The first day of the high school football season in Western Pennsylvania is Sept. 4, but a set of five games, beginning the morning of Sept. 5 in Wheeling (W.Va.) Island Stadium, will be the highlight of the weekend.
Three of the best teams in WPIAL Class AAAA – Central Catholic, McKeesport and Woodland Hills – are participating, and each team has drawn a formidable opponent.
Central Catholic (8-3 last season) will meet defending Ohio D-V state champion Youngstown Ursuline (15-0) in a game tentatively scheduled for 6 p.m. McKeesport (9-3) will play St. Joseph’s Prep of Philadelphia (8-4) at noon, and Woodland Hills (4-6, but making great strides toward WPIAL title contention) gets D-IV Ohio runnerup Steubenville (14-1) at 3.
High school football in Ohio is divided into six classifications, with Division I carrying the largest schools.
Woodland Hills coach George Novak appears to have the toughest assignment.
Steubenville, which has won every regular-season game for the past six years and state titles in 2004 and 2005, has 15 starters, including Division I quarterback Dwight Macon, returning from one of the best teams in school history. Macon, the D-IV co-player of the year, amassed more than 3,200 total yards and 40 touchdowns last season, passing for 2,424 and 28, with only four interceptions, and rushing for 837 and 12.
It’s no small school, either. Steubenville will move to D-III this season.
But Woodland Hills might have one of its strongest teams in a few years, with Division I recruits Khaynin Mosley-Smith and Rich Gray on the defensive line and running back Dom Timbers, who has verbally committed to Syracuse. Mosley-Smith, a 6-foot-1, 287-pound tackle, gave a verbal promise to Pitt, and Gray, a 6-1, 252 end, has an offer from Ohio and interest from Pitt.
Central Catholic also gets a tough test for its opener.
Youngstown Ursuline won its second state championship last season, knocking off traditional power Massillon Washington, Warren Harding, Youngstown Mooney, and Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary. It also scored playoff victories against previously unbeaten Kirtland and Findlay Liberty-Benton.
Many key players graduated, but Ursuline will be strong at the skill positions.
Central Catholic has lost two good running backs in the past two years, Andrew Ehrenberg to Peters Township and Timbers. But D.J. Myers, who can play running back, wide receiver, linebacker and cornerback, looks to be one of the best players in the WPIAL.
Another tough one,” Central Catholic coach Terry Totten said. “Let’s do it. We are not afraid to line up against anybody in battle.”
NO-HUDDLE AT SENECA VALLEY
Seneca Valley coach Don Holl is a smart guy, with a political science degree from the U.S. Naval Academy and a reputation as one of the most successful coaches in western Pennsylvania.
He also is not one to back down from a challenge. In fact, he built himself one in his first year at Seneca Valley, spending the summer installing a strict no-huddle offense.
The offense is dramatically different from what most Seneca Valley players are accustomed to, but it worked for Holl the past four seasons at Erie Cathedral Prep, with 36 victories in 50 games and three District 10 Class AAAA championships.
Seneca Valley has struggled for a long time, reaching the playoffs only twice this decade. And the immediate future doesn’t look bright. Quarterback C.J. Brown and wide receiver Matt Plautz graduated, taking with them one of the best pass-catch combinations in the WPIAL, and the line returns little experience and size.
But the no-huddle will, at least, generate excitement and maybe cause some preparation headaches for Quad North coaches.
NEW COACH AT WASHINGTON
Mark Gaither, formerly of Bethel Park and Ringgold, is the new basketball coach at Washington High School. He replaces Ron Faust, who guided Washington to 520 victories in 28 seasons and led the team into the PIAA semfinals this year.
Gaither was 19-28 the past two seasons at Bethel Park, which won the WPIAL Class AAAA title in 2007 with nine seniors. He was 27-45 at Ringgold where he replaced longtime coach Phil Pergola.