Are you ready for some football?
Five area teams certainly are as they will play their first games of the 2019 season this Friday, Aug. 23.
Dubbed Week Zero on the schedule, the WPIAL began allowing teams to use their second scrimmage of training camp as a real game since the PIAA went to six classifications in 2016. Typically played under the lights, the game supplements what has already been reduced to a nine-game slate for most squads.
Coaches see the benefit of an extra contest. Some even see it as a reward.
“Week Zero provides the opportunity for more game experience,” said CV head coach Dan Knaus. “The players work hard all summer. So, I’m an advocate for an extra game of Friday night lights.”
With the additional contest comes extra incentive and intrigue for South Fayette as the Lions prepare to host Upper St. Clair at 7 p.m.
The Lions, including their head coach Joe Rossi, are anxious to avenge last year’s loss to the Panthers.
It was not just another Week Zero game as it marked the last meeting between Rossia and USC head coaches Jim Render before he retired after the 2018 campaign. He finished his career with 406 wins, good for most by any coach in WPIAL history.
“I saw (Render) at the Dari DeLite this summer and I jokingly told him that I was so angry with him because he didn’t give me a chance to get even,” said Rossi with a wide grin.
Rossi has been on a similar career trajectory as Render, who was inducted into the WPIAL Hall of Fame this summer.
Rossi, like Render, started coaching at Carrollton. He served as an offensive coordinator at that Ohio high school.
After a stint at Riverview, Rossi revitalized the program at South Fayette. Entering his 13th season at the helm, Rossi has fashioned the Lions into a Quad-A power that loves to the throw the football. Once they establish who their quarterback will be, the Lions have their sights set on set on defending their WPIAL title.
Under Rossi, the Lions have captured four district titles since 2010, including last year’s upset win over Thomas Jefferson, 31-28, as well as two PIAA championships. Rossi owns a 156-44 career record.
Meanwhile, Mike Junko, Render’s replacement, is looking for his first career victory. It will be a tall task as the Panthers return just two players with starting experience – David Pantelis and Brandon Shearer. Like the Lions, the Panthers are also breaking in a new quarterback.
Nevertheless, excitement surrounds the pairing. Rossi said the Lions anticipate the USC clash to draw one of the larger crowds to the stadium this season.
“It’s going to be two teams that have a lot of respect for each other going at it,” Rossi said. “It will be a fun evening. We wouldn’t expect anything else for an opening night.”
On the road
Opening night has CV visiting Ringgold at 7 p.m. The Rams were winless last season under Mike Zmijanac, who has moved on to coach Seton La Salle.
“Ringgold was young last year so they will have a lot of experience back,” Knause said of the team that fielded a handful of seniors.
Knause said its hard to plan for what schemes the Rams will be running considering they have a new coaching staff. The CV coach said his team will be focusing on what it does best.
“We’ll continue to prepare for all situations and work on ourselves,” Knause said.
The Week Zero work Mt. Lebanon, Peters Township and Canon-McMillan must do will be on the road as the teams travel to Gateway, Fox Chapel and Thomas Jefferson, respectively.
The Blue Devils and the Indians find themselves in uncharted waters. Lebo has a new coach in Bob Palko and Peters returns as conference champions. Under T.J. Plack, the Indians also reached the semifinals in the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs, falling to Penn Hills, which went on to capture the state championship.
The Gators were also district semifinalists in 2018 as well as WPIAL champion the previous year. Gateway and Peters are considered the top two teams in Class 5 A this season.
Gateway features Derrick Davis as well as Tui Brown. Both are two-way standouts. A junior running back and linebacker, Davis has scholarship offers from Ohio State, Alabama, Clemson, Penn State and Notre Dame.
Lebo and PT’g games kickoff at 7 p.m. while the Big Macs start at 7:30 p.m. They face a formidable foe as TJ finished runner-up to South Fayette in last year’s WPIAL final at Heinz Field.
Bill Cherpak, who has seven WPIAL titles under his belt, one less than Palko, returns a talented team led by Shane Stump and Dan Deabner
Stump completed 89 of 154 passes for 1,833 yards and 24 touchdowns last season while Deabner caught 59 passes for 1,365 yards and averaged 23 yards a catch.
Additionally, the Jaguars boast Princeton recruit Mac Duda and Logan Danielson on the line and DeRon VanBibber in the backfield.