Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

The Varsity Letters wishes all its readers a Happy Thanksgiving.

Be happy. Be safe.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Prexies celebration

The 2008-09 WPIAL boys basketball season will the 28th, and final, year for Washington High School coach Ron Faust. To celebrate, the high school is hosting a "Meet the Prexies Night" on Saturday, Nov. 29 at Wash High Gymnasium beginning at 5 p.m.

The event was organized by Tony Ellis, a basketball official and the point guard on Washington's 1984 PIAA Class AA championship team.

The event includes an introduction of this year's boys and girls varsity teams, intra-squad scrimmages, a highlight film and an alumni game featuring approximately 30 former Faust players from the 1980s, 1990s and the 2000s.

During his first 27 years, Faust has won 495 games, 16 section titles, four WPIAL championships and two state titles.

Those attending are asked to bring a donation of a non-perishable food item for the Greater Washington County Food Bank. A Chinese Auction will benefit the Rebecca Rogers Foundation.

Hull to Penn State

Penn State clinched a spot in the Rose Bowl with its 49-18 thrashing of Michigan State on Saturday. The Nittany Lions also kicked off its 2010 recruiting class with a splash when Canon-McMillan junior Mike Hull made an oral commitment.

Hull (6-1, 215) held offers from Michigan, Pitt and West Virginia, among others and was recently ranked among the Rivals 250 to Watch for the 2009 high school football season. He was recruited by Nittany Lions defensive coordinator Tom Bradley as either a linebacker or a safety.

Injuries limited Hull during his junior year, but he still rushed for 803 yards and six touchdowns going against one of the toughest schedule's in Class AAAA. Hull was a first-team all-conference selection as a freshman and sophomore and had more than 100 tackles in each of his first two varsity season.

As a sophomore, Hull led all WPIAL Quad-A rushers with a single-season school record 1,300 yards during the regular season.

Hull's father Tom Hull played linebacker at Penn State.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The "Fighting" Tigers

This story, from Sunday's Post-Gazette, showcases all that is wrong with high school sports and why I would never want to coach at the varsity level.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Separated at birth?

A year ago, Robert Heller enjoyed one fine college football season when, as a freshman at Division III Waynesburg University, he set NCAA freshmen rushing records in yards (2,176) and touchdowns (26). He averaged nearly 200 rushing yards per game.

This year, Texas University junior quarterback Colt McCoy is having a Heisman Trophy-type year. Through 11 games, McCoy has thrown for 3,134 yards, 30 touchdowns and completed an astronomical 77.2 percent of his passes.

Not only are Heller and McCoy fine football players, both look like they could be separated at birth.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Picking the winners, WPIAL championship edition

After a 7-1 showing in the WPIAL football semifinals, this prognosticator enters the WPIAL championships Saturday at Heinz Field with a healthy 47-9 record and a .839 win percentage.

Class AAAA championship
Gateway over Bethel Park

Class AAA championship
Thomas Jefferson over Blackhawk

Class AA championship
Beaver Falls over Aliquippa

Class A championship
Monaca over Clairton

Anyone else disappointed that FSN Pittsburgh is breaking up its live coverage of the four titles games to broadcast the Pens game? This blogger sure is.

The Class AA game between Beaver Falls and Aliquippa will not air until 11 p.m. on FSN. I know the station is obligated to bring Pens coverage, but how many times a year are the WPIAL football championships played? The break between the Class A and Class AAA games takes a little luster off the entire package for those of us not attending Heinz Field.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

"Deuce" The documentary

Midway through "Deuce", a documentary covering the life and times of statistician and Western Pennsylvania sports figure Lawrence "Deuce" Skurcenski, one of the many persons interviewed said the word unique is the most misused word in the English language.

Unique is a one-of-a-kind happening, which aptly describes Deuce. Strange, quirky, energetic, charismatic and affable also fit the man who has kept stats for more than five decades for no one in particular.

Pittsburgh natives Mark and Joe Graziano spent parts of the past two years chronicling Deuce as he bounces from Woodland Hills football games to sparsely populated high school basketball games to meetings with coaches to the barbershop in his hometown of Braddock. Some of the footage is hilarious, particularly interviews with Deuce's father and mother.

Yes, Duece, after 51 years of keeping stats at WPIAL, City League and PIAA events, still lives at home. And, in an odd twist, his bedroom - with a twin bed - is filled with old stats from games Deuce has attended.

Basically, Deuce knows everyone who is someone in local sports and the documentary reflects as much. From Pitt men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon to West Virginia men's coach Bob Huggins to newspaper reporters to local coaches, all played a part in the documentary of a man who always remembers your name the first time he hears it.

On my way to the movie, I got to thinking or reminiscing about a couple of my early experiences with Deuce, experiences any sports reporter in Western Pennsylvania has probably endured at some point.

In the fall of 1998, I worked for the Beaver County Times and was at Three Rivers Stadium to cover the WPIAL Class A championship between Monaca and Rochester as well as the Class AAA game between Moon and Blackhawk.

My seat was beside Deuce - for all four games!

After the Class A game, it was time to write during the Class AA final between Wash High and Shady Side Academy. Deuce, known to talk out loud at all times, failed to recognize my situation. If he asked me, "Who had that carry? Was it Ruggerio or Alexander?" one time, he asked me 110 times.

A funnier story happened the following year, my first at the Observer-Reporter.

During halftime of the Class AA championship between Waynesburg and Wash High, I ended up heading to the restroom right behind Deuce. During the first two quarters, Waynesburg's Lanfer Simpson played like an indestructible force and the Raiders were well on the way to the championship. Well, speaking in a public restroom is something I'm not fond of, but Deuce kept looking over. I knew he was dying to tell me something.

"What's on your mind Deuce?"

"Awwww. Lanfer Simpson," Deuce said, in full character.

Deuce then dropped into a two-point stance, put both hands in the air, shook them and let out a loud, "Oooooohhhoooooohhhhooooohhhhh."

That's Deuce. That's the man whose passion is local sports. The man who can rattle of the Cal U men's starting five from 1994 or the top 10 rushers in Woodland Hills history without blinking or thinking.

The documentary did an excellent job of catching that side of Deuce - a man with the same girlfriend for more than 30 years without asking her to marry him - and often did a funny job telling it. The end clip of Deuce and Duquesne University football coach Jerry Schmitt is excellent.

There were a few questions I wanted answered. Why does Deuce still live at home? Why does he keep all those old stats? How does he get to all these camps on a limited budget?

Maybe those will be answered in the sequel: Deuce 2 Statistical Bugaloo.

Deuces wild

Tonight marks the second premier of "Deuce", a documentary of local high school statistician Lawrence "Deuce" Skurcenski. The showing takes place at the South Side Works Cinema and the film was made by Pittsburgh natives Joe and Mark Graziano.

A previous screening took place last week at the Three Rivers Film Festival.

A WPIAL/City League/PIAA/local small college fixture over the past five decades, Skurcenski, by his own accounts, has attended more than 9,000 basketball games and 3,000 football games, keeping stats on every one.

The Varsity Letters expects to be in attendance tonight so stay tuned for a movie review.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Top five of the fall

With the fall sports season coming to its conclusion in the Washington-Greene region following Saturday's PIAA soccer finals, O-R staff writer Kevin Jacobsen and myself tossed around the teams we thought were the best of the fall season.

Here's a few we came up with and a couple more I added:

1. Peters Township boys soccer
WPIAL Class AAA champions. PIAA runners-up. Won seven straight postseason matches and produced three all-state players in Nick Wilcox, Christian Brandstetter and Greg Weimer (a Virginia Tech recruit).

2. Peters Township boys golf
WPIAL Division I team champions. PIAA runners-up. Finished second at the PIAA Western Regional. The unique thing about this team is no individual qualified for the PIAA boys championship.

3. Peters Township girls soccer
WPIAL Class AAA runners-up. PIAA runners-up. The Indians never played for a state title before. Seniors Ali Forbrich and Lauren Ray excelled. Sophomore Shelli Spamer is already one of the state's premier players.

4. Canon-McMillan boys cross country
Washington County champions. WPIAL Class AAA fifth-place finishers. The Big Macs missed qualifying for the PIAA team championships by one place. Senior Matt Gregory won the WPIAL championship and finished sixth at states, securing a place on the all-state team.

5. Avella football
From the New York Times to the Observer-Reporter, Avella drew headlines nationally and locally for playing through the season with as few as 10 players in some games. The Eagles never won a game, or came close, but the kids who stayed with the team from beginning to end displayed courage, passion and pride.

Monday, November 17, 2008

APB, Where are they now?

Sadly, last week's All Points Bulletin for Ringgold High School graduate and former NFL linebacker Anthony Peterson went unanswered. Undeterred, the Varsity Letters continues its quest to uncover the former great of the region.

This week, TVL issues and APB for any and all members of the 1991-92 Canon-McMillan wrestling team.

The Big Macs accomplished a rarity back in 1992 - they won the PIAA Class AAA team wrestling championship without having an individual state champion. Canon-McMillan also placed atop the national wrestling rankings that year.

Anyone with information on any members of the 1992 team, or anyone knowing of Anthony Peterson's whereabouts is urged to contact the Varsity Letters.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

PIAA Boys Class AAA soccer final

Downington West (District 1) avenged its loss in the 2007 state championship by defeating Peters Township, 2-1, Saturday night at Hersheypark Stadium.

The Whippets scored early and it looked like they would score often, dominating the opening 25 minutes and scoring less than four minutes in on a goal by Travis Cantrell.

Indians goalkeeper Ryan Koepka kept his team in the game with a save on Chris Harmon's penalty kick 12 minutes into the second half, but Downington went ahead 2-0 on Joe Sales' goal with 23 minutes to play.

Nate Troscinski got the Indians on the board with a free kick goal three minutes later.

Peters Township, making its fifth appearance in the state title game, finished 20-6.

PIAA Girls Class AAA soccer final

Conestoga (District 1) defended its PIAA Class AAA girls soccer championship with a 2-1 victory over Peters Township Saturday evening at Hersheypark Stadium.

The game was scoreless at the half before Conestoga's Murphee Greeley netted the game's first goal at the 38:20 mark. Less than 50 seconds later, an Ali Forbrich shot bounced off both posts and was collected by Lauren Ray, who tied the game, 1-1.

With less than 12 minutes remaining, Conestoga scored the game-winner when Casey Steidle headed in a Greeley corner kick.

It was the first PIAA title game appearance for Peters Township, which finished 21-3-2.

Sign of the (old) times

Part of the ambiance of the press box at Hersheypark Stadium are all the commemorative posters signifying certain Big 33 Classics. For those not in the know, the Big 33 is an all-star high school football game played between Pennsylvania and Ohio. Back in the day, Pennsylvania played the Maryland all-stars.

The 1990 poster, one seven in the press box, sported a likeness of former Hopewell High great Tony Dorsett, who served as the honorary chairman that year.

While looking at the poster, one signature caught my eye. It was of Derek Bochna, who wore No. 10 for PA that year. Bochna, the current McGuffey coach played at Mapletown, before starting at Penn State.

Coach Bochna, what's with the sloppy penmanship?

Hershey bound

In a few, Observer-Reporter staffer Kevin Jacobsen and yours truly will be headed to Hershey for the PIAA boys and girls Class AAA soccer championships. Each match involves Peters Township.

Here are a few facts regarding the championships:
1. Peters Township becomes the first school in PIAA history to send its boys and girls soccer teams to the state championships in the same year. It's an amazing accomplishment.

2. Tonight's Boys Class AAA final against Downingtown West marks the fifth appearance in a title game for the Peters Township boys, easily the most of any local team.

3. The Peters Township boys are 2-1-1 in its previous four appearances. The Indians won the Class AAA title in 2007. They won the Class AA title in 1988 and shared the title in 1989. In 1998, they were runners-up.

4. PT boys head coach Bobby Dyer has been a part of each PT championship team. He played on the 1988 and 1989 teams before playing soccer at Pitt. He coached the 1998 team and returned to coach in 2007.

5. The Peters Township girls are playing for its first PIAA title.

6. PT girls head coach Pat Vereb is in his second year with the team after a successful stint as head girls coach at Mt. Lebanon.

7. The Downingtown West boys are the nation's No. 3 team according to the latest NSCAA/adidas rankings.

8. Last year, DW was also nationally ranked before losing to PT on Shane Pruitt's overtime goal.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Pierpont to Winthrop

Matt Pierpont has signed a National Letter of Intent to play baseball at Division I Winthrop University, a member of the Big South Conference.
The starting shortstop and a pitcher for Canon-McMillan's 2008 PIAA Class AAAA championship team, Pierpont has one year remaining with the Big Macs.
A first-team selection to the Observer-Reporter All-District Baseball Team, Pierpont led Canon-McMillan in batting average (.471), on-base percentage (.562), slugging percentage (.694) and RBI (28).
In addition, he scored 29 times, hit 10 doubles and posted a 6-1 record with 50 strikeouts.
Pierpont, whose brother Gary is a senior pitcher at Duquesne University, chose Winthrop over Maryland, Ohio and the Dukes.

Gasti to Cleveland State

Carmichaels High School senior Chuck Gasti will sign a National Letter of Intent on Friday to play baseball at Division I Cleveland State, a member of the Horizon League.

Gasti, a shortstop, was a first-team selection to the Observer-Reporter all-district baseball team after he helped Carmichaels win the 2008 WPIAL Class A championship and reach the state title game. He batted .477 with a WPIAL-leading 42 runs. As a pitcher, he posted a 9-1 record with 81 strikeouts and a 1.05 ERA.

Joby Lapkowicz, Gasti's teammate, is close to signing with Division II Slippery Rock.

Also, Waynesburg senior Rachel Rohanna signed a letter of intent on Wednesday to join the Ohio State University women's golf team. Rohanna, a two-time WPIAL and PIAA champion, committed to the Buckeyes last year.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Picking the winners, WPIAL semifinals

After a strong 14-2 showing (didn't know GCC would be without David Miller) in the quarterfinals, my record stands at 40-8 (83.3 percent) through two rounds of the WPIAL football playoffs.

In a quest for perfection, here are my picks for a great slate of semifinal games:

Class AAAA
Gateway over Penn Hills
Bethel Park over McKeesport

Class AAA
Thomas Jefferson over New Castle
Blackhawk over Highlands

Class AA
Beaver Falls over Jeannette
Aliquippa over Shady Side Academy

Class A
Rochester over Clairton
Monaca over Avonworth

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

PT boys, girls advance to state finals

The Varsity Letters is live from the Chambersburg Panera after covering the PIAA Class AAA boys soccer semifinal between Peters Township and Central Bucks East.

The Indians advanced to Saturday's state championship for the second straight year with a 2-0 victory. They will play at Hersheypark Stadium at 7 p.m.

The Peters Township girls advanced to the PIAA Class AAA girls final for the first time with a 3-0 win over Hampton. The Indians play at 5 p.m. Saturday, also at Hersheypark Stadium.

The Varsity Letters will have much more on both teams in the upcoming days.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

PIAA soccer semifinals set

A total of 20 high school soccer teams in the state of Pennsylvania are still playing. Two of them are from Peters Township.

The PIAA soccer semifinals (boys and girls) kick off Tuesday, Nov. 11.

Here are the sites and times for the teams from Peters Township:

Peters Township (19-5) vs. Central Bucks East at Chambersburg High School, 6 p.m.

Peters Township (20-2-2) vs. Hampton (21-1-1) at Shaler High School, 7 p.m.

Of note, the PT boys played at Chambersburg in the previous two state tournaments, going 1-1. Central Bucks East, the fourth seed from District 1, has not allowed a goal in two state matches. The Indians, meanwhile, have outscored two PIAA opponents, 8-1.

The PT girls, making their second semifinal appearance this decade, are the only team to beat Hampton this year. The Indians beat the Talbots, 1-0, in the WPIAL semifinals.

APB, Where are they now?

The Varsity Letters' most recent All Points Bulletin for former Burgettstown and Ambridge football coach Rich Druga was answered by several people, including Druga himself. He's married, working and a father. As he said in an e-mail, "Life is good."

This week, the Varsity Letters is searching for former Ringgold football standout Anthony Peterson, the last man from a Washington County High School to play in an NFL game.

Peterson, a former stud linebacker at Notre Dame, played six seasons in the NFL (1994-99) mostly with the San Francisco 49ers. In 1995, Peterson won a Super Bowl as part of the 49ers defense.

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

Saturday, November 8, 2008

WPIAL football rankings

It's down to the semifinals. So, there is no need to rank five teams per classification.

Class AAAA
1. Gateway 11-0
2. Bethel Park 11-0
3. McKeesport 9-2
4. Penn Hills 8-3

Class AAA
1. Thomas Jefferson 10-1
2. Highlands 11-0
3. Blackhawk 10-1
4. New Castle 8-3

Class AA
1. Beaver Falls 11-0
2. Shady Side Academy 11-0
3. Jeannette 10-1
4. Aliquippa 9-2

Class A
1. Clairton 11-0
2. Monaca 10-1
3. Avonworth 11-0
4. Rochester 10-1

Looking at the semifinalists, it strike me that the WPIAL did a good job seeding each bracket. Four of the top five seeds in Class AAAA are still playing. The top four seeds in Class AAA advanced, as did the top four in Class A. In Class AA, seventh-seed Aliquippa upended Greensburg Central Catholic, who was without tailback David Miller, the WPIAL's leading scorer.

With most of the top seeds advancing, it could be one of the best semifinals in recent memory.

Bethel Park-McKeesport
Beaver Falls-Jeannette

Those games are worthy of Heinz Field.

No Friday Night Lights

Friday night felt a little odd. It was only the 10th week of the WPIAL football season and I was nowhere near a high school football game after local teams went 0-9 in the opening round of the playoffs.

The Varsity Letters is a little curious.

What did local high school fans do Friday night?

Did you attend a game anyway?

Did you check out Michael Cavanaugh singing Billy Joel hits at Heinz Hall?

Did you get ready for Pitt-Louisville, WVU-Cincinnati or Penn State-Iowa?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Town of Champions, Part VIII

Due to the hectic fall sports season, the Varsity Letters temporarily shelved the Town of Champions series. During the months of August and September, we occasionally examined the rich athletic histories of our many communities.

To date, we've looked at the people, teams and communities involving Wash High, Monessen, Peters Township, Chartiers-Houston, Waynesburg, Ringgold and Fort Cherry.

The current lull in activity offers the perfect time to renew the series and hopefully remind readers part of what makes this area great.

Today, in our eighth installment, we look at the communities involving Canon-McMillan High School.

When it comes to Canonsburg, people think former New York Giants great Doug Kotar (pictured), Perry Como, Bobby Vinton and Sarris Candy.

When it comes to Canon-McMillan or old Canonsburg High School, the first sport which comes to mind is wrestling.

The tradition is mind-boggling.

With 922 victories, Canon-McMillan has the most wins of any high school wrestling team in the PIAA. Waynesburg ranks second on the list and Trinity is fifth. Since the WPIAL started holding team championship competitions, the Big Macs won team titles in 1983, 1985, 1991, 1993 and 1995. The 1992 team won the PIAA team title and won the mythical national championship.

Individually, Canon-McMillan has produced 35 PIAA wrestling champions. None sport more impressive scholastic careers than Manuel Pihakis, who went 91-1-1 with three state titles from 1950-52 and George Custer. He finished with a 76-0 record and three state titles from 1938-40.

Canonsburg High School was also an early boys cross country power, winning the first five WPIAL championships (1935-39). Matt Gregory added to the tradition this fall when he won the WPIAL individual championship.

Back in 1935 and 1936, Canonsburg won WPIAL baseball championships. In 2008, the Big Macs became the second Washington County team to win a state championship when it cruised to the Class AAAA titles.

The boys track team won the WPIAL Class AAA title in 2008.

Cecil Township won the 1935 WPIAL boys basketball title.

And, in 1950, Canonsburg High split the WPIAL Class AA football title with New Brighton.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Picking the winners, WPIAL quarterfinals

Last week, I went 26-6 (81.2 percent) in the WPIAL first round playoff games. I incorrectly picked Canon-McMillan, Trinity, Keystone Oaks, Sto-Rox, Beth-Center and Serra Catholic.

Time for the quarterfinals selections.

Class AAAA
Gateway over Shaler
Penn Hills over North Hills
Bethel Park over North Allegheny
McKeesport over Central Catholic

Class AAA
Thomas Jefferson over Hopewell
New Castle over Indiana
Highlands over Montour
Blackhawk over Mars

Class AA
Beaver Falls over Ford City
Jeannette over Beaver
Greensburg Central over Aliquippa
Shady Side Academy over Center

Class A
Clairton over Monessen
Rochester over Western Beaver
North Catholic over Avonworth
Monaca over South Side Beaver

WPIAL 4,000-yard club

Over the years, the Observer-Reporter did its best to keep up with the WPIAL 4,000-yard club. With the recent influx of additions, it became difficult to maintain. Thanks to Post-Gazette staff writer Mike White, we were able to update the list.

With the local season over, it seemed like a good time to take a glance.


Name, School Year Att Yards Avg
Mike Vernillo, Fort Cherry 1999 927 7,646 8.2
Matt Gavrish, Penn-Trafford 1997 962 6,512 6.8
Rodney Wilson, West Greene 1993 825 6,304 7.6
Jason Barr, McGuffey 1993 732 5,749 7.9
Chico Williams, Aliquippa 1992 660 5,417 8.2
Darrell Harding, Charleroi 1991 760 5,410 7.1
Max Suter, Greensburg C.C. 2006 628 5,252 8.4
Todd Harris, Duquesne 2001 795 5,224 6.6
Keith Miller, Beth Center 1994 669 5,121 7.7
Jason Murray, Belle Vernon 1996 572 5,046 8.8
Marcus Furman, Connellsville 2000 536 5,041 9.4
Derek Bochna, Mapletown 1989 674 4,793 7.1
Jon Green, Mon Valley Catholic 1981 569 4,709 8.3
Bill Bair, Mars 2007 516 4,702 9.1
Monte Ashby, East Allegheny 2008 608 4,699 7.7
Pudgy Abercrombie, Aliquippa 1984 735 4,603 6.3
Brian Chizmar, Swissvale 1985 754 4,544 6.0
Zaire Washington, Clairton 2007 586 4,539 7.7
Justin King, Gateway 2004 544 4,519 8.3
Brian Davis, Washington 1984 461 4,480 9.7
Blair Sweet, Wilmington 1988 653 4,451 6.8
Donte Valentino, California 2007 456 4,406 9.7
Essex Law, Rochester 1991 420 4,368 10.4
Jake Wickline, Riverside 2007 669 4,361 6.5
Lavar Arrington, North Hills 1996 711 4,357 6.1
Nick Kalcevic, Belle Vernon 2000 409 4,343 10.6
Warren Taylor, Western Beaver 2004 585 4,307 7.4
Ryan Mendel, Brentwood 2002 747 4,301 N/A 5.8
Trent Wissner, Blackhawk 1998 668 4,282 6.4
Lucas Heakins, Riverview 1998 668 4,276 6.4
Terrelle Pryor, Jeannette 2007 435 4,238 9.7
Brandon Williams, Valley 1997 414 4,214 10.2
Daine Williams, Beaver Falls 2003 560 4,210 7.5
Rocky Doman, Carmichaels 1999 649 4,145 6.4
Nathan Peters, California 1996 638 4,125 6.5
Todd DiBacco, Monaca 1999 572 4,079 7.1
Jerry Patterson, Chartiers-Houston 1969 458 4,075 8.9
John Fuhrer, Keystone Oaks 2007 759 4,038 5.3
Brad Tokar, Fort Cherry 1986 659 4,027 6.1
Lanfer Simpson, Waynesburg 2000 615 4,010 6.5
Steve Paskorz, Hampton 2006 610 4,000 6.6

Not a finisher?

I was at the Peters Township girls PIAA Class AAA first round match Tuesday against DuBois and received what I thought was a funny quote from Lauren Ray.

After Ray said the team has a "lot of good finishers," I said she was one of them.

She responded by saying, "I wouldn't consider myself one of those."

I don't know if she was simply being modest or what, but here's why it was funny: she had just scored four goals - including a first-half hat trick - in a state playoff game against a district champion. And they were scored in various ways. She headed in a cross from Ali Forbrich, converted a penalty kick by placing the shot just past the goalkeeper's fingertips, shot with enough force from 18 yards that even though the goalie got both hands to the shot it still went in, and banged in a rebound off a Shelli Spamer free kick. She scored her hat trick in a span of five minutes.

That's what I call a finisher.

Ray is a senior defender, but coach Pat Vereb plays her at forward when it's necessary. If memory serves correctly, she started at forward for the Indians' first two playoff games and again Tuesday. Against Mt. Lebanon in the WPIAL final, she started at defender and was later moved up to forward (she scored then too). I didn't see their semifinal game so I don't know where she started, but in a 1-0 overtime game, she had to have seen time at forward.

"She's a very very special athlete," Vereb said. "We situationally use her as needed based on the opponent and the score. She's very hungry in front of the net, very busy, very determined. She scores a lot of blue-collar goals."

Ray may not think of herself as a goal scorer, but her coach certainly does.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

On Election Day...

I'm positive many readers went to the polls today to cast a vote for our next president. Here at the Varsity Letters, we don't care what your political affiliation is (unless you start to push politics on this board) or who you voted for.

What we want to know is, if you were the WPIAL Executive Director, what would you attempt to change?

For me, I would cut the football playoffs from 16 teams per classification to 12 teams and allow the top four seeds to receive a first-round bye and a quarterfinal home game.

I would also add the games non-revenue sports teams as well as boys and girls basketball teams lost.

In addition, the football championships would no longer be played at Heinz Field.

Monday, November 3, 2008

APB, Where are they now?

Thanks to Observer-Reporter staff writer F. Dale Lolley and reader mailman, we learned that former Peters Township football standout Doug Fife is alive, well and working a sweet gig in Ohio.

This week, the Varsity Letters issued an All Points Bulletin for former Burgettstown head football coach Rich Druga.

The Blue Devils' head coach for three years, Druga's last year at Burgettstown came in 2000. A year later, Burgettstown made the playoffs. Druga then landed the head coaching job at Ambridge High School where he spent two years. He also spent time on the staff at West Allegheny.

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

Sunday, November 2, 2008

O-R Football Rankings

As we head into the WPIAL quarterfinals, here are the Observer-Reporter's WPIAL football rankings:

Class AAAA
1. Gateway 10-0
2. Bethel Park 10-0
3. McKeesport 8-2
4. North Hills 9-1
5. Penn Hills 7-3

Class AAA
1. Thomas Jefferson 9-1
2. Highlands 10-0
3. Blackhawk 9-1
4. New Castle 7-3
5. Hopewell 8-2

Class AA
1. Beaver Falls 10-0
2. Greensburg Central Catholic 10-0
3. Shady Side Academy 10-0
4. Jeannette 9-1
5. Ford City 9-1

Class A
1. Clairton 10-0
2. Monaca 9-1
3. Avonworth 10-0
4. Rochester 9-1
5. Western Beaver 7-3

Who's feeling worse this week - the Keystone Conference or the Centrury Conference? Both lost all four of its playoff games. That's hardly a surprise for the Keystone Conference, but the Century sent three teams to the playoffs with 8-1 records.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Super Soccer Saturday

Peters Township soccer, boys and girls, did something our playoff football teams failed to do. Win in the postseason.

The Peters Township girls advanced to the WPIAL Class AAA championship for the first time. The match, against Mt. Lebanon, was this afternoon/evening at Elizabeth Forward High School.

Mt. Lebanon jumped out to a three-goal lead and held on for a 3-2 victory. Mt. Lebanon won its sixth WPIAL soccer title.

The Peters Township boys are currently playing Fox Chapel in a rematch of 2003 title game. No score.

* Nick Wilcox draws a penalty in the box. Greg Weimer makes PK as PT takes a 1-0 lead at halftime.

PT up 2-0 after a Charlie Swisher goal. One minute remaining.

Friday night thoughts, final edition

Wow! What's up with football in Washington and Greene counties?

Shaler 16, Canon-McMillan 0.

Indiana 21, Trinity 6.

Blackhawk 35, Ringgold 7.

Beaver Falls 42, McGuffey 21.

North Catholic 14, Fort Cherry 7.

Rochester 48, Chartiers-Houston 22.

Monaca 56, Carmichaels 22.

Avonworth 35, California 8.

Western Beaver 38, Beth-Center 7.

That's 0-9. There's no sugarcoating. Not good.

The only area team to come away with a victory was Monessen, who advanced to the quarterfinals with a 24-7 victory over Serra Catholic. Add the 1-9 combined record with the mark of the past five years for local teams and it looks bad.

Local teams are now 16-61 in the postseason since 2003. That's a dismal .208 win percentage.

Is it safe to say area football has never been as down as it is right now? That's a tough question to answer but there are a lot of people who have been around the area for a long time that think so.

So, what's going on?

To be fair, a few teams didn't have much of a chance of advancing given their respective seeds. McGuffey would need the game of the ages to beat Beaver Falls. California, Chartiers-Houston, Carmichaels and Ringgold would have also needed a little Halloween hocus pocus to prevail.

Injuries also hurt a few teams. Canon-McMillan lost Mike Hull, Chad Hagan, Steve Roach and Butchie Cumpston during its loss to Shaler. Still, for a school of C-M's size, capable replacements are waiting to play.

"The bottom line is, no matter what you do schematically in football, you have to block and tackle. We did neither of those. We don't want to blame anything on injuries because we had veteran guys out there who didn't block and veteran guys who got run right through. That shouldn't have happened."

That's what Big Macs coach Guy Montecalvo told Observer-Reporter sports editor Chris Dugan following the game. Montecalvo could not be more correct. Not having Hull hurts, not blocking hurts more.

Injuries affect smaller schools more than bigger ones.

Beth-Center has played without sophomore fullback/linebacker Jeff Tarley for a couple weeks. Tarley is arguably the Bulldogs best player when healthy and his presence would have made a difference for Beth-Center. But can one player can't make up a 31-point margin?

"We got beat by a better team," said Beth-Center head coach Ed Woods following the game. "Plain and simple, they were a better team. No excuses, they just lined up and beat us. We had a very good season though. We have nothing to be ashamed of. We are a very young team and we will get right to work for next season"

Couldn't agree with Woods more. Area teams have nothing to be ashamed of, especially if they played to full effort. Still, I'm guessing a lot of local players are a little salty today.

I covered the Trinity at Indiana game and the Hillers did some things very well. Quarterback Andrew Steratore showed he can make difficult throws, while receivers Joe Havrilak and Alex Frey did their best to make plays. Trinity's troubles were key errors at the wrong times and the offensive line's inability to block well on the run. Trinity had a significant size advantage up front but Indiana clearly won the line of scrimmage on both sides of the football.

I can think of at least two screen passes that went for sizable gains which could have been touchdowns if the players downfield would have blocked.

So, the forum is over to our readers. What did you see last night? Why did the two counties not pick up one victory? What is wrong with local football?