2013 WPIAL Class AAAA football championship preview


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Their statistics suggest Woodland Hills vs. Central Catholic will feature plenty of running and not much passing.

History suggests the team that runs it with more success will win.

Woodland Hills (10-2) takes on Central Catholic (12-0) in the WPIAL Class AAAA championship game Saturday, 2 p.m. at Heinz Field. Looking at past title games and breaking this matchup down to its simplest form, the key is which team will run better.

Despite the popularity of spread offenses and strong passing games these days, Class AAAA football title games have pretty much stayed grounded. Over the past 15 seasons of Class AAAA championships, the team with more yards rushing is 12-3.

Over the past 15 seasons, there have been 12 running backs who have rushed for 100 yards or more in the Class AAAA title game. Only three of them didn't play for the winning team.

Conversely, over the past eight seasons of Class AAAA championship games, the team with more yards passing is 4-4. And few teams have aired it out.

North Allegheny quarterback Mack Leftwich threw for 219 yards last season and led his team to a victory. But in the other 14 title games over the past 15 years, only two other teams have thrown for more than 150 yards.

"I think you're right on with the running theory," Central Catholic coach Terry Totten said. "But I would also add that the team that limits the big play usually does well, too."

Woodland Hills coach George Novak said, "I think it always comes down to who possesses the ball most and who runs it better."

The game might also hinge on what team can make a few big pass plays. But don't expect to see much passing, especially with the weather forecast calling for a cold and windy day.

Although Central Catholic quarterback J.J. Cosentino is a Florida State recruit, he averages only six passes a game and has thrown for only 655 yards. Woodland Hills quarterback Harry Randall has thrown for 817 yards and averages only eight passes a game.

But Central Catholic averages 280 yards a game rushing and Woodland Hills 224. Central Catholic has an excellent offensive line and they boast two 1,000-yard rushers. Luigi Lista-Brinza has 1,275 yards on 154 carries, despite missing a handful of games with a sprained ankle. Lista-Brinza re-injured the ankle last week but will play in the title game.

Central Catholic also has Riley Redman, who has 1,016 yards on 102 attempts.

"[Lista-Brinza] had to nurse the ankle during the week and we have to limit his reps at practice, but with enough rest, he's usually ready to go," Totten said.

Central Catholic's defense has been superb all season but it will face a Woodland Hills team that features sophomore running back Miles Sanders (1,074 yards rushing) and Randall (722 yards rushing). Trevon Mathis also has made big plays at receiver and on kick returns.

"I think they have two fantastic athletic talents on offense," Totten said of Sanders and Randall. "That quarterback is the toughest, hard-nosed fighter I've seen in a long time at that position."

But Novak believes his team is the underdog.

"I think Central has the edge on the rushing this year," Novak said. "They're a power football team. They run the 'I' formation and run things very similar to what we used to do in the 1990s and 2000."

Line play will also be a key.

"There might not be any Division I college kid on our lines, but right now they might be playing as well as any lines we've had," Totten said.

One other thing that could be a factor in the game is the field condition if the weather is not good.

"I think it equalizes the speed and one thing our teams have been predicated on is speed," Novak said. "I think the weather would be to their favor."

ONES TO WATCH

Central Catholic's Luigi Lista-Brinza is a 1,000-yard rusher but his status is questionable with an ankle injury. The Vikings certainly have a capable backup in Riley Redman, who also has 1,000 yards. Quarterback J.J. Cosentino, a Florida State recruit, doesn't pass much. He also is an excellent punter. The Vikings have quality, experienced lines. ... Woodland Hills' Trevon Mathis has been making big plays in the playoffs. Running back Miles Sanders has returned after missing a few games because of an ankle injury. Woodland Hills has an excellent secondary.

COACHES

George Novak is the only coach in the history of Woodland Hills, which opened in 1987. He coached Steel Valley from 1979-86 and has won six WPIAL titles (five at Woodland Hills and one at Steel Valley). He is fourth on the WPIAL list for most wins with a record of 278-131-1. ... Central Catholic's Terry Totten is in his ninth season and has won one championship (2007). A Central Catholic graduate, Totten has a career record of 96-15.

CHAMPIONSHIP HISTORY

This is Woodland Hills' 10th championship appearance under Novak. The Wolverines won titles in 1996, 1999, 2001, 2002 and 2009. They have never won a PIAA championship. ... Central Catholic joined the WPIAL in the mid 1970s and made its first championship appearance in 1988. The Vikings have five championship appearances, winning titles in 2003, 2004 and 2007. They also lost in 2001. Central Catholic has won three PIAA titles.

DO YOU REMEMBER?

Central Catholic played North Catholic in the first high school game at Three Rivers Stadium in 1970. ... Central Catholic met Woodland Hills in the title game once before in 2001. Woodland Hills got a memorable performance from quarterback Steve Breaston and crushed Central Catholic, 41-6. Breaston, who went on to play receiver in the NFL, scored on an 87-yard run on the third play of the game and finished with 219 yards on 15 carries.


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