We are now a third of the way into the WPIAL regular season and after “The Week of the Upset,” a lot of narratives have been flipped on their heads. The biggest upset of the night was in 3A where Ellwood City (who had not won since October 23, 2015) defeated defending state champion Beaver Falls 28-0. That loss dropped Beaver Falls to 0-3 on the season, placing their playoff hopes in serious jeopardy. After Franklin Regional defeated 5A favorites McKeesport in Week 1, the Panthers looked capable of making a run at the conference title but they were upended 33-7 by a Plum team who had scored just 9 points through 3 previous games. One of the biggest shocks came in 4A where Albert Gallatin, coming off a 1-8 season where they ended a 31-game losing streak, defeated West Mifflin who was one of the conference favorites. Not to be outdone, Brownsville ended a 14-game losing streak by beating Chartiers-Houston 14-7. Brownsville’s victory was just one of a handful of surprising results in 2A where Serra Catholic defeated Avonworth and Freedom beat Brentwood.
The other big news this week was the new partnership between Trib Total Media and the MSA Sports Network. This offseason MSA undertook a capital campaign to raise funds to help them continue their excellent service of broadcasting high school sports around the region. The newly-announced partnership with the Trib comes under the banner of the TribLive High School Sports Network and 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 Uniontown vs West Mifflin with bonus coverage of Laurel Highlands vs Ringgold. 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 following hashtags on Twitter where people post score updates from games: #WPIAL #MSAscores #Skylights. 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 Game of the Week
Pine-Richland (2-0, 4-0) at Bethel Park (2-0, 3-0)
The Rams were one of the favorites in 6A coming into the season and have played up to expectations. They boast the best offense in 6A at 45 points per game and only one team has scored more than 7 points against their defense. Dual-threat QB Phil Jurkovec has committed to Notre Dame and is one of the top players in the entire WPIAL. He has thrown for 1117 yards and 10 TDs and run for 216 yards and 6 TDs. He has spread the ball around to Ray Falcone (382 yards, 6 TDs), Jason DeFrancisis (294 yards, 1 TD), and Ben Jochem (207 yards, 1 TD). Leading rusher Jordan Crawford has run for 237 yards and added 73 receiving yards and scored 4 times. On top of all that talent, the WPIAL ruled transfer Thomas Burns (the younger brother of Steelers CB Artie Burns) eligible to play for Pine-Richland. Bethel Park turned the tide on the narrative of Northern Seven Conference dominance in Week 1 by taking down North Allegheny. The Black Hawks boast the best defense in 6A, holding opponents under 10 points per game. This will be the best offense they face all season and be a good test of their stout defensive front. On offense, the Black Hawks are led by the running back tandem of Tanner Volpatti (367 yards, 9 TDs) and John Doleno (252 yards, 3 TDs). Bethel’s run game has been so strong they have attempted fewer than 10 passes per game with Luke Surunis and Anthony Chiccitt splitting time under center.
Honorable Mentions: Seneca Valley at Central Catholic
A rematch of last year’s 6A Championship Game. Seneca Valley has stumbled out of the gate with a 1-2 start and have struggled offensively. Central can’t get caught looking ahead to their showdown with Pine-Richland next week.
5A Game of the Week
McKeesport (2-1, 2-1) at Plum (2-1, 2-2)
McKeesport was considered one of the favorites to win the 5A title but stumbled out of the gate with a loss to Franklin Regional in a defensive struggle. Plum slogged through a 9-6 victory over rival Kiski in Week 1 then pulled off one of the surprises of Week 3 when they pounded Franklin Regional 33-7. Just 3 weeks into the regular season, there are 5 teams within a game of first place in the Big East Conference. This is the only head-to-head game between those five teams this week and the winner will gain some separation in the race for the playoffs. McKeesport boasts one of the best defenses in 5A, holding opponents to under 10 points per game. The Tigers have leaned on their triple-option rushing attack of John Harper (218 yards, 3 TDs), Carlinos Acie (204 yards, 4 TDs), and Layton Jordan (130 yards, 3 TDs). Plum also features an offensive attack with multiple running backs. Dakota Sunday (122 yardes, 4 TDs), Colt Robb (120 yards), and Corey Thomas (112 yards) have split carries this season. QB Anthony Little has thrown for 159 yards and 1 TD and scored another on the ground. This will be an old-fashioned ground-and-pound affair.
Honorable Mentions: Upper St Clair at Fox Chapel, Hampton at Gateway, Moon at North Hills.
Despite a 1-3 record, Fox Chapel is still very much in the playoff hunt in the Allegheny Nine Conference with their victory over Woodland Hills. Upper St Clair looks like the primary challenger to West Allegheny for the conference title. Hampton is off to a 2-2 start after a winless season and faces undefeated Gateway in an interconference game. Moon and North Hills are both battling in the middle of the Allegheny Nine Conference and this game will help determine the playoff pecking order.
4A Game of the Week
Highlands (2-1, 2-1) at Mars (2-1, 3-1)
South Fayette is the clear favorite in the Northwest Nine Conference, but the battle for the other three playoff positions is as tight as can be. Heading into Week 4, Mars, Highlands, Montour, and New Castle are all 2-1 in conference play with Knoch close behind at 1-1. Mars scored a big win over Montour last week and their only loss is to South Fayette. Highlands beat Knoch for the first time in 7 years last week and their only loss is a double OT defeat by New Castle. Mars once again features a powerful running game led by Garrett Reinke (273 yards, 6 TDs) and Chuck Green (207 yards, 1 TD). Fighting Planets QB Tyler Kowalkowski has thrown for 313 yards and 3 TDs, primarily to Cade Hetzler (123 yards, 2 TDs). On the other side, Highlands features one of the top passers in the WPIAL in Seth Cohen (787 yards, 11 TDs). Cohen threw for a school record 412 yards and 7 TDs in the Rams’ Week 2 loss to New Castle. He has spread the ball around to Logan Crise (217 yards, 3 TDs), Romello Freeman (219 yards, 3 TDs), and Ryan Signorella (153 yards, 2 TDs). Highlands has two capable running backs in Cameron Taylor (123 yards) and Jermaine Jett (114 yards, 1 TD). The Rams boast the fourth-best offense in 4A, averaging 33 points per game while the Planets have the fourth-stingiest defense allowing just 15 points per game.
Honorable Mentions: Greensburg-Salem at Belle Vernon
Belle Vernon is looking to stay undefeated and solidify their position as the primary challenger to Thomas Jefferson. Greensburg Salem is looking for their first playoff berth since 2011 and already has a win over Ringgold. Given West Mifflin’s loss to Albert Gallatin, things in the Big Nine might get crazy this season so every win counts.
3A Games of the Week
Quaker Valley (1-0, 4-0) at Central Valley (1-0, 3-1)
Quaker Valley beat Beaver in last week’s 3A Game of the Week to set up a showdown with Central Valley. The winner will solidify their status as the top challenger to Aliquippa in the Beaver Valley Conference. As we saw last season, one loss was not a season-killer but two losses could eliminate someone from playoff contention. Both of these teams still have Aliquippa on their slates as the battle for the limited playoff spots in 3A heats up down the stretch. Quaker Valley QB Ricky Guss has been one of the best players in the WPIAL this season. Guss has thrown for 653 yards and 9 TDs and rushed for 437 yards and 11 TDs. He accounted for 5 total TDs last week to lead the Quakers past Beaver. His favorite target has been Isaiah McNair (371 yards, 5 TDs). RB JT Taylor has rushed for 218 yards and added 145 receiving yards and scored 3 times. Central Valley also features a dual-threat QB in Nico Battisti who has thrown for 642 yards and 5 TDs and rushed for 218 yards and 4 scores. Anthony Mendicino has been the primary receiver with 324 yards and 1 TD. Warriors RB Danny Santia has run for 293 yards and added 148 receiving yards and leads the team with 7 TDs.
McGuffey (2-0, 3-1) at Elizabeth Forward (2-0, 2-1)
There are so many good games in 3A this week I couldn’t just pick one Game of the Week. Two of the top contenders for the Interstate Conference title square off in a game that will go a long way towards deciding their playoff fates. McGuffey pulled out a surprising overtime victory over Mt Pleasant to drop the Vikings to 1-2. The Highlanders have a run-heavy offense with Adam Townsend (329 yards, 3 TDs) and Christian Clutter (243 yards, 3 TDs) leading the way. Dual-threat QB Marshall Whipkey has thrown for 218 yards and 7 TDs and run for 186 yards. Elizabeth Forward announced themselves as contenders early in the year with a 39-7 Week 1 pounding of defending conference champion Derry. The Warriors have a balanced offensive attack. QB Zachary Benedek has thrown for 326 yards and 7 TDs, primarily to Gavin Martik (259 yards, 6 TDs). Brian Malloy has been the primary ball carrier and has run for 243 yards and 5 TDs. Both teams have a good win over a playoff contender and a shut out of last place Waynesburg on their resumes. The winner will stay in contention for the conference title while the loser will have to fight for their playoff lives in the middle of the conference.
Honorable Mentions: Shady Side Academy at Freeport, Derry at South Park
There are 10 teams in 3A that are currently unbeaten in conference play. Three more have just 1 conference loss. Both of these games are between a team unbeaten in conference play and one with one loss. These will all be important games in sorting out the playoff contenders from those that are preparing for basketball season in November.
2A Game of the Week
Neshannock (1-1, 2-2) at East Allegheny (2-0, 2-1)
This non-conference game between playoff contenders in 2A should be an interesting matchup of strength on strength. East Allegheny has a strong offense led by QB Tamaine Underwood who has thrown for 712 yards and 8 TDs. RB Tyvon Wright has run for 5 TDs this season and provides a nice compliment to the Wildcats passing game. Neshannock had to replace a lot of players from the team that went to the 2A Championship Game last season. Senior Jared Staph has stepped into the QB role nicely, throwing for 472 yards and 5 TDs and rushing for 170 yards and 2 scores. DJ DeBlasio has led the Lancers on the ground with 195 yards and 1 TD while Joey Nerti has been the big playmaker, rushing for 140 yards and 8 scores. Anthony Dovidio (187 yards, 1 TD) and Billy Presner (161 yards, 2 TDs) have been the top receivers.
Honorable Mentions: Freedom at Laurel, Beth-Center at Bentworth, Avonworth at Brentwood
Five teams in the Midwestern Conference enter Week 4 with 1 conference win. Freedom and Laurel are two of those teams who will battle it out in the hopes of creating some separation in the playoff race. Beth-Center and Bentworth are battling in the middle of the pack in the Century Conference and are in the thick of the playoff hunt. Likewise in the Three Rivers Conference, Avonworth and Brentwood are two of the 4 teams battling for position behind conference favorites East Allegheny and Steel Valley.
1A Game of the Week
Jeannette (2-0, 4-0) at Imani Christian (2-0, 3-1)
Jeannette and Imani are widely considered two of the top contenders for the 1A title and the winner will solidify their position as the top challenger to Clairton in the Eastern Conference. Imani’s hype train lost a little steam last week after their loss to California, but the Saints still have one of the top offenses in 1A. Imani is averaging 53 points per game led by QB Tawan Wesley (1079 yards, 15 TDs). Wesley has spread the ball around to Sam Fairley (413 yards, 10 TDs), Rahmon Hart (312 yards), and Ray Jackson (310 yards, 3 TDs). RB Asante Watkins has been a threat all over the field, rushing for 496 yards and adding 136 receiving yards and scoring 8 TDs. Imani’s high-powered offense will face their biggest defensive test of the young season against a Jeannette unit is holding opponents to just 8 points per game. Since their 28-26 Week 0 victory over East Allegheny, Jeannette has only allowed 6 points over their last 3 games. The Jayhawks are led by dual-threat QB Robert Kennedy who has thrown for 516 yards and 12 TDs and rushed for 318 yards and 6 scores. Junior Marcus Barnes leads the team with 136 receiving yards and 5 TDs. In addition to Barnes, Kennedy has spread the ball around to Tre Cunningham, Isaiah Winters, Jackson Pruitt, and Justin Cramer who are all averaging over 11 yards per reception. RB Imani Sanders has over 160 yards of total offense and has scored 3 times.
Honorable Mentions: Mapletown at California
After running all over Imani Christian last week, California has a chance to turn the tide for the fortunes of the Tri-County South this season. The Trojans are averaging over 60 points per game. Given the soft defenses in the Tri-County South, California may have an outside shot at the WPIAL regular season scoring record of 610 points held by the 2014 Clairton Bears. Mapletown RB Dylan Rush has run for over 1000 yards already this season after breaking the WPIAL single-game rushing record with a 542-yard 7-TD performance against Avella last week.