WPIAL Class AA preview: Many title candidates will make it interesting

| FORECAST BY BRAD EVERETT


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ALLEGHENY

Team to beat

Kittanning -- Fresh off one of their best seasons in decades, the Wildcats look to defend their conference championship. Three key playmakers -- tight end Nick Bowers, quarterback Braydon Toy and running back Zane Dudek -- return from the first Kittanning team to finish the regular season undefeated since 1976. Bowers (53 catches, 846 yards, 16 touchdowns) is a Pitt recruit.

Contenders

Highlands -- Even if the Golden Rams would have stayed in the Class AAA Greater Allegheny Conference, they might have contended for a conference title. A WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinalist last season, the Golden Rams welcome back running back Elijah Jackson (1,287 yards, 14 touchdowns) and six starters on defense.

Shady Side Academy -- No team in the conference might have better line play than the Indians, who return all starters on both lines, including four-year starter Pat Loughran (6-2, 260). The Indians (13.5 points per game) had the No. 3 scoring defense in Class AA last season.

The others

Freeport -- The Yellowjackets will be led by quarterback Andrew Romanchak, who led them in passing and rushing a season ago.

Apollo-Ridge -- Moving up from Class A, the Vikings feature one of the top wide receivers in the WPIAL in Pitt commit Tre Tipton (44 catches, 697 yards, 14 touchdowns).

Valley -- New coach Muzzy Colosimo won 143 games in 17 seasons at Greensburg Central Catholic, leading the Centurions to three WPIAL title appearances and one championship.

Burrell -- Running back Ryan Sowol (1,150 yards, 12 touchdowns) will try to help the Bucs move on after teammate Noah Cornuet collapsed and died during a practice earlier this month.

West Shamokin -- Andrew Wingard was an all-conference running back in Class A last season when he led the Wolves to a WPIAL playoff berth.

Ford City -- After finishing with a winning record 11 years in a row, the Sabers have gone 7-11 the past two seasons.

Deer Lakes -- Former NFL lineman Steve Sciullo takes over as coach and hopes to see the Lancers improve on a winless season.

CENTURY

Team to beat

South Fayette -- The defending WPIAL and PIAA champions will ride the arm of reigning Post-Gazette Player of the Year Brett Brumbaugh, who threw for a WPIAL single-season record 3,897 yards last season. Three other all-conference players return. Keep an eye on junior running back Hunter Hayes, who could have a breakout season.

Contenders

Seton-LaSalle -- Rookie head coach Damon Rosol has some big-time playmakers at his disposal, including Tyler Perone (6-3, 205, Sr., QB) and Toledo recruit Danzel McKinley-Lewis (6-0, 180, Sr., WR). Perone passed for 2,326 yards (fifth in the WPIAL) and 24 touchdowns.

Quaker Valley -- Pitt recruit Dane Jackson (6-1, 180, Sr.) is one of the most dangerous dual-threat quarterbacks in the WPIAL, combining for 2,086 yards of offense and 23 touchdowns. Running back Trewon Marshall (14 touchdowns) is another top returnee.

The others

Steel Valley -- Running back DeWayne Murray (1,488 yards) was one of only two WPIAL freshmen named all-conference last season. He averaged 10.7 yards per carry.

South Park -- A big, veteran line led by all-conference pick Ryan Podgorski (6-5, 265, Sr.) will try to push the Eagles into the playoffs for the second year in a row.

Keystone Oaks -- After leading Seton-LaSalle to the postseason eight times in nine seasons, Greg Perry begins his first season with the Golden Eagles, who return quarterback Kobe Phillippi.

East Allegheny -- Senior Taizjon Brown (982 yards, 12 touchdowns) led the Wildcats in rushing last season and is one of the top linebackers in the conference.

South Allegheny -- Two years removed from ending a 26-year playoff drought, the Gladiators hope to put a 1-9 season behind them. They return nine starters on both offense and defense.

Sto-Rox -- The WPIAL Class A runner-up the past two seasons, the Vikings move to Class AA and must replace WPIAL all-time career passing leader Lenny Williams.

Carlynton -- Seeking their first playoff berth since 2001, the Cougars will make the jump from Class A riding the talents of running back Isiah Canton (1,068 yards, 12 touchdowns).

INTERSTATE

Team to beat

Washington -- The Little Prexies have the most talent in the new-look Interstate Conference (Jeannette and Greensburg Central Catholic both dropped to Class A). Malik Wells and Jordon West combined to rush for more than 1,000 yards last season. They'll run behind a powerful line led by Zach Blystone (6-2, 280) and Thomas Cherry (6-1, 270).

Contenders

McGuffey -- The Highlanders will lean on James Duchi (6-0, 201, Sr., RB/LB) and lines anchored by Ryan Stienstraw (6-3, 248, Sr., OT/DT) and A.J. Johnson (6-4, 275, Sr., OT/DE) to vault them into the postseason. Duchi rushed for 1,065 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.

Mount Pleasant --The 2013 conference champion must replace seven all-conference players, including the school's all-time leading rusher (Tyler Mellors) and passer (Ryan Gumbita). Trevor Salopek (6-1, 170, Sr., RB/WR) is the top returnee.

The others

Southmoreland -- Running back Jake Pisula (1,609 yards, 11 touchdowns), the second-leading returning rusher in the WPIAL, will try to give the Scotties their first playoff berth since 1979.

Waynesburg -- Running back/linebacker John-Glen Davis (5-11, 190, Sr.) led the Raiders in rushing last season with 976 yards and was all-conference on defense.

Charleroi -- Quarterback Matt Carr is one of seven offensive starters returning for new coach Donnie Militzer, who guided Gateway to the WPIAL Class AAAA quarterfinals last season.

Brownsville -- The Falcons (1-8 last season) return running back Byron Mayers, who accounted for nine of his team's 14 touchdowns.

Derry -- New coach Tim Sweeney will try to turn around a program that went 0-10 and gave up a WPIAL-worst 56.3 points per game last season.

Burgettstown -- Looking to end a 21-game losing streak, the Blue Devils must improve a defense that surrendered a Class AA-high 47.6 points per game.

MIDWESTERN

Team to beat

Aliquippa -- The latest star running back to wear an Aliquippa uniform, Kaezon Pugh (6-0, 200, Jr.), hopes to get the Quips to Heinz Field for the seventh year in a row. Runners-up last season, they return quarterback Darrien Fields (1,254 yards, 17 touchdowns) and wide receiver Patrick Anderson. The Quips have not lost a regular-season game since 2009.

Contenders

Beaver Falls -- Twenty-six seniors -- five of whom were all-conference picks -- graduated from last year's WPIAL semifinalist. Still, the cupboard of talent is not bare. Leading receiver Javon Turner (6-0, 175, Sr.) and promising running back Neshaud Akins (5-9, 150, Soph.) are back.

Beaver -- Also a WPIAL semifinalist last season, the Bobcats must replace the WPIAL's third-leading passer, Alex Rowse. Senior Zach Royba is expected to get the call and will look to get the ball into the hands of sophomore Darius Wise (47 catches, 762 yards, 16 touchdowns).

New Brighton -- The Lions have some talented playmakers, a group highlighted by quarterback Payton Fath and running back Scott Florence. Fath passed for 878 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, adding 538 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground.

The others

Mohawk -- Having fallen just short of the playoffs last season, the Warriors bring back an excellent offensive line led by seniors Chad Hogue and Chase Miller.

Ellwood City -- Getting ample production from running backs Paul Lutz and Nick Ioanilli will be crucial if the Wolverines are to contend for a playoff spot.

Summit Academy -- Coach Steve Sherer will try to lead the Knights back to the playoffs after qualifying last season from the Allegheny Conference.

Laurel -- The Spartans and new coach Brian Cooper return running back Matt Conway, the second-leading rusher on a team that placed third in the Class A Big Seven Conference.

Freedom -- After averaging 8.9 points per game last season -- second-fewest in Class AA -- the Bulldogs must see a significant spike offensively in order to improve on an 0-9 record.


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