2013 WPIAL Football Semifinals Preview

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All games are at 7:30 p.m.

CLASS AAAA

1-Upper St. Clair (11-0) vs. 4-Woodland Hills (9-2) at Baldwin -- The game is a rematch of a season-opening 16-10 victory by Upper St. Clair, in which it scored all its points in the second quarter. While it might not be undefeated, few teams have been playing better over the past two months than Woodland Hills, which has gone 9-0 since Sept. 7 and has outscored its opponents by an average of 26.7 points. None have been decided by fewer than 12 points.

If anything, this game could be decided by who does and does not take the field. The status of the leading rushers for both teams -- sophomore Miles Sanders for Woodland Hills and senior Trevor Morrow for Upper St. Clair -- is still up in the air, as both are dealing with injuries. Sanders has missed the past two games for the Wolverines; Morrow missed the second half of the Panthers' victory against North Allegheny last Friday with an ankle injury.

The two teams met in last season's Class AAAA semifinals, and Woodland Hills won, 42-20.

2-Central Catholic (11-0) vs. 6-Penn-Trafford (8-3) at West Mifflin -- As recently as a month ago, it would have been hard to imagine Penn-Trafford as one of the four teams still playing in the region's top classification. But here the Warriors are, the beneficiaries of a streak that has seen them win four in a row and six of the past seven. The semifinal appearance is Penn-Trafford's first since 1997.

The Vikings, on the other hand, were widely expected to get this far and undoubtedly have to be considered a favorite to advance to their first WPIAL Class AAAA championship game since 2007. Since missing the final four weeks of the regular season with an injury, senior running back Luigi Lista-Brinza has picked up right where he left off, rushing for 313 yards and four touchdowns in the first two playoff games.

Central Catholic beat Penn-Trafford in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs last season, 30-27.

-- Craig Meyer

CLASS AAA

1-West Allegheny (11-0) vs. 4-Franklin Regional (10-1) at North Allegheny -- Franklin Regional did enough to beat one of the best running backs in the WPIAL in the quarterfinals. Now it must find a way to beat one of the best teams. The Panthers bent but didn't break on their way to a 14-12 win against West Mifflin, giving up 228 yards to Jimmy Wheeler but stopping him on a two-point conversion that proved to be the difference. But West Allegheny poses a whole new challenge. The Indians have a more balanced attack, with Andrew Koester leading the passing game and Chayse Dillon heading the rushing attack. West Allegheny has only lost one WPIAL game in the past two seasons and has hardly been tested in the playoffs, beating Hollidaysburg (38-6) and Indiana (38-7). It's an uphill climb for quarterback Charan Singh and Franklin Regional, but if they want to get to the title game, they'll have to go through last year's champion to get there.

2-Thomas Jefferson (11-0) vs. 3-Central Valley (10-1) at Chartiers Valley -- Thomas Jefferson ran the table last season before losing in the semifinals. Central Valley is hoping to deliver an encore performance. Thomas Jefferson's victory last Friday against Highlands was much closer than anticipated. It was tied after three quarters before a touchdown and field goal sealed a 23-14 win. It was the first time a team had come within 20 points of the Jaguars this season. Jordan Whitehead and Central Valley hope to take that one step further. Whitehead had three touchdowns in a 35-21 quarterfinal win, scoring on a reception, a run and a kickoff return. He's joined in the backfield by JaQuan Pennington, and the duo hopes to become the first team to score more than 21 points on Thomas Jefferson this season. But they'll have to get past Chase Winovich, a Michigan recruit at linebacker. And if they manage that, they'll still have to stop him on offense: Winovich, a running quarterback, picked up 200 yards on the ground and all three touchdowns last week. Thomas Jefferson might be the slightest of favorites in this one, but it could go either way.

-- Nick Veronica

CLASS AA

1-Aliquippa (11-0) vs. 12-Beaver (8-3) at Ambridge -- The Bobcats have thrown a wrench into what has otherwise been a pretty predictable first two weeks of the Class AA playoffs. First it was a 42-21 rout Nov. 1 against fifth-seeded Shady Side Academy, which was followed by an even-more-unexpected 21-7 victory last Friday against previously undefeated Mount Pleasant. Senior quarterback Alex Rowse has 2,665 passing yards and 40 touchdowns this season.

But while Beaver's run has been impressive, it has yet to beat a team like Aliquippa. And when the two teams did meet just three weeks ago, it wasn't exactly competitive. The Quips won that Oct. 25 matchup, 50-13, and have won games this season by an average of 36.5 points. The fact that their 17-point win last Friday against Quaker Valley was considered close speaks volumes. Aliquippa's defense has allowed the second-fewest points of any Class AA team (9.9 per game).

2-South Fayette (11-0) vs. 6-Beaver Falls (9-2) at Montour -- Even after the Tigers lost a game, a debate existed for much of the season as to which of these two teams was the second-best in Class AA. As fate would have it, the playoffs will decide that in a game between two of the most talented teams in the classification. Both offenses have been explosive throughout the season, as the Lions average a Class AA-best 48.1 points per game; the Tigers average 41.4.

Led by quarterback Brett Brumbaugh, who has thrown for 2,529 yards and 29 touchdowns as a junior, South Fayette has gone through the season largely unchallenged. Of the Lions' 11 games this season, none was decided by fewer than 24 points and seven of their 11 wins came by at least 40 points. Beaver Falls' resume is highlighted by its lone Class AA loss -- a controversial touchdown away from defeating Aliquippa. The Tigers have a slew of weapons on offense, a group headlined by the running back duo of Damian Rawl (1,130 yards and 14 touchdowns) and Kahlil Caracter (633 yards, nine touchdowns, 10.2 yards per carry).

-- C.M.

CLASS A

1-Sto-Rox (11-0) vs. 4-Clairton (10-1) at Chartiers-Houston -- Fasten your seat belts, put your game face on and get the popcorn ready. This one's going to be quite the show. Sto-Rox and Clairton met in the Class A championship game each of the past two seasons, with Clairton winning in blowouts both times, 58-21 and 42-6. But as this year's No. 1 seed, Sto-Rox is in a position to get some revenge. WPIAL all-time passing leader Lenny Williams leads the Vikings, who rolled Apollo-Ridge, 42-20, in the quarterfinals. Clairton struggled in the first half last Friday before finding its groove in a 52-35 win against Fort Cherry. The Bears, five-time defending Class A champions, have won 22 consecutive WPIAL playoff games, but that streak could be in jeopardy. Their defense has been exposed a handful of times this season, by their standards, giving up 159 points. Through the quarterfinals in the past four seasons combined, the Bears gave up 163 points. If you give the Vikings an opening, they usually take it.

2-North Catholic (11-0) vs. 6-Neshannock (9-2) at Mars -- North Catholic quarterback Adam Sharlow ran for a touchdown and threw for two more to put the Vikings up, 21-0, when these teams met Oct. 18. But Sharlow sustained a knee injury later in the game and was lost for the season. Neshannock came back to make it 21-14 but couldn't level the score before time expired. P.J. Fulmore has done well since moving from running back to quarterback, but he hasn't faced an opponent like Neshannock yet. The Lancers rolled third-seeded Monessen in the quarterfinals, 35-6, in a game that was expected to be much closer. They're peaking at the right time. Eli Owens and quarterback Ernie Burkes are a formidable 1-2 rushing punch and have combined for 2,500 yards. North Catholic was the only team to hold them to fewer than 34 points. But a fact like that is part of the reason North Catholic is the second seed while Neshannock is sixth. The Trojans were eliminated from contention in last year's semifinals by Sto-Rox and haven't lost since. This one could come down to the wire -- and whichever team wins will make its first championship game appearance.

-- N.V.


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