Thursday, September 03, 2015

The Advocate's 2015 City League Preview

     The 96th campaign of Pittsburgh City League football begins tomorrow afternoon with a 3:30pm game at Cupples Stadium featuring the two teams predicted to be at the bottom of the standings by most polls:  Carrick and Westinghouse.  But the real interest in D8 this season is concerning the top teams in the league.  No fewer than three schools have a shot at hoisting the hardware on November 7th.  Allderdice, University Prep, and Brashear, the defending champions, all have the talent to get the job done.  And as far as Your City League Advocate is concerned, it’s almost too close to call.  All three teams have very good offenses that can light up the George’s scoreboard almost at will.  
    Allderdice spotlights the Jackson twins: quarterback  James and receiver Tim; who also were the mainstays behind the Dragon hoop team’s incredible run to the PIAA semifinals.
    Brashear responds with quarterback Therran Coleman who recently issued a verbal commitment to Pitt.  He’ll be supported by three year starter Khalil Sanders at running back and Qu’ran Powe among others at receiver.
    And University Prep can’t be left out with recent Perry transfer signal caller, Shawn Rutherford under center, (yes, he is related to past Perry great, Rod Rutherford. Shawn is Rod’s cousin.) and he’ll have a potent receiver to throw to in highly ranked and recruited Kenny Robinson.


   The Dragons made it to the City Championship title game three of the past four years, but they have not been to able to win the elusive title that has escaped their grasp since 1967.   Last year was the ‘Dice’s best season in years.  Led by the Jackson twins,  the Dragons blew through the City League posting a perfect 5-0 record and outscoring their competition 209-49.  Included in that romp was a 36-0 blowout of  Brashear.  A fact that was not lost on the Bulls.  After defeating Carrick 40-12 in the semifinals,  the Dragons faced Brashear in the championship game, and maybe the Dragons took their opponents lightly, or maybe the coaches decided to try something different, but the Bulls doubled down on the twins, forced turnovers, used their potent running game to jump out to a quick lead and before the Dragons could wake up, Brashear was hoisting the City League hardware for the seventh time.  
    The Jackson twins return for one final shot at the title.  QB James, who has recently committed to Toledo threw for 1,282 yards and 19 TD’s last year.  WR Tim caught 10 TD’s and averaged 18.3 yards/ reception.   They will be helped by hard-running junior running back Jeremiah Hardrick who scored 10 TD’s as a sophomore.  
   One major concern for the Dragons this season is the loss of almost their entire starting offensive line from last year. Only their center returns for this season.  With a mobile quarterback like James Jackson who is good at buying time for his receivers, this might not be a big problem.  However, this could affect their running game.  If the young offensive line can step up, the Dragons have a very strong chance to finally grab that elusive City title.   
    Allderdice opens their season with two straight non-league road games at Hampton and Wheeling Park (WV), before taking on Perry in their City lid-lifter.  Games with major playoff implications include:  Brashear on September 24; and U-Prep on October 15.  A third non-league game against Indiana on the road closes out the non-City portion of the schedule.


   The Bulls started last season 1-3 including losses to U-Prep (41-34) and Allderdice (36-0) and were seemingly out of the City playoff chase.  But they took advantage of a weak second half schedule to roll off three straight wins in a row to grab a #3 seed in the playoffs.  Once there, they pulled two big upsets.  First, rolling over U-Prep, 27-8 in the semifinals, and a most unexpected romp over Allderdice, 42-14 to grab the championship right from under the Dragon’s noses.  RB Khalil Sanders ran for TD’s of 30 and 43 yards in the win, and he’ll be back this season to anchor the Brashear running game.  Therran Coleman returns for his senior season as the starting QB, and like the ‘Dice,  the Bulls will also be facing rebuilding their offensive line as well.   Other contributors for Brashear include: Qu'ran Powe (WR/DB), DeVaughn McNary (WR) and Ronnie Wilkens (RB/LB).
    The Bulls open their season with a home non-league game against Imani Christian on Friday night.  After a game against Carrick the next Thursday, Brashear plays the toughest stretch of their City schedule with games against U-Prep on the 18th and Allderdice on the 24th.  They will finish their regular season with two road games against WPIAL competition:  Armstrong and Franklin Regional.


 The Raiders will be coming into the 2015 season with a new coach, and hopefully a new attitude.  Carrick finished last season 1-4 in the City and 1-8 overall.  Their lone win came against Westinghouse 20-16.  However, due to an altercation between the ‘House and Perry last October that resulted in the Commodores being removed from the playoffs, Carrick found themselves with an unexpected berth in the playoffs against Allderdice.  And despite their unusual circumstances, the Raiders gave the Dragons a scare in the first quarter, scoring first and moving the ball pretty well against the eventual runner-ups before the Dragons’ superior numbers and talent took over.  Taking over the beleaguered Raiders is former long- time Keystone Oaks assistant coach Ed White.  White brings a system that stresses attention to detail and fundamentals.  And he’s expecting his charges to improve week by week with the ultimate goal of returning to the City Championship, a title that hasn’t called the South Hills school home since 1983. Senior running backs Elijah Reed and Marsai Howard are the prime movers in the Carrick offense, and Allderdice isn’t the only team in the City relying on twin magic.  Sophomores Taylor and Tyler Thornton will also be counted on to bring stability to the Raiders at receiver and offensive line, respectively.  The competition for QB will include: senior Lloyd Wood, Oveon Monroe and freshman LJ Orbovich.
    Carrick opens their schedule with an Friday afternoon matchup against City rival Westinghouse.  Road games against Knoch of the WPIAL and Wheeling Park as well as a home game against Imani Christian round out the non-D8 portion of the schedule.


   The once proud Commodores have fallen on hard times lately.  Last season, they finished the season, 2-5. In 2013, they were 3-6. The last City title Perry had won was in 2012.  
   While they had qualified for the playoffs, the fight they had against Westinghouse not only caused their season ending game against Brashear to be postponed, it also knocked them out of  playoffs contention.  Exit Ken Wright, who coached Perry for one season.  Enter Craig Aguglia, who spent the last two years at Carrick, where he accumulated a record of 2-15.  Aguglia will be battling low roster numbers, good players transferring to other schools and a general malaise that has settled over the program.  With Shawn Rutherford transferring to University Prep, the quarterbacking duties will fall to senior Tala'l Rogers.  Tyree Jackson, Ray Dean, Kenyatta Thomas and Evan Moore will be contributing on the offensive line, which Aguglia considers to be one of the bright spots of this Perry team.  Richard Giles, a standout running back who scored 14 touchdowns two seasons ago for Avonworth, will be toting the pig behind that line.  Despite Aguglia’s less than stellar record at Carrick, it must also be said that he didn’t exactly have that much to work with.  It looks like that isn’t the case at Perry.  The Commodores will open their season with a pair of non-league road games against Slippery Rock and Gateway, and then the City portion of the schedule with three straight games against last season’s playoff teams: Allderdice; U-Prep and Brashear one after the other after the other.  Easily the hardest early season schedule in the City League in 2015.   If they can survive that meatgrinder, they should be in a position to grab a playoff spot.

    ***University Prep***

    U-Prep was formed in 2011 as a co-op team formed of players from Obama Academy, University Prep, and Pittsburgh Sci-Tech. From their founding to 2014, they have made it to the City Championship game every year, winning the title twice.  2015 found that streak broken with the Wildcats on the outside looking in due to a 27-8 defeat at the hands of the eventual champion, Brashear Bulls.  Once again, U-Prep looks to be one of the favorites to win City gold in 2015.  The Prep started 2014 winning four straight and looked to be cruising towards yet another berth in the title game until a 15-8 loss to Allderdice spolied their bid for an undefeated league season.  Coach Lou Berry says that the ‘Cats have been working hard in the weight room
during the off-season to get their players ready for the grind ahead.  Especially knowing that in the City League, players are often called to play on both sides of the ball.  With the departure of All-everything quarterback Ron Brown, U-Prep will be handing the keys of the offense to Shawn Rutherford, cousin of Rob and recent transfer from Perry. Rutherford should be one of the tallest and strongest of the City’s signal callers at 6-3 and 225lbs.  He threw for 781 yards and his favorite target for this season will be junior receiver, Kenny Robinson, who averaged 19.1 yards per catch last season.  Robinson is already on the radar of such local colleges as Pitt and WVU.
    U-Prep will also have an experienced offensive line protecting their QB.  Seniors Juwan Hutchinson, Khai Jackson and Jaseem Campbell will be working the trenches.
    U-Prep will open the season on the road at Maple Grove (NY).  They will also play non-league tilts against the WPIAL’s  Mars High School as well as a home game against Imani Christian. Games of note include Brashear on September 18, and Allderdice on Oct 15.  


   The Bulldogs are once again trying to revive the tradition that includes 35 City championships, still the most titles won in the history of the City League.  However they haven’t brought the championship to Homewood since 1996.  They haven’t qualified for the playoffs since 2001, and haven’t beaten a league opponent since 2012.  They are easily the smallest school in terms of enrollment in the City League at 184 boys.  And year in and year out, they suit up against schools that are as much as 4 times their size.  Two years ago, they petitioned the WPIAL to be allowed to join that league for football.  The WPIAL refused, citing scheduling issues.  Once again, they are requesting to join.  The WPIAL will make their decision in December.  But for now, the ‘House will suit up and do battle against larger City schools with deeper rosters  and try as hard as they can.  It is the Advocate’s hope that the WPIAL will allow the Bulldogs to join for football.  It is safe to say that joining D-7 as a AA school will not be an easy task, because while the ‘House would finally be playing schools closer to their size, they’d be going up against schools that have more resources, in many cases.  But at least they won’t be playing schools with six and seven hundred boys to choose from.
    The Bulldogs went 1-7 overall  in 2014, but encouraging signs were found.  In 4 of their 7 losses, they were within 14 points, and in 3 of them, they had only lost by less than 7, including a 7 point less to playoff-bound U-Prep. Their lone victory was a 38-0 thumping of Saltsburg.
    Senior Darnell Jordan shifts over from running back and will start at quarterback.  The running back competition has four solid candidates in: Brandon Kelly, Tyrese Williams, Brian Jackson and Ayonde Lucky.  On defense, the ‘House has some solid players: defensive tackle Jamon Miyares, linebacker Keyshawn Brooks and cornerback Tyree Carlins.
    Westinghouse opens its season in what could be a pivotal matchup against Carrick Friday afternoon. After a game against U-Prep, the Bulldogs play three straight non-league road games against Wheeling Central Catholic, Hollidaysburg, and Saltsburg.  Coming back into City action, the ‘House finishes with Brashear, Perry and Allderdice.

    The Advocate’s prediction:
Frankly, it’s too close to call.  If you were to put a gun to the Advocate’s head and force him to make a decision, he’d tell you to pull the trigger.  Brashear, Allderdice and U-Prep all have stud quarterbacks and great receivers.  All of them can run the ball.  ‘Dice and Brashear have issues with their o-lines.  U-Prep has a stable offensive line.   
    Allderdice knows that this is their last chance to win a title with the Jackson twins, and their next chance may be a ways down the road.  The Jacksons will be damn hard to replace.  They also want to erase that humiliating defeat at the hands of Brashear as well as bring the hardware back to Squirrel Hill.   Brashear knows that the last time a City League team repeated was when they did it back in 2007 and 2008.  They know how hard it is to repeat and as the defending champs, they’ll be getting everybody’s best efforts.  U-Prep wants to get back into the title game, and they have the horses to do it.
   Therefore, the Advocate will close his eyes, grit his teeth and regretfully go against his Allderdice bias.  He predicts that the title game on November 7 will be between U-Prep and Allderdice and the Wildcats will pull out the win in a squeaker.  And God have mercy on his soul for not having faith in his Dragons.