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I’m Matt Popchock, and I’m just getting started.
Clairton head football coach Wayne Wade says: Per Tribune-Review reporter Bill West, he resents accusations of running up the score in two lopsided wins against lesser opponents.
POPCHOCK SAYS: That headline pretty much nails it. There is no way to approach those situations without someone walking away with hard feelings. But after all the regional–and national–exposure, do that many people still not understand how small a school Clairton is? Do that many people still not know that, when Coach Wade empties his bench, he barely has a bench to empty?
That is not to say that sportsmanship isn’t important. We should be teaching our kids to be humble in victory, in sports and in life, because the day will come when the shoe–or cleat, or skate, as it were–will be on the other foot, and they won’t be shown pity. When the 2007 New England Patriots would keep Tom Brady in one-sided games and keep chucking it downfield (presumably, to stick their tongues out at the NFL because of Spygate), I found that offensive. But I think Wade, and before him, Tom Nola, has handled this situation responsibly.
When a player does come off the bench and into the game, he’s not just battling the other team. He’s battling for a job–a better job in the future, to be exact. So if his coach tells him to run “Red Right Counter Trey,” then, God bless him, he’s going to run “Red Right Counter Trey” to the very best of his ability. That’s what gets him that better job.
What the Bears have done in games against California and Wilkinsburg speaks not to anything they have done wrong, but rather, to the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots in high school sports. It’s unfortunate, but perhaps the situation will improve with the insertion of former Class AA rivals Greensburg Central Catholic (Clairton’s Week 3 opponent) and Jeannette into the Class A Eastern Conference.
It is the prime responsibility of Wade’s players, in the words of one of my favorite Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League (PIHL) coaches, to control what they can control. That means giving their best effort against the teams that are on their schedule.
In the meantime, it is the prime responsibility of Clairton’s opponents, if they’re tired of getting embarrassed, to study film, hit the weight room, hit the practice field, coach it up and get better.
POPCHOCK ON PREPS High School Football Game of the Week:
Kittanning Wildcats (2-0 in Class AA Allegheny Conference, 2-0 overall)
Apollo-Ridge Vikings (2-0 in Class AA Allegheny Conference, 2-0 overall)
POPCHOCK SAYS: Neither of these teams has been tested through its first two games, but early impressions suggest they might be the two best teams in this conference. Spicing up the local flavor of this pivotal showdown is the fact that each of the primary players to watch has committed to Pitt. Senior tight end Nick Bowers is one of the receiving yardage leaders for the classification and the district, and he’s coming off a four-touchdown effort (six receptions for 91 yards) in a Week 2 “sh-moking” of West Shamokin. Bowers is the complete pacakge; he can break tackles just as easily as he can break a long run:
Not to be outdone, Apollo-Ridge senior Tre Tipton is also one of the most complete athletes in Class AA, if not the entire WPIAL. When he’s not grounding out yards, catching passes, completing passes, selling 50-50 tickets, and so forth, he’s making life difficult for opposing quarterbacks as a defensive back. Last week, in a comfortable win over Valley, Tipton got a breather after going 5-of-6 under center for 83 yards and a touchdown, and also scored while notching two receptions for 18 yards to go with a 16-yard carry. Quite frankly, he looks like a Division I player already:
This projects to be an old-fashioned shootout. I’m inclined to give John Skiba’s Vikings a slight edge simply by virtue of home-field advantage, but the Wildcats have proven under Frank Fabian that they can beat teams any way, anytime, any place. My x-factor is diminutive quarterback Braydon Toy, who might not be the biggest guy on the field, but he’s very spunky and very tough to slow down. The Kittanning product ranks sixth in the WPIAL with 374 passing yards, having thrown six TDs, and he’s also run for 255 yards and two more. Duane Brown has been making some nice plays for Apollo-Ridge’s offense, but if Kittanning can take away Tipton and make the rest of the team beat them, the Vikings will be in trouble. Similarly, if Apollo-Ridge can get Toy off his game, limiting the Wildcats’ ability to get the ball in Bowers’ hands, Kittanning will be in trouble. Normally, I don’t have a tough time getting a feel for a particular game, but this one really seems like a coin flip.
Here are some other interesting Week 3 contests:
Penn-Trafford (2-0 in Class AAAA Foothills Conference, 2-0 overall)
at McKeesport (2-0 in Class AAAA Foothills Conference, 2-0 overall)
1:00 p.m. EDT Saturday – Weigle-Schaffer Memorial Stadium
POPCHOCK SAYS: If you can’t get enough offense, tape the Pitt game and come watch this one. The Panthers have recently offered McKeesport standout Khaleke “The Hit Man” Hudson, who has run for a WPIAL-best 572 yards as the wingback in George Smith’s famous flex-bone offense, and can also play outside linebacker and safety. Furthermore, Hudson ranks second in the district with nine total TDs. The Warriors are a close second to the Tigers in total offense by Quad-A teams. Leading them is quarterback Brett Laffoon, who has been almost flawless while throwing for 356 yards and six touchdowns. But I’ve seen the flex-bone before, and the more unconventional of the two offenses won’t be easy for Penn-Trafford to stop.
Penn Hills (2-0 in Class AAAA Southeastern Conference, 2-0 overall)
at Central Valley (2-0 in Class AAA Parkway Conference, 2-0 overall)
7:00 p.m. EDT – Sarge Alberts Stadium
POPCHOCK SAYS: Speaking of football on television, ROOT Sports will have this inter-classification game on tape delay. Central Valley ranks second in the WPIAL in total offense, and although viewers will be sorely tempted to watch top prospect Jordan Whitehead in action, the bigger story for the Warriors has been the leadership of quarterback John George. The latter has thrown for 248 yards and three TDs in two decisive wins, and he’s been very economical about it. Penn Hills has some real depth in its backfield, though it will probably lean on do-it-all quarterback Billy Kisner as the Indians try to prove that opening win over USC was no fluke. CV coach Mark Lyons has wanted to increase Whitehead’s workload on offense, and coaches often use these non-conference games as their own driving range. But how much will he be willing to tax his best player in a game with lesser meaning in the standings?
Beaver (1-0 in Class AA Midwestern Conference, 2-0 overall)
at Beaver Falls (1-0 in Class AA Midwestern Conference, 2-0 overall)
7:00 p.m. EDT – Reeves Field
POPCHOCK SAYS: I usually call this one the battle for the right to finish second to Aliquippa. Kidding aside, however, it should be a fun rivalry game that may determine long-term playoff positioning. The Bobcats have quietly taken the MAC lead in scoring offense and scoring defense, buoyed by playmaker Darius Wise and his team-leading 463 offensive yards and eight TDs. Beaver Falls, despite entering what was considered a rebuilding year, is off to a nice start, though after not having much trouble with either Freedom or Southmoreland, the competition stiffens tonight. Javon Turner leads BF with six catches for 137 yards and two TDs, and he’s dangerous on special teams, but I think the Tigers may be too busy struggling with Wise to get him the ball.
Brentwood (1-0 in Class A Black Hills Conference, 2-0 overall)
at Avonworth (2-0 in Class A Black Hills Conference, 2-0 overall)
7:00 p.m. EDT – Lenzner Field
POPCHOCK SAYS: I wonder if the unexpected flip in home-field advantage will make any difference? This game was moved from Brentwood due to construction at its football stadium, and, oddly enough, there’s also construction happening elsewhere in the Avonworth School District as we speak. Anyway, the more important question is, will Brentwood quarterback Connor McWilliams be accurate enough to carry his team to a big road victory? He has been one of the most productive QBs in the district with 422 yards and five TDs, but he hasn’t been one of the most consistent ones. My money, instead, is on Zach Chandler, who has thrown for 483 yards, and his top target, Jamal Hughley, could present matchup problems for the Spartans’ defense.
See you in Spring Church with more on the “cat fight” between Panther prospects Nick Bowers and Tre Tipton!
I’m Matt Popchock, and that’s all she wrote.
(File photo of Clairton junior athlete Aaron Mathews courtesy of John Heller/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)