Talented teams, exceptional individual players, memorable moments … the Post-Gazette’s East Xtra region had it all this season.
East Xtra teams won five conference championships, four of them going undefeated in league play. Four teams made it to the WPIAL semifinals and two to the final. One won a WPIAL title and then advanced to a PIAA final. At least a half dozen seniors are headed to play in Division I.
No team stood out more than Central Catholic, which dominated the WPIAL field in Class AAAA. The Vikings ran to the Northern Eight Conference title by outscoring their opponents, 405-27, during the regular season. They went on to win their fourth WPIAL title and first since 2007 by handing Woodland Hills its second consecutive championship game loss, 27-7. After a pair of spectacular defensive efforts in the PIAA playoffs, the Vikings let a halftime lead slip away in a loss to St. Joseph’s Prep in the championship game.
Central Catholic linebacker Niko Thorpe was selected to the daily Post-Gazette’s Fabulous 22 team, and three of his teammates join him on the East Xtra Fab 22 — running back Luigi Lista-Brinza, lineman Zach DeLuca and defensive back Tre Tarpley.
Lista-Brinza is one of several outstanding running backs on the team. The others are Penn-Trafford’s Devin Austin, Greensburg Central Catholic’s Tyler Balla, Hempfield Area’s Joey DeFloria, Mount Pleasant’s Tyler Mellors and Woodland Hills’ Miles Sanders.
Sanders, a sophomore, is one of three underclassmen. Austin and University Prep quarterback Ron Brown are juniors.
Behind a dynamic passing game led by Brown and wide receiver Marcus Johnson, University Prep was the talk of the City League. The Wildcats went unbeaten during the regular season and topped Allderdice to win the championship before falling to Somerset in the PIAA playoffs.
In addition to Central Catholic and University Prep, other East Xtra teams winning conference titles were McKeesport Area (Foothills), Franklin Regional (Greater Allegheny co-champions) and Mount Pleasant (Interstate).
Franklin Regional and Penn-Trafford joined Central Catholic and Woodland Hills as WPIAL semifinalists.
As usual, Gateway was loaded with talent. The most recognizable player was wide receiver-defensive back Montae Nicholson, ranked by several recruiting services as the top senior in the state. Nicholson was part of a group of wide receivers and defensive backs that included other East Xtra Fab 22 honorees Anthony Davis and Delvon Randall. Defensive end Brenon Thrift was also selected.
The season had its share of spectacular finishes.
The Franklin Regional defense came up with a gigantic play in the WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinals, stopping West Mifflin star running back Jimmy Wheeler on a fourth-and-2 from the Panthers’ 30 in the closing minute to preserve a 14-12 win.
Woodland Hills used a goal-line stand in the closing minutes to upset top-seeded Upper St. Clair, 28-21, in the WPIAL Class AAAA semifinals.
The 22 players were chosen from 28 schools in the East Xtra coverage area regardless of their position or their school’s classification. They were selected by the Post-Gazette’s scholarship sports staff based on the observations of writers, interviews with coaches, examination of statistics and all-conference team balloting.
Players from McKeesport were considered for the South Xtra Fab 22.