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Football bracketology: Predicting the WPIAL playoff matchups

Written by Mike White on .

The WPIAL will announce playoff pairings Monday night, but I just grabbed a megaphone and I am ready today to announce Varsity Blog's playoff matchups right now. Is anyone listening - or reading?

But before the games, let's touch on a few things about the playoffs. The WPIAL has always kept teams away from a conference foe in the first round. But with six classifications this year, and with only two conferences in four of the classifications, WPIAL executive director Tim O'Malley said the league might do away with that practice. There is a possibility that conference foes could meet in the first round.

It's understandable, but O'Malley said the WPIAL football committee won't decide that until today.

Also, keep in mind that seedings sometimes are not "true" seedings because of teams having to play at home in the first round. For example, some might not think Fort Cherry would be a top 8 seed in Class A, but Fort Cherry will have a home game in the first round. Thus, the Rangers have to be in the top 8.

I did my brackets and matchups without conference teams meeting in the first round. Some seedings had to be adjusted slightly because of that. Others had to be adjusted because of the home games. But here goes:

CLASS 6A

(8) Norwin at (1) Central Catholic; (7) Hempfield at (2) North Allegheny; (6) Seneca Valley at (3) Mt. Lebanon; (5) Pine-Richland at (4) Bethel Park.

CLASS 5A

(8) Gateway at (1) West Allegheny; (7) North Hills at (2) Armstrong; (6) Upper St. Clair at (3) McKeesport; (5) Franklin Regional at (4) Woodland Hills.

You can definitely make the point that North Hills should be seeded eighth and Gateway seventh. But in order to stop two teams from the same conference meeting in the first round, I switched Gateway and North Hills.

CLASS 4A

(8) Montour at (1) Thomas Jefferson; (7) Ringgold at (2) South Fayette; (6) Belle Vernon at (3) Mars; (5) New Castle at (4) West Mifflin.

CLASS 3A

(8) South Park at (1) Aliquippa; (7) Apollo-Ridge at (2) Beaver Falls; (6) Mount Pleasant at (3) Keystone Oaks; (5) Central Valley at (4) Derry.

CLASS 2A

(16) South Side Beaver at (1) Steel Valley; (15) Freedom at (2) Washington; (14) Beth-Center at (3) Neshannock; (13) Serra at (4) Riverside; (12) Frazier at (5) East Allegheny; (11) Avonworth at (6) Chartiers-Houston; (10) Laurel at (7) Brentwood; (9) Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic at (8) Burgettstown.

CLASS 1A

(16) Avella at (1) Clairton; (15) Riverview at (2) Rochester; (14) Mapletown at (3) Jeannette; (13) California at (4) Northgate; (12) Shenango at (5) Bishop Canevin; (11) Springdale at (6) Our Lady of the Sacred Heart; (10) Sto-Rox at (7) Carmichaels; (9) Imani Christian at (8) Fort Cherry.

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Friday Night Rewind: What teams get home games .... wild-card stuff ..... that Pitt truck

Written by Mike White on .

Notes, playoff clinchings and anecdotes after the final Friday of the WPIAL regular season

Home games and wild cards

All but one of the WPIAL playoff spots are filled. That means 63 of 64 teams have clinched. Today's game between Western Beaver and Rochester will determine the 64th, the Class 1A "wild-card" team. If Western Beaver wins, then Western Beaver and Riverview will tie for the wild-card spot. But Western Beaver would win out with more Gardner Points, by virtue of the Rochester win. If Rochester defeats Western Beaver, then Riverview gets the wild-card spot.

Now for the home games in the first round of the playoffs. Half of the teams in the playoffs will play home games next week. In Class 6A, 5A and 4A, the top two finishers in each conference get a home game. In Class 3A, the three conference champs and one second-place team get home games. In Class 2A and 1A, the first- and second-place teams from each conference get a home game, plus two third-place teams.

Here are the teams that will have home games:

CLASS 6A - Central Catholic, North Allegheny, Mt. Lebanon, Bethel Park.

CLASS 5A - West Allegheny, Woodland Hills, Armstrong, McKeesport.

CLASS 4A - Thomas Jefferson, West Mifflin, South Fayette, Mars.

CLASS 3A - Keystone Oaks, Aliquippa, Derry, Beaver Falls.

CLASS 2A - Washington, Chartiers-Houston, Burgettstown, Neshannock, Riverside, Steel Valley, East Allegheny, Brentwood.

CLASS 1A - Rochester, Northgate, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Clairton, Jeannette, Bishop Canevin, Carmichaels, Fort Cherry.

I will have predicted playoff matchups on the Varsity Blog tomorrow.

Truckin' for Wade

Walking up the street to Jeannette's McKee Stadium last night, you couldn't help but notice a big 18-wheeler truck with "Pitt" script on the side and a Pitt football helmet. It's not often you see a gigantic truck parked right outside a high school stadium. This wasn't just a coincidence, maybe a Pitt fan's rig. It was Pitt's football equipment truck.

Pitt equipment truck

"Pitt called early in the week and wanted to know if they could bring their equipment truck and where they could put it," said Anthony DeNunzio, Jeannette's athletic director. "We said sure. I guess they just wanted a presence at the game."

A presence to show Lamont Wade? Chalk it up to maybe just a little recruiting tactic. Pitt is one of the finalists to get Wade, Clairton's ultra-talented defensive back (he also plays running back). So, did Wade and Clairton notice the truck?

"Oh, we noticed," Clairton coach Wayne Wade (Lamont's cousin) said with a laugh. "How could you not  notice? We noticed it when we were coming in."

Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi also was at the game and was on the field near the Clairton locker room afterward. He gave Wade's father, Carlton, a big hug after the game. 

But something else Lamont Wade noticed was Pitt's secondary troubles against Virginia Tech. He was asked about it and said everyone knows Pitt's secondary is struggling some and said, "That's something I'll look at."

Lamont Wade will make an official visit to Penn State next weekend. Honestly, though, the biggest thing on his mind right now is probably his right knee. Wade injured it in the first half of Friday's game and was bothered by it the rest of the night. He played sparingly on offense after the injury, but played much more on defense.

Wade will have the knee checked out this weekend. "Honestly, I just hope it's nothing serious," he said.

Clairton-Jeannette highlights

Here are highlights from the Post-Gazette Game of the Week with some comments from Lamont Wade, Wayne Wade - and a dancing Bear at the end.

 

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Friday Night Countdown: Neshannock's Antuono on verge of history ..... Where Are They Now feature

Written by Mike White on .

A look ahead to the final weekend of the WPIAL regular season. Tonight's Game of the Week will be Clairton at Jeannette. For updates, follow @mwhiteburgh on Twitter. Brian Batko @BrianBatko will be at Mt. Lebanon at Bethel Park, and Brad Everett @BREAL412 at Beaver Falls-Beaver. But first ...

Neshannock's Frank Antuono is on the verge of putting himself in the WPIAL history books.

Antuono is a senior quarterback who needs only 103 yards passing in tonight's game to become what is believed to be the second player in WPIAL history to throw for 5,000 yards and rush for 2,000 in a career. The only other member of the select club is Sto-Rox's Lenny Williams, who played from 2010-13 and had 8,508 yards passing and 3,051 rushing.

Antuono has 4,897 yards passing and 2,362 rushing. He has completed 290 of 488 and thrown for 54 touchdowns. And Antuono has gotten just about all of his yardage in three seasons. He was a defensive lineman and backup QB as a freshman when he threw for 48 yards and ran for 135.

Even if Antuono doesn't get to 5,000 yards passing tonight, he will still have at least one playoff game.

Antuono, by the way, is a Robert Morris recruit.

Dozen Predictions

Got a "dozen predictions to go" for lunch this time. Was 8-4 last week and season record is now 76-32 (.703 pct.).

CLAIRTON OVER JEANNETTE - Wow. Jeannette hasn't given up a point in six games and a touchdown in seven. Meanwhile, Clairton averages 55 points a game. Something will have to give. I say it will be Jeannette's undefeated record, although I can't see Clairton winning by a blowout in this one.

BEAVER OVER BEAVER FALLS - Beaver Falls is playing well. But Beaver has Darius Wise. Wise is the "X" factor in this one. If Beaver loses, should the headline be "Beaver falls to Beaver Falls?"

BETHEL PARK OVER MT. LEBANON - I like Mt. Lebanon's offense, but the defense has been suspect at times. Bethel Park could be a sleeper for the WPIAL playoffs.

OTHER TOP GAMES - North Allegheny over Pine-Richland. Thomas Jefferson over West Mifflin; Franklin Regional over Gateway; Blackhawk over Gateway; Keystone Oaks over Seton-LaSalle; Steel Valley over Brentwood; East Allegheny over Serra; Springdale over Greensburg Central Catholic; University Prep over Perry. 

Where Are They Now?

In our Varsity Xtra section in today's Post-Gazette, we had a separate section of "Where Are They Now" as part of our legacy series. We plan to do this once a season (fall, winter and spring), checking up on some top athletes of yesteryear. It always seems that people like to read about what the stars are doing nowadays. Check out these stories:

Brian Davis

At Washington High School, Brian Davis was the No. 1 high school football player in the country and was one of the greatest athletes ever in the WPIAL.

She is the Baltimore Ravens team doctor. But Leigh Curl was a tremendous basketball and softball player at North Hills High School who went on to a successful basketball career at UCONN.

She holds a number of jobs these days, including a TV sideline reporter. Above, Katie Miller talks with Clemson QB Deshaun Watson, who was attending a Western Carolina game this year. Earlier in the 2000s, Miller was the first three-time state champion in golf from the WPIAL.

He played at Ohio State and in the NFL for the Chicago Bears. But 45 years ago, Brian Baschnagel was the first running back in WPIAL history to run for 400 yards in a game while at North Allegheny.

As a senior at Mt. Lebanon, Vee Hightower was ranked one of the top 25 baseball players in the country, eventually went to Vanderbilt and was drafted by the Chicago Cubs. But he also was recognized as one of the top soccer players in the country at Mt. Lebanon and was a standout basketball player.

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Upon further review, Beaver Falls in good shape for the playoffs

Written by Mike White on .

Two additional classifications and a slightly different playoff system are in WPIAL football this year. There are things to work out. And earlier today, I had it wrong on the blog about Beaver Falls' playoff plight.

So Beaver Falls, listen up. Even with a loss to Beaver Friday, you are in good shape to make the playoffs as one of the third-place wild-card teams. But if Beaver wins, Central Valley is still fourth and out of the playoffs. That much is certain. Fourth-place teams are not eligible for the wild-card spot.

Now let's try to explain what was wrong about Beaver Falls earlier today. In Gardner Points, Beaver Valley Conference teams count all of their conference games, plus a game against the Interstate Conference. All of the Interstate games were not accounted for earlier today.

Under the Gardner Points system, a team gets 10 points for every conference win of a defeated team. In other words, if Team A beats Team B, and Team B has three conference wins, then team A gets gets 30 points. Because the Interstate and Allegheny conferences have eight teams and the Beaver Valley seven, the WPIAL decided the Beaver Valley teams would also count one game against the Interstate when determining the two third-place wild card teams that will make the playoffs.

Considering that system, Beaver Falls heads into this weekend with 100 Gardner Points. Valley and South Park might be the third-place teams from the other two conferences. Valley and South Park could all end up with 5-2 conference records. The next tiebreaker is Gardner Points. If that doesn't break the tie, WPIAL tiebreaker points are then applied.

While Beaver Falls has 100 Gardner Points, South Park has 80 and Valley 70. If Beaver Falls loses, and Valley and South Park win, it is likely Beaver Falls, Valley and South Park all end up with 110 Gardner Points. Then WPIAL tiebreaker points are applied. Tiebreaker points are based on comparative scores in conference games. Teams can get get up to 10 points for a win and lose as much as 10 in a loss. For example, a 7-0 win is worth 7 points and 14-0 win worth 10 points. 

In tiebreaker points, Beaver Falls is way ahead. Beaver Falls has 36 tiebreaker points, South Park 16 and Valley 8. Valley can't catch Beaver Falls. Thus, Beaver Falls looks like it will get in, no matter what. Then again, an upset like Seton-LaSalle beating Keystone Oaks, and also Valley losing to Freeport, and a few other things will throw a monkey wrench into the whole thing.

In summary, Varsity Blog would like to say "My Bad." The Gardner Points from earlier today were incorrect. 

 

 

 

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Five questions with Virginia Tech beat writer Andy Bitter

Written by Jenn Menendez on .

It’s the biggest game of the year for Pitt (5-2, 2-1 ACC) to-date on Thursday (yes, tomorrow) when Virginia Tech (5-2, 3-1) comes to town trying to retain control of the ACC Coastal Division. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. at Heinz Field. The game will be aired on ESPN. What better person to get some insight on the Hokies than from a beat writer who knows them well?

Here are five thoroughly answered questions by Virginia Tech beat writer Andy Bitter, who has covered the Hokies for the last five seasons at the Roanoke Times. You can find him on Twitter @AndyBitterVT or email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

1. How would you describe the major differences in this offense with new head coach Justin Fuente, and offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen? What are they best at? Where are the weaknesses?


Bitter: The Hokies were almost stuck in a time warp offensively for most of the first part of the century, and although the scheme was modernized a little under the previous coordinator Scot Loeffler, it was still a pro-style that hearkened back to older days, as you’d expect under Frank Beamer. Fuente and Cornelsen’s offense is like all the modern day hurry-up spreads that use multiple receivers on every play, eliminate positions like tight end and fullback for inside receivers and H-backs, hand it to a variety of players using all sorts of misdirection and can crank the pace at times. Tech hasn’t really gone as fast as Fuente’s offenses at Memphis did -- it’s still the first year in the scheme and adjusting to things, after all -- but there have been times when the Hokies have gone fast. It’s a major leap forward from an offense that a couple years ago ESPN analyst Todd McShay said was 10-15 years out of date.


Even though Fuente’s primary goal is to be a team that can run the ball and throw off play-action, it’s kind of been the opposite this year, up until last week against Miami. Quarterback Jerod Evans, a junior college transfer, has been everything the Hokies have hoped for, an accurate thrower who has been careful with his passes and can run when needed. It’s brought into play Tech’s standout trio of receivers, Isaiah Ford, Cam Phillips and Bucky Hodges. That’s the strength of the team.

But the key to this offense is getting the ground game going. It hasn’t really hit its stride often this year, finally getting into gear last week against Miami when the Hokies ran for a season-high 251 yards. In that game, running back Travon McMillian finally churned out some yards, Evans nearly had 100 yards and plenty of other players contributed. Until that game, though, the Hokies hadn’t run the ball with much consistency. Some of that falls on the line. Some of it falls on everyone else for making poor reads or not blocking well on the perimeter. It hasn’t been as bad as the last few years, but it has been nowhere close to what Fuente wanted. When this offense is really humming, it’s when Tech finds a good run-pass balance.

2. Explain to us how this Virginia Tech team could beat North Carolina and Miami in such convincing fashion, yet lose to Syracuse? From the outside, looking in, it's a strange pattern to grasp?

Bitter: It’s mystery to me too, although I have some theories. I thought Tech had closed the book on those kind of major letdown games, which were commonplace in the later Beamer years (see the East Carolina loss after upsetting eventual national champ Ohio State in 2014). But the Carrier Dome tripped up the Hokies like it did back in the teams’ Big East days. It’s hard to describe other than it’s just one of those places where Tech doesn’t play well and, bigger picture, was a clear-cut trap game, featuring a struggling Atlantic Division opponent marooned in a run of games against Coastal contenders UNC, Miami and Pitt. It’s possible the Hokies just overlooked the Orange. (And to credit Syracuse, it played pretty well in that game, hardly like the team that’s struggled to find its footing in the ACC.)

But that was really Virginia Tech’s first game in a hostile environment. The Battle at Bristol, though largely a Tennessee crowd, was still a neutral site game with tens of thousands of Hokies fans in the stands. North Carolina was a road environment rendered moot by Hurricane Matthew, with only the extremely brave (or insane) choosing to sit through that downpour. The Carrier Dome wasn’t full, but it was loud, especially when Syracuse got off to such a good start. The Hokies did not respond well, which makes you wonder how they’ll play at a place like Heinz Field, which historically has given them trouble.

3. It sounds like Bud Foster’s defense is once again resembling the defense from the team’s glory years. What stands out most to you, and how hard of a time will Pitt have running the ball against this front?

Bitter: It’ll be a challenge up front. That’s always Foster’s primary goal is to slow down a team’s running game and make it one-dimensional. Obviously it has varying success at that -- and Pitt has run the ball effectively at times against the Hokies in recent years -- but that’s where it starts every week. Really, only Tennessee has had much success on the ground against the Hokies this year, and even that was largely in part due to a running quarterback doing damage (if there’s a Kryptonite to Bud’s defense, it’s that). The front seven’s been much-improved against the run this year, a little bigger and more active on the line and more consistent at linebacker, where Andrew Motuapuaka has improved drastically and Tremaine Edmunds has had a breakout year. They probably haven’t faced an offensive line as good at Pitt’s this year, however, so this will be a challenge from a physical standpoint.

As for the strength of this team, Foster’s been good when he can get opponents in must-throw situations. If the Hokies are good on first and second down -- which they have been this year -- they can send the house at the quarterback. They sacked (Miami QB) Brad Kaaya 8 times last week. He’d been sacked only 7 times the first six weeks. Couple that pass rush with a secondary that’s doing more pre-snap shifts and playing more zone defense to create confusion and it’s been a much improved group from last season, when injuries and inexperience forced Tech to play almost exclusively man defense. Opponents identified that and picked it apart accordingly. That predictability isn’t there this year for the Hokies, which is what Foster’s groups were like back in their heyday when they led the nation in total defense.

4. QB Jerod Evans sounds like a handful for Pitt's defense, as a player adept in the passing game, and scrambling for yards. How would you assess his effectiveness this season, and his ceiling? In other words, is he continuing to get better?

Bitter: I think so. And part of that is simply because he’s only played 7 games in the Football Bowl Subdivision. A lot of this stuff he’s just doing and seeing for the first time, at least at this level. He certainly raises the ceiling for this offense, which hasn’t had someone running the show like this at Tech since Tyrod Taylor. And even then, Taylor wasn’t as accomplished of a passer as Evans until his senior year. Evans has 19 touchdowns to 2 interceptions, which, if he continues, will be among the best TD-to-INT ratios in school history. He’s been accurate, completing 62.9 percent of his passes. A Tech quarterback hasn’t done that since Bryan Randall in 2002. He’s also been prolific, on pace to shatter the Hokies’ single-season passing touchdown record by 11 if he keeps this up for 13 games. And that’s all before you get to his running skills. His 417 rushing yards are second on the team and he’s tied for the team lead with 3 rushing touchdowns.

Bottom line: the Hokies are ACC contenders because Evans brings something to the quarterback position that only Michael Vick, Randall and Taylor have for Tech in the last 17 years. Fuente has a touch with quarterbacks of all kinds. He coached Andy Dalton at TCU and helped develop Paxton Lynch into a first-round pick at Memphis of all places. He clearly can teach the position. Evans just seems to be his latest pupil, and the quarterback’s dual-threat skill set makes him especially dangerous in this offense.

5. Of the key injured players, who are you expecting might be back in the lineup and what kind of difference will they make?

Bitter: The two key guys that missed last week’s game were defensive end Ken Ekanem (upper extremity) and defensive tackle Nigel Williams (ankle). Ekanem was upgraded to probableon Tuesday’sinjury report after being questionable last week, so I’d imagine he’ll play. When healthy, he’s Tech’s best pass rusher off the edge, someone with 18.5 career sacks. Redshirt freshman Trevon Hill filled in admirably for him last week, getting the first 1.5 sacks of his career, but against an offensive line as physical and experienced as Pitt’s, the Hokies will need all the veteran leadership and bulk they can get up front. Ekanem brings both.

Williams is still questionable with an ankle injury, the same designation he had last week. I’d figure that after a week of rest, he’d have a decent shot of playing, and Foster said Monday that he thought both Ekanem and Williams would be good to go. The fact that he wasn’t upgraded Tuesday probably says that he’s truly a 50-50 shot, though. Fortunately for Tech, that’s one of its deepest positions. Woody Baron might be the team MVP right next to him at tackle. Sophomore Ricky Walker filled in well last week, and 330-pound redshirt freshman Tim Settle is gaining confidence each week. Even Steve Sobczak got in on the action last week against Miami. So while Williams being active would be a boost, the cupboard isn’t bare there for the Hokies.

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