Derry again draws Central Valley in opening round of WPIAL football playoffs
There were a few surprises that came out of the WPIAL football playoff pairings on Monday at the Double Tree Hotel in Green Tree.
But one thing that wasn’t a shock was who Derry will play in the opening round on Friday. The Trojans, seeded No. 2 in Class 3A, will host Central Valley, the team that upset No. 1 Aliquippa, 14-8, last week and the team the Trojans defeated, 33-20, in the opening round of the 2016 playoffs.
Derry (9-1), which finished in a three-way tie for the Big East Conference title with North Catholic and Elizabeth Forward, has rolled off four consecutive victories after a 25-22 loss at Elizabeth Forward.
Central Valley (5-5) started the season 0-4, but its only loss down the stretch was to Thomas Jefferson, the top team in Class 4A.
“We’re just starting to understand how we belong,” Central Valley coach Mark Lyons said. “We’re young, and it took us awhile to learn how to play the game. Our guys started to buy into the system after a 0-4 start. I’m proud of them.”
Neither coach attended the WPIAL playoff pairings meeting Monday night. Derry coach Tim Sweeney opted to stay back with his coaches and watch online.
Sweeney said both teams are a lot different than they were two years ago. He said the players should be excited to play at home.
“They earned the right to play at home with an outstanding season,” Sweeney said. “We know the routine, and we don’t have to travel. It’s the playoffs; you should be excited to play.”
Lyons agreed and doesn’t expect a letdown from his players after their shocking win over the Quips.
“It’s the playoffs. It’s what you work all season for,” Lyons said. “They have to be focused because you’re worked so hard.”
A family obligation is what kept Lyons from the meeting, and like Sweeney he’s starting to watch Derry on film.
A lot of people were shocked Derry defeated Central Valley in 2016. Lyons said Derry was well prepared.
“They’re good and coach (Sweeney) has the program headed in the right direction,” Lyons said. “They are well coached, do a lot of good things. They’re consistent in their approach and the alignment. Derry won’t beat itself.”
After starting the season with key injuries to running backs Colton Nemcheck and Justin Huss, and then losing running back Onreey Stewart in Week 3, the Trojans are getting healthy. All three backs have returned.
“Onreey did a great rehabbing and getting back,” Sweeney said. “We’re healthier now that we’ve been.”
Class A surprise
WPIAL executive director Tim O’Malley would not confirm that the committee kept a Clairton-Monessen matchup from occurring in the first round.
After a coin flip to determine the seeding from the Tri-County South, where West Greene earned the conference’s top seed and Monessen No. 2, the committee decided to put Monessen (7-2) against No. 1 Jeannette (10-0) and TCS third-place finisher California against No. 2 Clairton.
Monessen coach Mike Blainefield wasn’t disappointed with the move; in fact, he’s embracing it.
“They beat us last year, and I don’t know much about their talent,” Blainefield said. “But I know Jeannette is well-coached. They beat us last year (49-0), and the players want to play them again.”
Jeannette coach Roy Hall said he could see why the WPIAL seeded the way it did. His main concern is making sure his team is focused on the opponent.
“We talked to them earlier, and I told them that Freeport came to Jeannette and upset the team because they weren’t focused,” Hall said. “They have to realize if they don’t play well, it could be one-and-done.”
All the Class A games will be played on artificial turf. Jeannette is playing at Hempfield, Clairton at Elizabeth Forward, OLSH at Moon and West Greene at Waynesburg. Poor field conditions at Jeannette and West Greene were the reason those games were moved.
“I’m just happy that our administration and the Hempfield administration were able to work things out,” Hall said. “Hempfield is a great neighbor.”
Happy to be in
Greensburg Salem coach Dave Keefer and Latrobe’s Jason Marucco were making their first trips to the playoffs and glad to be at the annual pairings meeting.
Greensburg Salem (4-6) will travel to No. 2 South Fayette (9-1), a team it lost to 51-28 back on Sept. 14. The last time it reached the playoffs was in 2011.
“We had some self-inflicted wounds that game,” Keefer said. “The players will be familiar with their environment and what they like to do. We have to focus on what we do.”
The Golden Lions qualified for the playoffs with a solid 17-0 win at Indiana last week.
Latrobe (4-6) is playing in its first playoff game since 2009. The Wildcats travel to No. 2 Penn Hills (10-0), a team they lost to 50-13 on Aug. 31.
The other area teams in the playoffs are Penn-Trafford, Franklin Regional and Belle Vernon.
The No. 6 Warriors (9-1) host No. 11 North Hills (6-4), and No. 9 Franklin Regional (6-3) plays at No. 8 Bethel Park (6-3) in Class 5A. Franklin Regional and Bethel Park scrimmaged in the preseason.
Belle Vernon (8-1) received a No. 3 seed in Class 4A behind Thomas Jefferson and South Fayette and will host No. 6 Beaver (7-3).
Other top-seeded teams are Gateway (5A) and Shady Side Academy (2A).
All opening-round games start at 7:30 p.m.
The WPIAL championships for Class 6A, 4A, 3A and A will be Nov. 17, at Heinz Field.
The Class 5A title game is Nov. 23, at Norwin Knights Stadium.
The Class 2A final is Nov. 24, at Robert Morris’ Joe Walton Stadium.