A 35-13 victory over Midwestern Conference rival Ellwood City, the 600th win in program history, came with the ultimate price tag for Beaver.
The Bobcats (6-0, 8-0) have apparently lost Darian "Bubba" Bradley, one of the top senior running backs in WPIAL Class AA, to an ACL injury heading into their biggest game of the season at The Pit in Aliquippa (6-0, 8-0) Friday.
In fact, a photo on his Twitter page depicting him in a wheelchair suggests he's pretty much done altogether, and the sources who broke the news to us indicate his basketball season may be in jeopardy as well.
His right leg reportedly started bothering him as far back as Beaver's dramatic Week 4 homecoming decision over Beaver Falls, in which Bradley ran for four touchdowns, including the game-winner. He played through pain until it got too far out of hand last Friday, managing just 51 yards on eight carries.
Bradley, among the top five scorers in the WPIAL, has found the end zone 25 times, and ends his 2012 campaign as the team's leading rusher (756 yards) and receiver (233 yards).
So what looked like one of the most fascinating matchups in the WPIAL this regular season has lost a great deal of luster. Beaver will need a monster game from fullback Anthony Fidurski, and from Jeff Beltz's defense, which has one of the toughest groups of linemen in the area.
What I learned from watching Aliquippa whip Beaver Falls in Week 8 is, although the Quips have relied upon junior running backs Terry Swanson and D-1 prospect Dravon Henry to make them the highest-scoring team in the classification, their passing game can still make big plays when it counts.
Although the Bobcats have looked solid defensively the last couple weeks, they're used to winning shootout-style games, so I wouldn't be surprised to see Aliquippa use that play-fake and air it out a lot.
Fittingly, the last Thursday night game of the regular season features another big rivalry in Class AA, as Greensburg Central Catholic (5-2, 6-2) visits Jeannette (6-1, 7-1).
This chapter of said rivalry will read much differently than recent ones. Muzzy Colosimo will not be roaming the sideline at McKee Stadium, and the Jayhawks, for just the second time since 2004, may finish out of the running for at least a share of the conference crown.
What will stay the same is my anticipation of a defensive struggle that could come down to one big play. The Centurions allow just 12.6 points per game, while Jeannette, defensively, also ranks in the Class AA top ten, allowing an even 13 per game.
Jeannette QB Seth Miller, who has played hero already this season, needs to keep the ball away from Zach Guiser, whose 20 career interceptions make him one of the top shut-down defenders the WPIAL has seen in a while. Miller's counterpart, Chase Keller, is an exciting sophomore whose 1,600 all-purpose yards and 17 total TD's make him the catalyst of GCC's offense.
Actually, both these teams really like to keep it on the ground, with the Jayhawks passing to set up their multi-pronged attack. Their x-factor is two-sport star Jordan Edmunds, an impact player on defense, and a consistent runner with 625 yards and a team-best 11 touchdowns.
That defense seems to be gaining confidence, and if it can limit Keller's damage, this will become an even taller task for the Centurions.
You can watch this battle of playoff-bound Interstate Conference teams at 7:00 on ROOT Sports.
What does the rest of the playoff picture look like?
In Quad-A, upon closer inspection, we have six teams--Peters Township, Penn Hills, and Baldwin in the Southeastern Conference; Kiski Area, Altoona, and Connellsville in the Foothills Conference--battling for three spots Friday night.
The Indians and Cavaliers have the paths of least resistance. Peters is in if it beats Canon-McMillan, and Kiski is in if it beats Latrobe. If Baldwin upsets Bethel Park, it has an opportunity to sneak in as the Class AAAA Wild Card. However, because Connellsville and Altoona have an edge in Gardner Points, the winner of their meeting in Altoona more likely gets it.
In Class AAA, five spots are up for grabs. New Castle, Hopewell, Ambridge, and Blackhawk are all fighting for their postseason lives in the Parkway Conference, while, mathematically, the Class AAA Wild Card seems most likely to come out of the Big Nine Conference. Trinity is in if it beats playoff-bound Ringgold. Belle Vernon needs to handle its business against winless Albert Gallatin to stay in the hunt. The Hillers already have four wins, and if the Leopards match that, they could get the 16th spot without needing help.
In Class AA, Kittanning hosts a go-on-or-go-home game against Shady Side Academy for the last spot in the Allegheny Conference, whereas things are a little more complicated in the MAC, which will round out the playoff field. If Freedom defeats Riverside and Mohawk defeats New Brighton, Mohawk gets the last Class AA playoff spot on account of tiebreakers. If Freedom and New Brighton win, the Bulldogs will clinch for the same reason. If Freedom loses, then the Mohawk-New Brighton contest becomes a de facto play-in game.
In Class A, another essential "pigtail" game takes place Friday not far from where Mr. High School Sports hangs out, as Avonworth visits Northgate for the right to send one of those Eastern Conference foes to the tournament. The Tri-County South Conference remains wide open, but for Avella, a feel-good story that could potentially feel even better, to prolong its season, the Eagles not only have to beat Bentworth, but also pray for Geibel to perform a mini-miracle against Jefferson-Morgan.
Keeping this as apolitical as possible, kudos to Gateway on an impressive blowout of Penn-Trafford last week to reclaim the Foothills Conference title, and kudos to head coach Terry Smith for keeping the team's collective head in the right place amidst, in my opinion, unnecessary distraction.
Here's what Arizona recruit Tom Woodson had to say about the Gators' accomplishments thus far after racking up 300 passing yards and three TD's that night--in the first half alone:
(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)
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