One WPIAL Class AAA football semifinal features a sprint to the finish
West Mifflin running back Jimmy Wheeler carries the ball against Thomas Jefferson earlier this season.
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An old-school, grind-it-out style permeates WPIAL football at this time of year, often making the sport resemble a wrestling match.
But one particular game Friday might look like a track meet instead.
A few of the fastest players, not only in Class AAA, but the entire WPIAL, will take the field when Central Valley plays West Mifflin in a semifinal Friday night at North Allegheny.
If you love speed, you'll enjoy this matchup. No. 3 Central Valley (9-2) features the likes of wide receiver Robert Foster and running back Jordan Whitehead, while No. 7 West Mifflin (10-1) counters with running back Jimmy Wheeler and quarterback Derrick Fulmore.
Wheeler is a legitimate track star. He placed in the top four in the 100- and 200-meter dashes at the WPIAL Class AAA championships in the spring. This fall, Wheeler has burst onto the football scene by rushing for a school-record 2,000 yards and 27 touchdowns.
"They are scary fast," Central Valley coach Mark Lyons said of West Mifflin. "I don't think we've played a tailback that gets downhill as fast as Wheeler does. If you're not gap sound, he's taking it the distance. The same with the quarterback. If you're not disciplined in your rush lanes, he's going to turn a broken scramble into a big gain."
Fulmore has rushed for 754 yards and 14 touchdowns. That includes his 253 yards rushing and scoring runs of 71 and 47 yards in the playoffs. He has added 726 yards and seven touchdowns through the air.
The headliner, however -- as he nearly always is -- will be Foster, Central Valley's do-it-all speedster and one of the most-prized recruits in Pennsylvania. Foster has 43 catches for 736 yards, 340 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns. In the quarterfinals last week, he scored on a run, a pass reception and an interception.
"Foster is probably the fastest kid around," West Mifflin coach Ray Braszo said. "A lot of their other guys are underrated."
According to Lyons, Whitehead is close to 100 percent and will return after missing the first two playoff games because of a shoulder injury. Whitehead has 907 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns. Quarterback John George will once again start for Nate Climo (head injury).
Another Big Nine-Parkway Conference showdown features arguably the two most successful Class AAA programs in the WPIAL over the past decade and a half. West Allegheny has won five WPIAL championships and Thomas Jefferson four in that span. The Jaguars also finished runner-up twice.
Thomas Jefferson has not missed the playoffs since 1994, while West Allegheny has failed to make the postseason just once since '96. The Jaguars had a 13-year streak of appearing in the semifinals snapped a year ago.
This marks the fifth time the two have met in the playoffs since '99 and the fourth in the semifinals. The two split the previous four meetings.
Thomas Jefferson (11-0) is the No. 1 seed and West Allegheny (10-1) No. 4. They play at Bethel Park at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
"It's not shocking TJ is where they are," West Allegheny coach Bob Palko said. "What they have isn't a team. It's a program."
The key matchup will be Thomas Jefferson's passing game against a West Allegheny defense that has surrendered only one touchdown and 12 points in the past five games.
Thomas Jefferson quarterback Joe Carroll has passed for 2,246 yards and 37 touchdowns. The Jaguars average a Class AAA-best 43 points per game and have scored at least 40 in all but three games.
"We were going to try and play 12 or 13 guys [on defense], but they won't let us," Palko joked.
He later added: "I sure hope it rains."
First Published November 15, 2012 12:00 am