Area football teams position selves for playoff spots
With four weeks remaining in the regular season, area football teams are well positioned for securing playoff spots, but for most it is too early to discuss the topic.
For example, Peters Township players are not talking about the post season even though the Indians are 3-1 in the Southeastern Conference and 5-1 overall, their best start in 14 years.
“Too early,” said T.J. Plack, who in his second season has put the Indians in playoff contention for the first time since 2012. “Without looking into it, I would think we still need to win another conference game to ensure a playoff berth, and the best way to get the best possible seeding is to focus on winning the games at hand.”
Upper St. Clair
At this point in the season, the games become more important and none is more critical this week than Upper St. Clair’s battle at West Allegheny. Kick-off is 7 p.m. Oct. 6.
By virtue of having played one more game, the Panthers sit atop the Allegheny Nine Conference standings with a 5-0 record. Overall, USC is 5-1. West-A is 4-0 in the league and 5-0 overall. The Indians hold a slight edge in experience over the Panthers as they are the defending WPIAL 5-A champions and 2016 PIAA runners-up.
“They play with a lot of confidence. Swagger,” said Jim Render, who picked up his 395th coaching win when the Panthers handled Chartiers Valley, 38-12, last Friday. “They have players from last year that competed in all those playoff games. They’ve benefited from all those extra reps and experience. That tends to be their greatest asset.”
Versatility is another advantage the Indians possess. They utilize two quarterbacks in Will Weber and Kam Kruze as well as key rushers Dante Flati, Tyler Gallant and Kyle Marett. Isaiah Crowe along with Mateo Vandemia are top targets. Weber is the team’s leading scorer with 10 TDs. Flati follows with six scores.
“(West Allegheny) has a variety of kids that run the ball. They don’t have a starting quarterback per se,” added Render. “They have several guys who can receive the ball from under center and they all do a pretty good job.”
Jack Hansberry completed 7 of 14 passes for 127 yards. He also rushed for 85 yards and three touchdowns. Colin McLinden rushed for two scores. Tom Kyle had two receptions for 62 yards and Dom Cepullio had three catches for 46 yards. Defensively, Quinton Nelson recovered a fumble while Matt Kissinger and Jack Burton blocked punts. Jake Slinger, Jeremy Frank and Antonio Orsini had sacks.
“During and after the game, I was upset about a lot of things I didn’t think we did well,” Render said. “But after watching the films, I was encouraged. Statistically, we did not win the battle but we won the offensive and defensive battles and special teams.”
The Panthers have amassed enough yards to have players rank among the leaders in the WPIAL. Hansberry has completed 50 of 92 passes for 889 yards and six scores. McLinden leads in rushing with 506 yards and seven touchdowns. Cepullio and Tom Kyle are top receivers with 18 and 12 grabs for 321 and 287 yards respectively. Chris Pantellis follows with eight receptions for 161 yards. Defensively, Burton and Kissinger lead with 50 and 40 tackles followed by DeIuliis, Harvey Ruach, McLinden and Slinger.
After dropping a 44-27 decision to North Allegheny, Mt. Lebanon returns to Southeastern Conference action to host Norwin (3-3) at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 6. Though the Blue Devils dropped to 4-2 overall with the loss to the Tigers, they are 3-0 in the conference while the Knights are 2-2.
“The Knights are a very good football team that has had some tough losses, but are very skilled,” said Lebo skipper Mike Melnyk. “They have a Division I safety (Jayvon Thrift) with multiple offers, a huge linemen who anchors their interior and several excellent skill kids. They are well-coached and continue to improve also. We will have to play a complete game in all three phases of the game to beat them.”
Against the Tigers, Lebo played less than a complete game as their defense was unable to contain Luke Trueman, who threw for 242 yards and rushed for 114 more. The Blue Devils, however, matched the passing attack as James Stocker completed 14 of 27 aerials for 243 yards and one score.
Aidan Cain caught that 3-yard TD and finished with five receptions for 106 yards. The senior has 61 grabs for 1119 yards this season. He ranks No. 1 in the WPIAL for receiving.
In the loss to NA, John Naylor rushed for a 10-yard TD and Seth Morgan completed a 15-yard scoring strike to Lucas DeCaro.
While the loss to the Tigers did not impact Lebo’s conference standings, it did offer some insights.
“Every game provides for a time of reflection and correction and we often learn more from defeats than we do from victories,” Melnyk said. “Our players will continue to work hard and continue to improve weekly.”
Improvement has been the mark of the Indians and as they travel to Pine-Richland, they don’t anticipate taking a step backward against the WPIAL’s No. 1-ranked squad. The Rams are 6-0 overall after crushing Central Catholic, 47-17.
“We will definitely not lose any momentum,” said Plack of the non-conference clash. “The Northern Conference has many quality teams and we are always up for a challenge. We will treat this as a business trip.”
The first order of business is attempting to contain Phil Jurkovec. No WPIAL team has succeeded in that regard this autumn as the Notre Dame recruit ranks No. 1 in passing. Jurkovec has completed 100 of 135 passes for 1,631 yards and 13 scores this season.
“Fantastic football player, seems to be a good leader,” Plack said of Jurkovec. “Obviously, he is a very athletic young man.
“Every man can be stopped, hopefully it’s Friday night,” Plack added. “That being said, we are extremely excited to compete against the entire Pine Richland team. They are very well coached, aggressive in every aspect of the game, and have players that can make plays up front and down the field.”
Peters has players, too. Jake Cortes completed 15 of 20 attempts for 160 yards in a 13-7 win against Norwin. Cortes has completed 62 of 98 attempts for 784 yards and eight scores this season. Ryan Magiske rushed for both touchdowns against the Knights. He finished with 102 yards. Plack, however, is pleased with his entire unit.
“We embrace our games, love the atmosphere, and look forward to Friday nights.”
Oct. 6 could be the biggest Friday night on South Fayette’s schedule as the Lions travel to New Castle in an attempt to avenge the only loss on their 2016 schedule when the Hurricanes upset South Fayette, 51-43, in the quarterfinals of last year’s WPIAL playoffs.
The Lions prepared for their confrontation with a 43-0 victory against Blackhawk. In the win, Drew Saxton completed 13 of 25 passes for 177 yards and touchdowns to Ryan Kokoski (6 yards) and Johnny Obenour (55 yards). Obenour also rushed for a 6-yard score. Johnny Beck had TD runs of 43 and 9 yards. Joe Mowod capped the scoring with a 9-yard touchdown.
For the Lions, who are 6-0 overall and 4-0 in the league, Saxton has completed 55 of 93 passes for seven scoring strikes and 768 yards.
The Hawks also have revenge on their minds as they travel to Seneca Valley for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff on Oct. 6. Last season, the Raiders dispatched Bethel Park, 25-21.
“We have an opportunity to right the ship from last year,” said BP skipper Jeff Metheny. “We let things slip away last year but Seneca Valley is a good program. A well-coached team with young players,” he added. “It will be a test for us.”
Though the Raiders are 1-3 in the Northern Seven Conference and 1-4 overall, they edge the Hawks, who sit atop the Southeastern Conference standings with a 3-0 slate and 4-1 overall mark, in one particular area.
“Size,” Metheny said. “They are so big. We don’t have that beef up front. They’ve got guys in the 260 range. So our guys are going to have to be tough up front and keep on creating holes.”
BP’s offensive line opened gaps for Tanner Volpatti as the senior tailback rambled 238 yards in a 55-21 romp over Hempfield. Volpatti scored on runs of 80, 2, 80 and 34 yards. Johnny Doleno tacked on three scores of 74, 2 and 25 yards. Jahvonn Lewis also rushed for a touchdown on a 9-yard run.