By Joseph Santoliquito
PHILADELPHIA (CBS)—Last year, there were no doubts. Archbishop Wood made sure of that. The Vikings went wire-to-wire sweeping through the area and then the state like a marauding horde, going 14-1, outscoring their opponents by a combined 699 points to 124. Wood topped a season for the ages by winning the PIAA Class AAA state title in a 52-0 record-setting margin of victory in a state championship game.
This year, there is no one team that stands clearly above the rest. But there is a team that might have a slight edge over every other team in the area—that's Downingtown East, based on the pass-catching combination of quarterback Kyle Lauletta, who threw for over 2,000 yards as a junior, and Michigan State-bound wide receiver Jay Harris.
The Cougars are explosive, large and fast.
Other teams that will challenge them are Wood, which lost a lot to graduation, but returns a good nucleus, traditional area Class AAAA powerhouses La Salle and North Penn, and Suburban One League stalwarts Neshaminy and Pennsbury, along with Council Rock North and Council Rock South.
A Class AA team that could make a big splash is Imhotep Charter, with new coach Albie Crosby and a very talented team led by running back David Williams, the best running back in Southeastern Pennsylvania and arguably the state.
Here's a thumbnail look at the top-10 teams in Southeastern Pennsylvania this year:
1. Downingtown East
2. Archbishop Wood
3. La Salle
4. North Penn
5. Roman Catholic
6. Council Rock North
9. Council Rock South
10. Imhotep Charter
1. Downingtown East: Everything points to a special season for the Cougars, who finished 9-3 overall last year losing to district runner-up Council Rock South in the district quarterfinals. With Lauletta and Harris back, joined by 6-3, 215-pound junior running back Ryley Angeline, who rushed for more than 600 yards in 2011, 6-3, 210-pound senior LB Mike Munnelly and 6-3, 260-pound junior offensive tackle Alec Petrillo, Downingtown East has the foundation to go far into the District 1 Class AAAA playoffs and beyond.
What concerns head coach Mike Matta is an inexperienced secondary, after losing two all-Ches-Mont League defensive backs to graduation, and counting on that area of the field to mature quickly.
"Our whole thing is to win the league first, and we have some very good teams there, and then host the District 1 playoffs at our place," Matta said. "We've lost to North Penn several times and they're always good. We'd like to place ourselves in a position where we play them on our field during the playoffs. North Penn is the gold standard in District 1. Right now, we feel good about our team. We have no gimmes on our schedule. This is a good, tough group, with great leaders in Kyle and Jay."
2. Archbishop Wood: The Vikings lost a lot—but they also return a wealth of talent and size, starting with 6-4, 240-pound senior DE/TE Nick Arcidiacono, along with 6-1, 240-pound senior OL/DL Fran Walsh, 6-foot, 200-pound senior LB/FB Andrew Guckin, 6-4, 280-pound senior George Griffin and 6-6, 285-pound senior OL Chris O'Connor.
They're massive and mean, which will benefit skill position players 6-5, 210-pound senior WR/LB Ben Abercrombie and 5-10, 165-pound senior quarterback Chris Rahill, a first-year starter. Watch for sophomores Jarrett McClenton, a 5-8, 165-pound RB/DB and Jake Cooper, a 6-2, 230-pound LB/RB. They could be game-changers.
However, what first has to be changed is the collective memory of this team. Last year is over.
"The first thing I told the kids was that last year was last year and we'll never forget it, I love all of those guys and the special memories they gave us, but this is a new chapter and we'll make our own story," Wood coach Steve Devlin said. "We have North Penn early, and they're one of the best programs in the state. We'll find out right away what we need to compete to make ourselves better. I feel good about our front guys on the offensive and defensive lines. We'll be very good. We just need to develop the skill positions. We have the guys who we think will give us some good years."
3. La Salle: The parts change every year. What doesn't is head coach Drew Gordon, an evil genius to opposing teams that have to face the Explorers' imaginative offensive schemes. Seniors Sean Coleman, a national-level lacrosse player and 5-9, 170-pound WR/DB, 6-2, 265-pound OL/DL Tom Spitieri and 6-4, 275-pound OL/DL Patrick Hoffman return for a team that finished 12-2 overall and reached the PIAA Class AAAA state championship two of the last three years.
4. North Penn: The Knights finished 13-3 last year and reached PIAA Class AAAA state championship. Traditionally very strong, North Penn will rely heavily on 6-foot, 205-pound senior running back Kyle Mayfield, who rushed for 1,400 yards last year. Also back are seniors George Shipp, a 6-1 220-pound DE/TE, Bill Potavec, 6-3, 250-pound OL, and Derek Brandt, 5-11, 240-pound OL/DL. Coach Dick Beck, never one to shy away from playing the best in the area, added Archbishop Wood to the schedule, which is the second game of the season. The Knights, a fairly young team with a question at quarterback, will open with La Salle. Expect North Penn to get better as the season progresses, pounding the ball and playing stubborn defense.
5. Roman Catholic: The Cahillites have reached the Philadelphia Catholic League Class AAAA Division championship the last two years, only to be tripped by La Salle both times. Maybe this is the year Roman, which finished 8-4 overall in 2011, kicks in the door with possibly the best collection of talent fourth-year coach Joe McCourt has had.
Will Fuller, a 6-foot, 165-pound senior, has scary, cartoon speed that can stretch a defense, and 6-2, 215-pound senior quarterback Mike Keir has veteran savvy and the arm strength to get the ball deep to Fuller. Watch for 5-11, 180-pound sophomore running back Dimetri Kelly.
"Our offense will be the backbone of this team, because I feel we'll have the best player on the field each time we play with Will," McCourt said. "We've proven we can get there. I think this is the year we kick the door in. We'll need to play better defense."
Roman could be one of the most fun teams to watch. Each game could be a shootout, as the Cahillites' young linebacker corps matures.
6. Council Rock North: The Indians were a little hot and cold last year, finishing the 2011 season at 5-5. There is one glaring reason why to like Indians this year: 6-5, 250-pound senior defensive end/offensive guard Curtis Cothran, who will be a sublime terror for every opposing team Council Rock North plays. Offenses will need to alter what they do for the Penn State commit.
There is something else to like about coach Adam Collachi's team and that's a big, solid, experienced offensive line, which includes a pair of 6-3, 220-pound seniors, Bobby Bartlett and Brett Ditomasso, 6-1, 285-pound Billy Foote and 6-foot, 210-pound Pat Krimm. All four started since they were sophomores.
Senior AJ Nielsen is a speedy little tailback that rushed for over 300 yards and averaged close 4.5 yards a carry last year. The Indians' quarterback situation could come down to junior Joe Eick, and watch for fast, athletic freshman Brandon McIlwain. Nate English, a 6-3, 220-pound senior, will do double-duty at H-back and inside linebacker.
John Devine, a 5-10, 175-pound senior, could be a game-changer as a safety and receiver. He averaged six tackles a game, and caught 12 passes for over 200 yards, averaging over 16 yards per catch, during the season.
7. Neshaminy: Redskins' coach Mark Schmidt went with a youth movement last year, starting nine sophomores. Still, Neshaminy went 8-4 and made the quarterfinals of the District 1 Class AAAA playoffs, losing to eventual district champion North Penn. Back for the Redskins will be two-year starter Justin Andrews, a 5-10, 160-pound WR/DB, 5-11, 180-pound junior RB/DB Devon Brown and 6-3, 227-pound junior TE/DE Luke Carrezola. Defense will be a strength, although the quarterback position is still undecided.
Expect the Redskins to keep the ball on the ground early as the offense develops. It's still a fairly young team, and Schmidt said he would like to see the intensity pick up, but Neshaminy will have a weapon in junior kicker Nick Tucci, one of the best in the area.
8. Pennsbury: The Falcons went 9-4 overall and made the District 1 Class AAAA semifinals last year, losing to eventual district champion North Penn. Returning for coach Galen Snyder will be running back Daquan Mack, a 6-1, 230-pound senior who rushed for over 1,000 yards. Tony Donovan, a 5-9, 170-pound senior, will be the starting quarterback. Also back are 6-1, 210-pound senior LB Tommy Hose, who had 116 tackles last year, and 6-2, 215-pound LB/RB Shawn Pepper.
The Falcons will be good defensively and possess quality skill players. The problem lies with an offensive line that graduated. Charlie Snorweagh, a 5-9, 160-pound sophomore running back, ran for over 400 yards last year. He was the first freshman to ever start at running back for the Falcons in Snyder's tenure. He could be the Falcons' breakout player.
9. Council Rock South: Coach Vince Bedesem has done wonders with this program. The Golden Hawks experienced a record-setting season last year going 12-2 overall and reaching the District 1 Class AAAA championship for the first time in the 10-year existence of the school. The Golden Hawks run a mistake-proof wishbone offense, which opposing teams know is coming, yet can't do much to stop it.
Seniors Christian Crane, who will take over at quarterback, and PJ Steinmetz will handle the bulk of the offense. Some gaping holes will need to be filled, however, with the loss of all-everything PJ Gallo and lineman Andrew Cohen. There's another Gallo coming up, junior Eric Gallo, PJ's younger brother, who will be a two-way lineman.
10. Imhotep Charter: Albie Crosby takes over in his first season as a head coach of a star-studded Panthers' team led by senior running back David Williams, a transfer from West Catholic who rushed for 1,950 yards in 2011, and senior RB/WR Eerin Young, a first-team all-Public League selection who rushed for over 1,000 yards last year.
The Panthers went 7-4 overall last season.
It's a young team that has the potential to go deep in the Class AA state playoffs, returning Tyrone Barge, a 6-1, 265-pound junior OG/DT, 6-0, 285-pound junior center Gordon Thomas, 6-5, 285-pound junior OL Aaron Ruff, and Brandon Chatmon, a 6-1, 225-pound senior linebacker that transferred in from Cardinal O'Hara.
Crosby will hand the keys to the offense over to sophomore quarterback Andre Druitt-Parks. Najee Goode, a 5-11, 170-pound senior DB, and first-year player Nigel Grant, a 6-6, 240-pound senior TE/DE, will also be factors.
A Class AA state championship is within grasp of the Panthers.
"That's what we're hoping for—that's the goal; we have a lot of depth, the question is learning about each other," Crosby said. "We'll find out fast how good we could be, opening up with a team like Strath Haven. Our vision is go deep into the state playoffs. We're excited. Right now, my concern is finding a quality fullback and back-up quarterback. We definitely have the pieces. We're just trying to jell, and learning to communicate between a new coaching staff and the players."
Also under consideration: Cardinal O'Hara, Coatesville, Downingtown West, Garnet Valley, Frankford, Haverford School, Malvern Prep, Penn Charter, Pottsgrove, Ridley, St. Joseph's Prep, Springfield (Delco), George Washington, West Catholic, Wissahickon.
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