Westmoreland County High School Football Week Zero Preview

The season begins Friday with several local rivalry games

Fri Aug 26, 2022 - 12:39AM

Sean Meyers Sean Meyers
Hempfield Area and Greensburg Salem meet for the 57th time in history. (Photo by: www.westernpasports.com)Hempfield Area and Greensburg Salem meet for the 57th time in history. (Photo by: www.westernpasports.com)

Last Updated: Fri Aug 26, 2022 - 12:54AM

For the vast majority of teams in the WPIAL, the football season kicks off this weekend with Week Zero. In Westmoreland County, all but Franklin Regional and Belle Vernon elected to play a game, while the Panthers and Leopards will instead utilize a second scrimmage. Here’s a closer examination of all of the county matchups, many of which pit rival schools against one another.

Hempfield Area at Greensburg Salem – 7 p.m.

Pregame at 6:30 p.m. on WSN Video - WATCH LIVE

WSN Broadcasters: Sean Meyers and Roger Downs

About the Spartans: Hempfield Area won two of its first three games in 2021, but dropped its final seven contests, all in conference play. The Spartans have dropped down from Class 6A to 5A, while simultaneously returning almost every key contributor from last year’s squad. While offensive and defensive lineman Daniel Sierk, now at Bucknell, was a notable graduation, top passer Jake Phillips, top rushers Gino Caesar and Eli Binakonsky, and leading receiver Ian Tuffs are all back in the fold. Phillips, a senior, passed for 1,145 yards, nine touchdowns, and eight interceptions last year, connecting on 96-of-192 attempts. Caesar, meanwhile, compiled 715 yards and four scores on the ground, while Tuffs hauled in 38 receptions for 468 yards and four touchdowns. Binakonsky flashed in limited opportunities as a running back in 2021, as he rushed 41 times for 298 yards, while Daniel Katonka, Keiran Lippman, and Tyson Gregory all proved capable receivers. Defensively, Binakonsky paced the team in tackles at linebacker, while fellow LB Anthony Vallano ranked third. The Spartans were porous on that side of the ball, though, allowing 38.4 points per game. Mike Brown is in his second season guiding the program.

About the Golden Lions: Greensburg Salem produced a four-game winning streak early last season, but the Golden Lions sputtered down the stretch, dropping four of their last five, including the final two games to narrowly miss the playoffs in Class 4A. A drop down to 3A should boost their playoff odds, but the Golden Lions have some big voids to fill, especially in the passing game. Prolific QB Hayden Teska has graduated and is now playing at Seton Hill after he was 135-for-280 passing for 2,137 yards, 20 touchdowns, and a dozen interceptions last campaign. His top target was Cody Rubrecht, who ranked near the top of the WPIAL in the regular season with 48 receptions for 1,010 yards, as well as 13 scores. Now, Rubrecht shifts back to his natural position of quarterback, while Christian Hostetler, who caught 19 passes for 237 yards, and Jerome Wallish are his top receivers. Leading rusher Rashad Canady returns, but appears to be an X factor, while Kai Brunot has earned a chance for more carries. The loss of Billy McChesney looms large in the trenches, but younger brother Christian McChesney will be an anchor, along with Kaleb Riggs and Ayden Thompson. Head coach Dave Keefer enters his 10th season at the helm.

About the Matchup: Keyed by a dominant fourth quarter, Hempfield Area prevailed at home 29-14 last year. Greensburg Salem last prevailed in the series in 2011, a 34-14 triumph. The teams remain separated by two classifications, with the Spartans now in 5A, and the Golden Lions in 3A.

Upper St. Clair at Norwin – 7 p.m.

Pregame at 6:30 p.m. on WSN Video - WATCH LIVE

WSN Broadcasters: Jack Ridenour and Tim McCabe

About the Panthers: Last season, Upper St. Clair compiled a 4-1 record in conference play, and qualified for the WPIAL 5A playoffs, the 22nd straight postseason berth. The Panthers fell to Fox Chapel Area 13-10 in the first round, however, finishing with a mark of 6-5 overall. USC returns its primary quarterback, Brady Erdos, who threw for 817 yards and seven touchdowns, but he was mistake-prone, with nine interceptions. Mateo Cepullio, who also took snaps at QB and led the team in receptions, has graduated, but Aidan Besselman, who paced the Panthers in receiving yards, returns to the fold. Upper St. Clair will need to fill the void left by the graduation of Ethan Hiester, who led the squad with 638 rushing yards and tied Cepullio for a team-high eight touchdowns. Mike Junko serves as the head coach for USC.

About the Knights: Norwin narrowly missed the postseason last year, finishing 4-6 overall, and 2-5 in the conference, but losing out on a tiebreaker in 6A. The Knights hope to carry over some momentum after winning their final two games of 2021 and dropping down to 5A this campaign. Gone from that squad are QB Luke Levendosky, who threw for 1,090 yards and led the team with 522 yards rushing, as well as Dom Barca, who ranked second in both rushing and receiving yards. With former Hempfield Area head coach Rich Bowen now serving as the offensive coordinator, the Knights will employ a triple-option attack at times, and top receiver Jackson Pons (33 receptions for 457 yards) could see most of his snaps at QB. Christian Beck is expected to shoulder the load at running back, along with Kai Weems, while tight ends Noah Vogel and Anthony Petrulo could see plenty of targets through the air. Joey Castle, who made four field goals and 16 extra points, is a top kicker in the area, and also ranks as one of the best punters in the country. Longtime head coach Dave Brozeski remains at the helm of the Knights.

About the Matchup: Both teams now reside in 5A, with Norwin in the Big East Conference, and USC in the Allegheny Six. The teams last did battle in 2011, as USC cruised to a 42-0 victory.

Derry Area at Greater Latrobe – 7:30 p.m.

Pregame at 7:00 p.m. on WSN Video - WATCH LIVE

WSN Broadcasters: John Flickinger and Bob Lasinski

About the Trojans: Derry Area had a season to forget last year, going winless and being outscored 494-69. Former head coach Vince Skillings was dismissed during the season, and Mike Arone, who helped oversee the team during the final two games, was named the new head coach in the offseason. Perhaps his biggest accomplishment so far has been to grow the roster size, boosted by the return of several players who sat out last year, including Jordan Flack. Blake Revoir won the preseason competition at quarterback, while fellow candidates Flack and Mason Beeman have positional versatility on offense and will play running back and tight end, respectively. The focal point, though, will be junior running back Ahmad Ward. Despite graduating the majority of their starting offensive line, the Trojans will have some size up front, including Maddox Bush. Dom Patrick will be vital on both sides of the ball this season for Arone. The Trojans slide down to Class 2A.

About the Wildcats: Greater Latrobe went 3-7 last year, missing the playoffs in 5A. However, the Wildcats lost four games by nine points or fewer, squandering fourth-quarter leads on multiple occasions. This season will look drastically different, as the Wildcats drop to 4A, and former Penn-Trafford assistant Ron Prady replaced Jason Marucco. Additionally, GL must replace its top passer, rusher, and receiver from 2021. Sophomore John Wetzel will get the nod at QB, while Pittsburgh Central Catholic transfer Robert Fulton should make a significant impact at running back. Receiver Kollin Stevens and tight end Corey Boerio, who played several games at QB last year, will also be vital parts of the offense, while Wyatt Held and Dan Calabrace are key offensive lineman. On defense, Fulton could be a game wrecker at defensive end, and Boerio is the anchor at linebacker.

About the Matchup: Greater Latrobe dominated the contest last year, prevailing 61-0. The roles were reversed the last time Derry Area won, as the Trojans dominated the Wildcats 45-15 in 2018.

Burrell at Jeannette – 7 p.m.

Pregame at 6:30 p.m. on WSN Audio - LISTEN LIVE

WSN Broadcasters: Brent Whigham and Anthony DeNunzio

About the Buccaneers: Burrell won just three games overall, but two straight conference victories to wrap up the regular season allowed the Bucs to qualify for the WPIAL 3A playoffs. From there, Burrell was overmatched by Mount Pleasant Area, 41-7. Graduated running back Caden DiCaprio carried the offense at times, as he registered 1,273 yards on the ground and 14 scores. In his absence, it could be running back by committee, as Devin Beattie, Antonio Cook, Mason Jones, and others are all in the mix for carries. Additionally, Chase Fenner returns at QB, but threw sparingly in 2021. Multi-year starters Ian Quinn and Aaron Mele will be the top lineman for Burrell. Shawn Liotta, noted as an offensive guru, is in his fifth season leading the Buccaneers.

About the Jayhawks: Jeannette’s 2021 was almost unbelievable, as the historic program was ravaged by transfers, went just 1-9, and scored only 54 points all season. Legendary coach Roy Hall, who guided Jeannette to WPIAL titles and a state championship, retired following the season, opening the door for Jeannette grad Thomas Paulone to take the reins. A large freshman class has helped bolster the roster size, but the Jayhawks don’t have many proven players back in the fold. With QB Tyler Horne graduated, Payton Molter looks like the choice to take over behind center. Michael Mason, who led the team in carries in 2021, and Noah Sanders, who sat out last year, should give the team a couple of playmakers on offense. Additionally, Nick Stuchell looks like a promising underclassman on the offensive line.

About the Matchup: Burrell, which dropped to 2A, resides in the Allegheny Conference, while Jeannette plays in the 1A Eastern Conference. The teams last squared off in the 2011 WPIAL Class AA first round, as Jeannette rolled 46-14.

Penn-Trafford at Canon-McMillan – 7 p.m.

About the Warriors: Penn-Trafford had the best season in program history, winning the first WPIAL and PIAA titles in 50 years as a district. The Warriors won their final 11 games, including a 24-21 victory against Moon Area in the district title game, and an upset of Imhotep Charter 17-14 in overtime in Hershey. Arguably the two most important players in that run have moved on, though, as running back Cade Yacamelli and QB Carter Green graduated. Yacamelli, now playing at Wisconsin, compiled 1,866 yards rushing, a team-leading 21 receptions for 351 yards, and 29 touchdowns. Green, meanwhile, passed for 1,265 yards and 12 touchdowns, rushed for 1,155 yards, and scored 15 times. Similarly named Conlan Greene, a Temple commit, is likely to take over at QB, shifting from tight end, while Tommy Kalkstein could also see snaps behind center. If he’s not playing quarterback, Kalkstein will be among the top receiving options, along with Jake Otto and Daniel Tarabrella, while Owen Demeri and Tasso Whipple are vying to earn reps at running back. The offensive line should be a strength again, as Joe Enick and Zach Tomosovich are top returners. The loss of kicker Nate Schlessinger looms large, as he made 64 extra points and 11 field goals, including the game winner in the PIAA championship. John Ruane, regarded as one of the best coaches in the WPIAL, remains at the helm of the Warriors.

About the Big Macs: Canon-McMillan finished 2-5 in the conference, but won a tiebreaker to qualify for the 6A playoffs. The Big Macs came up short against North Allegheny 49-26, though, to conclude the season at 4-7, finishing on a five-game skid. Prolific QB Michael Evans returns after he connected on 101-of-214 passes for 1,596 yards, 13 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions last campaign. Although the graduation of leading rusher Ryan Angott is notable, Austyn Winkleblech appears poised for a breakout season at receiver. Mike Evans, the father of the QB, enters his eighth season leading the Big Macs.

About the Matchup: Canon-McMillan is a 6A team, while Penn-Trafford calls the 5A Big East Conference home. The teams have never met before.

Kiski Area at Plum – 7 p.m.

About the Cavaliers: It was a tale of two halves of the season for Kiski Area in 2021, as the Cavs won their first five games, but went just 1-4 down the stretch in conference play, missing the postseason. Among the setbacks were narrow defeats to North Hills and Pine-Richland. Division I lineman Brandon Lawhorn-Moore is a massive loss, literally and figuratively, while the top passer, top two rushers and top two receivers have also graduated. With the Cavs dropping to Class 4A, Lebryn Smith will take over at QB, while Dom DiNinno is likely to emerge as a top receiver, and Braden Mika and Jack Crider are battle-tested lineman. Sam Albert remains as the head coach for Kiski Area.

About the Mustangs: After a dreadful first half of the season that included four losses and a lone victory that was later changed for a forfeit loss, Plum made a surge to win three games and qualify for the playoffs. Playing against conference champion Hampton in the playoffs, the Mustangs narrowly fell, 14-13. Some of the top skill players are back for the Mustangs, as accomplished running back Eryck Moore looks to add to his resume after rushing for 1,037 yards and scoring 10 touchdowns, while QB Sean Franzi returns after passing for 1,184 yards and 12 scores. Although top receiver Logan Brooks has moved on, Darian Nelson ranked second among receivers as a freshman in 2021. Plum will bump up to Class 5A this cycle. Tenth-year head coach Matt Morgan continues to guide his alma mater.

About the Matchup: The teams last met as conference foes in 2017, a 9-6 victory for the Mustangs.

Greensburg Central Catholic at Mount Pleasant Area – 7 p.m.

About the Centurions: Greensburg Central Catholic went 6-5 last year, but the mark was a bit deceiving, as GCC went toe-to-toe with some of the best teams in all of Class 1A. The Centurions’ three conference losses came against WPIAL Class 1A Champion Bishop Canevin, conference champion Clairton, and Leechburg, all by seven points or fewer. After qualifying for the playoffs, Greensburg Central Catholic was a shell of itself in a postseason loss to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, as five starters were ineligible, while the team also mourned the death of two assistant coaches earlier in the week. The talent is apparent this year, as QB Tyree Turner is back in the mix after splitting time in 2021 and passing for 875 yards and eight scores. Nate Dlugos, who also saw time at QB, has shifted full time to receiver after he led the team in receptions and receiving yards in limited opportunities last season. He’ll join Amari Mack, who has garnered Division I interest, and promising freshman Samir Crosby as receivers, while leading rusher Jaydin Canady and Da’sjon Craggette will get most of the touches in the backfield. Ryan Kimmel and Elijah Morgan-Washington are key linemen for GCC. Marko Thomas enters his second year at the helm of the Centurions.

About the Vikings: Mount Pleasant Area scored an elusive playoff victory last year, smashing Burrell 41-7 in the WPIAL Class 3A first round. However, the Vikings were overmatched in the quarterfinals, falling to Avonworth 49-7 to finish at 6-5 overall (7-5 if a no-contest against Brownsville Area is considered a Mount Pleasant forfeit win). Although QB Tyler Reese returns, he’ll shift to receiver after passing for 431 yards and four touchdowns. In his place, Cole Chatfield will take the reins. As a freshman, he saw time in several contests, including the playoff triumph. Running back Aaron Alakson will be a significant loss, but Robbie Labuda returns after pacing the Vikes with 1,004 yards on the ground and 13 total scores in 2021. The Vikings boast some experience on the line, as William Eicher and Micah Roadman are among the returning starters. Head coach Jason Fazekas is in his sixth year leading Mount Pleasant Area.

About the Matchup: The Vikings play in the Class 3A Interstate Conference, while the Centurions reside in the Class 1A Eastern Conference. The previous meeting between the teams took place as conference opponents in 2013, as the Vikings secured a 19-3 win.

Southmoreland at McGuffey – 7 p.m.

About the Scotties: Southmoreland enjoyed a banner year in 2021, returning to the postseason for the second time in three years, and hosting its first playoff game. However, the Scotties fell to East Allegheny 36-11 in that contest, finishing with a mark of 7-4. Changes have been aplenty during the offseason, though. After successful head coach Dave Keefer resigned, Ron Frederick was slated to guide the program. He died unexpectedly, though, and the team will honor him throughout this season. Tim Bukowski, the former offensive coordinator, now leads the Scotties, and he must replace the vast majority of offensive contributors. With the graduation of QB Anthony Govern, who also led the team in rushing, Kadin Keefer takes over as signalcaller. The graduation of top receivers Isaac Trout, JJ Bloom, and Josh Bass also loom large, while newcomer Ty Keffer and Wyatt Richter will see snaps at receiver, and Tray Whetsel and Cameren Phillips are among the players jockeying for carries.

About the Highlanders: McGuffey made a playoff appearance in Class 2A, but fell to Laurel 41-2 in the first round, finishing with a record of 5-6 in a rare losing season. The Highlanders return several key components, though, as QB Phillip McCuen is back after passing for 452 yards and six scores, while also ranking second in rushing with 571 yards. The leading rusher, Kyle Brookman, who compiled 707 yards on the ground and a team-best 14 touchdowns, also is back, as is Ethan Dietrich. Longtime coach Ed Dalton continues to oversee the program.

About the Matchup: The Scotties rolled to a 47-22 triumph last year. In 2019, though, the Highlanders prevailed 55-28 in a conference battle.

Armstrong at Valley – 7 p.m.

About the River Hawks: Armstrong went 8-4 last season, including the program’s first playoff win. Quarterback Cadin Olson, a Penn commit, was the catalyst, as he threw for 2,501 yards, 28 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions on 189-of-290 attempts, while also leading the team with 830 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground. Also back is top receiver Isaiah Brown, who caught 56 passes for 906 yards and scored nine touchdowns. Head coach Frank Fabian continues to lead Armstrong.

About the Vikings: Valley went 2-8 last year, with those triumphs coming in consecutive weeks against Derry Area and Yough. The offense was completely dormant in many of the setbacks, though, as Valley was shut out four times, and held to nine points or fewer in three other defeats. Veteran head coach Muzzy Colosimo stepped down after the season, and filling the void is Dave Heavner, a Valley alum who previously coached at Burrell and Kiski Area. Tristin Goodwin is expected to earn the nod at quarterback, while Xavier Wilson could see carries in the backfield.

South Allegheny at Yough – 7 p.m.

About the Gladiators: South Allegheny won four games last year, all in conference play, and thus made the WPIAL Class 3A playoffs. However, the Gladiators were shut out by Keystone Oaks 34-0 in the first round, finishing at 4-7. Former head coach Frank Cortazzo has since been replaced by Darwin Manges, who was previously at Ringgold. While leading rusher and receiver Kavan Markwood has graduated, quarterback Eric Wehrer returns after throwing for 431 yards and four scores in 2021. Dashawn Carter, a Youngstown State commit, should create havoc from his defensive end position.

About the Cougars: Yough sputtered to a mark of 1-9 last year, with the lone victory at the expense of winless Brownsville Area. In their losses, the Cougars averaged just 5.2 points per game. There have been significant changes in the program this offseason, though, as Yough alum Benny Hoffer was named the head coach, replacing Chris Chunko. The Cougars, who dropped to 2A, will also shift Gavin Roebuck from quarterback to receiver, while Raidon Kuroda assumes the QB duties. Ian Sarver will be a top option in the running game, while JJ Waller and newcomer Cole Keller could be threats at receiver.

About the Matchup: The teams played last year as conference foes in the 3A Interstate, as South Allegheny dominated 56-8.

Ligonier Valley at Springdale – 7 p.m.

About the Rams: Ligonier Valley won eight games in 2021, as they prevailed in all five nonconference games to start the season, but lost to Steel Valley, and with a depleted roster, forfeited to Serra Catholic in the following week. Still, the Rams qualified for the WPIAL Class 2A playoffs for the first time since their return to the district, but fell short to South Side Beaver 34-14 in the first round. Haden Sierocky threw for 388 yards and five scores before suffering an injury, as Broderick Schreyer filled in and passed for 473 yards and seven scores. Both could see time behind center this year, while Sierocky also saw reps at running back after returning from injury. The Rams must fill the void left by the graduation of top rusher Nick Beitel and top pass catcher Matthew Marinchak, though. Entering his 19th season, Ligonier Valley’s Roger Beitel is the longest-tenured football head coach in Westmoreland County.

About the Dynamos: Springdale posted a winning season at 7-5, including a lopsided playoff victory against West Greene in the Class 1A first round. However, the Dynamos fell to Rochester in the quarterfinals. Following the season, head coach Seth Napierkowski stepped away from the program, and was replaced by Ryan Tempalski, previously an assistant at Bentworth. With 17 players from last year graduated, including QB Legend Ausk, top rusher Logan Dexter, and leading receiver John Utiss, the Dynamos lack experience at key spots. Chase Weihrauch, who ranked third in receiving yards, will be a focal point offensively.

About the Matchup: The Rams compete in the Class 2A Allegheny Conference, while Springdale is a member of the 1A Eastern Conference.

Monessen at Washington – 7 p.m.

About the Greyhounds: Monessen finished 4-7 last campaign, which included a playoff loss to Cornell 33-0. The Greyhounds enjoyed a three-game surge during the season, and rebounded nicely after forfeiting several games the previous year. While talented running back Anthony Crews left the district, Lorenzo Gardner returns and could see time at both QB and receiver, while Dan Dozier is also in contention for snaps at quarterback. Wade Brown enters his second year at the helm of Monessen.

About the Little Prexies: Washington posted a stellar record of 9-1 last year, but the season was disjointed. The Little Prexies were undefeated during the regular season, but won twice by forfeit, and had another game postponed during a four-week stretch. Subsequently, Washington lost to New Brighton 21-20 in the WPIAL 2A first round. Quarterback Davoun Fuse, a Rutgers commit, returns after throwing for 713 yards and 11 scores, while adding a team-high 14 touchdowns on the ground. Longtime head coach Mike Bosnic continues to lead the program.