By Andy Shay:
MIDDLETOWN BLUE RAIDERS
Jose Lopez, RB:On the verge of becoming the all-time leading rusher in program history, the junior needs only 63 yards to take over the No. 1 spot with 4,373 yards. Lopez has posted four consecutive 200-yard games in the postseason and currently has 2,221 rushing yards with 28 touchdowns on the year. There are more weapons than Lopez on this offense, but he powers the engine for sure.
Richie Sykes, DB:WPIAL champion Aliquippa is a very different team than your typical Quips squad. They are balanced offensively and lethal through the air. Sykes plays on both sides of the ball, doubling as a running back, but it’s his work in the secondary that will be critical in the state final. Sykes leads the Blue Raiders in interceptions with six and passes defended. His role on defense will be vital in this matchup.
Cole Senior, DL:You have to get pressure on the quarterback and create negative plays to even think about slowing down a Quips offense that averages more than 40 points a game. Senior has 76 tackles, 29 tackles for a loss and eight sacks this season. He’s the ringleader up front.
Eli Kasanovich, QB:All the numbers are impressive, but what stands out is Kasanovich’s 66-percent completion percentage. He’s not a dual threat, really, he’s more of a pure gunslinger and has a big arm. He’s thrown for more than 3,330 yards with 40-plus touchdowns for an offense that has scored 40 or more points in 10 of 15 games.
Avante McKenzie, RB:This is the other half of the Quips offensive machine. He averages a staggering 8.1 yard per carry and has more than 1,500 rushing yards. McKenzie did not play in the semifinal victory last week because of a suspension, and it is up in the air whether he’s available for the title game.
William Gipson, WR:This is your definition of a go-to receiver. Gipson has more than 60 catches and 1,700 receiving yards. He can work any area of the field and is wicked dangerous after the catch. He averages more than 27 yards per catch. That’s a staggering number.
Jahmir Plant, RB:Everyone focuses on quarterback Kane Everson and what he can do with his arm while extending plays with his legs. But the second half of the season, Plant has developed into a back capable of carrying the load and taking some of the pressure off Everson. He’s eclipsed 1,000 yards and against quality opponents is running with confidence to be a go-to back on any down and distance. His development has made this offense more difficult to defend.
Dionte Nichols, DE:The senior has become nearly unblockable off the edge this season. What makes Nichols more lethal is his motor doesn’t stop. His numbers reflect that with 21.5 tackles for a loss and 16.5 sacks this season. Combining for nearly 40 TFLs and sacks is unheard of. His first step has become more and more visible this season. And he’s solid against the run, registering 76 total tackles.
Andre White Jr., LB:Never hurts to have an anchor in the middle at linebacker. The Texas A&M recruit already had the talent to garner FBS attention, but this season he has become even better. He’s reading the game faster and reacting quickly to what he sees. And his tackling is superior. Leads the Cougars with 125 tackles, including 75 solo, and also has 12 tackles for a loss and three sacks.
ST. JOE’S PREP HAWKS
Kyle McCord, QB:The FBS recruit has so many receiver options at his disposal, but his ability to share the ball consistently makes him extremely dangerous. McCord, who has an offer from Penn State, among others, has thrown for more than 2,300 yards and nearly 30 touchdowns. And he completes 66 percent of his passes.
Johnny Freeman, WR:The Hawks have three main targets, including Marvin Harrison Jr., the son of former Indianapolis Colts great Marvin Harrison. But the most lethal of the trio is Freeman. He leads the team in receptions and yards, and has nine touchdowns. Most importantly, he averages 16.6 yards per catch.
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