The Varsity Letters
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Different players, same system for Mount Pleasant

James Duchi
Mt. Pleasant averaged almost 42 points per game in 2013, which included an Interstate Conference title and a WPIAL Class AA playoff victory.

The Vikings rolled to a perfect regular season record and defeated Wash High on the road. Mount Pleasant runs a spread offense with a wing-t philosophy that is very similar to Karns City's. They use several different running backs and are not afraid to let their quarterback run through the tackles.

Losing its two biggest pieces might change a few things. Running back Tyler Mellors, the school's all-time leading rusher, gained 1,738 yards and scored 29 touchdowns in 2013. The Vikings' quarterback, Ryan Gumbita, is also gone after throwing nine touchdowns and running for three more.

Head coach Bo Ruffner's system is run-first while using play-action to keep defenses off balance. Senior Nathan Pieszak takes over under center , while Ruffner will use a stable of running backs to help replace Mellors.

The Vikings are a program that never rebuilds, they reload. That is aided by a freshman program that runs the same offense as the varsity and even the youth coaches are teaching their players how to effectively run an option offense.

That familiarity makes the transition smooth after graduating players like Mellors and Gumbita. Mount Pleasant lost 18 other players to graduation, but have 18 returning seniors. The Vikings lost their top four rushers - Mellors, Ryan Ballew, Brett Fess and Gumbita.

The leading returner is junior Jake Adamrovich, who ran for 150 yards on 21 carries with four touchdowns. Trevor Salopek led the Vikings with 284 receiving yards, but will switch to running back to help with depth at the position.

This team still has speed and skill at the wide receiver positions with a small, but athletic offensive line. Their linemen will have trouble with McGuffey's which should use its strength to disrupt the option offense.

I did pick McGuffey to win this game. James Duchi is in for a breakout season. If he was not stuck behind Patrick Frey for the past two years, Duchi's name would be well-known throughout the WPIAL. My concern with the Highlanders is depth on the offensive line. They can not afford an injury there or at linebacker.

The return of Nathan Whipkey at quarterback with Adam Narigon at wide receiver is a great combination for an offense that will pass more than people expect. On paper, the Highlanders have the advantage over Mount Pleasant, which could translate to McGuffey's first win in the Interstate Conference.Read full post: Different players, same system for Mount Pleasant

Week One filled with big match ups in WPIAL football

The wait is almost over. High school football season is upon us as games kick off Friday night at fields across the country.

There are questions surrounding every team in the WPIAL, including all four defending champions. 

Nothing is guaranteed except a fresh start.

My weekly picks are in Thursday’s paper so I won’t spoil those, but I’ll break down the match ups for all 21 local teams.

Woodland Hills at Peters Township, 7:30 p.m.
This one is very intriguing. The Indians don’t have to travel to play the Wolverines, which is one of the toughest venues in the WPIAL.

Senior quarterback Cory Owen will keep Woodland Hills’ defense guessing with a run-first offense, but he can also throw the football. Look for Peters Township to force the Wolverines to stack the box then let Owen get to work.

I’m not backing away from picking PT to make the playoffs, but the Indians are vastly inexperienced and Woodland Hills is not the team to face in the season opener.

Canon-McMillan at Mt. Lebanon, 7:30 p.m.
The last four years, Canon-McMillan has finished with a combined record of 3-34. I like the talent on this year’s Big Macs team. The offensive line will be strong and Ahmad Morris Walker is a big play waiting to happen, but this conference is not for the faint of heart.

C-M is struggling to grasp its new spread offense and its personnel doesn’t exactly fit what they are trying to do. Mt. Lebanon has a lot returning, including both quarterbacks and running back Brian Ward. The Big Macs are going to struggle in this one.

Ringgold at Thomas Jefferson, 7:30 p.m.
Thomas Jefferson lost seven first-team all-conference players from last year’s team, including Michigan recruit Chase Winovich. Austin Kemp returns at running back for the Jaguars, but there is uncertainty surrounding the quarterback position.

That’s the complete opposite for Ringgold, which returns Nico Law under center, Chacar Berry at running back, a very capable group of receivers and a massive offensive line. If this was a home game, I’d pick the Rams to win by two touchdowns.

That’s how highly I think of their roster. They have size, speed and something every WPIAL team needs: a 
smart, accurate quarterback. Ringgold wins this one, but it will be close.

Belle Vernon at Trinity, 7:30 p.m.
I have no idea what to expect from Trinity this season. When I spoke to head coach Ryan Coyle during camp, he was only pleased with two of the Hillers’ linemen and wanted to see more on both sides of the ball.

Forrest Cullings is going to be great. That much is a given, but the Hillers need speed and a lot of it. The Big Nine Conference isn’t a walk in the park. Hosting a Belle Vernon team that has new head coach Matt Humbert will be a good measuring stick.

Burgettstown at Waynesburg, 7 p.m.
Burgettstown has lost 21 straight games and it doesn’t look like that will change any time soon. Waynesburg may have one of its best teams in almost a decade, but depth will be an issue. One injury can cripple the Raiders.

I’m looking forward to seeing Waynesburg compete with Wash High and McGuffey, but a game against Burgettstown isn’t a true test. The Blue Devils need to improve and fast.

Charleroi at Southmoreland, 7 p.m.
The Cougars are going to score a lot of points. The spread offense will be successful with Matt Carr under center, but how good is the defense?

This is a perfect opening game for new head coach Donnie Militzer and the Cougars. Southmoreland’s offense features one of the top running backs in Class AA in Jake Pisula, who rushed for 1,609 yards on 280 attempts last year.

If Charleroi is going to win, stopping Pisula is critical. A win here could say a lot about Militzer’s goal of the Cougars making the playoffs.

Derry at Washington, 7 p.m.
Derry was awful in Class AAA last season. The Trojans have not had a winning season in 14 years and they gave up 56.3 points per game in 2013. A new coach may change the course, but it’s not going to happen overnight.

Wash High has one of the strongest rushing attacks in the WPIAL with a defense that is going to surprise a lot of people. That’s a formula for a one-sided game.

McGuffey at Mt. Pleasant, 7 p.m.
This was one of the most difficult games to pick this week. McGuffey’s spread offense is going to run the ball effectively with James Duchi and Nathan Whipkey’s return at quarterback will stabilize the passing game.

They’ll need to mix in play action and capitalize on the Vikings’ mistakes as Mt. Pleasant returns just three starters on both sides of the ball. On the other hand, the Vikings are a very quick team that runs its offense with precision.

Like Ringgold’s matchup with TJ, this game will say a ton about how both teams stack up with their conference rivals this season.

East Allegheny at South Fayette, 7 p.m.
East Allegheny’s young offensive line against South Fayette’s disruptive defense is what will immediately stand out. Yes, Brett Brumbaugh and the offense will put on a clinic, but I want to see the Lions’ defense in action.

People do not realize how important Zach Walker, Spencer Girman and Ben Berkovitz were to the group in 2013. Those three were as disruptive of defensive linemen you will find in the WPIAL.

 Avonworth at Chartiers-Houston, 7 p.m.
The Buccaneers are going to be an interesting team to follow. Alec Ferrari is back at quarterback and is one of the better pure athletes in the area. Spencer Terling is only going to improve and Terry Fetsko’s teams are always competitive.

Not having Miles Williamson is the biggest loss for C-H, but AJ Meyers could be a big play threat for the Bucs this season.

Avonworth’s only two losses in 2013 came against North Catholic and will have a reliable quarterback. I’m not going to sit here and pretend like I’ve seen the Antelopes play, but the roster and experience tips the scale in their favor.

Fort Cherry at OLSH, 8 p.m.
One of the biggest mistakes during WPIAL realignment was putting Fort Cherry in the Black Hills. Travel is going to be incredibly tough and having to play a game at Robert Morris at 8 p.m. is the first example of that.

Alex Babirad is a threat to go the distance every time a pass is thrown his way, but can Anthony Panizza execute Jim Shiel’s offense with so many new pieces and inexperience? I do think the Rangers are going to run the ball effectively, but defense will be the key.
OLSH returns its quarterback and running back from a 5-5 season in the Big Seven Conference.

Monessen at Greensburg Central Catholic
Monessen has size and speed, but not much else. There is very little experience on this roster outside of Noah Rullo and Lavelle Rush. This will be a year of transition for the Greyhounds. They depended so much on Justice Rawlins, Clintell Gillaspie and Javon Brown in 2013 that a transition won’t be seamless.
Numbers are also an issue, which is strange for Monessen.

Avella at Frazier, 7 p.m.
I am not going to count the Eagles out of any game this season. Santino Paris is the most proven quarterback in the Tri-County South and if last season taught me anything, it’s never overlook Avella.

That being said, Frazier is a tough place to play and this game’s outcome will be dictated in the trenches. I know Avella was struggling to find big bodies to block for Paris and injuries depleted their roster to just 20 over the last few weeks.

Bentworth at Carmichaels, 7 p.m.
I almost didn’t include this game on the list because Ron Skiles refused to divulge any information about this year’s team. No one knows a thing about the Bearcats outside of Bentleyville.
The Mikes lose their best senior class in years, but there’s still talent at Carmichaels. This won’t be close.

Beth-Center at Mapletown, 7 p.m.
This is the game of the week in Class A. The Bulldogs are loaded on both sides of the ball. If they can find good play at quarterback, they’ll go undefeated in the regular season, but the Maples could catch them off guard in week one.

Jefferson-Morgan at West Greene, 7 p.m.
No one knows who is starting at quarterback for Jefferson-Morgan. It’s not Rece Henneman, which is going to make this a long season for the Rockets. West Greene is primed for a breakout year in the Tri-County South, which is depleted after most teams lost their best talent.

Read full post: Week One filled with big match ups in WPIAL football

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