<
>

Playoff Time: the PIAA bracket breakdown

It's finally time. The sectional tournaments have wound down and now it's time for the state's best teams to come together and determine the state champ. Let's break down the classifications and take a look at who is the favorite and who might be a sleeper.

CLASS AAAA

It seems strange to be headed into the state tournament without the state's top team, Pittsburgh C.C., which suffered a 28-14 loss to Upper St. Clair last week. But that's why they play the games. Upper St. Clair's work is not done — now the team faces North Allegheny, which has been nothing short of dominant all year. This is a rematch of an early-season matchup, which North Allegheny won, 28-21. The winner of that WPIAL title game and first-round state matchup has to be considered a heavy favorite to run the table. But the bottom half of the bracket is loaded with talented teams such as Cumberland Valley and Central Dauphin, none of which should be taken lightly.

Favorite: North Allegheny. The 19-game winning streak will be tested, but the Tigers have few weaknesses.

Sleeper: Council Rock South. A three-point loss to Pennsbury is the only blemish. A tough schedule set the stage for a deep postseason run.

CLASS AAA

There are just two undefeated teams remaining in Class AAA — Knoch and Grove City — and they could very well meet in the second round of the state tourney. Thank heavens this isn't the BCS. This bracket has everything — from the unbeatens to the one- and two-loss juggernauts to the 5-7 Shamokin squad that snuck in with a late sectional run. Oh, and then there's Archbishop Wood, already firmly in the second round after a 49-0 win over Dobbins-Randolph and ranked No. 29 in the POWERADE FAB 50. The winner of this bracket will most certainly have earned it.

Favorite: Archbishop Wood. An early loss to Pittsburgh C.C. was the only blemish on this impressive team's resume.

Sleeper: Bishop McDevitt. Has now scored 40+ points in seven of its last eight games including a 70-21 win over Conrad Weiser last week.

CLASS AA

The first round of the Class AA state tournament features two matchups of unbeaten teams, one in each half of the bracket. On the top half, Lancaster Catholic plays host to Wyomissing. On the bottom, there's a big WPIAL showdown between Aliquippa and Jeannette, two perennial powerhouses. Springfield Township, Pen Argyl and Moniteau also have unbeaten records. It's possible that five of the eight quarterfinalists could be unbeaten. THAT is playoff football at its finest.

Favorite: Aliquippa. IF the Quips beat Jeannette (and that's a big "IF"), they're positioned nicely for a deep postseason run.

Sleeper: West Philadelphia Catholic. Already into the second round, the Burrs might be playing for their last state title as the school is reportedly slated to be closed following a meeting scheduled for January of next year.

CLASS A

This might be the lowest classification, but don't let the small schools fool you. There are some immensely talented programs in here. Pius X, Clairton and Sto-Rox are all unbeaten and have top-tier talent, and in some cases, players destined for D-I football at the next level. Clairton is the reigning state champ and currently holds a 43-game winning streak. It's a mark that is the fourth-best in the nation. But the Bears haven't faced anyone of significance in a while. Sto-Rox, led by stellar senior Deaysean Rippy, will be a stellar first test.

Favorite: Clairton. Win the first round game and it could be smooth sailing from there.

Sleeper: Penns Manor. Junior Danny Ferens has done everything for this team this season, and he's exactly the type of playmaker that could thrive in the top half of this bracket.