Wednesday, August 27, 2014

2014 City League Preview

    The 95th campaign of Pittsburgh City League football begins this Friday night with a few twists and turns for this season.  There is a coaching change at Perry, and if you look at the schedule of four City League teams, you’d swear that you were seeing double.  
    Careful, gentle reader, before you make that appointment to see your friendly neighborhood eye doctor, let me, your faithful City League Advocate allay your fears.  No, you are not seeing double.  It seems that a number of City teams have had problems finding enough non-conference opponents to fill out their schedules, so Allderdice, Perry, Carrick and Brashear have scheduled extra a second game against a City opponent.  The ‘Dice and the Commodores will hook up in weeks 2 and 6,  Brashear and Carrick will face each other in weeks 1 and 7, and Perry will take on the Bulls in weeks 5 and 8.      
    The Advocate can see the gears grinding and the smoke coming out of his readers’ ears, as they burn up precious brain cells pondering the next question:  Well, Mr. Advocate, which of the two matchups will be considered a league game for the purposes of playoff seeding?  The Advocate pondered the same question himself because his usual source of scheduling and stats: The Post Gazette reports that both games are considered league games, while his secondary source, The Tribune-Review  reports that the first meeting on the schedule for the teams involved will be considered a non-league game.
    This making sense in the overworked brain of the Advocate, he deferred to the Scaife publication, which also showed that University Prep or USO did, in fact have non-conference games scheduled, whereas the PG still showed that U-Prep was still playing nothing but a City schedule.   This obviously means that the PG and Trib will be changing places in terms of priority in checking scores and stats.  The Advocate has always thought the Trib’s sport section was better than the PG’s, and this incident proves it.  Now if the Advocate can get past the fact that editorially, the Trib is to the right of Attila the Hun...well, can’t have everything.

    Aaaaaanyway, with that settled, it’s safe to say that Allderdice, Perry, Brashear, and Carrick will treat their early season matchups as tune-up games with vanilla offenses and defenses.  No use pulling all the tricks out of the bag early on, when you know that you’ll be facing that same opponent a few weeks down the road, especially with playoff implications involved for three of the four teams.  
    The Advocate would not be surprised if more City teams might employ this type of scheduling in future seasons, although that does not mean that he approves of it.  It saves money for a cash-strapped school district, in that they have one less road trip to make to some far away school in the middle of nowhere to face a hostile crowd and most likely, get their butts handed to them.
     But then again, the non-City games on the schedule are often the ones City players look forward to. It gives them a break from playing in front of the same sparse crowds and sterile atmosphere of Cupples Stadium and allows them to see what really makes high school football so special.  A real home team advantage, real traditions.  Marching bands and cheerleaders that perform all four quarters instead of packing it in after halftime.   A community really getting behind their school and football team.  City League kids don’t get to see that very often at Cupples.  
    Which is one of the reasons, that the Advocate supports the merger of the City League into the WPIAL, if and when that happens.  But he expounded on his view re: a potential merger in a previous blog post, so it’s not necessary to get into it here.
   But now, The Advocate has spent enough time gibbering about scheduling theory and practice,  what say we preview the 2014 City League season, shall we?


    In two of the last three seasons, the Allderdice Dragons have been to the City finals looking to break the longest current championship drought in the City League, which stands at a rather dour and depressing 47 years.  The last time the ‘Dice hoisted the hardware in football, the Advocate was five years old.  But if there has ever been a better chance for the Dragons to finally snap that streak, it would be the 2014 season.  The Dragons are stocked with returning players.  Among them are twin juniors James and Tim Jackson.  These two were also part of the ‘Twin Magic’  Allderdice basketball team that upset Obama Academy to win the City League basketball championship last season.  Both players stand 6-2 and 175lbs.  James threw for 1,677 yards and his brother caught 33 passes for a 30.6 yard per catch average.  Trevon Williams looks like the leading candidate to run the ball behind a solid Dragon line featuring Talon Scott, Anthony Langford and Lamone Dixon.  After a week 1 trip to Wheeling Central Catholic, the ‘Dice will face Perry for the first of two games against the Commodores this season.  The early schedule favors Allderdice after week two with Westinghouse, Brashear and Carrick all lined up and ripe for the picking.  Then come two crucial games that will have serious playoff implications.  The second game against Perry, which will count as a league contest, and a game against defending champion, University Prep on October 10 that could decide the regular season title and number 1 seed for the playoffs.   Bias aside, if Allderdice can keep the twin magic flowing and take advantage of their light early schedule, they should have plenty of momentum going into the final two games against Perry and U-Prep.  


    The Bulls return starting running backs Ty Powe and Khalil Saunders. Powe rushed for almost 700 yards last season.  Therran Coleman moves from receiver to quarterback to run the Brashear offense.  Notable returners on defense include linebackers Keyshawn Shaaid and Joe Bonner.  Brashear opens their non City schedule with their first game against Carrick, and then will host Karns City out of District 9.  Then the Bulls face an uphill early City schedule with three straight games against potential playoff contenders: U-Prep, Allderdice, and a non-league tussle with Perry, one after another.  Should they survive that onslaught, the schedule eases up a bit with games against Westinghouse and Carrick before finishing the regular season with Perry again, this time with playoff seeds on the line.


    The Raiders return seven starters on offense and six on defense, and there is optimism at Carrick in 2014.  Joe Kalsek will be counted on to tote the pig, and Hakeim McKenzie will be returning as quarterback and strong safety.   Taylor Thornton will be returning at wide receiver and cornerback. His twin brother, Tyler will be on the o-line with Terrin Hampton, and Isiah Walker.  Other notables include: WR/DB Levar Chapman and RB/LB Marsai Howard.
    Carrick will open with the first of two games against Brashear, then travel 65 miles up Route 28 to play Redbank Valley.   They will then play Perry, Westinghouse, Allderdice, U-Prep, and Brashear before closing the season on the road at Wheeling Park in West By-Gawd Virginia.


    Bill Gallagher will no longer be roaming the sidelines as the head coach of the Perry Commodores.  He resigned back in February to take the offensive line coaching job at Seton-La Salle, his alma mater. Citing a desire to be closer to his family, Gallagher won seven City League titles in his 13 years as the Commodores head coach.  He amassed a record of 113-41 during that time, and his crowning achievement was the 2002 Perry squad that didn’t allow a point in its first 13 games before bowing to Hopewell 20-3.  In his place, will step former Langley boss, Ken Wright.  During the five seasons with the Mustangs, Wright totaled a record of 10-37, and while many may scoff at the difference in records between the outgoing and incoming coaches, it must be stated that Gallagher's JV teams had much better talent than Wright's varsity squads ever had.  Wright will take over a Perry team that went 3-6 in 2013.  And under center, he will have a player who can lay claim to being related to lengendary Perry quarterback Rod Rutherford.  His cousin, Shawn Rutherford, a 6-1, 230lb junior will be commanding the Perry offense.  Malik James and Chandlor Huston will be counted on to anchor a much needed running game.  Perry will be getting some help from recent transfers into the program: Moses Giles, who transferred in from Avonworth, and Sto-Rox transfer receiver Amir Newring.   The Commodores will open with a home game against Slippery Rock out of District 10, and an early season non-conference test aganst the ‘Dice.  A challenging mid-season schedule features games against U-Prep, Brashear, and Allderdice and the season ender with Brashear, and this one will count.

***University Prep***

    2013 was clearly the best regular season in the young existence of the three school co-op that makes up USO or University Prep.  The Wildcats racked up 370 points in 10 games and only gave up 126 points.  And the reason for the offensive juggernaut was a 5-9, 170  lb junior named Kevin Brown.  Prior to coming to U-Prep, Brown languished at Westinghouse,  But after arriving at the Hill District school, he turned in a season performance that even had WPIAL pundits buzzing.  Brown completed 207 of 342 passes for 3,401 yards and 43 touchdowns.  Only one other quarterback in Western PA was better.  Brett Brumbaugh of South Fayette threw for 3,897 yards leading the Lions to a PIAA Class AA title.  And Kevin Brown’s favorite target was Marcus Johnson who torched opposing defenses for 52 catches and over 30 touchdowns.  
But U-Prep was hit hard by graduation, and while Brown is still under center, coach Lou Berry will have to find a replacement for Johnson.  But the cupboard isn’t entirely bare.  Help might be coming in the form of a Central Catholic transfer named Kenny Robinson.  He’s a 6-3 receiver that is expected to also contribute to the Wildcat’s defense.  The offensive line is pretty much intact, and is anchored by fourth year starter Kevin Williams at center.
    U-Prep will open the season a week late with a game against Westinghouse on Sept 4, and will face two stiff tests early on with battles against Brashear and Perry before taking a break from City League action to play independent Imani Christian, they will head back into City League play with a games against Carrick and Allderdice before traveling 41 miles out Route 22 to play the Big Red of Steubenville High School in Ohio.


    The Bulldogs have found it tough sledding in the City League over the years.  Outnumbered, overmatched, beaten and bedraggled, but they still play football on North Murtland St just like they did when the ‘House won its first City League title back in 1921.   But the Bulldogs haven’t tasted a championship since 1996.   And a revolving door of coaches have come and gone in vain attempts to recapture past glories.   Coach Monte Robinson has been at the helm of the ‘House for seven years.  During that time, his teams have won a grand total of 13 games.  The ‘Dawgs suffer from the usual issues of inner city programs that are floundering.  The most promising players transfer to other schools, drugs, violence, gangs, low expectations, and a general feeling of hopelessness.  But every year, the kids come out to practice, hoping to reverse the trend, to swim against the tide.  This year is no exception.
    There are only a few starters coming back for the ‘House this season.  Marion Ellis is expected to be under center.   Kameron Watson is slated to start as a receiver.  The line will be anchored by Deontrae Boyce.  Kejuan Burg will be counted on to run the ball.
    Westinghouse will open the season at home against Blairsville out of District 6.  The City portion of the schedule starts with games against U-Prep, Allderdice, and Carrick.  Another non- conference home tilt against Saltsburg, then finish the City schedule with Perry and Brashear before going on the road to end the season at Wheeling Central Catholic.

  The pundits are proclaiming Allderdice as the team to beat in the City League this year, but the Advocate has seen this movie before. And he knows the ending.  As much as he would love to see his beloved Dragons take the trophy that has eluded them since 1967, he knows that in the rare times the pundits have predicted the ‘Dice to take it all, they’ve always been wrong.  One who has watched this league over the years knows that Perry and U-Prep are NEVER to be counted out.  Perry has some weapons, but can a coach who’s last stop was one of the City’s perennial doormats mold those parts into a title contender.  Can U-Prep find some receivers for their talented quarterback to throw to, and if not, can they develop a running game to balance that air attack.   Can Brashear’s running game get them past that punishing early season schedule.  And finally, can Allderdice depend on ‘Twin Magic’ to carry them to the championship?  The answers are to come.