as a wakeup call for the Quips, who could cruise into the final behind Dravon Henry, Terry Swanson and an excellent defense.

Sleeper: Beaver Falls. The WPIAL put the Tigers and Quips on opposite sides of the bracket. Quite a few people would love to see these rivals tangle a second time. The Tigers are looking for their first title since 1984. This team has the playmakers to get it.

Class A

The winner will be ... Sto-Rox. Losing to a pair of amazing Clairton teams in the championship game was the only thing holding Sto-Rox back from winning the past two WPIAL titles. This year, the Vikings will knock off Clairton in the semifinals on their way to capturing their first championship since 1987. There isn't a more experienced, big-game quarterback in this year's playoffs than Lenny Williams. The WPIAL's all-time leading passer will make his 10th career postseason start Friday against Avella.

Sleeper: Avonworth. The lone blemish on the Antelopes' record is a 21-12 loss to Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic. The 'Lopes have not surrendered a point in three games since. Quarterback Matt Donovan and the Antelopes could meet a banged-up Trojans team in the quarterfinals. Win that, and they will be halfway to a title.

Odds and ends

Thomas Jefferson's Chase Winovich rushed for 246 yards last week against West Mifflin. It was the most by a WPIAL quarterback this season. ... Serra Catholic went just 1-9 this fall, but Eagles quarterback Zac Quatrone quietly put up some excellent numbers. He rushed for more than 1,000 yards and 15 touchdowns, and threw for a little less than 1,000 yards.

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