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Wash High looks to build on strong '98 finish
Little Prexies are NSN's #1 WPIAL Class AA pre-season team
By Rick Smith, July 7, 1999

1999 WPIAL Class AA Football Rankings

1. Washington (11-2)
2. Waynesburg (10-1)
3. Aliquippa (10-2)
4. Brownsville (10-2)
5. Quaker Valley (5-5)
6. Mars (6-4)
7. Seton LaSalle (6-4)
8. Center (8-3)
9. Jeannette (7-3)
10. Shady Side Academy (14-1)

The Nauticom Sports Network's WPIAL Class AA preseason #1 team just might face its toughest competition during the regular season from teams in its own back yard. Washington is the pick to pass a very tough Three Rivers Conference test and win District 7 gold. The Little Prexies finished as runner-up to Shady Side Academy last season and last won a WPIAL title in 1993.

Before continuing, I should answer that question you probably just asked yourself. What the heck is a Little Prexie? Simple. Washington is a college town. Washington and Jefferson College calls its sports teams the Presidents. Little Prexies is short for Little Presidents.

Now that we have that out of the way, let's look at why this particular group of Little Prexies merits NSN's top pre-season spot. I suppose the thing that really caught my eye about this team was the way they overcame adversity down the stretch in 1998.

Washington entered the final week of the regular season with an 8-0 record and an impending showdown with arch-rival Waynesburg, also undefeated at the time. The big problem for the Little Prexies was, however, that team leader and All-State WR/DB Diontae Walker had been lost for the season the previous week with a knee injury.

While most teams would have folded without the services of its star player, head coach Guy Montecalvo's squad nearly pulled out a victory. While trailing 19-14 late in the game, Washington drove to the Waynesburg seven yard line, but Lee Fritz intercepted a pass in the end zone to preserve the win and give the Raiders the Three Rivers Conference crown.

Washington then set about reeling off three successive victories in the WPIAL playoffs over Shenango, Charleroi, and Aliquippa to land in the championship game at Three Rivers Stadium. Despite causing seven Shady Side Academy turnovers, the Little Prexies fell to the much more experienced Indians, 30-12.

Walker has since graduated and will play for Penn State University's baseball team this year. Leading the way toward a return trip to Three Rivers Stadium in 1999 for the Little Prexies will be senior QB Brent Marsteller. The 6'2" 205 pound snap-caller completed 96 of 188 passes for 1,494 yards in 1998.

Michael Sutton, a 5'11" 160 pound senior RB/DB also returns for Washington. Sutton led the team in scoring with 18 touchdowns and was second in both rushing and receiving yards as he amassed over 1,000 yards from scrimmage. Marsteller and Sutton were both first-team All-Three Rivers Conference selections last season. Jason Ellis, a 6'1" 180 pound senior RB/LB, should also be a big contributor for the Little Prexies in 1999.

As stated earlier, Washington may face its stiffest competition from Three Rivers Conference opponents in 1999. And, not surprisingly, the conference title may once again come down to a week #9 meeting between the Little Prexies and Waynesburg, NSN's #2 team. The Raiders will travel to Washington on Friday, October 29th.

The aforementioned Lee Fritz, a 6'2" 180 pound junior will add starting QB duties to his DB responsibilities in 1999. Fritz has already showed he has the arm for the job. Fritz was the Raiders' top pitcher on Waynesburg's state runner-up baseball team this spring.

Bruising junior RB/LB Lanfer Simpson will also make the Raider offense formidable. The 6'1" 230-pounder is also expected to be one of the top heavyweight wrestlers in the state. Simpson has fully recovered from a dislocated shoulder suffered on the mats last winter.

Senior linebackers Jeremy Gayman, 6'2" 205 pounds, and Greg Carson, 6' 235 pounds, should also make things tough for opposing offenses. Both players were first-team All-Three Rivers Conference selections for Waynesburg in 1998.

Aliquippa shows up as our #3 team entering the 1999 season. The Quips are no strangers to gridiron success. Aliquippa has captured a combined ten WPIAL Class AA and AAA titles and the 1991 state championship during its illustrious history.

Leading receiver Bernard Lay, a 6'2" 180 pound junior wide-out, returns for the Quips. Tackle Tony Peluso, a 6'1" 295 pounder, will anchor the line on both sides of the ball. FB/LB Vashawn Patrick, a 6'1" 215 pound senior, should also be a key player for head coach Mike Zmijanac's Quips, our favorite to win the Midwestern Conference title.

Brownsville, NSN's #4 team, was hit hard by graduation, but should still have enough talent to compete for a second straight Century Conference title. Gone are all-everything QB/CB Mike Patitucci and all-conference performers such as WR Mitch Mitchell, RB Matt Crouse, DB Syl Durant, and OL Brian Pelehac.

Clearly, much of the pressure will be placed squarely on the broad shoulders of LB/RB Justin Spence, a 5'11" 235 pound senior, to pick up the considerable slack left by the talented graduates. Spence ranked second on the Falcons behind Crouse in both scoring and rushing yards in 1998.

Another talented Three Rivers Conference team is our #5 team, Quaker Valley. The Quakers may also be the biggest team in WPIAL Class AA this fall. Running behind an offensive line that should average well over 250 pounds per blocker will be 6'3" 255 pound senior FB Chris Iorio.

An All-State honorable mention pick by the Pennsylvania Football News in 1998, Iorio was also a key member of the Quakers' state runner-up basketball squad. Senior QB John Martin, a 6'5" 185 pounder, will guide the offense for head coach Tom Liberty.

Mars is the pick to win the Allegheny Conference in 1999 and also checks in at #6 overall. Head coach Scott Heinauer's Planets will be paced by RB/DB Brian Sondej, a 6'1" 180 pound senior. Following the departure of 6'7" 325 pound lineman Nick Fisher for the University of Maryland, one of Mars' biggest challenges will be developing strength along the line of scrimmage.

Yet another Three Rivers Conference team that could be a force this fall is Seton LaSalle, NSN's #7 squad. First-team All-conference tailback Nick Perella, the Rebels' leading rusher in 1998, will be the centerpiece of head coach Lou Cerro's offense. Perella, at 6' 195 pounds, is a workhorse. Witness his 26 carry, 229 yard performance in a win against Quaker Valley last season. Rob Moran, a 5'11" 210 pound LB, will anchor the Seton-LaSalle defense.

1998 Midwestern Conference champion Center, ranked #8 by NSN this pre-season, should battle with Aliquippa once again for the top spot this year. The Trojans return 6'4" 225 LB Josh Reed and 6' 160 pound tailback Ryan Nohe. Both players were first-team All-Midwestern Conference performers in 1998.

Jeannette, a six time WPIAL champion, is NSN's #9 team. The Jayhawks leading rusher, Mike Theys, returns for his senior campaign. Theys was a first-team All-Century conference selection as a DB in 1998 for head coach Rob Murphy's team.

Don't be surprised if Theys gets the nod as the Jayhawks' QB this fall. Theys completed two halfback option passes for TDs against Freeport last season. Matt Lebe, a 5'10" 180 pound tailback, should get plenty of carries. When he's not playing football, Lebe is also one of the top wrestlers in the state.

Defending WPIAL champion and state runner-up Shady Side Academy rounds out the top ten. Despite heavy losses from graduation, the Indians should still be tough enough on defense to give Mars a run in the Allegheny Conference race. Senior linebackers David Gombkoto, 6'2" 215 pounds, and Ric San Doval, 5' 11" 190 pounds, were both impressive performers for SSA last fall.

Following a long and unsuccessful search, Shady Side recently appointed athletic director Gene Deal to serve as head coach in place of retired legend Art Walker.

Some other players to watch in WPIAL Class AA this fall include Riverside OT/DT Bret Baldelli, Charleroi WR Mark Tedrow (a second team All-State selection by the Pennsylvania Football News), Steel Valley junior tailback Devin Wilson, Freeport OT/DT Jeremy McCorkle (at 6'7" and 285 pounds, one of the top blue-chip recruits in Western Pennsylvania this year), Beaver LB Brad Potts, and New Brighton OT/DT Kevin Kamicker.

Prediction: 1999 WPIAL Class AA Playoff Qualifiers

Three Rivers
1. Mars 1. Brownsville 1. Aliquippa 1. Washington
2. Shady Side Academy 2. Jeannette 2. Center 2. Waynesburg
3. Pittsburgh N. Catholic 3. Steel Valley 3. New Brighton 3. Quaker Valley
4. Freeport 4. South Park 4. Shenango 4. Seton LaSalle