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Indians won't settle for runner-up status this season
Monaca tops NSN's WPIAL Class A pre-season rankings
By Rick Smith, April 15, 1999

1999 WPIAL Class A Football Rankings

1. Monaca (10-3)
2. Fort Cherry (9-1)
3. Farrell (8-4)
4. Riverview (8-3)
5. Carmichaels (8-2)
6. Bentworth (6-4)
7. South Side Beaver (7-3)
8. Greensburg Central Catholic (9-2)
9. Jefferson Morgan (6-4)
10. Rochester (15-0)

Last season's PIAA Class A state champion Rochester Rams had a perfect 15-0 record. Associated Press Small School Coach of the Year Dan Matsook's juggernaut beat every opponent by two or more touchdowns on the way to state gold in 1998. All except one, that is, NSN's WPIAL Class A pre-season #1 high school football team for 1999, the Monaca Indians.

Monaca nearly derailed the Rams' train ride to Hershey in the WPIAL Class A championship game at Three Rivers Stadium last November. Rochester survived a 24-18 overtime scare against a young and talented Monaca squad. The Indians top what should be the WPIAL's strongest classification once again in 1999.

Monaca is led by one of the more talented offensive backfields in the state, regardless of classification. The ground game will feature two bruising running backs, 6'1" 220-pound tailback Todd DiBacco and 6'1" 235-pound fullback Matt Phillips, also selected second-team All-State at linebacker by the Pennsylvania Football News. The 1-2 punch combined for over 2,600 rushing yards and 32 TDs last season.

Head coach Mark Lyons also gets starting quarterback Noah McKay back.

You know the old saying..... if you fall off the horse, get right back on. Fort Cherry threw me hard to the ground last season. I hesitate to admit that I had the Rangers atop the NSN WPIAL Class A poll, and ahead of Rochester, throughout the regular season in 1998. Heading into the playoffs, all-everything running back Mike Vernillo and a solid offensive line had Fort Cherry undefeated and seemingly ready to begin the roll to Three Rivers Stadium for its second straight district championship game.

One problem ..... nobody told Clairton. The Bears pulled off THE first-round WPIAL playoff shocker with a roar-back-from-behind 33-19 win over Fort Cherry.

Not deterred by my '98 miscue, I'm prepared to declare "Hi Ho Silver" once again. The Rangers are my #2 team heading into the '99 campaign!

Vernillo, a starter since a few games into his freshman season, returns for his senior year under long-time Fort Cherry head coach Jim Garry. This wealth of experience alone, both on the field and on the sidelines, makes Fort Cherry an attractive choice to make a second trip to Three Rivers Stadium in three years. Barring injury, Vernillo should break the WPIAL career rushing record of 6,512 yards held by Penn-Trafford's Matt Gavrish. Vernillo was a second-team All-State selection by the Pennsylvania Football News in 1998.

Opening holes for Vernillo and closing them against opposing offenses will be 6' 210-pound FB/LB Brandon Chiera and 6'1" 270-pound lineman Louis Ryan. Adam Moss, a 6'1" 180-pound DB, along with Vernillo, will anchor a hard-hitting secondary.

Year in and year out, the Farrell Steelers are in the thick of things. 1999 should be no exception. Farrell, the #3 team in our Class A poll, was led to the WPIAL semi-finals a year ago by returning quarterback J.J. Wilson. The talented snap-caller led the Steelers in both passing and rushing last season, totaling well over 2,000 yards in total offense. In addition, head coach Lou Falconi's team returns eight linemen in excess of 200 pounds.

Mark your calendars now ...... Farrell hosts Monaca on September 17th in a game that could very well determine the Big 9 Conference champion.

#4 Riverview, like Farrell, is one of the perennial powers of Class A. Head coach Jake Cappa's Raiders won the WPIAL championship game in 1997 and lost in the semi-finals to Monaca last season. Despite the exodus of star RB/DB Lucas Heakins and solid performers such as FB/LB William Anderson and QB/DB/K Earl Bellisario, the Raiders should reload rather than rebuild.

The offensive line should be a real strength for Riverview, with three lettermen returning this fall. Anchoring the line will be 6' 190-pound center Jerry Sabatini, a first team Eastern Conference All-Star selection. Also returning in the trenches will be 6'1" 260-pound tackle Damion Deringer and 6'2" 235-pound guard Rich Gilbert.

#5 Carmichaels is a football program on the rise. The Mikes went 8-2 overall last year, including a perfect 7-0 conference mark to capture the Tri-County South championship. Carmichaels' only two losses were both in overtime. The Mikes lost a non-conference tilt to Cornell, 36-28, in triple overtime in week #2. Carmichaels was bumped from the playoffs in the first round in an overtime loss to Farrell, 13-7.

Head coach John Menhart's squad will be led by 6'1" 190-pound senior running back Rocky Doman. The Mikes should also benefit from what is reportedly one of its strongest sophomore classes in some time. This should help make Carmichaels a very deep team, always a great benefit on the Class A level.

My sleeper team and easily the largest squad in WPIAL Class A this fall will be the #6 Bentworth Bearcats. 6'1" 235-pound Brandon Hays, a Pennsylvania Football News second-team All-State performer, is one of the top linemen in the area. With the likes of 6'2" 220-pound Sean Ross (All-Ohio Valley), 6'1" 275-pound Tom Zelinsky, 6'2" 280-pound Rob Hreha, and 6'3" 325-pound Rudy Yurkovich also back for their senior campaigns, first-year head coach George Overton's squad should be physically dominating.

#7 South Side Beaver will be led by one of the better snap-callers in the area, two-time 6'2" 190-pound letterman Sean McCune. Head coach Glen McDougal's team will be anchored in the trenches by 6'2" 220-pound junior Andy McCoy. SSB finished in a three-way tie for second place with Monaca and Farrell last season in the Big Nine Conference.

Greensburg Central Catholic was decimated by graduation. Gone are the likes of WR Bates Szakos (Akron), QB David Mroz (Princeton), and WR Alan Steinman (Buffalo). NSN's #8 team, however, has a luxury very few Class A teams can boast, a large roster and the resulting depth that goes with it. The Centurions' 60-player squad was, by far, the largest among last season's playoff teams. The leading returnees will be 5'10" 180-pound RB/DL Mark Steinman (Alan's brother who has 2,000+ career rushing yards), 6'3" 195-pound FB/LB Matt Dlugos, and 6'2" 205-pound LB Dan Conte. David's younger brother, 6'4" 180-pound Jeff Mroz, will get the nod at quarterback.

Jefferson Morgan should challenge Carmichaels for the top spot in the Tri-County South Conference in 1999. The #9 Rockets have two of Class A's better skill players in 6'2" 195-pound RB Calvin Wilson and 6' 180-pound WR T.J. Lockette, yet another second-team All-State choice by the Pennsylvania Football News. Head coach Jan Haiden only lost five seniors from last year's playoff team.

Like Greensburg Central Catholic, Rochester was hit hard by graduation. However, I just can't bring myself to leave a team off my Top Ten list that went 15-0 and grabbed the state championship. Gone are the Rams' running back trio of Reuben Jackson, Randy Anderson, and Darrell Daman that combined for over 3,000 yards rushing and 49 TDs. 5'9" 170-pound Randy Bacon (468 yards, 6 TDs) will carry the mail for #10 Rochester in 1999. 6'1" 175-pound receiver Brandon Matsook, the coach's son, should be Rochester's top receiver.

Some other players to watch are Clairton QB Carletiz Thompson, Duquesne RB Todd Harris and DE Don Daniels, Serra Catholic T Josh Sabo and RB Mark Rost, Wilkinsburg QB Darnel Jackson, South Fayette QB Niel Loebig and TE/LB Brian Smocynski, Brentwood RB Tom Medina and DE Chas Lapen, Avella T Derrick Carlisle, Cornell TE Dan Woodard, Mapletown OL Nick Lotspeich, Carmichael LB Mike Repa, California RB Bob Houston, Monessen LB Chase Helon, West Greene DB Brandon Dorsey, Western Beaver T/LB Josh Kale, and Laurel QB David Kuth.

Prediction: 1999 WPIAL Class A Playoff Qualifiers

Big Nine
Ohio Valley
Tri-County South
1. Monaca 1. Fort Cherry 1. Riverview 1. Carmichaels
2. Farrell 2. Bentworth 2. Greensburg CC 2. Jefferson-Morgan
3. South Side Beaver 3. Brentwood 3. Clairton 3. Monessen
4. Rochester 4. South Fayette 4. Serra Catholic 4. California