WPIAL Class AAAA Football Semifinals: Injuries are playing a major role

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Every one of the teams in the WPIAL Class AAAA semifinals has a 1,000-yard rusher, but that's not what makes this an unusual group.

You'd have a hard time coming up with a semifinal field that has ever had to deal with injuries to their top running backs. And a couple of those running backs are questionable for tonight's games.

So the big story for these semifinals might not be who is playing as much as who might not be playing.

Upper St. Clair (11-0) meets Woodland Hills (9-2) tonight at Baldwin while Penn-Trafford (8-3) plays Central Catholic (11-0) at West Mifflin.

"Going back over the ages, I don't ever remember so many running backs being hurt from the four teams," Woodland Hills coach George Novak said. "Usually, you might have one team that has somebody hurt, but I don't know about four."

Here is the injury report:

* Woodland Hills sophomore Miles Sanders, who has 1,016 yards, hasn't played since the regular-season finale because on an ankle injury. Novak said Sanders is "questionable to doubtful."

* Upper St. Clair's Trevor Morrow, who has 1,069 yards rushing, sustained a foot injury in last week's game against North Allegheny. Upper St. Clair coach Jim Render said Morrow is questionable. Upper St. Clair fullback Mac Pope hasn't played since the regular-season finale because of a knee injury. Render said Pope also is questionable for Woodland Hills.

* Penn-Trafford's Devin Austin, who has 1,267 yards, missed some of last week's game against McKees-port because of a head injury. But Penn-Trafford coach John Ruane said Austin is expected to play.

* Central Catholic's Luigi Lista-Brinza, who has 1,233 yards, has been back for only two games after missing the final four regular-season contests because of an ankle injury.

"These injuries certainly make you tweak some things on offense," Render said. "We've got some other decent running backs, but they are just not the size of Morrow and Pope."

Penn-Trafford coach John Ruane said, "I think this is where depth really comes into play, not just at running back but at a lot of positions. We're fortunate enough to have two really good running backs and didn't really skip a beat."

Without Austin, Penn-Trafford's Tom Stinelli rushed for 156 yards last week.

Without Sanders, Woodland Hills has turned to quarterback Harry Randall more. He rushed for 172 yards against Seneca Valley last week in the quarterfinals.

"With the injuries, you just have to use your other weapons to take up the slack," Novak said. "You try and run some different formations and use different personnel to get your best athletes the ball in space. For us, we started running the option a little bit against Pine-Richland [in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs]."

While injuries make for the top storyline for these semifinals, the surprising story is Penn-Trafford. This is Upper St. Clair's sixth semifinal appearance in the past 11 seasons, Woodland Hills' fifth and Central Catholic's eighth. This is Penn-Trafford's first semifinal appearance since 1997.

Penn-Trafford was 4-3 at one point after losing to Kiski Area in the seventh game. Since then, Penn-Trafford has won four in a row, including wins against Gateway and McKeesport, and averaged 33 points in those games. Ruane says what might have helped turn things around was a pep talk after the Kiski Area game from senior lineman Freddy Cook.

"I really can't repeat what he said," Ruane said with a laugh. "No, he just stood up and I think snapped everyone out of it. When he talked, everyone in the room got silent. He basically told everyone to just shut their mouth, stop complaining and just play.

"I think we're playing more with a sense of urgency now."

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