It’s about that time again.
With high school football right around the corner, several questions exist going into the upcoming season.
Can Washington repeat as WPIAL champion?
How long will the regular-season streaks of South Fayette and the Prexies last?
How will local standouts who graduated be replaced?
With the countdown to the start of football camps less than a month away, let’s look at five intriguing components of this year’s regular-season schedule.
1. Compelling Week Zero games:
It’s nothing new for South Fayette coach Joe Rossi to give his team a tough test right out of the gate.
“(Playing in Week Zero) means so much,” Rossi said after last year’s 20-0 victory over Central Valley.
“You only get so many Friday nights, so you want to play.”
This year, the Lions won’t have to travel to Beaver County to find a willing opponent. They will play neighboring Upper St. Clair at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 24.
Not only is South Fayette playing a Class 5A team – a classification above their continually growing district – but the Lions are putting a long streak on the line early. The Lions haven’t lost a regular-season game since 2011. To save you the counting, that’s 57 straight wins in the regular season.
In what might be one of the best running back matchups we will see all season, Beth-Center will travel to play California. Two of only five players returning from the Observer-Reporter’s 2017 Football Fabulous 15 list, Beth-Center’s Dominic Fundy and California’s Jelani Stafford, will go head-to-head. Fundy ran for 1,527 yards and 12 touchdowns in his junior season for the Bulldogs. He also caught 22 passes for 145 yards and a pair of scores. Stafford, who has continued to receive offers from Division I colleges, averaged 12 yards per carry and a touchdown every five times he touched the football last season. He finished his junior year with 1,586 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns.
Peters Township isn’t playing a team from Pennsylvania in Week Zero. The Indians aren’t even playing a team from this country. Participating in the Western Pa. vs. Everyone Showcase that will run Friday, Aug. 24, and Saturday, Aug. 25, on the opening weekend of high school football at Woodland Hills’ Wolvarena, Peters Township will play West Toronto Prep at 5 p.m. Friday.
Mike Zmijanac will make his coaching debut at Ringgold when the Rams visit Chartiers Valley for a 7 p.m. kickoff. Zmijanac, who was hired in April to fill the vacancy left by Nick Milchovich, is taking over a group that lost 17 seniors and missed out on the playoffs a season ago.
2. Big home games for C-M:
The changes being done to Canon-McMillan’s football stadium won’t be ready for the regular season.
But you can guarantee the teams visiting the Big Macs will be prepared.
C-M’s four home games bring North Allegheny, Hempfield, Pine-Richland and Central Catholic to town.
That’s a pretty good list of powers that could induce even better crowds for a Big Macs’ team that was young last season.
Canon-McMillan is now the only local team in Class 6A after Peters Township dropped a classification with the new realignment. The Big Macs play Mt. Lebanon, Seneca Valley, Peters Township, Norwin and Butler on the road.
Six of the nine teams in Class 6A qualify for the WPIAL playoffs.
3. On the road, again:
Not too many times can a team separate itself from the pack before the season even begins.
But Burgettstown can say it will do something no other team in the WPIAL will have to do in 2018. The Blue Devils are the only team in all six classifications to play four of their first five games on the road.
That’s both good and bad.
Burgettstown is still in search of a starting quarterback to replace Ryan Lounder. The replacement is expected to be settled in camp, and early-season road games for a young quarterback are far from easy.
The good news for the Blue Devils is three of their final four games are at home. They also don’t have to travel nearly as far to their road games as last season, thanks to the new conference realignment.
Three of the four early road games are against teams fairly close, including Fort Cherry and South Side Beaver.
4. Running on empty:
There was instant uproar when the conference realignment was released for one local team earlier this year.
Waynesburg was placed in the Class 3A Tri-County West Conference, which is made up of a majority of teams from Beaver County.
So how miserable is the travel going to be for the Raiders?
And how bad does the WPIAL look for putting Waynesburg instead of Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic in that conference?
In the Raiders’ four away games – Ambridge, South Park, Central Valley and Burrell – none is less than an hour’s drive. The average round-trip mileage of those four games is 124.5 miles, and that number is minimized with only an 80-mile trip to and from South Park. The approximate total mileage for all four trips is 498.
5. Game of the year:
It’s difficult to pinpoint games on any of the local 22 teams’ schedules that are classified as must-see.
But I was able to find one game that calendars should be marked and all plans should be canceled.
It’s when defending WPIAL Class 2A champion Washington travels to play California in a non-conference game Sept. 21.
Think Wash High will roll over the Trojans?
Both teams will likely win their respected conferences this season, so this, despite it being a Class 2A vs. Class A matchup, is a measuring-stick game for both teams.
California runs a similar offense to Wilmington, the District 10 team that hung 49 points on the Prexies in last year’s state semifinal game.
But Washington returns a talented passing attack, which ended up being the Trojans downfall in a 30-24 loss against Imani Christian in the WPIAL semifinals.
If all goes as planned, I could see this being the best local game of the season.
Luke Campbell can be reached at email@example.com