Last week, four teams claimed their thrones as WPIAL Champions. In 6A, Pine-Richland completed their perfect WPIAL season by defeating Central Catholic. Gateway won their first title since 1986 by holding off a fierce comeback from Penn-Trafford. Thomas Jefferson rolled to their third straight WPIAL title by defeating Montour and now gets a rematch with the Erie Cathedral Prep team that knocked them out of the state playoffs each of the last two years. In 3A, Quaker Valley won a defensive struggle with Aliquippa by a 2-0 margin to claim their first WPIAL title in school history. Sports Illustrated published an excellent article this week on Quaker Valley’s grity victory. Quaker Valley now gets a bye into the semifinals of the State Playoffs. Thomas Jefferson and their nemesis Cathedral Prep will face off on Friday night at Veteran’s Stadium in Erie. On Saturday afternoon, Gateway will face a former WPIAL team in Hollidaysburg at Mansion Park in Altoona and 6A champion Pine-Richland will take on State College at Hempfield.
Last Friday night saw four competitive semifinal games in Classes 1A and 2A. The top two seeds in 2A skirted by with Steel Valley needing overtime to top Riverside and Washington’s defense stifling CWNC’s offense on multiple second-half opportunities. In 1A, the top two seeds fell in rematches of games played earlier this season. Jeannette got their first win against Clairton in 7 tries since 2014 to reach their third straight WPIAL Championship Game. On the other half of the bracket, Imani Christian reached their first title game in school history by avenging a loss from earlier this season to California. The Saints got a quick lead and were able to hold it thanks to their dynamic passing game, which helped take California’s run-heavy attack out of the game.
Thanks to our WPIAL content sponsors TicketRoar, an online ticketing company that provides services for high schools so you can preorder your tickets and have them on your phone when you get to the gate. A few local schools are already on board and have seen a much more efficient process of getting fans through the gate and into the game. You can find them on Twitter @TicketRoar and on Facebook.
All season, you’ve heard us talk about the great work our friends at the TribLive High School Sports network do to broadcast games on the internet. They will be broadcasting both radio and video coverage of the 1A and 2A WPIAL Championships live from Joe Walton Stadium. You can find them all on their website tribhssn.triblive.com.
As a reminder, if you’re going to be following along with the WPIAL action throughout the day, keep an eye on the #WPIAL hashtag on Twitter where people post score updates from games. I”ll also be posting score updates and commentary from my Twitter account @thesteelersnat.
Class 2A Championship
1. Steel Valley (6-0, 11-0) vs 2. Washington (7-0, 11-0)
How They Got Here
The top two seeds in 2A were also the only two teams to navigate the regular season with unbeaten records and statistically the best teams in the classification. Washington actually topped both categories, averaging 43 points per game on offense and only allowing 9 points per game on defense. Steel Valley was not far behind, averaging 40 points per game on offense and only allowing 14 per game on defense.
Steel Valley is the defending 2A State Champions and the only WPIAL team that has not lost in the 6-classification era. The Ironmen are carrying a 26-game winning streak into the 2A Championship Game against Washington. While Steel Valley was not as dominant this season as they were last year when they mercy ruled all 15 of their opponents, they still cruised through the regular season and only had one game closer than 20 points. The Ironmen rolled past Laurel and Burgettstown in the first two rounds of the playoffs but got a big challenge from Riverside in the semifinals. Riverside held a 7-0 halftime lead but Steel Valley made a halftime change at quarterback and it paid off. Trey Kartfelt came into the game and his first completion went to Amonte Strothers for a 71-yard touchdown. Riverside would have two chances inside the 10 yard line in the second half but a fumble and a blocked field goal kept the game tied and sent it to overtime. Riverside kicked a field goal on their possession to take a 10-7 lead. On Steel Valley’s second play, Kartfelt completed his second pass of the game, a lob to Strothers in the end zone that Strothers went up and took away from two Riverside defenders to give the Ironmen the 13-10 victory.
Similar to Steel Valley, Washington breezed through the regular season and only had one game closer than 28 points. The Prexies defense was outstanding, shutting out 3 teams and holding 3 more to just one score. Washington rolled past Freedom and East Allegheny in the first two rounds of the playoffs, but got a challenge from the Midwestern Conference Champs Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic in the semifinals. Washington held a precarious 12-7 lead at halftime then stretched their lead to 19-7 with a 61-yard touchdown run early in the third. North Catholic’s defense came up big by forcing 4 turnovers and blocking a punt in the second half, but would only find points from one of them – a fumble return to cut the lead to 19-14. Washington’s class-leading defense dug in and did not allow any first downs in the fourth quarter to secure the victory.
Steel Valley and Washington are meeting in the playoffs for the third time since 2000. The Prexies won the two prior meetings – a quarterfinal in 2000 and a first round matchup in 2014.
This is Steel Valley’s fourth consecutive playoff appearance and 10th in the last 12 years. The Ironmen are making their second straight appearance in a WPIAL final after winning the 2A WPIAL and PIAA titles last year. Before winning the title last year, Steel Valley’s last Championship Game appearance came in 1989.
Washington is making their 7th consecutive playoff appearance but this is their first WPIAL Championship Game since 2012. Washington lost that game to Aliquippa and have not won a WPIAL title since 2001. Washington’s senior class completed a perfect four-year stretch of conference play. Washington’s last loss to a conference opponent came in Week 7 of 2013.
Steel Valley has won 4 WPIAL Championships and one PIAA title. Their first came in 1982 when they defeated Aliquippa to win the AAA title. The Ironmen then won back-to-back titles in 1988 and 1989. Steel Valley would reach the semis in 1991 and then would not make it back to the semis until 2015. That run served as a springboard for the Ironmen who went on to win the 2016 WPIAL and State Championship.
Washington claims 6 WPIAL titles and one State Championship. The Prexies tied Johnstown 0-0 in the 1917 WPIAL AAA Championship when there was no overtime. They won the AAA Championship in 1920 and 1926 and were declared the 1923 Champions. Washington also won the WPIAL AA title in 1993 over Riverside and 2001 over Beaver Falls. Their 2001 season was the best in school history and culminated with a PIAA Championship victory over Pen Argyl.
Steel Valley and Washington both have loaded teams with talent all over the field. Steel Valley’s offense has centered around their ground game, which is led by Kameron Williams (1017 yards, 19 TDS). Trevon Adams has been an all-around star for the Ironmen, leading the team in receiving (539 yards), second in rushing (778 yards) and scoring 16 times. Steel Valley has rotated quarterbacks this season. Ronnell Lawrence is the team’s leading passer (722 yards, 10 TDs) and Trey Karfelt has also seen time, throwing for 578 yards and 9 TDs. Lawrence started the semifinal game against Riverside, but Steel Valley made a halftime change to Karfelt and both of his completions went for touchdowns to win the game for the Ironmen. At receiver, Amonte Strothers has been the big-play target. Strothers has 495 yards and 12 TDs this season, including two last week – the second of which came in overtime as the game-winner. Strothers is an incredible athlete with a few D1 offers. Junior LB Todd Hill also has a few D1 offers and is an absolute force on the defensive side of the ball.
While Steel Valley’s offense has been run-heavy, Washington’s offensive attack has been balanced. Nick Welsh has averaged 12 yards per carry and rushed for 1979 yards and 27 TDs this season. He has been complemented by Dylan Asbury (525 yards, 4 TDs) and QB Zack Swartz (335 yards, 3 TDs). Swartz has had a good year throwing the ball, accumulating 1765 yards and 26 TDs. He has spread the ball between Isaiah Schoonmaker (692 yards, 12 TDs) and TE Daniel Walker (514 yards, 10 TDs). Washington also has a D1 wide receiver in Schoonmaker, who has committed to Miami (Ohio). In the semifinals against CWNC, Schoonmaker scored what would be the game-winning touchdown on a 61-yard end-around at the start of the second half. The Prexies have the talent on both sides of the ball to hang with Steel Valley and this should be an excellent matchup.
Class 1A Championship
3. Jeannette (12-1, 6-1) vs 4. Imani Christian (11-2, 6-1)
How They Got Here
Jeannette and Imani Christian had two of the top three offenses in 1A this season, both averaging 41 points per game. Jeannette had the third-best defense in 1A, allowing just 13 points per game. This is a rematch of a contentous Week 4 game which Jeannette won 54-36. The game was called early because of a fight on the field which caused ejections of multiple Imani Christian players. This followed a fight in the stands which resulted in local police being called to the stadium.
Jeannette rolled through the first 9 games of the regular season. The Jayhawks were the top-ranked team in 1A heading into their season finale against their nemesis Clairton. The Bears got their 6th consecutive victory over Jeannette, forcing a 3-way tie between Clairton, Jeannette, and Imani Christian atop the Eastern Conference. The Jayhawks rolled over Monessen in the first round then came from behind to beat Rochester, overcoming an 11-point deficit in the last 8 minutes. In the semifinals, they finally overcame their nemesis, defeating Clairton 18-7 to advance to their third straight Championship Game.
Imani Christian boasts a dynamic offensive attack that has carried them through the regular season and playoffs. The Saints lost back-to-back games to California and Jeannette in Weeks 3 and 4 but rebounded to beat Clairton and win their last 5 regular season games. Their 6-point loss to Leechburg in Week 9 prevented a coin flip scenario for the Eastern Conference title and lost them the tiebreaker for first place. In the playoffs, they crushed Sto-Rox and got past OLSH by a 20-12 margin in a weather-impared quarterfinal. In the semis, they got revenge on California, using their passing attack to jump out to an early lead and hanging on while California’s run-heavy offense tried to come from behind. Now the Saints have a chance to avenge their other loss with a rematch against Jeannette.
Jeannette lost in the Championship Game each of the last two seasons to Clairton. The Jayhawks are making their fourth championship game appearance in the last seven years but lost all three of their previous trips. Jeannette has qualified for the playoffs in all four seasons since dropping down to the WPIAL’s smallest classification.
Imani Christian joined the WPIAL in 2012 and made their first playoff apperance in school history last year. They won their opening round game against OLSH and lost to Rochester in the quarterfinals. This year, they beat OLSH again in the quarterfinals and are making their first title game appearance in school history.
Jeannette has won 8 WPIAL Championships in school history. Their first came in 1932 when they split the AAA Championship with McKeesport and New Castle. All three tied on Gardner Points and no championship game was played so the three were named co-champions. Jeannette won the AAA Championship in 1939 and 1956. The Jayhawks won the AA Championship in 1971, 1981, 1983, 2006, and 2007. The 2007 team, led by Terrelle Pryor, also won the PIAA Championship by defeating Dunmore 49-21.
This is Imani Christian’s first WPIAL Championship Game appearance. Prior to competing in the WPIAL, Imani Christian competed in the SouthWestern Christian Athletic League where they won 4 titles in basketball.
Jeannette has reached this point thanks to the leadership of dual-threat QB Robert Kennedy. He has thrown for 1264 yards and 23 TDs and rushed for a team-high 978 yards and 22 TDs. In the first meeting between these two teams, Kennedy accounted for 5 total touchdowns. He ran for two scores, threw for one, and returned an interception and a punt for a touchdown. In the quarterfinals against Rochester, Kennedy was moved to WR and Seth Howard brought in at quarterback which sparked Jeannette’s comeback victory. In the backfield, Kennedy has been aided by the emergence of sophomore Imani Sanders who has run for 362 yards and added 216 receiving yards and scored 12 times. The aforementioned Seth Howard has run for 339 yards and 12 scores. On the outside, Jeannette may have the tallest pair of WRs in the WPIAL in 6’4″ Marcus Barnes (446 yards, 9 TDs) and 6’3″ Tre Cunningham (308 yards, 5 TDs).
Imani Christian also boasts a dynamic offensive attack that held its own in a shootout with Jeannette earlier this season. In the first meeting, Imani struggled on the ground but QB Tawan Wesley threw for 330 yards and 3 TDs. On the season, Wesley has thrown for 2581 yards and 33 TDs. Unfortunately, Wesley was injured in the semifinal against California and it remains to be seen whether he will be able to play in the title game this week. Israel Reed has seen some spot duty at quarterback, leading a win over Clairton earlier in the season when Wesley was suspended and threw for 129 yards and a score in relief last week. On the season, Reed has thrown for 702 yards and 8 TDs and is the Saints second-leading rusher with 210 yards and 6 TDs. Imani’s ground game is led by Asante Watkins who has run for 1117 yards and added 312 receiving yards and scored 21 times. The Saints dynamic passing attack has four receivers averaging over 15 yards per reception. Sam Fairley (1282 yards, 22 TDs) leads the way, with Rahmon Hart (863 yards, 10 TDs), Ray Jackson (619 yards, 7 TDs), and Brian Yates (129 yards, 4 TDs) all playing significant roles. These two teams were in an offensive battle the last time they met with Jeannette pulling out an 18-point victory thanks to touchdowns on an interception return, a fumble return, and a punt return.