With just two weeks left in the WPIAL regular season, 45 of the 64 playoff spots have been clinched. I detailed all of the playoff scenarios in play this week in a separate post. There are so many important games this week in the playoff races in all six classifications, that I have previewed 15 different matchups in this week’s Games of the Week post.
Last week, Belle Vernon made a huge statement by knocking off two-time defending WPIAL Champion Thomas Jefferson. It was the first loss for the Jaguars since Week 2 of 2015 when they also lost to Belle Vernon. Aliquippa dominated Quaker Valley 22-7 but did give up their first touchdown to an opposing offense this season. In other battles atop conferences, Seton La Salle beat Freeport to take control of the 3A Allegheny Conference, Steel Valley pounded East Allegheny to maintain their stranglehold on the 2A Three Rivers Conference, and Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic came from behind to beat Riverside on a late two-point conversion. However the best story of last week came from the Leechburg-Clairton game where one of Leechburg’s team managers who has Williams Syndrome got in the game and scored a touchdown.
Thanks to our 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 last week 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. Here is their list of the games they will be broadcasting tonight.
This week’s WMBS Game of the Week is Bentworth vs Frazier, a Casket Match in the 2A Century Conference. This is Bentworth’s last conference game and the Bearcats can clinch the final playoff spot in the conference with a win over Frazier. The Commodores are just 1-6 this year, but can clinch a playoff spot with a win over Bentworth by virtue of a head-to-head tiebreaker. Bentworth missed the playoffs last year despite a 5-5 record because they only won 2 conference games and a 3-6 Beth-Center team made it with all 3 wins coming in conference play. Bentworth has a 1000-yard passer in Shawn Dziak and one of the top receivers in the WPIAL in Ben Peternel (625 yards, 10 TDs). Frazier is led by dual-threat QB JD Celaschi who has thrown for 619 yards and 5 TDs and run for 365 yards and 2 TDs. Mason Kelly (381 yards, 5 TDs) and George Smalich (246 yards, 1 TD) have complemented Celaschi in Frazier’s run-heavy offense. You can tune in online here with a pregame show starting at 6:30 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 #WPIAL hashtags on Twitter where people post score updates from games. I”ll also be posting score updates and commentary from my Twitter account @thesteelersnat.
At the end of the night, I’ll be updating my WPIAL Standings Page with all of the results and tiebreakers.
6A Games of the Week
Mt. Lebanon (5-0, 6-2) at Penn Hills (3-2, 6-2)
Both teams have clinched playoff spots and this could be a preview of a first round playoff matchup. Both teams come in with two losses on the season – both coming to Pine-Richland and North Allegheny. The two teams are very similar statistically as well, averaging 32 points per game and allowing over 21. This has all the makings of a shoot-out between two high-powered offenses. Mt. Lebanon has used two quarterbacks this year in senior James Stocker (1286 yards, 8 TDs) and junior Seth Morgan (973 yards, 10 TDs). Both have had success throwing to the WPIAL’s leading receiver Aidan Cain, whose 1343 yards and 12 TDs has him on pace to break the WPIAL single-season receiving yards record. Last week, Cain broke the WPIAL regular season receiving yards record, which had been held since 1987 by Avonworth’s Mike Grau. The full-season record of 1568 yards was set by South Fayette’s Justin Watson in 16 games (including the State Championship) in 2013. The Blue Devils have found success on the ground as well, with Antonio LaSota (626 yards, 6 TDs) and John Naylor (399 yards, 8 TDs) sharing the workload. Penn Hills also features a dynamic passing attack, led by QB Hollis Mathis (1795 yards, 20 TDs). Mathis has spread the ball around to Daequan Hardy (626 yards, 8 TDs) and Dante Cephas (603 yards, 11 TDs). Mathis has also run for 301 yards and 3 TDs, complementing Tank Smith (425 yards, 4 TDs) and Tim Smith (269 yards, 1 TD) in the backfield.
Peters Twp (3-2, 5-3) at Canon-McMillan (2-3, 4-4)
With only two playoff spots remaining in 6A, this game has significant playoff implications. Peters Twp clinches their first playoff berth since 2013 with a victory while Canon-Mac needs a win to keep their quest to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008 alive. Both teams have been relatively low-scoring this season so points could come at a premium. Peters Twp is led by QB Jake Cortes (1189 yards, 10 TDs), who has spread the ball between Josh Casilli (303 yards, 5 TDs) and Luke Mary (242 yards, 1 TD). The Indians have been capable on the ground with feature back Ryan Magiske (472 yards, 6 TDs) complemented by Adrian Williams (272 yards, 2 TDs). The Big Macs feature a balanced offensive attack. At quarterback, Tre Lewis (711 yards, 6 TDs) was the starter for much of the season but Jon Quinque has taken over in recent weeks and thrown for 535 yards and 5 TDs. Their favorite targets have been Drew Engel (330 yards, 4 TDs) and Greyden Piechnick (261 yards, 5 TDs). The passing game is supplemented with the balanced attack of Elijah Turner (368 yards, 3 TDs) and Anthony Sacco (309 yards, 1 TD) in the backfield.
5A Games of the Week
McKeesport (5-1, 6-1) at Gateway (5-1, 7-1)
If it wasn’t for the epic ending to the McKeesport-West Allegheny Championship Game last season, we would all have talked about the semi-final between McKeesport and Gateway as the 5A Game of the Year. These two rivals clash again in a matchup between McKeesport’s ground game and Gateway’s passing game. Last year, it was a hook-and-ladder on a Hail Mary that won the semi-final for McKeesport. This year, McKeesport’s triple-option rushing attack has been dominant. Layton Jordan (941 yards, 12 TDs) leads the way for the Tigers, with QB John Harper (636 yards, 12 TDs) and Carlinos Acie (571 yards, 8 TDs) both averaging over 8 yards per carry. The Tigers have only attempted 18 passes as a team this season, and their leading receiver is Branson Smith with 136 yards and 1 TD. Gateway boasts the highest-scoring offense in 5A at 41 points per game, while McKeesport has the second-stingiest defense at just 10 points allowed per game. Gateway’s offense is led by the WPIAL’s leading passer Brady Walker (2239 yards, 28 TDs). On the outside, Gateway has two capable receiving threats in Courtney Jackson (933 yards, 14 TDs) and Jeremiah Josephs (336 yards, 5 TDs). RB Isaiah Cameron has run for 481 yards and added 352 receiving yards and scored 14 times. Gateway has already lost to conference-leader Penn-Trafford but is still in the mix for a home playoff game. If McKeesport wins, they would set up a showdown with Penn-Trafford next week for the conference title.
Woodland Hills (5-1, 5-3) at West Allegheny (5-1, 6-1)
It has been a tumultuous season for Woodland Hills, but the Wolverines have rebounded from a 1-3 start to clinch their 22nd consecutive playoff appearance. On the other hand, West Allegheny has been battling through a number of injuries (especially in the backfield) this season. A Woodland Hills victory would put the Wolverines in position to battle Upper St Clair next week for the conference title. Woody High has relied on their rushing attack this season, led by Jayquan Smith’s 9 TDs and Rodney Dennard’s 6 scores. Seniors Daniel Jones and Michael Whiteherse have both spent time at quarterback this season with their primary target being Naszhir Taylor (5 TDs). Due to injuries, West Allegheny’s backfield has been a revolving door in recent weeks. Leading rushers Will Weber (460 yards, 9 TDs) and Dante Flati (410 yards, 6 TDs) are both out, and the Indians have turned to freshman Nico Flati who ran for 102 yards and 2 TDs last week against Hampton. Leading receiver Mateo Vandemia (324 yards, 5 TDs) is still a viable weapon for the Indians offense and QB Kam Kruze.
Honorable Mentions: Franklin Regional at North Hills, Hampton at Upper St Clair, Fox Chapel at Chartiers Valley
Fox Chapel vs Chartiers Valley is one of the more meaningful games in the 5A playoff race this week. With only 1 spot remaining, Fox Chapel can clinch it with a win while North Hills and Moon are hoping for a Char-Valley win to send the race to the final week of the season. Franklin Regional is in the playoffs while North Hills is fighting for a spot. Expect a low-scoring defensive struggle in this inter-conference game. Upper St Clair needs a win over Hampton to stay on track for winning the conference title.
4A Games of the Week
Belle Vernon (7-0, 7-0) at West Mifflin (4-2, 5-2)
After their massive victory over Thomas Jefferson last week, Belle Vernon has secured the conference title before they even step on the field against West Mifflin. The Leopards can complete their perfect run through conference play with a win over the Titans. West Mifflin, on the other hand, is battling for their playoff lives after losses to Albert Gallatin and Laurel Highlands. Belle Vernon features a balanced offensive attack led by dual-threat QB Jared Hartman who has thrown for 681 yards and 12 TDs and rushed for 145 yards and 7 scores. Logan Pfronger (241 yards, 4 TDs) and Derek Thomas (219 yards, 6 TDs) have been the primary receivers on the outside. In the backfield, Mason Pascoe (563 yards, 3 TDs), Derrick Cesovski (274 yards, 2 TDs) and Larry Callaway (243 yards, 2 TDs) all average over 6 yards per carry. While Belle Vernon is balanced, West Mifflin relies heavily on their runshing attack. The Titans feature the dynamic backfield duo of Parrish Parker (769 yards, 11 TDs) and Howie Reid (725 yards, 10 TDs). QB Matthew Schuster has averaged fewer than 5 pass attempts per game, and heading receiver Zkkrah Patterson has 112 yards and 3 TDs.
Trinity (3-3, 4-3) at Greensburg Salem (3-3, 3-5)
This isn’t quite a Casket Match, but this game will go a long way in determining the last playoff spots from the Big Nine Conference. Greensburg Salem started the season with wins in Weeks 1 and 2, but have lost 4 of their last 5 games. Meanwhile, Trinity has won 4 of their last 5 to put themselves back in the playoff race. Trinity has not made the WPIAL playoffs since 2012 and Greensburg Salem has not made the playoffs since 2011. Trinity has the second-best offense in the conference, averaging 34 points a game. The Hillers are led by RB Joe Koroly (1358 yards, 17 TDs). Koroly has been so good on the ground that QB Dylan Kern averages just 10 pass attempts per game, but has thrown for 577 yards and 10 TDs. His primary target on the outside has been Cole Blair (241 yards, 6 TDs). Trinity’s defense will be tasked with slowing down Greensburg Salem dual-threat QB Jacob Hoyle. Hoyle has thrown for 565 yards and 5 TDs and rushed for 510 yards and 5 TDs. Aaren Putt (320 yards, 5 TDs) has complemented Hoyle in the backfield and Joey Williams (179 rushing yards, 263 receiving yards, 3 total TDs) has been an all-around weapon for the Lions.
Honorable Mentions: Highlands at South Fayette
Highlands is not yet mathematically eliminated from the playoffs but needs to beat conference-leader South Fayette and get a lot of help to stay alive.
3A Games of the Week
Central Valley (3-2, 5-3) at Aliquippa (4-0, 8-0)
Central Valley has never missed the playoffs since the merger of Center and Monaca in 2010, but is in danger of doing so with a loss to the top-ranked team in 3A. Aliquippa is fresh off a dominant victory over previously-unbeaten Quaker Valley and the Quips are a win away from yet another conference title. Last week, Quaker Valley became the first team this season to score an offensive touchdown against Aliquippa and only the second team the Quips did not shut out. Aliquippa has been absolutely dominant on defense, led by one of the top safeties in the state in Kwantel Raines. On offense, the Quips traditional ground-and-pound approach has featured Avante McKenzie (997 yards, 10 TDs) with Tariq Jones (375 yards, 6 TDs) and Xavier Harvey (298 yards, 2 TDs) playing supporting roles. QB Eli Kosanovich has thrown for 603 yards and 9 TDs, primarily to William Gipson (205 yards, 4 TDs) and Deoveon Crute (142 yards, 3 TDs). Junior MJ Devonshire is used all over the field and has scored 7 times. Central Valley has delt with a number of injuries this year, none more impactful than QB Nico Battisti. Curtis Latshaw has stepped in and thrown for 267 yards and 4 TDs over the last 3 games. The Warriors have leaned heavily on their rushing attack of Danny Santia (587 yards, 11 TDs) and Robert Anzio (387 yards, 5 TDs). Leading receiver Anthony Mendicino has accounted for 386 yards and 4 scores. With losses to Beaver and Quaker Valley already on their resume, Central Valley needs to beat Aliquippa then get some help from Beaver Falls to knock off Beaver in order to have a chance at one of the third place wild card spots.
Keystone Oaks (4-1, 5-2) at Freeport (4-1, 5-2)
With Seton La Salle out in front of the Allegheny Conference, the winner of this game will stay in the playoff race while the loser may be resigned to the fate of the third place Wild Card. Keystone Oaks plays Seton La Salle next week and a win would keep them in the hunt for the conference title. However, KO also lost to Shady Side Academy so a loss could drop the Eagles behind the Indians in the race for third place. Freeport has a win over SSA, so their standing is a little stronger. Keystone Oaks is one of the few schools starting a true freshman at QB and Logan Shrubb has delivered wwith 1165 yards and 10 TDs. The Eagles have been able to maintain a balanced offense with RB Michael Daure’s 882 rushing yards, 253 receiving yardes, and 16 total TDs. Leading receivers CJ Morrow (314 yards, 4 TDs) and Tyler Hrivnak (240 yards, 2 TDs) have been Shrubb’s favorite targets. Freeport’s offense also runs through their quarterback – dual threat Austin Romanchak who has 448 passing yards and 4 TDs and 544 rushing yards and 13 scores. The Yellow Jackets have been a run-heavy team this year with Romanchak and Conor Sellinger (489 yards, 6 TDs) leading the way. Leading receiver Jake Sarver has 150 yards and 2 TDs along with serving as the team’s kicker.
South Park (4-1, 4-3) at Elizabeth Forward (6-0, 6-1)
Elizabeth Forward currently sits atop the Interstate Conference with an unblemished record and is a win away from the conference title. The Warriors made a statement out of the gate by pounding defending conference champion Derry. They boast the highest-scoring offense in 3A at 44 points per game thanks to the arm of QB Zach Benedek who has thrown for 999 yards and 17 TDs. Benedek’s favorite target has been Gavin Martik whose 643 yards (and 16 TDs) ranks in the Top 10 in the WPIAL this season. The Warriors have also been a capable team on the ground this season with Brian Malloy rushing for 450 yards and 6 TDs. Seth Andres has been an all-around threat, ranking second on the team in rushing (153 yards) and receiving (161 yards) and has scored 7 times. South Park is still in the hunt for the conference title but a loss could put their playoff hopes in jeopardy. The Eagles have struggled offensively this season and average just 19 points per game. They have relied on dual-threat QB Damon Smith who has thrown for 799 yards and 7 TDs and rushed for 551 yards and 7 more scores. Devin Turner (328 yards, 6 TDs) and Nick Schnepp (161 yards) have been his best receivers while Isaiah Mack (154 yards, 4 TDs) has shared the workload in the backfield.
Honorable Mentions: Quaker Valley at Seton La Salle
Any other week, a non-conference game between two playoff teams with only one loss between them would be a headline game. But there are three huge games with playoff implications in 3A this week, so this matchup gets relegated to the “Honorable Mentions” section. This could have an impact on playoff seeding as both teams have clinched spots already.
2A Games of the Week
Washington (5-0, 7-0) at Burgettstown (5-1, 6-1)
The Century Conference is jam-packed at the top with 4 teams within a game of first place. Washington is out in front with a perfect record with Burgettstown, Beth-Center, and Charleroi all close behind with only one loss. Washington has already beaten Charleroi and Burgettstown beat Beth-Center. Charleroi kept themselves in the hunt last week by beating Burgettstown and further complicating the picture. Statistically, Washington and Burgettstown have been two of the top teams in 2A all season. Washington has the highest-scoring offense at 46 points per game and the top defense at just 7 points against per game. Burgettstown is not far behind, averaging 40 points per game and just 10 points against. Washington has run through the conference with a balanced offensive attack. Nick Welsh (1181 yards, 16 TDs) has emerged as the feature back with Dylan Asbury (407 yards, 4 TDs) playing a complementary role. QB Zack Swartz has thrown for 1009 yards and 14 TDs this season, primarily to Isaiah Schoonmaker (389 yards, 8 TDs) and Daniel Walker (285 yards, 4 TDs). While Washington has spread the ball around, Burgettstown has found their offensive success this season with dual-threat QB Ryan Lounder. He has thrown for 9 TDs and run for another 9 and accounted for over 800 yards of total offense. Lounder and Nick Spear (453 yards, 5 TDs) have been a formidable tandem in the backfield as both average over 7 yards per carry. Lounder’s favorite target on the outside has been Jarred John who has accounted for 7 TDs.
Steel Valley (4-0, 6-0) at Serra Catholic (3-1, 5-3)
Steel Valley scored their 21st consecutive victory last week with a win over East Allegheny. Serra Catholic is hovering in the race a game behind the Ironmen and plays East Allegheny next week. Steel Valley has once again been dominant on offense, averaging 40 points per game and only allowing 15 defensively. Serra Catholic has been almost exactly average this season at 23 points per game offensively and allowing 24 per game on defense. Steel Valley has once again been able to score from all over the field in any situation – including defensively and on special teams. Trey Karfelt (500 yards, 7 TDs) and Ronnell Lawrence (306 yards, 4 TDs) have split time at quarterback this season. Kameron Williams was the star last week with 3 TDs against East Allegheny and has run for 475 yards and 9 scores on the season. Trevon Adams is an all-around threat with 355 rushing yards, 358 receiving yards and 8 total TDs. WR/CB Amonte Strothers is one of the best two-way players in 2A and has 310 yards and 7 TDs. Steel Valley’s tenacious defense will be tasked with slowing down Serra Catholic’s pass-happy offensive attack. Eagles QB Evan Honick has thrown for 1028 yards and 7 TDs, primarily to JaQuae Jackson (660 yards, 4 TDs) and Malik Edmundson (403 yards, 4 TDs). On the ground, Khalil Smith has been the workhorse back rushing for 552 yards and 6 TDs with Honick adding 5 more scores.
Avonworth (2-3, 2-5) at South Allegheny (1-4, 1-6)
It is not often that you see a Casket Match in Week 8, but the winner of this game will clinch a playoff spot while the loser will have to test their luck with the Wild Card. A loss by South Allegheny, coupled with a loss by Carlynton, would eliminate the Gladiators from playoff contention (including from the Wild Card). Avonworth could still earn the Wild Card with a loss, but will have to trust their fate to the results of games in other conferences. Avonworth has been a pass-happy team this year with Derek Johncour throwing for 1419 yards and 10 TDs. His favorite targets have been Turner Grau (670 yards, 7 TDs) and Brennan Neidhart (301 yards, 1 TD). Turner Grau is the son of Mike Grau, whose WPIAL regular season receiving yardage record stood from 1987 until last week when Mt. Lebanon’s Aidan Cain surpassed it. Leading rusher JJ Igims has 251 yards on the ground and another 97 receiving yards and has scored 5 times. South Allegheny has also relied on their passing game with Brandon Nolder throwing for 971 yards and 12 TDs, primarily to Derrick Lockhart (615 yards, 7 TDs). Juwan Mitchell has run for 440 yards and 3 TDs this season while Antonio Epps has been a change-of-pace back, rushing for 202 yards and 4 TDs and averaging 12 yards per carry.
Honorable Mentions: Beth-Center at Charleroi, Freedom at Neshannock, New Brighton at Laurel, Bentworth at Frazier
There are a number of other big games in 2A this week. Beth-Center and Charleroi are battling at the top of the Century Conference with Washington and Burgettstown, trying to stay in the race for the conference title. Freedom and Neshannock have clinched playoff spots and are battling for playoff position. New Brighton and Laurel can not make the playoffs in the conference but are still in the Wild Card hunt. As mentioned at the outset, Bentworth and Frazier are battling for the final playoff spot in the Century Conference.
1A Games of the Week
Union (4-2, 6-2) at Rochester (5-1, 5-2)
Union and Rochester have both clinched playoff spots in the wild Big Seven Conference but are fighting over playoff position and the opportunity to have a home playoff game. Rochester looked like the conference favorites before dropping a game to OLSH two weeks ago then losing a non-conference affair with California last week. Union started the season on a hot streak but have gone just 2-2 in their last 4 and are coming off a loss to OLSH. This is a battle of strength on strength. Rochester has the top offense in the conference, averaging 31 points per game, while Union has the top defense, allowing just 14 per game. Rochester’s run-heavy offense has three very capable runners. QB Mahlik Strozier has been the most dynamic threat, rushing for 809 yards and 10 TDs. Caleb Collins (631 yards, 12 TDs) has the most carries of the group and Darius Goosby (333 yards, 4 TDs) has proven capable as well. Strozier has averaged fewer than 4 pass attempts per game this year and thrown for 146 yards and 3 TDs. Union has also featured a run-heavy attack with Tre Charles accounting for 9 TDs and Michael Flowers scoring 8 times. QB Seth Pinkerton has thrown for 3 scores and rushed for 3 more for the Scotties.
Bishop Canevin (2-4, 2-5) at GCC (2-3, 3-5)
This game will likely decide the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, though GCC’s game against Springdale next week could factor in as well. GCC clinches a playoff spot with a win while Canevin needs a win and for Springdale to win one of their last two in order to get in. Bishop Canevin was a competitive team last year who saw a number of players transfer late in the summer, but their wins over Leechburg and Riverview have kept them on the edge of the playoff race. GCC missed the playoffs last year for the first time since 2002, but also has wins over Leechburg and Riverview. Both teams have struggled offensively, averaging under 20 points per game and allowing over 30 points per game defensively. Canevin has been a run-heavy team this year with Zach Trusky (666 yards, 10 TDs) and Robert Goodnight (204 yards, 2 TDs). Junior Jonathan Ruffing took over at QB in Week 5 and has thrown for 318 yards and 5 TDs while adding 131 yards and 2 TDs on the ground. GCC has featured a balanced offense this season. Junior Max Pisula has thrown for 913 yards and 6 TDs and added 6 scores on the ground. His favcorite targets have been James Rice (239 yards), Bryce Kurpiel (204 yards, 1 TD), and Bruce Leonard (149 yards). Leading rusher Tom Voelker has run for 695 yard and 2 TDs.
Honorable Mentions: OLSH at Shenango, Carmichaels at Fort Cherry, Summit Academy at Northgate (Saturday), Springdale at Imani Christian
OLSH is closing in on their first conference title in school history while Shenango is in a battle with Northgate, Sto-Rox, and Summit Academy for the final playoff spot in the Big Seven and a Wild Card spot. Carmichaels and Fort Cherry have both lost to California but are playing for the right to host a home playoff game. Springdale can clinch a playoff spot with a win while Imani Christian is looking to stay in the hunt for the conference title.