The WPIAL playoffs have arrived. It has been a busy week loaded with WPIAL-related content here at Steel City Blitz. Earlier this week I published two playoff primers (one covering 6A, 5A, 4A, and 3A and the other covering 2A and 1A) that detailed key narratives, recent results, and best playoff accomplishments for all 64 WPIAL playoff teams. Those are some of my favorite WPIAL posts I write every year and I highly recommend checking them out as they are jam packed with current and historical information on all the playoff teams. Additionally, I hopped on the Steel City Blitz Podcast and recorded a special Playoff Preview Episode.
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.
The new partnership between Trib Total Media and the MSA Sports Network debuted with the new website tribhssn.triblive.com. We are very happy for all of our friends at the (former) MSA Sports Network and are thrilled that high school sports will continue to be broadcast over the internet airwaves for years to come. Tonight they will be broadcasting all 32 playoff games.
This week’s WMBS Game of the Week features the top seed in 1A the California Trojans taking on Bishop Canevin. A full preview of that game can be found later in this post. You can tune in online here with a pregame show starting at 6:30 (with a brief appearance by yours truly!) and the WPIAL Scoreboard Show following the game at 10pm.
As a reminder, if you’re going to be following along with the WPIAL action tonight, keep an eye on the #WPIALhashtags on Twitter where people post score updates from games. I”ll also be posting score updates and commentary from my Twitter account @thesteelersnat.
1. Pine-Richland (6-0, 10-0) vs 8. Norwin (3-3, 5-5)
Pine-Richland rolled through the regular season, sweeping through conference play and beating the top 3 teams from the Southeastern Conference in non-conference games. They averaged 50 points per game (the best in 6A) and won their games by an average margin of victory of 38 points. This is bad news for Norwin who has the lowest-scoring offense of any 6A playoff team, averaging just 16 points per game. Pine-Richland QB Phil Jurkovec is the WPIAL’s second-leading passer with 2336 yards and 21 TDs and has added 583 yards and 11 TDs on the ground. Leading rusher Jordan Crawford has run for 900 yards and 21 TDs while Jurkovec’s favorite targets on the outside have been Raymond Falcone (745 yards, 8 TDs) and Jason DeFrancisis (595 yards, 4 TDs). Norwin has relied heavily on their passing game, led by QB Jack Solpek (1667 yards, 8 TDs) throwing to Gianni Rizzo (442 yards, 3 TDs) and Dylan Kantz (381 yards, 1 TD). Leading rusher Jayvon Thrift (314 yards, 6 TDs) is one of the top safety prospects in the state.
4. Mt Lebanon (5-1, 6-4) vs 5. North Allegheny (4-2, 7-3)
This is a rematch of a Week 5 game which North Allegheny won 44-27. In that game, Mt Lebanon turned the ball over a number of times and was unable to slow down North Allegheny’s offense. This game features the best 1-on-1 matchup of the first round with Mt Lebanon WR Aidan Cain against North Allegheny CB Joey Porter Jr. Cain set the WPIAL single-season record for receptions (93) and receiving yards (1648) this season and had 106 yards and 1 TD in his last matchup against Porter. This game features a matchup of strength on strength with NA’s secondary against Mt Lebanon’s passing attack, which has accounted for 2900 yards this season between QBs James Stocker (1925 yards, 12 TDs) and Seth Morgan (973 yards, 10 TDs). North Allegheny has a strong balanced offense led by dual-threat QB Luke Trueman (1041 passing yards, 11 TDs, 830 rushing yards, 7 TDs). Leading rusher Turner White has accounted for 862 yards and 12 TDs while leading receiver John Varzdel has 436 yards and 9 TDs. Two long streaks are at stake here – Mt. Lebanon has not reached a semifinal since 2005 and North Allegheny has not lost in the first round since 2005.
2. Central Catholic vs 7. Peters Twp
at Cupples Stadium on the South Side
Central Catholic’s only losses this season came in Week 0 against Erie Cathedral Prep and to Pine-Richland. The two-time defending Champions closed out the season winning 4 in a row, each by at least 21 points. The Vikings are led by dual-threat QB Troy Fisher (1019 passing yards, 15 TDs, 234 rushing yards, 6 TDs). Once again, Central’s rushing game has complemented the passing attack as Khalil Weathers (445 yards, 8 TDs) and Kyros Thorpe (289 yards, 3 TDs) have split carries with Fisher. Weathers is one of the top CB prospects in the WPIAL with D1 offers from some Ivy League schools. This is Peters Twp’s first trip to the playoffs since 2013. The Indians have the second lowest-scoring offense in the 6A playoffs, averaging just 23 points per game. QB Jake Cortes has thrown for 1693 yards and 8 TDs this season, primarily to Josh Casilli (467 yards, 6 TDs). On the ground, Ryan Magiske (577 yards, 9 TDs) and Adrian Williams (498 yards, 3 TDs) have been a formidable 1-2 punch, but Peters’ offense will have to contend with Central’s stout defense if they want to win their first playoff game since 2003.
3. Bethel Park vs 6. Penn Hills
This is a matchup of an old-school smash mouth rushing attack against a dynamic passing offense. Bethel Park’s only loss this season came against Pine-Richland and they have a win over North Allegheny. The Black Hawks power running attack is led by Tanner Volpatti (1111 yards, 22 TDs) and John Doleno (643 yards, 12 TDs). Bethel Park doesn’t throw the ball much, but when they have Anthony Chiccitt (894 yards, 7 TDs) has been effective. Bethel’s defense has been strong against the run, but will have to deal with a different kind of attack from Penn Hills QB Hollis Mathis (2093 yards, 23 TDs), who has two dangerous receivers in Daequan Hardy (698 yards, 9 TDs) and Dante Cephas (670 yards, 13 TDs). Tank Smith (533 yards, 7 TDs) and Tim Smith (382 yards, 1 TD) have split carries in the backfield for the Indians. Penn Hills is one of just 2 6A playoff teams that allowed more than 20 points per game this season and their chances of winning will rest on their ability to slow down Bethel Park’s rushing attack.
1. Penn-Trafford (7-1, 9-1) vs 8. Fox Chapel (5-3, 6-4)
The Warriors bounced back from missing the playoffs this year to dominate their first 9 games before falling in the season finale to McKeesport. Penn-Trafford had the best defense in 5A, holding opponents to just 9 points per game. The Warriors offense has been balanced between dual-threat QB Cam Laffoon (1147 passing yards, 12 pass TDs, 604 rushing yards) and the rushing attack of John Gay (1088 yards, 16 TDs) and Caleb Lisbon (690 yards, 12 TDs). Fox Chapel’s defense, whose 23 points allowed per game is the most among 5A playoff teams, will be stressed to slow down the Warriors offense that averages 35 points per game. Fox Chapel’s offense relies heavily on their rushing attack. The backfield tandem of QB Nick Gizzo (1239 rushing yards, 17 TDs) and Micah Morris (1246 rushing yards, 13 TDs) has been dynamic this season. Gizzo has also thrown for 763 yards and 5 TDs, but the Foxes have done most of their damage this year on the ground which could present a good challenge for a Penn-Trafford team that just lost to run-heavy McKeesport.
4. Upper St Clair (7-1, 7-3) vs 5. Franklin Regional (5-3, 6-3)
Upper St Clair won the Allegheny Nine Conference but was given the 4th seed because of the “inverted seeding” used for McKeesport. Upper St Clair’s offense has been balanced between RB Colin McLinden (760 yards, 12 TDs) and dual-threat QB Jack Hansberry. Hansberry has thrown for 1376 yards and 9 TDs and rushed for 526 yards and 10 scores. He has spread the ball between Dom Cepullio (425 yards, 3 TDs), Chris Pantellis (338 yards, 5 TDs), and Tom Kyle (325 yards, 1 TD). Franklin Regional is a strong defensive team who shut down McKeesport’s rushing attack early this season and should be a good test for USC’s running game. Franklin Regional’s offense goes through playmaker Nate Leopold, who leads the Panthers in rushing (523 yards) and receiving (310 yards) and has scored 6 TDs. QB Adam Rudzinski has thrown for 974 yards and 10 TDs. This game features two strong defenses, so it should be a good old-fashioned low-scoring slug-fest.
2. Gateway (7-1, 9-1) vs 7. Woodland Hills (6-2, 6-4)
These old rivals met in Week 0 with Gateway jumping out to an early lead then hanging on for a 35-23 win as Woodland Hills stormed back in the second half. Gateway has the highest-scoring offense in 5A, averaging 38 points per game, while Woodland Hills has the third-best defense, allowing just 15 points per game. Gateway features the WPIAL’s leading passer in Brady Walker (2701 yards, 33 TDs) and the WPIAL’s second-leading receiver in Courtney Jackson (1193 yards, 18 TDs). RB Isaiah Cameron has been an all-around threat, leading the team in rushing (576 yards) and second in receiving (433 yards) and finding the end zone 14 times. Woodland Hills boasted the best defense in the Allegheny Nine Conference and enters the playoffs having given up just 14 points in the last two weeks against the top 2 teams in the conference. Gateway and Penn-Trafford were the only teams this year to score more than 23 points against Woodland Hills. Unfortunately, Woodland Hills’ emergence as a dominant defense has coincided with some offensive struggles as they scored just 9 points over their last 2 outings.
3. West Allegheny (6-2, 7-2) vs 6. McKeesport (6-2, 7-2)
In a rematch of last year’s 5A Championship, West A and McKeesport are matched up in the 3-6 game based on the WPIAL’s inverted seeding. McKeesport has the second-best offense in 5A, averaging 35 points per game and a stout defense allowing just 13 per game. The Tigers have put up video game numbers with their triple-option rushing attack this season. Layton Jordan (1177 yards, 14 TDs), John Harper (970 yards, 14 TDs), and Carlinos Acie (672 yards, 8 TDs) are all averaging over 9 yards per carry behind McKeesport’s massive offensive line. West Allegheny has dealt with a number of injuries this season and have used 4 different QBs and for a time were starting freshman RB Nico Flati (295 yards, 3 TDs). Will Weber returned to the lineup in Week 9 and leads the team in rushing (557 yards), has accounted for 107 receiving yards and 176 passing yards and factored in on 14 TDs. Kam Kruze (395 yards, 3 TDs) has been the starting quarterback in the second half of the season. WR Mateo Vandemia (384 yards, 5 TDs) has been one of the constants for the Indians who have had to mix and match this season because of injuries.
1. South Fayette (8-0, 10-0) vs 8. West Mifflin (4-4, 5-4)
South Fayette completed their 5th consecutive undefeated regular season with the top offense in 4A, averaging 45 points per game. The Lions have been balanced offensively this season with QB Drew Saxton throwing for 1861 yards and 24 TDs and RB Johnny Beck running for 844 yards and 18 TDs. Saxton’s primary targets have been Noah Plack (529 yards, 8 TDs), Mike Trimber (430 yards, 6 TDs) and Rayquin Glover (309 yards, 3 TDs). West Mifflin had an odd season, dropping close games to Albert Gallatin and Laurel Highlands. Their head-to-head victories over Trinity and Greensburg Salem were enough to get the Titans into the playoffs. West Mifflin has relied heavily on their ground game this season, led by the duo of Parrish Parker (830 yards, 11 TDs) and Howard Reid (719 yards, 10 TDs).
4. Montour (6-2, 7-2) vs 5. New Castle (6-2, 7-3)
This is a rematch of conference opponents who met in Week 1 with Montour scoring a 42-21 victory. Both teams have explosive offenses averaging over 30 points per game while New Castle has allowed more points (23 per game) than any other 4A playoff team. Montour has a balanced offense led by dual-threat QB Kavon Morman who has thrown for 1238 yards and 13 TDs and rushed for 490 yards and 10 scores. Leading rusher Brayden Jones has 586 yards and 6 TDs and leading receiver Branden Lipford has 429 yards and 6 scores. On the other side, New Castle has a run-heavy offense, led by Ohio State commit Marcus Hooker. Hooker has run for 1271 yards and 17 TDs this season and took over the quarterback role in week 5, throwing for 500 yards and 5 TDs in the later half of the season. Hooker and counterpart Josh Thomason (1052 yards, 7 TDs) both average over 7 yards per carry and have run New Castle into the playoffs.
2. Belle Vernon (8-0, 9-0) vs 7. Mars (5-3, 6-4)
Belle Vernon won the Big Nine Conference after a Week 7 victory over Thomas Jefferson. The Leopards have a strong defense that has held opponents under 10 points per game. On offense, QB Jared Hartman has been the key factor, throwing for 742 yards and 13 TDs and rushing for 163 yards and a team-high 8 TDs. Leading rusher MAson Pascoe has 616 yards and 5 TDs while leading receivers Logan Pfronger (265 yards, 6 TDs) and Derek Thomas (219 yards, 6 TDs) both average over 15 yards per reception. Belle Vernon is trying to reverse a troubling trend of first round upsets where they have won just once in their last 13 playoff appearances. The Leopards will look to slow down Mars’ rushing attack which has featured three quality backs. Garrett Reinke (474 yards, 8 TDs), Chuck Green (469 yards, 3 TDs) and Teddy Ruffner (462 yards, 5 TDs) have all been successful this season while QB Tyler Kowalkowski (865 yards, 8 TDs) has made it work on the outside by throwing to Cade Hetzler (523 yards, 5 TDs). Mars has the lowest-scoring offense in the 4A playoffs, averaging just 23 points per game and will have a tough challenge against Belle Vernon’s defense.
3. Thomas Jefferson (7-1, 8-1) vs 6. Trinity (5-3, 6-3)
This is a rematch of a Week 2 game in which TJ held Trinity’s rushing attack in check and won 35-0. This game also features the top two running backs in 4A. Thomas Jefferson is the two-time defending WPIAL Champions. In Week 7, TJ lost to Belle Vernon which was their first loss against a WPIAL opponent since Week 2 of 2015. The Jaguars boast the best defense in 4A, holding opponents to just 5 points per game and pitching 4 shutouts. Belle Vernon was the only team to score more than 7 against TJ this season. Offensively, the Jaguars have a solid tandem in the backfield with QB Shane Stump throwing for 1217 yards and 18 TDs and RB Justin Vigna rushing for 1364 yards and 20 TDs. The receiving corps has been led by Garrett Fairman (742 yards, 11 TDs). Trinity is making their first playoff appearance since 2012 thanks to the WPIAL’s second-leading rusher Joey Koroly (1805 yards, 23 TDs). Thomas Jefferson was the only team to keep Koroly out of the end zone this season. While Koroly has been the work horse for the Hillers but QB Dylan Kern has been effective when needed, throwing for 595 yards and 13 TDs.
1. Aliquippa (6-0, 10-0) vs 8. South Park (6-1, 6-3)
The Quips and Eagles meet for the second year in a row in the playoffs. This is also a rematch of a Week 5 non-conference game that Aliquippa won 52-0. This will be the 3rd playoff meeting between the two schools in the last 5 years. Aliquippa’s defense was downright dominant this season, allowing just 1 offensive touchdown and pitching 6 shutouts. The Quips ground and pound attack is led by Avante McKenzie (1344 yards, 13 TDs) and Tariq Jones (463 yards, 7 TDs). QB Eli Kosanovich (693 yards, 11 TDs) hasn’t been asked to do much but has a quality tandem of receivers in MJ Devonshire (312 yards, 9 TDs) and William Gipson (205 yards, 4 TDs). South Park earned one of the 3A wild cards for the second straight year after beating Elizabeth Forward in Week 8 to force a 3-way tie atop the conference. The Eagles were perfectly average this season, scoring 200 points and giving up 200 points during the regular season. Their offense relied on dual-threat QB Damon Smith who threw for 1054 yards and 11 TDs and ran for 732 yards and 10 scores. Devin Turner (459 yards, 10 TDs) has been a big-play threat at wide receiver.
4. Elizabeth Forward (6-1, 7-2) vs 5. Beaver (4-2, 8-2)
Elizabeth Forward won a 3-way tie atop the Interstate Conference while Beaver earned one of the Wild Cards this year after missing out last season. These teams have the highest-scoring teams in 3A with Beaver averaging 41 points per game and Elizabeth Forward averaging 40 per game. Beaver’s offense is led by a strong rushing attack with three capable backs in Gino Mavero (574 yards, 5 TDs), Te’Vonn Williams (436 yards, 7 TDs), and Amen Cottrill (421 yards, 6 TDs). QB Brodie List has thrown for 794 yards and 13 TDs and added 325 yards and 7 more scores on the ground. The Bobcats defense has been a takeaway machine this year. Tyler Wallace has 5 interception returns for touchdowns while Amen Cottrill and Brad Barker both have 4 pick-sixes. This presents an interesting matchup against Elizabeth Forward’s passing attack led by QB Zach Benedek (1314 yards, 19 TDs) and WR Gavin Martik (915 yards, 19 TDs). The Warriors also have been strong on the ground with Brian Malloy (588 yards, 10 TDs) and Seth Andres (367 yards, 8 TDs) sharing the load.
2. Quaker Valley (5-1, 9-1) vs 7. Derry (6-1, 9-1)
Another matchup of high-scoring teams features two teams averaging 39 points per contest. After Derry’s Week 1 loss to Elizabeth Forward, the Trojans scored at least 41 points in all but 1 of their remaining games, winning all 8 to enter the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in 3A. Derry boasts a strong rushing attack with Colton Nemcheck (654 yards, 13 TDs), Shawn Broadway (651 yards, 12 TDs), and Onreey Stewart (467 yards, 7 TDs). QB Ryan Polinsky has thrown for 743 yards and 7 TDs. The Trojans have the second-best defense in 3A, allowing just 11 points per game, but will have their work cut out for them against a dynamic Quaker Valley offense. The Quakers have been led by dual-threat QB Ricky Guss who has thrown for 1630 yards and 19 TDs and run for 785 yards and 20 TDs. RB JT Taylor has been an all-around threat, ranking second on the team in rushing (616 yards) and receiving (356 yards) and scoring 10 times. Leading receiver Isaiah McNair has hauled in 676 yards and scored 12 times. This is the best team in Quaker Valley history and they have not been to the WPIAL semifinals since 1983.
3. Seton La Salle (7-0, 8-1) vs 6. Freeport (6-1, 7-2)
at Dormont Stadium
Just like last year, the two teams from the Allegheny Conference got matched up in the first round. Seton La Salle defeated Freeport 21-10 in Week 7 to clinch the conference title. The Freeport defense, the best in the Allegheny Conference at just 13 points allowed per game, struggled to contain the WPIAL’s third leading rusher Lionel Deans (1778 yards, 22 TDs) in the first meeting. Seton La Salle also boasts a strong passing attack with QB Matt Banbury throwing for 1160 yards and 10 TDs to balance the offense. Freeport has relied heavily on their rushing attack as well with the tandem of QB Austin Romanchak (680 rushing yards, 14 TDs) and Conor Selinger (650 yards, 9 TDs) carrying the offense. Romanchak has also thrown for 494 yards and 6 TDs, but the Yellow Jackets rushing game has been so strong he has averaged just 8 pass attempts per game.
1. Steel Valley (6-0, 8-0) vs 16. Laurel (2-5, 3-7)
Steel Valley is the defending 2A state champions and ran unbeaten through their 2017 slate without a blemish and an average margin of victory of 26 points. The Ironmen are loaded with playmakers all over the field including Trevon Adams (535 rushing yards, 418 receiving yards, 14 total TDs), Kameron Williams (659 rushing yards, 177 receiving yards, 13 total TDs), and Amonte Strothers (347 receiving yards, 9 total TDs). Ronnell Lawrence took over the quarterback position in the second half of the season and threw for 531 yards and 8 TDs. Laurel earned the Wild Card spot after rebounding from a 1-7 start to win their last two games. The Spartans have been led by dual-threat QB Lance Hill who has thrown for 712 yards and 7 TDs and run for 705 yards and 13 scores. WR Will Shaffer (294 yards, 4 TDs) has also spent time at QB and thrown for 314 yards and 3 TDs.
8. Neshannock (5-2, 6-4) vs 9. Burgettstown (5-2, 6-3)
After a slow start to the season, Neshannock won their last 3 games to finish 3rd in the Midwestern Conference and earn a home playoff game. The Lancers found success when they moved leading rusher Seth Fehrs (686 yards, 9 TDs) to quarterback, where he has thrown for 553 yards and 3 scores. That coincided with a move of Jared Staph to WR and he made an immediate impact with 94 yards in his first game out wide. Fehrs and Joey Nerti (674 yards, 9 TDs) have formed a quality tandem in the backfield. Burgettstown has been on the opposite track this season, starting 6-0 but losing their last 3 games. The Blue Devils have been led by dual-threat QB Ryan Lounder (515 rushing yards, 9 TDs, 466 passing yards, 10 TDs). Lounder has been complemented in the backfield by Nick Spear (522 yards, 5 TDs) and his favorite target has been Jarred John (215 yards, 7 TDs).
4. Riverside (6-1, 7-2) vs 13. Frazier (3-4, 3-7)
The only thing that kept Riverside from winning the conference title was a two-point conversion that completed a comeback by North Catholic in Week 7. The Panthers have the second-best defense in 2A, allowing just 13 points per game. Riverside’s defense is led by shutdown corner (and Lehigh-commit) Austin Dambach who is also their leading receiver with 569 yards and 14 TDs. Riverside’s offense has been led by sophomore QB Ben Hughes (1332 yards, 18 TDs) and the rushing duo of Noah Harris (744 yards, 10 TDs) and LeMarcus Cleckley (709 yards, 6 TDs). Frazier started the season 0-6 but won 3 of their last 4 to earn the final playoff spot in the Century Conference. The Commodores have relied on dual-threat QB JD Celaschi (737 passing yards, 6 TDs, 457 rushing yards, 4 TDs). Celaschi and leading rusher Mason Kelly (725 yards, 7 TDs) have developed a solid distribution of work in the backfield.
5. Charleroi (6-1, 9-1) vs 12. Avonworth (3-3, 3-5)
Charleroi is making their first playoff appearance since 2004. The Cougars had the third-highest scoring offense in 2A (42 points per game) behind a trio of players that all went over 1000 yards in their respective categories. QB Geno Pelligrini had 2333 passing yards and 24 TDs, RB Hunter Perry had 1060 rushing yards and 16 TDs, and WR Dakota Romantino had 1033 receiving yards and 15 scores. Avonworth has played a number of close games this season, including a 1-point loss to East Allegheny and a 6-point loss to Serra Catholic. The Lopes are a pass-heavy team, led by QB Derek Johncour (1603 yards, 11 TDs) and WR Turner Grau (738 yards, 7 TDs). Turner’s father Mike was the former holder of the WPIAL regular season receiving record that Mt. Lebanon’s Aidan Cain broke this season. This game features two quarterbacks who rank in the top 5 in 2A in passing.
2. Washington (7-0, 9-0) vs 15. Freedom (3-4, 5-5)
Washington completed their third straight perfect regular season with the top offense (45 points per game) and defense (8 points allowed per game) in 2A. The Prexies have a balanced offensive attack between QB Zack Swartz (1420 yards, 20 TDs) and RB Nick Welsh (1554 yards, 22 TDs). Swartz’s top target has been Isaiah Schoonmaker (506 yards, 10 TDs). Freedom clinched a playoff spot in Week 6 then fired their head coach and lost their last 3 games. This conclusion to the season prompted the WPIAL to seed them near the bottom of the bracket. The Bulldogs have the lowest-scoring offense (14 points per game) of any team in the 2A playoffs. QB Zach Rosa has thrown for 749 yards and 6 TDs and Kyle Borgman has led the Bulldogs in rushing with 506 yards and 4 TDs.
7. East Allegheny (4-2, 6-3) vs 10. Mohawk (4-3, 5-3)
East Allegheny got off to a 5-1 start but stumbled to a 1-2 finish. The Wildcats have a dynamic passing offense led by QB Tamaine Underwood (2140 yards, 19 TDs). East A has a trio of receivers in West Virginia-commit TJ Banks (607 yards, 8 TDs), Dan Kasmier (641 yards, 4 TDs), and Tyler Padezan (407 yards, 4 TDs). While East Allegheny has relied on their passing attack, Mohawk has been balanced offensively between QB Nick Wheeler (1021 yards, 6 TDs) and RB Braydon Cameron (1308 yards, 16 TDs). The Warriors are making their first playoff appearance since 2005 and just their 5th since 1980.
3. CWNC (7-0, 8-2) vs 14. Brentwood (3-3, 5-4)
at Mars High School
Trojans vs Spartans is the source of one of the greatest works of Greek mythology. But this is just a first-round playoff game with two of the top 5 quarterbacks in 2A. CWNC overcame an offseason coaching transition and a rash of transfers to win the conference title. Both of the their losses were against 3A opponents who both scored 50+ against the Trojans. Against 2A opponents, North Catholic held teams to just 18 points per game. CWNC has a budding superstar in sophomore QB Zack Rocco (2013 yards, 27 TDs). He has spread the ball around to Ryan Maziarz (419 yards, 8 TDs), Tyree Brown (342 yards, 5 TDs), Cameron Branch (297 yards, 4 TDs), and Nikhai Hill-Green (250 yards, 5 TDs). RB Joe Meinert has run for 803 yards and added another 307 receiving yards and scored 12 times. North Catholic’s defense will be challenged by Brentwood’s passing game. The Spartans rely heavily on QB Michael Trent (1748 yards, 16 TDs) and WR Austin Veatch (829 yards, 15 TDs). This game has the potential to be a shootout as Brentwood averaged 27 points per game and CWNC averaged 35 per game.
6. Serra Catholic (4-2, 6-4) vs 11. Beth-Center (4-3, 7-3)
Of the 16 playoff teams in 2A, Serra Catholic’s defense allowed the most points this season (26 per game), though that number is slightly skewed by the 56 points they gave up to Fort Hill (MD) in a game they scheduled to fill the vacancy left by Vincentian in their schedule. The Eagles have a capable offense in both phases with QB Evan Honick (1296 yards, 9 TDs) throwing to JaQuae Jackson (807 yards, 5 TDs and Malik Edmundson (458 yards, 5 TDs). Khalil Smith has been a strong runner, going for 726 yards and 9 TDs this season. Statistically, Beth-Center has the 4th-best offense in 2A, averaging 36 points per game. The Bulldogs started the year 6-0 but won just 1 of their last 4 games. Serra will need to slow down dual-threat QB Bailey Lincoski who has thrown for 849 yards and 11 TDs and run for 903 yards and 12 scores. Lincoski was complemented by leading rusher Dominic Fundy (1384 yards, 13 TDs), and Trevor Anderson (588 rushing yards, 248 receiving yards, 13 total TDs).
1. California (7-0, 10-0) vs 16. Bishop Canevin (3-4, 3-6)
California was rightfully put at the top of the bracket after an undefeated season that saw them put up the most points in the entire WPIAL (54 per game). The Trojans have the most dominant rushing attack in the WPIAL with 7 of their top 8 rushers averaging over 10 yards per carry. Jelani Stafford (1304 yards, 22 TDs) leads the way, with Cochise Ryan (572 yards, 12 TDs), Collin Phillips (514 yards, 10 TDs), Zion Aldrich (491 yards, 10 TDs), and Jonathan Wood (489 yards, 11 TDs) all contributing. Their dominance on the ground speaks to just how good California’s offensive line has been this season. Bishop Canevin had a number of key players transfer over the summer but still managed to make the playoffs by beating GCC in Week 8. RB Zach Trusky (897 yards, 15 TDs) has been the primary offensive threat for the Crusaders. Jonathan Ruffing switched from WR to QB halfway through the season and threw for 419 yards and 5 TDs and ran for 288 yards and 3 TDs. This is the WMBS Game of the Week and you can catch all of the action online here.
8. Fort Cherry (5-2, 7-2) vs 9. Union (5-3, 7-3)
This is a matchup of two teams who have looked very good in their wins and not good in their losses. Fort Cherry scored at least 32 points in all of their wins but their two losses were by a combined score of 80-14. For Union, 6 of their 7 wins came by at least two scores, but their 3 losses were all by at least 3 scores. Fort Cherry is led by dual-threat QB Ryhan Culberson who has done most of his damage on the ground, rushing for 1394 yards and 25 TDs and throwing for 583 yards and 8 scores. Zachary Vincenti has proven to be an able complement, rushing for 564 yards and 7 TDs. Union’s offense has mostly come from RB Trevon Charles who has 13 TDs on the season, including a 4-score performance last week against Shenango. Michael Flowers has also run for 10 TDs this season for the Scotties and this game will likely be decided by which team is able to establish a ground game.
4. Imani Christian (6-1, 8-2) vs 13. Sto-Rox (3-5, 3-7)
at Woodland Hills on Saturday at 3pm
Imani Christian has one of the most dynamic and exciting offenses in 1A, averaging 42 points per game. The Saints nearly matched Charleroi with having a player over 1000 yards in 3 offensive categories but came up just shy. Nevertheless, this is a team loaded with offensive talent, starting with QB Tawan Wesley (2273 yards, 29 TDs). Wesley has spread the ball around to Sam Fairley (979 yards, 20 TDs), Rahmon Hart (649 yards, 8 TDs) and Ray Jackson (502 yards, 5 TDs). Asante Watkins has been a dominant ball-carrier, going for 928 yards and 16 TDs while averaging nearly 10 yards per carry. Imani drew an incredibly favorable matchup against a Sto-Rox team that allowed the second-most points (32 per game) of any 1A playoff team. The Vikings bounced back from an 0-6 start to win 3 games (including 2 over playoff teams) and earn a spot in the postseason. Sto-Rox has rotated between two QBs this season with Eric Wilson throwing for 970 yards and 9 TDs and Deion Liddell throwing for 865 yards and 9 TDs. The Vikings have 4 players with over 300 receiving yards, led by Sedric Riddick (441 yards, 5 TDs). Davonte Williams has been the primary ball-carrier and has run for 515 yards and 4 TDs.
5. OLSH (7-1, 8-2) vs 12. Springdale (4-3, 5-5)
at Moon High School
OLSH won their first conference championship in school history, securing it with a narrow victory over Rochester in Week 6. The Chargers had the top offense in the Big Seven Conference, averaging 36 points per game. OLSH has one of the top passers in the WPIAL in Tyler Bradley (2242 yards, 25 TDs) and a dynamic offensive weapon in Richard Banks who leads the team in rushing (1025 yards), is second in receiving (694 yard) and has scored 19 times. Leading receiver Andrew Schnarre has put up 719 yards and 6 TDs and second-leading rusher Jack Graff has 737 yards and 9 scores. Springdale, on the other hand, has the worst defense (33 points allowed per game) of any 1A playoff team. It has been an odd year for the Dynamos who have not played a close game – their 5 wins have been blowouts and they were blown out in their 5 losses. If the Dynamos are going to spring the upset, they will need a big game from their rushing attack which has carried them all season. Josh Harmon (872 yards, 14 TDs) and Scott Landis (766 yards, 8 TDs) have led the way.
2. Clairton (6-1, 7-2) vs 15. Summit Academy (3-5, 4-5)
Clairton, the three-time defending WPIAL Champions, lost back-to-back games to Imani and Aliquippa in the middle of the season but closed strong with a 40-7 victory over previously-unbeaten Jeannette. Clairton has the second-best defense in 1A, allowing just 10 points per game. The Bears are led by all-around threat Tre’sean Howard who has run for 800 yards, accounted for 341 receiving yards, and scored 15 TDs. Howard stole the show against Jeannette last week with 183 rushing yards, 76 receiving yards, 3 TDs and 2 two-point conversions. Second-leading rusher Aaron Thompson has run for 475 yards and 9 TDs. Clairton has had to turn to a sophomore at QB and Brendan Parsons has thrown for 819 yards and 10 TDs. Summit Academy, the school for adjudicated youths in Butler County, reached the playoffs for just the second time in their history. The Knights have been competitive all season and their worst loss was only by 10 points. Antonio White has led the way with 10 TDs for Summit Academy.
7. Carmichaels (6-1, 7-2) vs 10. Western Beaver (5-3, 6-4)
One of these teams will see a playoff victory drought come to an end. Carmichaels is making their 18th playoff appearance in the last 20 years but the Mighty Mikes are just 1-16 in the first round during that span. Carmichaels’ last playoff win came in 2002 when they made it all the way to the semifinals while Western Beaver has not won a playoff game since 2008. Both teams are run-oriented groups with one of the top 8 rushers in 1A. Carmichaels has been led by Nicholas Mundell (938 yards, 11 TDs) and Brennen Pelzer (309 yards, 7 TDs). QB Kevin Kelly has thrown for 524 yards and 8 TDs but has averaged fewer than 7 attempts per game. On the other side, Western Beaver has relied on dual-threat QB Jeddy Young who has run for 957 yards and 16 TDs and thrown for 583 yards and 8 TDs. RB Raven Chandler has averaged over 7 yards per carry and run for 696 yards and 5 scores. Lou Hapach is the third-leading rusher (345 yards) and leading receiver (315 yards) and has scored 8 times for the Golden Beavers.
3. Jeannette (6-1, 9-1) vs 14. Monessen (2-5, 3-7)
Since dropping down to the smallest classification in the WPIAL in 2014, Jeannette is 41-7 with 6 of their losses coming against Clairton. The Jayhawks cruised through their first 9 games this season but once again could not find a way past their nemesis. Jeannette has the second-best offense in 1A (43 points per game) and the third-best defense (14 points against per game). Offensively, Jeannette is led by dual-threat QB Robert Kennedy who has thrown for 1069 yards and 21 TDs and rushed for 760 yard and 19 TDs. Kennedy’s favorite target has been Marcus Barnes (395 yards, 9 TDs) and offensive weapon Imani Sanders has accounted for over 500 yards of total offense and 8 TDs. On the other side, Monessen is the lowest-scoring team in the 1A playoffs, averaging just 16 points per game.After a 2-point win over Jefferson-Morgan early in the season, the Greyhounds made it hard on themselves by losing to last place Avella in Week 8 but bounced back to clinch a playoff spot with a decisive win over Mapletown in Week 9. Dawayne Howell has split time at QB this season but threw for 3 TDs over the last two games. Isaiah Beltram (6 total TDs) and Lyndon Henderson (5 total TDs) have been used all over the field for Monessen this season.
6. Rochester (7-1, 7-2) vs 11. West Greene (4-3, 7-3)
The big story of this game is West Greene making their first playoff appearance since 1993. Both teams have offenses that average over 31 points per game and this could turn into a shootout between star players. This matchup features two of the top 6 rushers in 1A. Rochester has the fourth-best defense in 1A, holding opponents to just 14 points per game. The Rams only losses this season were against Conference Champions – falling to OLSH and California. They are led by the RB tandem of Mahlik Strozier (957 yards, 14 TDs) and Caleb Collins (854 yards, 15 TDs). West Greene is also a run-heavy team, led by RB Benjamin Jackson (1286 yards, 13 TDs) and running QB Zachary Pettit (778 yards, 17 TDs). Pettit hasn’t had to throw much but his favorite target has been Nathan Brudnock (387 yards, 6 TDs).