Thursday, October 30, 2008

Games of the Week, First round

The WPIAL football playoffs is upon us and, for many teams in Washington and Greene counties, it means the season is usually one game from completion.

Since 2003, area teams are 16-52 in the WPIAL playoffs, a .235 win percentage. Only Beth-Center and Monessen have won three postseason games during that span.

Will 2008 everse the trend? Nine area teams qualified for the WPIAL playoffs. Canon-McMillan, Beth-Center and Fort Cherry are playing at home.

Here are the games the Varsity Letters wants to see:

1. Western Beaver at Beth-Center
Western Beaver, the No. 12 seed, beat Springdale and Monaca earlier in the year. Those are two of the top six seeds in the Class A bracket. The Golden Beavers, much like Beth-Center, likes to spread the carries around the backfield.

The Bulldogs have won eight straight in convincing fashion and playing at home will be a tremendous advantage. Josh Lockett has rushed for 1,088 yards and scored 19 touchdowns, much of it coming after B-C lost sophomore fullback Jeff Tarley to injury.

2. Shaler at Canon-McMillan
Shaler has been steady throughout the year but does not own an impressive victory. Canon-McMillan is much improved over last year and needs a playoff victory to prove it.

3. North Catholic at Fort Cherry
North Catholic's defense, a unit with three shutouts in the last four games, faces a Fort Cherry offense which has put up 40 points or more in a game four times this season. The Rangers offense has rolled even without running back Nate Crossey. Derric Stankus has scored 14 touchdowns.

In its two biggest wins – Serra Catholic and Chartiers-Houston – Fort Cherry made several special teams plays to key the victory.

4. Trinity at Indiana
How often can Trinity be called the established program in a playoff matchup? This is one occasion where it is true. If the offensively challenged Hillers can continue to create points and turnovers with its defense, don't be surprised if they head to the quarterfinals.

Picking the winners, first round

Here's how I see the first round of the WPIAL football playoffs shaking down:

Class AAAA
Gateway over Mt. Lebanon, Canon-McMillan over Shaler, North Hills over Fox Chapel, Penn Hills over Pine-Richland, Bethel Park over Hempfield, North Allegheny over Woodland Hills, McKeesport over Upper St. Clair, Central Catholic over Penn-Trafford

Class AAA
Thomas Jefferson over Uniontown, Hopewell over Greensburg-Salem, New Castle over Franklin Regional, Trinity over Indiana, Highlands over Laurel Highlands, Montour over Yough, Blackhawk over Ringgold, Mars over Chartiers Valley

Class AA
Beaver Falls over McGuffey, Keystone Oaks over Ford City, Jeannette over Valley, Sto-Rox over Beaver, Greensburg Central over Freeport, Aliquippa over East Allegheny, Shady Side Academy over Bishop Canevin, Center over Seton-La Salle

Class A
Clairton over Brentwood, Serra Catholic over Monessen, Rochester over Chartiers-Houston, Beth-Center over Western Beaver, Avonworth over California, North Catholic over Fort Cherry, Monaca over Carmichaels, Springdale over S.S. Beaver

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

APB, Where are they now?

The Varsity Letters is issuing an All Points Bulletin for former Peters Township football standout Doug Fife.

An all-conference player during his days at Peters Township, Fife goes down as one of the better high school tight ends from Washington County the past 15 years. During his senior year, the 6-5 pass catcher and favorite target of quarterback Jim Gallagher accepted a scholarship offer from Akron.

According to, Fife spent four years (2004-07) playing at Akron. A thorough Internet search, failed to uncover any statistical information from his collegiate career.

Anyone with information on Fife's whereabouts is urged to contact the Varsity Letters.

Monday, October 27, 2008

WPIAL football playoff pairings

All first round games are Friday, Oct. 31 at 7:30 p.m.

Class AAAA
No. 16 Mt. Lebanon (2-7) at No. 1 Gateway (9-0)
No. 9 Shaler (7-2) at No. 8 Canon-McMillan (6-3)
No. 13 Fox Chapel (4-5) at No. 4 North Hills (8-1)
No. 12 Pine-Richland (4-5) at No. 5 Penn Hills (6-3)
No. 15 Hempfield (4-5) at No. 2 Bethel Park (9-0)
No. 10 Woodland Hills (4-5) at No. 7 North Allegheny (5-4)
No. 14 Upper St. Clair (6-3) at No. 3 McKeesport (7-2)
No. 11 Penn-Trafford (4-5) vs. No. 6 Central Catholic (7-2) at Fox Chapel

Class AAA
No. 16 Uniontown (6-3) at No. 1 Thomas Jefferson (8-1)
No. 9 Hopewell (7-2) at No. 8 Greensburg-Salem (5-4)
No. 13 Franklin Regional (5-4) at No. 4 New Castle (6-3)
No. 12 Trinity (5-4) at No. 5 Indiana (7-2)
No. 15 Laurel Highlands (4-5) at No. 2 Highlands (9-0)
No. 10 Montour (5-4) at No. 7 Yough (5-4)
No. 14 Ringgold (6-3) at No. 3 Blackhawk (8-1)
No. 11 Mars (6-3) at No. 6 Chartiers Valley (7-2)

Class AA
No. 16 McGuffey (6-3) at No. 1 Beaver Falls (9-0)
No. 9 Keystone Oaks (8-1) at No. 8 Ford City (8-1)
No. 13 Valley (7-2) at No. 4 Jeannette (8-1)
No. 12 Beaver (7-2) at No. 5 Sto-Rox (8-1)
No. 15 Freeport (6-3) at No. 2 Greensburg Central Catholic (9-0)
No. 10 East Allegheny (7-2) at No. 7 Aliquippa (7-2)
No. 14 Bishop Canevin (5-4) at No. 3 Shady Side Academy (9-0)
No. 11 Center (7-2) vs. No. 6 Seton-La Salle (8-1) at Baldwin

Class A
No. 16 Brentwood (4-5) at No. 1 Clairton (9-0)
No. 9 Serra Catholic (7-2) at No. 8 Monessen (6-3)
No. 13 Chartiers-Houston (6-3) at No. 4 Rochester (8-1)
No. 12 Western Beaver (6-3) at No. 5 Beth-Center (8-1)
No. 15 California (4-5) at No. 2 Avonworth (9-0)
No. 10 North Catholic (7-2) at No. 7 Fort Cherry (8-1)
No. 14 Carmichaels (5-4) at No. 3 Monaca (8-1)
No. 11 South Side Beaver (6-3) at No. 6 Springdale (6-3)

Seedings projections

The WPIAL football playoff pairings meeting will be held later tonight. Until then, check out one person's guess at the seedings.

Class AAAA
1. Gateway 9-0, 2. Bethel Park 9-0, 3. McKeesport 7-2, 4. North Hills 8-1, 5. Penn Hills 6-3, 6. Central Catholic 7-2, 7. Canon-McMillan 6-3, 8. North Allegheny 5-4

9. Upper St. Clair 6-3, 10. Shaler 7-2, 11. Penn-Trafford 4-5, 12. Pine-Richland 4-5, 13. Woodland Hills 4-5, 14. Fox Chapel 4-5, 15. Hempfield 4-5, 16. Mt. Lebanon 2-7

Class AAA
1. Thomas Jefferson 8-1, 2. Highlands 9-0, 3. Blackhawk 8-1, 4. New Castle 6-3, 5. Chartiers Valley 7-2, 6. Indiana 7-2, 7. Yough 5-4, 8. Greensburg-Salem 5-4

9. Hopewell 7-2, 10. Mars 6-3, 11. Trinity 5-4, 12. Montour 5-4, 13. Ringgold 6-3, 14. Franklin Regional 5-4, 15. Laurel Highlands 4-5, 16.Uniontown 6-3

Class AA
1. Beaver Falls 9-0, 2. Greensburg C.C. 9-0, 3. Shady Side Academy 9-0, 4. Jeannette 8-1, 5. Sto-Rox 8-1, 6. Aliquippa 7-2, 7. Ford City 8-1, 8. Seton-La Salle 8-1

9. East Allegheny 6-3, 10. Keystone Oaks 8-1, 11. Valley 7-2, 12. Center 7-2, 13. Beaver 7-2, 14. McGuffey 6-3, 15. Freeport 6-3, 16. Bishop Canevin 5-4

Class A
1. Clairton 9-0, 2. Monaca 8-1, 3. Avonworth 9-0, 4. Rochester 8-1, 5. Fort Cherry 8-1, 6. Beth-Center 8-1, 7. Springdale 6-3, 8. Monessen 6-3

9. North Catholic 7-2, 10. Serra Catholic 6-3, 11. Western Beaver 6-3, 12. South Side Beaver 6-3, 13. Chartiers-Houston 6-3, 14. Carmichaels 5-4, 15. Brentwood 4-5, 16. California 4-5

Sunday, October 26, 2008

O-R Football Rankings

Following a tumultuous weekend, the WPIAL football rankings in Class AA and Class A take on a different look.

Class AAAA
1. Gateway 9-0
2. Bethel Park 9-0
3. McKeesport 7-2
4. North Hills 8-1
5. Penn Hills 6-3

Class AAA
1. Thomas Jefferson 8-1
2. Highlands 9-0
3. Blackhawk 8-1
4. New Castle 6-3
5. Hopewell 7-2

Class AA
1. Beaver Falls 9-0
2. Greensburg Central Catholic 9-0
3. Shady Side Academy 9-0
4. Sto-Rox 8-1
5. Jeannette 8-1

Class A
1. Clairton 9-0
2. Monaca 8-1
3. Avonworth 9-0
4. Rochester 8-1
5. Beth-Center 8-1

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Endres update

Trinity High School graduate Cody Endres made the start at quarterback today for Connecticut and helped the Huskies to a 40-16 win over Cincinnati in the Big East Conference.

Endres, a redshirt freshman, made his first start and became the first quarterback from Washington County to start a college football game in one of the six BCS conferences since Ringgold grad Scott Zolak played at Maryland.

Endres finished 18-of-42 for 196 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions as the Huskies improved to 6-2.

Friday night thoughts, Week 9

Looks like the Monessen defense, blessed with a strong secondary, is ready for postseason play.

A week after shutting out Carmichaels - no small feat since the return of Joby Lapkowicz - and finishing with nine sacks, the Greyhounds sacked California quarterback D.J. Martinak 11 times and posted another shutout.

As the second-place team in the Tri-County South, Monessen is likely to draw the best third-place team in Class A as it's first-round opponent in the playoffs. Now, it sure seems like the Greyhounds are more prepared for better competition than they were to open the year.

** At times this year, Trinity has drawn criticism from Hillers fans questioning the offense to outsiders calling them pushovers. Say what you want, but Trinity coach Ed Dalton has accomplished the unthinkable - Trinity is a perennial playoff team.

The Hillers' 14-7 win at Ringgold Friday night continues a trend. Trinity wins regular season games when it has to win them. The Hillers defense will cause problems in the postseason. The offense will determine if Trinity can advance.

** Fort Cherry defeated Chartiers-Houston, 14-6, to clinch second place, and a home playoff game for the second straight year, in the Black Hills Conference but the Bucs got the better of play in the final three quarters.

It goes to show, it's not how many chances you get, it's what you do with them. Fort Cherry made the most of its early chances thanks to some great throws by quarterback David Phillips in the first quarter. Chartiers-Houston squandered a few opportunities and it cost them.

** Has anyone else noticed Beth-Center tailback Josh Lockett is tearing up defenses the last few weeks?

Even without Jeff Tarley, B-C's backfield is scary good.

** Not much Mike Hull, no problem for the Big Macs thanks to a breakout performance from Chad Hagan and another strong defensive effort.

If Canon-McMillan is to advance in the postseason, the vast improvement on defense will be the reason why.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Games of the Week, Week 9

Hard to believe, but the final Friday of the WPIAL regular season is upon us. Locally, most playoff spots are already secured. Trinity can clinch with a win at Ringgold and South Fayette can clinch with a win over Bishop Canevin and some help.

In most years, the final week of the regular season is home to rivalries. There are a couple tonight, but a few others - McGuffey/Washington, Canon-McMillan/Peters Township come to mind - don't look as promising as they did at the beginning of the season.

Here are the games the Varsity Letters wants to see tonight:

1. Trinity at Ringgold
Talk about a contrast in styles. Trinity plays smash-mouth football, while Ringgold can score points with its balanced attack. It's no secret the Hillers have struggled all year on offense but the defense and special teams are finding ways to score points and make big plays. In case anyone has forgotten, Trinity's defense - with Kenny Wilkins, Jack Jamerson and Kyle McWreath - is better than you remember.

Trinity's task will be stopping Ringgold's run game, led by senior Simon Bekavac. If the Hillers can do that, Rams quarterback Shane Mountain will try to win the game with his arm and a talented group of pass catchers.

Trinity is in with a win, while Ringgold can clinch third with a win. A loss puts the Rams in fourth place. The Hillers can make the postseason with a loss and a loss by Belle Vernon.

Very intriguing matchup in a conference where little separates the second-place team (injury-ravaged Chartiers Valley) from the seventh-place team (Elizabeth Forward).

2. Chartiers-Houston at Fort Cherry
This Class A Black Hills Conference contest is the weekend's top local rivalry game. These two teams do not like each other, at all.

The Bucs, who escaped with a one-point win over Bentworth last week, must find ways to get the passing game going. Brad Banas is six yards from 1,000 and will be the focal point of Fort Cherry's defensive game plan.

The Rangers have allowed 71 points the past two weeks - and won both games. Fort Cherry's pass defense appears suspect. Can Chartiers-Houston exploit it?

If so, expect another shootout as the Rangers are one of Class A's best offenses.

The Times at Avella

The New York Times pays Avella a visit.

Extra time

Some additional thoughts from the Peters Township girls/boys soccer doubleheader at Chartiers Valley Thursday night (probably mainly from the girls as I was writing during the boys):

**PT's girls roster says Shelli Spamer is just a sophomore. That means she's likely to improve her skills, and that means trouble - well, more trouble - for everyone in the WPIAL and the PIAA. She's an incredible player. She scored both goals for PT Tuesday on rocket shots and she was everywhere on the pitch Thursday. She took throw-ins from deep in the defending territory, deep in the attacking territory, goal kicks, free kicks, corner kicks, you name it. She played the full 110 minutes and scored in the penalty kick shootout, nearly firing the ball through the net. If the goalkeeper got a hand to it, I think she might have broken her wrist.

Coach Pat Vereb called her the premier ball-striker in the WPIAL and after watching some of the strikes she hit Thursday, it's hard to argue with him.

If Seneca Valley mustered any offense aside from one chance, it wouldn't have surprised me to see Spamer on the back line blocking a shot from going in. Oh, and she nearly scored on another free kick from 30 yards out. Instead, a great save by Seneca's Keara Lydon resulted in a corner kick, and Spamer's kick was headed in by Ali Forbrich to tie the match. Spamer nearly won the match in the first overtime when her shot from 45 yards just went a couple feet over the crossbar.

Again, only a sophomore.

**Speaking of offense, the PT girls dominated in terms of possession and shots their second-straight playoff game but managed just the one goal. By my count from Tuesday, PT held a 17-1 shots advantage (9-0 shots on goal) against Franklin Regional and, against Seneca Valley, the defending WPIAL champs, a 22-4 shot edge (11-2 shots on goal).

Despite so much possession and opportunities, PT has scored just three times. Now, most of the shots Thursday were right at the keeper but they had several nice chances. That means either PT's having trouble finishing or they're due for a breakout offensive game. With Spamer taking free and corner kicks, they're dangerous on set pieces.

**If they handed out the award in high school, Spamer probably would have won player of the match Thursday, but if she didn't, defender Hannah Weyrick would've. Weyrick, a senior, made a strong tackle two minutes after Seneca went ahead 1-0 that broke up a two-on-one play and almost surely would've resulted in a 2-0 score. She was hurt on the play and was on the sidelines for over 10 minutes, but didn't miss a beat when she returned.

Less than three minutes into the first overtime, the Raiders countered off a corner kick and got another 2-on-1, this one even more clear-cut. Weyrick blocked the intended pass which would've sent a Seneca player in alone on goalkeeper Megan Junker.

Apart from those two huge plays, Weyrick was part of the backline that held the Raiders to very few quality scoring chances in the match.

"I'm always confident with Hannah back there," Junker said after the game.

**The adage says in a shootout, you need just one save from your goalkeeper. Junker made one save (though a second was called back) and PT won the shootout. She didn't get many chances during the match to show how well she's recovered from her injury, but she read quite a few plays well and was aggressive in cutting off long passes before they could cause trouble.

**Peters Township's defense wasn't just Weyrick. Lauren Ray, Shannon O'Connor, Devon Burkholder, and, at various times, Christine Aaron and Karen Jackson also did excellent jobs (I may be missing one or two.) As did the midfielders (Dani's Hume and Castillo and of course Spamer).

The Raiders had just two offensive chances in the first half. On one, PT caught a break when the referee called for a foul - on PT. That set up a free kick which PT was able to defend easily, otherwise the play could have been a breakaway. The other was the goal PT allowed, which was a fine individual effort by Katie Kelly. Seneca Valley did better in the second half and it was much more even, but PT dominated overtime as well. A little luck helped PT. Apart from the 2-on-1 Weyrick broke up, the Raiders had just one chance in OT, and that was when a cross hit the crossbar.

**As for the boys, Thursday's match was far more to their liking. They were a little lucky against Central Catholic Tuesday to come away with a win, but that is what good teams do - find a way to win when not playing their best.

Coach Bobby Dyer took some of the blame after Tuesday by saying he as a coach failed to prepare the team properly for the game against the Vikings. I think he did an alright job for Thursday.

PT came out and pretty much dominated the entire game. Butler entered with a record of just 9-6-4 but the Golden Tornadoes earned an impressive 2-0 win at fifth-seeded Penn-Trafford. As Dyer said after Thursday's game, anyone can beat anyone, so they couldn't take Butler lightly.

And the Indians didn't. When Christian Brandstetter scored his first goal, you had the sense of, "okay, the floodgates are about to open." And you'd have been right. He scored again 10 minutes later, then capped his natural hat trick two minutes after that. Butler was completely overmatched.

**Goalkeeper Ryan Koepka made an outstanding leaping save to his right eight minutes into the second half when PT was up 4-0. If that ball goes in, then who knows, maybe that gives Butler life and starts a comeback attempt. Instead, Koepka's save kept them off the board. Granted, the Tornadoes scored on a penalty kick three minutes after, but there was hardly a cause for concern from the PT faithful.

"He doesn't see a lot of shots back there, but he has to be focused and he was," said Dyer.

**After that PK goal, however, the Indians responded and didn't give Butler a chance to come back, and the Wilcox boys hooked up for the game's sixth and final goal 10 minutes later. The game had essentially been over before that, but restoring the four-goal lead was a pretty nice response.

**Finally, a congratulations to the girls team for qualifying for the PIAA playoffs. The top five finishers in girls Class AAA advance, so in an ironic twist, Seneca Valley now has to root for PT to win the WPIAL. If the Indians do that, guess who they play in the first round of states? Right, Seneca Valley (who PT beat earlier in the season, 2-1).

As for the boys, the top two finishers in Class AAA advance, so PT needs one more win.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

From the clubhouse

The Varsity Letters spent the previous two days at the Heritage Hills Golf Resort in York, aka the White Rose City, covering the PIAA Golf Championships.

Besides the weather being a bit nippy in the morning - Monday's tee times were pushed back two hours as frost blanketed the area - and overall length of each round - both lasted the better part of six hours, the area was well-represented on the medals stand.

Waynesburg senior Rachel Rohanna finished tied for third.

The Peters Township boys team placed second, only three points behind a talented Cathedral Prep (Erie).

Brittany Andrews, from McDonald, was part of Shady Side Academy's gold-medal winning girls team.

I followed the majority of both of Rohanna's rounds as she attempted to win her third state championship. On both days, Rohanna played in top-notch foursomes. Each made some magical shots on occasion. Afterward, even after Rohanna struggled during the second round, she took ample time to answer my lengthy list of questions with thought, analysis and some humor. The Ohio State women's golf team has a good recruit in Rohanna.

I also got a chance to catch a few holes of the Peters Township boys quest to become the first WPIAL team to win a state team title. (It should be noted the PIAA has only held the team competition for three years and this is the first year the WPIAL participated.)

The second-place finish was impressive enough, but it was nice to see how the Peters Township players support each other.

Head coach David Kuhn started his four seniors - Jon Ross, Corey Martinez, Chris Resnik and Geoffrey Locher - both days. Not only did each golf well, the majority of Peters Township's golf team, many parents and supporters were there in support. To watch guys not participating cheering for teammates like they were playing themselves speaks volumes for the type of student-athletes Kuhn has on his team.

Johnson arrested

For the second time in a little more than three years, surprising and disturbing news concerning a local sports figure hits the newspapers today.

By now, many likely know that Joe Johnson, the Avella boys basketball coach until Monday, was arrested on web child-probe charges.

Here's the story in Wednesday's O-R:
Read here.

Here's another story from Wednesday's O-R concerning a former colleague:
Read here.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

O-R Football Rankings

Very little movement this week.

Class AAAA
1. Gateway 8-0
2. Bethel Park 8-0
3. McKeesport 7-1
4. North Hills 7-1
5. Penn Hills 5-3

Class AAA
1. Thomas Jefferson 7-1
2. Highlands 8-0
3. Blackhawk 7-1
4. New Castle 5-3
5. Hopewell 6-2

Class AA
1. Jeannette 8-0
2. Beaver Falls 8-0
3. Keystone Oaks 8-0
4. Greensburg C.C. 8-0
5. Shady Side Academy 8-0

Class A
1. Clairton 8-0
2. Rochester 8-0
3. Avonworth 8-0
4. Beth-Center 7-1
5. Monaca 7-1

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Friday night thoughts, Week 8

I left last night's Canon-McMillan at Bethel Park game with a couple distinct impressions.

1. Bethel Park receiver John Schademan is a clutch, big-game performer. He's done it all year and he did it again last night.

2. The Black Hawks have nice offensive balance. They might be good enough to get to Heinz Field. We'll see.

3. Canon-McMillan is vastly improved on defense. The Big Macs took away Bethel Park's power running game and as Coach Guy Montecalvo said after the game, "Nobody has really run on us all year."

The defensive line played another great game. And it seemed linebacker Brad Strimel was in on every tackle. On one play, he picked up the Bethel Park ball carrier and tossed him to the turf like he weighed 30 pounds.

4. That said, C-M still has a propensity to yield the big play and it cost them against Bethel Park. Whether it's a misread or a blown coverage, seems that pass defense lets C-M down in big games. It's getting better, but it must get better in order to contend for a WPIAL championship.

5. C-M quarterback Steve Roach wasn't particularly accurate last night, but he made plays when needed. He had a couple big third down conversions and he looked like the fastest offensive player in the game.

** McGuffey clinched its first playoff berth since 1994 with last night's win over Waynesburg and South Allegheny's loss. The Varsity Letters said all year that the Highlanders were a tough, playoff-caliber squad.

Given how hard they played Greensburg Central Catholic and Jeannette, I doubt any conference champ wants to draw McGuffey in the first round.

** Any on else surprised to see the 14-0 win for Monessen over Carmichaels? The Varsity Letters expected a shootout.

** Fort Cherry coach Tim Garry told me earlier in the week he was very worried about how well Burgettstown's offense matched up against the Rangers' defense. The Blue Devils, behind freshman quarterback Dylan Bongiorni, can throw the ball. They did, but they also ran well.

Still, despite the 34-33 score, don't get down on the Rangers. Good teams find ways to win games like this.

And Burgettstown is a much better football team than it was a month ago.

** I'll say the same thing about Ringgold. The 7-3 win over West Mifflin doesn't look impressive, but it is a win and it guaranteed Ringgold a playoff berth with a winning record for the first time this decade.

In it's previous three playoff appearances, Ringgold had losing records.

** Remember last week when the Varsity Letters said to remember Charleroi freshman running back Quinten Briggs?

Well, he put up 267 yards and three touchdowns against Wash High Friday night.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Games of the Week, Week 8

It's not every week when the eyes of the WPIAL football community are focused on a game involving a team from Washington County. Such is the case this week when Canon-McMillan plays at Bethel Park.

1. Canon-McMillan at Bethel Park (5 stars)
Looking to catch a glimpse at several future college football players? This game has that.
Looking for two great rushing offenses? This game has that.
Looking for top-notch linebackers and strong defensive lines? This game has that.

Canon-McMillan (3-0, 5-2) and Bethel Park (3-0, 7-0), already the top two teams in the Great Southern Conference, are playing for no less than a share of the title. Bethel Park is playing for one of the top three seeds in the Quad-A playoffs, while Canon-Mac is seeking a rare outright conference championship.

A year ago, Bethel Park controlled the line of scrimmage as it rushed for nearly 30 yards while throwing for 150 in a 20-6 victory. The game was closer than the score, or Bethel Park's gaudy stats, indicated.

2. Carmichaels at Monessen (3.5 stars)
The Mikes and Greyhounds are playing for second place in the Tri-County South Conference. Expect a lot of passing.

Carmichaels (4-1, 4-3) does not have a running back with more than 200 yards on the year but does have two quarterbacks with more than 500 yards passing. Monessen (4-1, 4-3) runs a spread offense.

"Elite" 11

During recent discussions on this blog, readers wondered whether the Avella football team – down to 13 players (one female) for Homecoming last week versus Bentworth – should forfeit Friday's game against Clairton.

Some interesting posts were made in favor and against such action.

Well, the Observer-Reporter received an e-mail from Eagles head coach Frank Gray, a man trying his best to salvage a difficult situation.

It read, "Thought you might want to know that we are going to play the #1 team in Class A (Clairton) on Friday with only 11 available players to dress. Two of our players were injured in the Bentworth game, and we have no substitutes on the sideline, but we are going to Clairton."

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

APB, Where are they now?

Every year it seems at least one or two players joins the WPIAL's 4,000-yard rushing list. For example, in 2007, Jeannette's Terrelle Pryor and California's Donte Valentino joined the fraternity. This year, East Allegheny's Monte Ashby surpassed 4,000 yards.

The possibility exists that Canon-McMillan's Mike Hull can become a member during his senior year.

On every list, there is a first. That's who the Varsity Letters is seeking out this week. We're issuing an All Points Bulletin for former Chartiers-Houston standout Jerry Patterson.

Back in 1969, Patterson became the first runner in WPIAL history to reach 4,000 yards. He finished his distinguished scholastic career with 459 carries for 4,075 yards (an 8.9 average).

Another 12 years elapsed before another player from the WPIAL accomplished the feat. Jon Green, formerly of Mon Valley Catholic, rushed for 4,709 by the time his scholastic football career ended in 1981.

Anyone knowing of Patterson's whereabouts is urged to contact the Varsity Letters.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Awwww yeah

For the past 53 years, Lawrence "Deuce" Skurcenski has been the WPIAL's unofficial "official" statistician. The 1961 North Braddock Scott High School grad has seen, by his own estimation, over 9,264 basketball games and 3,040 football games. He's known by virtually every journalist, coach and hanger-on in the WPIAL. He's also known throughout college basketball circles and used to do football rankings for the Observer-Reporter.

Deuce also is known for a long list of catch phrases.

"Not too shabby."
"Issue him a masonry license."
"Give them smoking jackets."

And, my personal favorite,
"Awwww yeah."

Deuce was also the subject of a documentary which will be making its way to a media screening on Nov. 11 at the Regent Theater in the Regent Square neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

For a quick glimpse at a man who's seen more high school games than you could ever imagine, click here.

Monday, October 13, 2008


Avella football is going through one of the rougher seasons any WPIAL team has faced in some time. Here's a story from the Associated Press that shows it could be worse:

ESTERO, Fla. (AP) — The Estero High football staff gathered in head coach Rich Dombroski’s office late Friday, almost in stunned silence.
Earlier that night, Estero lost to Naples High by 13.
Not by 13 points. By 13 touchdowns. That’s right: Naples 91, Estero 0.
The rout fallout has been growing since the game ended.
“Hey,” offered Estero defensive line coach Pat Hayes after the one-sided affair, “I didn’t even know 91 was a multiple of seven.”
With that, the coaches all got a much-needed laugh.
A half-hour away in Naples, Eagles coach Bill Kramer — the man on the winning end — could use one of those.
He looked at the scoreboard late in the game, saw 91-0, and said he felt sick to his stomach. Kramer’s team ran only 31 plays and he kept most of his best players on the sideline — for the entire game in some cases. But still Kramer knew what was coming.
Soon after the game ended, his inbox began filling with angry e-mails, some from Estero parents wondering why so many points were necessary, some from Naples parents wondering why their kids didn’t play more in an effort to pad their stats.
“There’s only one way to describe it,” Kramer said. “Just bizarre.”
The schools aren’t far off in size: Estero has about 1,400 high schoolers, Naples roughly 1,700.
But the pedigree of the football programs couldn’t be more different.
Estero is rebuilding from the lowest level, with Dombroski in his first year at the school and having inherited a program that had simply crumbled. Naples is the reigning state Class 3A champion, and a contender to win the title again. Naples has players committed to Division I schools like Ohio State already and a roster filled with talent at every position. Estero has no college prospects and only about 25 healthy or so players remaining on its roster.
“Some of us, most of us, well, all of us were intimidated,” said Tyler Eastridge, a free safety who may be exaggerating when he says he weighs a 150 pounds.
Naples led 70-0 at the half; only four of the 1,420 games reported by member schools to the Florida High School Athletic Association this season have seen teams score more than 70 points.
“It was David versus Goliath,” Dombroski said, “and David didn’t have a stone to throw.”
The national record books are incomplete, but a score like 91-0 won’t register a blip on the list of all-time defeats. It wasn’t even the most lopsided score in the country this weekend — in Ohio, Beechcroft beat Centennial 96-0, taking knees on plays in the fourth quarter to avoid triple figures.
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, five teams have scored more than 200 points in a game, with the record believed to be 256 by Haven (Ky.) High in 1927.
Dombroski isn’t blaming Naples.
“Naples did absolutely nothing wrong,” Dombroski said. “We just didn’t do anything right.”
Kramer has been in this spot before.
In 2001, the Golden Eagles scored 63 first-quarter points and beat Lely High — ironically, where Dombroski’s girlfriend teaches today — 85-0, and Kramer suddenly became the target of perceptions that he intentionally ran up the score.
But in that game, just as on Friday, Naples had some of its starters not play at all, and others just for one or two series.
“We’ve been through it before and you never want to go through it again,” Kramer said. “There were people ready to burn my house.”
It’s an unsettling time again.
The Naples Daily News ran a poll asking if Kramer and his team “should be ashamed” over the result, and by Monday afternoon, the vote was nearly dead-even: 239 no, 225 yes.
Hearing that, even Dombroski shook his head. He e-mailed Kramer on Monday to reiterate that Naples did nothing wrong, but that’s hardly the only opinion swirling around Naples these days.
“My daughter plays basketball and there’s a local team that’s really good and when they’re about to score 100, there’s no polls about that,” Kramer said. “When the local lacrosse team wins 24-0, where’s the outrage? Or when kids win 6-0, 6-0 in tennis? We score 10 touchdowns and everybody loses their minds.
“The real irony is we’ve got some of our parents upset that their kids didn’t play or didn’t play enough. And you just say, ’Wow.”’
Dombroski knew when he took the Estero job that there would be days like Friday, but he said the 91-0 thumping might help him turn the program around.
“We won’t forget this. I won’t forget this,” said Dombroski, whose freshman program is off to a 4-1-1 start this year, a sign that better days could be ahead for Estero. “We’re not going to lay down. We’re going to fight for 48 minutes, every time we’re out there.”
So on Monday afternoon, when school got out at 1:45, the Estero High football team headed to its locker room and prepared for practice. New scouting reports were waiting for them, and soon the team headed onto the field for practice, their blue jerseys whipping in the wind as they stretched.
“Our team might not be winning or might not be on top right now,” said right guard Mike Perez. “But we all have to do the best we can do. We can’t forget that.”
And so, they were back to work, which they’ll need. This week, Estero plays Cape Coral — a team that nearly beat Naples.

O-R Football Rankings

A little shakeup in Class AAA, where Chartiers Valley and West Allegheny each lost.

Class AAAA
Team Record
1. Gateway 7-0
2. Bethel Park 7-0
3. McKeesport 6-1
4. North Hills 6-1
5. Penn Hills 4-3
Class AAA
Team Record
1. Thomas Jefferson 6-1
2. Highlands 7-0
3. Blackhawk 6-1
4. New Castle 4-3
5. Chartiers Valley 5-2
Class AA
Team Record
1. Jeannette 7-0
2. Beaver Falls 7-0
3. Keystone Oaks 7-0
4. Greensburg C.C. 7-0
5. Shady Side Academy 7-0
Class A
Team Record
1. Clairton 7-0
2. Rochester 7-0
3. Avonworth 7-0
4. Beth-Center 6-1
5. Monaca 6-1

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Friday night thoughts, Week 7

1. What a wild night for the Class A Black Hills Conference.

Fort Cherry scores 71, believed to be a school record. Clairton puts up 55. Serra Catholic totals 51 and Bentworth finishes with 50.

The winning teams averaged 56.8 points. Insane.

2. If things maintain, Beth-Center, Canon-McMillan, Fort Cherry and either Monessen or Carmichaels will host a home playoff game. That's a step up from last year when only Fort Cherry and Monessen played host in the opening round.

3. If Chartiers Valley loses all-purpose player Santino Coury for the season, Ringgold could possibly sneak into second place in the Big Seven Conference. Third place seems more likely, but it is a possibility.

4. Charleroi is much better than its 2-5 record. The Cougars have a stout defense, but one that wears down due to low numbers and the offenses trouble in putting up points.

Charleroi gets good production from the power-I and freshman tailback Quinten Briggs is a name to remember - expect him to join cousin Darrell Harding on the WPIAL's 4,000-yard career rushing list barring injury. The Cougars passing game, however, is unable to keep the opponent from being honest defensively.

5. Nice character win for Canon-McMillan. Trailing to Mt. Lebanon, the Big Macs do what they do best - run Mike Hull and Chad Hagan.

Ditto for Trinity.

When I heard the PA at McGuffey announce Trinity trailed West Mifflin 13-6 during the second quarter, I thought the Hillers season was in jeopardy. As the Varsity Letters stated before, Trinity always finds way to win after a loss.

6. In three games since his return, Joby Lapkowicz has thrown for 10 touchdowns. That's a decade's worth of touchdown passes for some schools.

7. If you haven't already, check out Chris Dugan's column about Avella football in today's Observer-Reporter. A very good read.

Click here.

8. The Varsity Letters believes McGuffey will break its 14-year playoff drought this year.

9. The Avella football team deservedly is getting attention for sticking through a trying season. Maybe it's time to give the kids at Wash High some credit as well. The Prexies are low in numbers and low on wins. Last night's 67-8 loss at Jeannette was the worst in school history.

Seems so weird to type that sentence considering how strong the High has been over the years.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Correal picks William & Mary

As one of the nation’s most sought-after girls basketball recruits, Emily Correal receives her fair share of phone calls from college coaches.
Earlier this week, Correal decided it was time to call William & Mary University women’s basketball coach Debbie Taylor.
The ensuing conversation included Taylor and her coaching staff doing a little yelling. That’s what can happen when one of the top-rated prospects in Pennsylvania delivers good news.
Correal, a two-time Observer-Reporter Girls Player of the Year and the 68th best senior in the country according to ESPN HoopGurlz, made an oral commitment to play at William & Mary. The school is located in Williamsburg, Va. and a member of the Division I Colonial Athletic Association.
“They were really excited. They started screaming into the phone,” Correal said Thursday. “I’m really excited too.”
A 6-3 forward/center, Correal turned down offers from at least 15 other schools and selected the Tribe over Delaware, Richmond, Illinois and Liberty.
Duquesne, Cincinnati, Virginia Tech and Indiana also were among the interested parties.

For more, read Friday's Observer-Reporter.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Games of the Week, Week 7

Two longstanding, heated rivalries highlight the seventh week of the local WPIAL football schedule. If you can't catch Belle Vernon at Ringgold or Beth-Center at California, it's a good week to head to Avella and watch the undermanned, gutsy Eagles play Bentworth.

1. Beth-Center at California (4 stars)
Think this isn't a heated rivalry? PCN sure does. The station hired California University to film the Tri-County South contest for a Saturday broadcast. These two neighbors are the surprise of the conference. Not many outside the B-C locker room pegged the Bulldogs to be 4-0 in conference play before the season. California coach Joe Kuhns admits he's surprised with how well his revamped team has played this year.

2. Belle Vernon at Ringgold (3.5 stars)
This Big Seven showdown looked like a laugher a couple weeks ago. Not so fast. Belle Vernon shook up the standings with its 14-6 win over Trinity last week. Now, third-place Ringgold and last-place Trinity are separated by a half-game in the standings. Ringgold coach Jeff Petrucci was a highly successful coach at Belle Vernon during the 1970s.

3. Chartiers-Houston at Serra Catholic (3 stars)
In a key Black Hills Conference game, the winner could hinge on which standout runner performs better. Chartiers-Houston running back/quarterback/fullback Brad Banas was held to 39 yards last week versus Clairton. He accounted for over 75 percent of the Bucs' offense in that game. Serra Catholic features T.J. Heatherington, arguably the best running quarterback in Class A.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

WPIAL boys golf championship results

WPIAL Boys Golf Individual Championship
at Diamond Run Golf Course, par 72
(Top 24 players qualify for the PIAA Western Regional at Tom’s Run golf Course on Oct. 15)
Adam Stawski, Plum 34-36–70
Justin Newbauer, S.S. Beaver 34-38–72
Derek Jones, Burrell 36-36–72
Brent Bigler, Trinity 36-37–73
Robbie DeNove, Shady Side 34-39–73
Max Palinki, Penn-Trafford 35-38–73
E.J. McFardland, Upper St. Clair 39-36–75
Jim Davis, North Allegheny 37-38–75
Tyler Lustig, Belle Vernon 38-37–75
Sean Sweitheim, Indiana 38-37–75
Bo Lustig, Belle Vernon 36-40–76
Jeremy Silver, Mt. Lebanon 38-38-76
Alex Angelone, Penn-Trafford 36-41-77
Matt Vogt, Seneca Valley 35-42–77
Ryan Fichter, North Hills 41-37–78
Dave Hutchinson, Lincoln Park 44-34–78
Jake Hunter, Gateway 37-41–78
Lance Semich, Chartiers Valley 38-40–78
Marshall Brown, Upper St. Clair 39-39–78
Nate Porembka, Latrobe 36-43–79
Hunter Stanchak, Peters Township 39-40–79
Andrew Edwards, Hopewell 37-42–79
Derek Lingafelt, Penn-Trafford 39-41-80
Mike Zupi, Center 39-41–80
Geoffrey Locher, Peters Township 36-44–80
Failed to qualify
Matt Bolton, Franklin Regional 43-38–81
J.J. Hue, Latrobe 38-43–81
Brandon Pompeani, Hopewell 39-42–81
Brett Cox, Baldwin 39-43–82
Nikko Giangiulli, Neshannock 37-45–82
Michael Molnar, Vincentian 40-42–82
Brock Pompeani, Hopewell 38-44–82
Brad Thornton, Shenango 43-40–83
Sean Tunno, Burgettstown 43-41–84
Nathan Kreutzer, North Allegheny 41-43–84
Dan Joseph, Thomas Jefferson 42-42–84
Dan Salera, Bethel Park 43-42–85
Brian Mayer, Plum 41-44–85
Jordan Jones, Mt. Pleasant 43-42–85
Christian Locher, Mars 43-43–86
Sam Brourman, Fox Chapel 40-46–86
Josh Kokoska, Jefferson-Morgan 46-41–87
Dave Beck, California 45-43–88
Brian Gross, Shady Side 40-48–88
Beau Bergman, Shady Side 41-47–88
Dexter Boots, Riverside 51-38–89
Riley Dougan, Hampton 45-47–92
Dan Maier, Penn-Trafford 45-47–92

Separated at birth?

Have you ever seen Jefferson-Morgan football coach Jan Haiden and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim manager Mike Scioscia in the same place? Didn't think so.

APB, Where are they now?

Normally, the Varsity Letters looks back a few years for its All Points Bulletin. This week, we're looking for former California High School standout Donte Valentino.

A 2008 graduate of California, Valentino became the first player in WPIAL history to rush for 4,000 career yards primarily as a quarterback. Jeannette's Terrelle Pryor joined the exclusive club a couple weeks after Valentino.

One of the more entertaining athletes to watch during his varsity career, Valentino often played behind center during his sophomore, junior and senior seasons. A three-time all-state defensive back, Valentino finished his career with 456 carries for 4,406 yards. The total ranks Valentino 18th in WPIAL history.

He also started at point guard for three years on a Trojans basketball team which reached the WPIAL Class A championship in 2007.

Valentino was scheduled to attend Citrus Community College in Los Angeles and play football. He is not on Citrus' football roster.

Monday, October 6, 2008

WPIAL girls golf

The following are the results from today's WPIAL girls golf championship. Fox Chapel's Nadia Luttner kept Waynesburg's Rachel Rohanna from winning her third title in four years.

Girls golf

2008 WPIAL Girls Golf Individual Championship
at Valley Brook Country Club, par 72
(The top 12 players qualify for the PIAA Western Regional, Oct. 15 at Tom’s Run Golf Course)
Nadia Luttner, Fox Chapel 39-36–75
Rachel Rohanna, Waynesburg 37-41–78
Sarah Heimlich, Serra 41-37–78
Courtney Kordes, Highlands 41-38–79
Sara Oczypok, T. Jefferson 38-41–79
Jessy Parham, Peters Twp. 40-40–80
Miranda Santucci, Win. Thurston 38-44–82
Ann Colligan, Kittanning 42-42–84
Kendall Allen, S.S. Academy 43-41–84
Marissa DeCola, Butler 42-43–85
Danielle Von Waldow, Upper St. Clair 41-45–86
Anne Bozich, Center 41-45–86
Samantha Smyers, Shaler 43-44–87
Nicole Smith, Mt. Pleasant 41-46–87
Katie Lis, Upper St. Clair 40-48–88
Sara Scheidmantel, Beaver 48-43–91
Tess Wolfe, Blackhawk 45-46–91
Brittany Borkovich, Penn-Trafford 48-46–94
Katerina Luttner, Fox Chapel 50-44–94
Brittany Andrews, S.S. Academy 46-49–95
Lorraine Sullivan, Seton-La Salle 46-50–96
Aja Happel, Sweickley Academy 49-48–97
Mara Shingleton, Butler 55-46–101
Arianna Rock, Butler 51-50–101
Kaitlyn Green, Franklin Regional 52-50–102
Annemarie Harb, Hopewell 57-53–110
Jessica Perkins, N. Allegheny 58-63–121

Saturday, October 4, 2008

O-R football rankings

For the first time this season, the WPIAL rankings in each classification changed.

Class AAAA
Team Record
1. Gateway 6-0
2. Bethel Park 6-0
3. McKeesport 5-1
4. North Hills 5-1
5. North Allegheny 4-2
Class AAA
Team Record
1. Thomas Jefferson 5-1
2. Highlands 6-0
3. Chartiers Valley 5-1
4. West Allegheny 5-1
5. Blackhawk 5-1
Class AA
Team Record
1. Jeannette 6-0
2. Beaver Falls 6-0
3. Keystone Oaks 6-0
4. Greensburg C.C. 6-0
5. Shady Side Academy 6-0
Class A
Team Record
1. Clairton 6-0
2. Rochester 6-0
3. Avonworth 6-0
4. Beth-Center 5-1
5. Monaca 5-1

Passing grade

High school football is all about the running game. It has always been this way.

Perhaps no conference in the WPIAL has been as run-happy through the years as the Class A Tri-County South. That's why the conference has produced six of the WPIAL's 35 4,000-yard career rushers. For the record, they are West Greene's Rodney Wilson, Mapletown's Derek Bochna, Mon Valley Catholic's Jon Green, California's Donte Valentino and Nathan Peters and Carmichaels' Rocky Doman.

Offenses in the Tri-County South used to be built around giving the ball to the tailback 10 times in a row, then giving it one time to the fullback, just to prove he's not a guard. Passing was considered a trick play to be used only on third down and at least 20 yards to go.

It seemed that Tri-County South coaches lived by the old Woody Hayes saying: "When you throw the ball, only three things can happen and two of them are bad."

Not this year.

During the third quarter of Carmichaels' 40-34 victory Friday night over California, it struck me that I might be watching a Tri-County South first. Both Carmichaels' Joby Lapkowicz and California's D.J. Martinak, pictured, passed for more than 200 yards. Lapkowicz was 11-for-12 for 235 yards and one touchdown. His only incomplete pass should not have counted because of an obvious pass interference penalty by California that was not called. Martinak, a junior who is one of the most improved players in the area, completed 12 of 19 passes for 207 yards and four touchdowns. He also threw for a two-point conversion and ran for 85 yards.

There might have been another game over the years in the Tri-County South in which both quarterbacks topped 200 passing yards, but I don't recall any. Neither could two longtime coaches in the conference who were standing next to me Friday night.

Another oddity from that game: both quarterbacks are left-handed.

Friday night thoughts, Week 6

I know Chartiers-Houston fans do not want to hear this, but I believe the Bucs provided a blueprint for defeating Clairton during last night's 42-0 loss.

The current Clairton Bears have the most skilled playmakers I've seen on a Class A team since the 2001 Rochester Rams, who won the state title. Receiver Kevin Weatherspoon is special and I see why Pitt has already offered the junior a scholarship. Not only does Weatherspoon know how to get open, he seeks contact and plays a very intelligent game.

Now, back to the Bucs.

C-H packed in the offense, put three backs behind quarterback Evan Bender and hoped Brad Banas could fight his way for some first downs. Running room was scarce as Banas rushed 20 times for 39 yards, but he did fight off some tacklers. Seemed to me that C-H's main problem was it's inability to generate any push along the offensive line.

Judging by the reaction from the overflow crowd, Bucs fans wanted to offense to open up. I understand the sentiment. At times it seemed like C-H was playing not to lose as opposed to trying to win.

What happened when the Bucs did open things up? They threw an interception and the only pass completion went for minus-5 yards.

Time to give Clairton's defense credit. For all the press the offense receives, the Bears defense is just as good.

Still, watching C-H attempt to control the clock and the ball, something hit me. If a talented Rochester team, like this year's group, tried the same approach as C-H, don't you think it might be successful?

I do.

Clairton, in my opinion, is the best Class A team in the WPIAL, but that does not guarantee the Bears can't lose in the postseason. Don't forget, outside of Harrisburg is a very talented Steelton-Highspire, which happens to be the defending PIAA champs and a group that can match Clairton's athleticism.

** The Varsity Letters wants to hear from those in attendance at the Trinity at Belle Vernon game.

Belle Vernon allowed 143 points in its previous three before beating Trinity, 14-6, Friday night.

The loss dropped the Hillers to 1-3 in conference play and they have only two Big Seven games left (West Mifflin and Ringgold).

*** Carmichaels quarterback Joby Lapkowicz continues to amaze after returning to the lineup last week.

Against California, Lapkowicz completed 11 of 12 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown. Since his return against Jefferson-Morgan, Lapkowicz has completed more than 80 percent of his passes for slightly more than 500 yards and five touchdowns. That's in two games folks.

If you haven't already, it's time to recognize Lapkowicz as one of the best multi-sport athletes in Class A.

**** Kudos to Fort Cherry for showing Avella the respect it deserves. Here's hoping the rest of the Eagles' opponents follow the lead of FC coach Tim Garry.

***** It's safe to say that Bethel Park, Canon-McMillan and Upper St. Clair will qualify for the playoffs in the Great Southern Conference. After Mt. Lebanon beat Peters Township last night, which team finishes fourth?

And, finally, does anyone else believe that four teams qualifying for postseason play from a six-team conference indicates far too many participants are allowed entrance to the WPIAL playoffs?

Unless more teams move up to Class AAAA in the near future, the Varsity Letters wants to see the field reduced.

Friday, October 3, 2008

What to watch, Clairton at Chartiers-Houston

The Varsity Letter research department attempted to find the last time it attended a football game between two undefeated teams this late in the season. The results are surprising.

According to the research, when Washington played at Waynesburg in the 2000 regular season finals, it marked the last occurrence.

Tonight, Clairton (3-0, 5-0) and Chartiers-Houston (3-0, 5-0) play for first place in the Class A Black Hills Conference.

The Bears are the WPIAL's highest scoring team. Chartiers-Houston ranks second to Clairton in points scored in the classification. For the Bucs to win, they must avoid a shootout.

This game comes down to how well the Chartiers-Houston defensive line can pressure Clairton quarterback Andrew Currington and how effectively the Bucs' defensive backs cover the Bears' receiver, which includes Division I prospect Kevin Weatherspoon.

If C-H can limit Clairton to one of two big plays and sustain a few, long scoring drives, the game could be a close one.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Tiebreakers and Gardner Points

The WPIAL football playoffs is only a month away. Seems like the perfect time to go over the district's playoff system.

1. Only section records are used to determine playoff teams.
2. The top four teams in each section qualify for postseason play.
3. The top two teams in each section receive a first-round game at home.
4. Quarterfinals and semifinals are at neutral sites. The championships are at Heinz Field.
5. The WPIAL football committee determines the brackets.

Playoff ties
1. Head-to-head (section games only) is the first tiebreaker.
2. Ties between three or more teams in section play, head-to-head remains the first tiebreaker.
3. If head-to-head can not break the tie, Gardner Points are used.
4. If Gardner Points fails to break a tie, the WPIAL tiebreaking system (available at is used.
5. If all available methods fail to break a tie, a coin flip will determine playoffs participants.

Gardner Points
1. Only section games are used.
2. Teams receive 100 points for each section win.
3. The winning teams receives 10 points for each of the defeated team's victories. So, last week when Clairton defeated Fort Cherry, Clairton received 120 Gardner Points (100 for the win, 20 for Fort Cherry's two conference wins).
4. Add all Gardner Points for teams tied for a playoff spot within a section. The team with the most points gets the spot.

Got it?

Games of the Week, Week 6

Only four games remain in the regular season. Each week climbs in significance. This week is no exception.

The Varsity Letters is looking forward to these Friday matchups:

1. Clairton at Chartiers-Houston (4 stars)
OK, we know Clairton is manhandling opponents. We know the Bears are, by far, the fastest team in Class A. We realize they are good enough to give some Class AAA and AA schools a good game.

Right now, the only thing standing in the way of a Black Hills Conference championship for undefeated Clairton is undefeated Chartiers-Houston.

The Bucs, off to their best start in years, want to take away the big play. Against Clairton, that's not easy. If C-H can accomplish that major task, expect a competitive game.

2. Ringgold at Chartiers Valley (3.75 stars)
Not many people outside the Ringgold locker room figured the Rams would have an opportunity to finish second in the Class AAA Big Seven. Beating a very good Chartiers Valley team would be the biggest step in making that happen.

Last week, Ringgold quarterback Shane Mountain threw for 340 yards and four touchdowns. He'll need similar production and Ringgold will need big plays from Simon Bekavac and Jake Spaziani to curtail the Colts' high-powered offense.

The Varsity Letters has been on the CV bandwagon for weeks. Both teams are better than people think.

3. California at Carmichaels (3.5 stars)
Anytime these two tangle, whether it's baseball, basketball or football, postseason implications follow.

This one could determine second place in the Tri-County South if Monessen continues to struggle.

California runs a balanced offense - Winston Clements is a big-time end zone threat - while Carmichaels is pass happy. The Mikes finally have senior quarterback Joby Lapkowicz back. His big-game experience could come in handy.

4. Jeannette at McGuffey (3 stars)
Last week, Charleroi became the first team to score against Jeannette. Yep, without Terrelle Pryor, the Jayhawks are still a viable championship contender.

McGuffey helped itself last week by beating South Allegheny. Plus, the Highlanders turned in a competitive performance at Greensburg Central Catholic.

5. Peters Township at Mt. Lebanon (2.5 stars)
At 1-0 in the Great Southern Conference, Peters Township can basically clinch a Quad-A playoff berth with a victory at winless Mt. Lebanon. (How weird does that sound?)

The Indians are improving behind sophomore quarterback Austin Hancock, who has found a reliable receiver in Brandon Hoffman.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Kovak's Corner

As the mind wandered on a day off, I started thinking about the things that make covering high school football an often unusual and interesting experience. Throughout the years, I've been to nearly every venue imaginable. I've seen hundreds of marching bands (all of whom seem to play Styx at some point). I've tasted the wares of many local concession stand (had a tooth break in half on a "soft" pretzel before the start of last year's Bethel Park at Canon-Mac game). I've witness some good football. I've covered some incredible athletes. I've also seen my share of stinkers.

So, in an effort to break from the ordinary, I compiled a list of favorites, likes and dislikes about the local high school football scene.

Best aura: Wash High Stadium
Just an old-school stadium. Upon entering, it just feels like a place legends played. And so many have, from Brian Davis to Dan Mozes to Ted Vactor. Also, you have to respect a place that has fielded six WPIAL champions and the only PIAA football champion from Washington and Greene counties.

Best concessions: Beth-Center
Avella is noted for pepperoni rolls. South Side Beaver makes some great stuff as well, but nothing compares to the diverse and tasty menu offered at Beth-Center.

Favorite moment: Ringing the ball after a Charleroi home win
Nestled outside the end zone on the way to the home locker room, a long-standing bell is rung every time the Cougars win at home. Think about the all-time greats who rang that bell.

Wildest moment: Haven't covered the Monessen at Charleroi game in some time (too bad the game couldn't happen this year) but I can remember Monessen fans situating a giant "M" on the hillside along the Westmoreland County side on the Mon River. The Greyhounds didn't need any water, they just let the sign burn.

Best facility: South Fayette. The Lions home field is not only the best WPIAL facility I've covered a game from, it's nicer than most small college stadiums in the area. The WPIAL should start hosting events there.

Scariest steps: Some stadiums are rickety, some are in dire need of repair, but it takes a special person to climb the steps which lead to the press box at Ringgold's Joe Montana Stadium. Word to the wise, in case of an ice storm, stay in the stands.

Loudest students: Canon-McMillan, hands down.

Oddest site: On a cool fall Friday night, nothing says eerie like playing a Tri-County South Conference game at Jefferson-Morgan's Parker Field. A cemetery is situation beside the field. Across the street is one of the more high-pressure car washes money can buy. J-M also wins the prize for best press box food. Nothing like the annual prime rib night in Jefferson.

Favorite entrance: Fort Cherry walking down the hill to Jim Garry Stadium.

Most imposing sign: If Ringgold isn't motivated with the giant Joe Montana Stadium sign lingering between the visitor's sideline and the baseball field, I can't imagine what the Rams would need for motivation.

Readers, the Varsity Letters wants to know what makes your favorite place to watch high school football unique.