As we enter the second half of the WPIAL season, SteelDad and I got together earlier this week to record a podcast on what has gone down in the first five weeks of the season and what to watch for in the last month. Last week the WPIAL saw a number of streaks come to an end. The most notable was Clairton’s 42-game winning streak against WPIAL opponents ending with an 18-6 loss to Imani Christian. The Bears also had a 30-game winning streak against conference opponents, which was the second-longest in the WPIAL. In 6A, Central Catholic saw their 25-game winning streak against WPIAL opponents (and 14-game streak against conference opponents) come to an end at the hands of an explosive Pine-Richland offense. On the flip side, Waynesburg beat Southmoreland 36-14 and ended a 17-game losing streak which was tied with Shaler for the longest in the WPIAL.
Week 5 also featured a handful of “retribution games.” Last year, Seneca Valley beat Penn Hills in a game that determined the final playoff spot in the 6A Northern Seven Conference. Penn Hills returned the favor this year with a 44-28 victory which could be enough to get the Indians back to the postseason. In 3A, much was made about how Beaver got screwed out of a playoff spot last year because they finished 4th in the conference after losing a head-to-head tiebreaker to Central Valley. Last season, Central Valley came up with a goal-line stand at the end of regulation to secure the victory, which eventually was what kept Beaver from the playoffs. This year, the Bobcats exacted their revenge by kicking a game-winning field goal as time expired to edge Central Valley 24-22. Finally, Burgettstown became the first team in the WPIAL to clinch a playoff spot. This week, there are 14 more teams with an opportunity to secure their spots in the postseason. Fully detailed scenarios on how they can lock up their spots are included below.
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 Ringgold vs Uniontown. 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.
The headline Game of the Week that made waves last year is the much-anticipated rematch between Clairton and Aliquippa.
Clairton (3-1, 4-1) at Aliquippa (3-0, 6-0)
When the WPIAL schedule was made for the 2016-17 cycle, this was the game that jumped off the page to everyone. The highly anticipated matchup between two of the best small-school programs in Western Pennsylvania. Last season, they met for the first time in 84 years and Clairton’s speed won out over Aliquippa’s power. Lamont Wade stole the show for the Bears and ran for over 250 yards en route to a 52-16 victory in a heavy downpour. This year, the game travels to The Pit in Aliquippa and the narratives are somewhat reversed. Last year, Aliquippa had taken a surprising early-season loss and was still working in new players at a number of positions while Clariton was dominating the opposition. This year, it is Aliquippa that is the experienced and dominant group and Clairton is coming off a rare defeat. The Quips have been on a revenge tour this season and have throttled those who wronged them last year. They started the season exacting revenge for the WPIAL championship with a 36-0 beating of Beaver Falls. Aliquippa followed that up with a 30-10 pounding of Beaver, who snapped their regular season winning streak last season that dated back to 2009. Now, only Clairton remains on the Quips list for retribution.
Both teams are loaded with talent on both sides of the ball. Only Beaver has managed to find this scoreboard against Aliquippa this year, who has shut out 5 of their 6 opponents. The Quips once again feature a run-heavy offense, led by the trio of Avante McKenzie (784 yards, 7 TDs), Tariq Jones (330 yards, 4 TDs), and Xavier Harvey (279 yards, 2 TDs). QB Eli Kosanovich has not been forced to throw much this year but has thrown for 500 yards and 8 TDs, primarily to William Gipson (173 yards, 4 TDs) and MJ Devonshire who has 6 total TDs. Clairton also has relied on their ground game this season, and Aliquippa’s defense will need to contain star playmaker Tre’sean Howard. Howard leads the team in rushing (541 yards) and receiving (123 yards) and has 10 total TDs. Aaron Thompson (294 yards, 6 TDs) and Keishawn Wright (113 yards) have been complements in the backfield. Bears QB Brendan Parsons has thrown for 491 yards and 4 TDs this season, and has been able to find big plays from Devlin Clifford, Kenlein Ogletree, and Leonard Robinson who are all averaging over 24 yards per reception. This game will be the featured game shown live on 22 The Point in the Pittsburgh area.
— 22 The Point (@22ThePoint) October 5, 2017
6A Game of the Week
Penn Hills (3-1, 5-1) at North Allegheny (2-1, 4-2)
Penn Hills scored a big victory last week over Seneca Valley in the Northern Seven Conference playoff race. Last year, it was Seneca Valley’s head-to-head win over Penn Hills that sent the Warriors to the playoffs and the Indians on to basketball season. With Penn Hills avenging that loss, they can clinch a playoff spot this week with a win over the Tigers. The Indians are led by dual-threat QB Hollis Mathis who has thrown for 1353 yards and 13 TDs and run for 215 yards and 3 scores. Mathis’ primary targets have been Daequan Hardy (498 yards, 7 TDs) and Dante Cephas (427 yards, 7 TDs). In the backfield, Jaquay Sears (231 yards, 4 TDs), Tank Smith (210 yards, 3 TDs), and Tim Smith (199 yards, 1 TD) have split the workload and all average over 5 yards per carry. Last week, North Allegheny were able to match up CB Joey Porter Jr against Mt Lebanon WR Aidan Cain (who is still on pace to break the WPIAL single-season receiving record). With Penn Hills boasting two capable threats at receiver, look for Mathis to target whichever receiver Porter is not covering. After losing their first two regular season games, North Allegheny has been on a roll and rattled off 3 straight victories. North Allegheny has a capable dual-threat quarterback of their own in Luke Trueman (616 passing yards, 7 TDs, 426 rushing yards, 1 TD). North Allegheny is mostly a running-based offense between Trueman, Turner White (560 yards, 7 TDs) and Ben Maenza (282 yards, 7 TDs). All three players are averaging 7 yards per carry behind the Tigers imposing offensive line. On the outside, John Varzdell (293 yards, 3 TDs) has been Trueman’s primary target. This game will be shown live tonight on AT&T SportsNet (formerly ROOT Sports).
— AT&T SportsNet™ PIT (@ATTSportsNetPIT) September 30, 2017
Honorable Mentions: Norwin at Mt Lebanon
Mt Lebanon WR Aidan Cain will look to continue his assault on the WPIAL receiving record as he enters the game with 61 receptions for 1119 yards and 9 TDs. The WPIAL single-season record is held by South Fayette’s Justin Watson who had 1,568 yards in 2013. Mt. Lebanon needs a win to stay in the hunt for the conference title while Norwin is battling for their playoff lives.
6A Playoff Scenarios
Northern Seven Conference
– Central Catholic clinches a playoff spot with a win over Butler
– Penn Hills clinches a playoff spot with a win over North Allegheny
– Mt Lebanon clinches a playoff spot with a win over Norwin
5A Game of the Week
Upper St Clair (5-0, 5-1) at West Allegheny (4-0, 5-0)
Last week, the two unbeaten teams atop the Big East Conference squared off. This week, it’s the Allegheny Nine Conference’s turn. The middle of the Allegheny Nine conference is a muddled mess right now and both teams still have a game against third place Woodland Hills, so the winner of this game will have a clear path to the conference title while the loser will be battling for a home playoff game. West Allegheny has the highest-scoring team in 5A, averaging 38 points per game, while Upper St Clair has the best defense in the conference. West Allegheny has rotated between three different quarterbacks this season. Jamie Diven (186 yards) and Kam Kruze (133 yards, 1 TD) have the most attempts, but Will Weber has been the most successful, going 10 for 10 for 180 yards and 4 TDs. Weber is also the team’s leading rusher with 460 yards and has added 70 receiving yards and scored 9 total TDs. Dante Flati (410 yards, 6 TDs) has been the Indians’ most successful back, averaging over 9 yards per carry. On the outside, Mateo Vandemia (241 yards, 3 TDs) ahs been the primary receiving target, regardless of which quarterback is taking snaps. Upper St Clair has relied on a balanced offensive attack this season. Dual-threat QB Jack Hansberry has thrown for 889 yards and 6 TDs and rushed for 212 yards and 6 more scores. Leading rusher Colin McLinden has accumulated 506 yards and 8 TDs. On the outside, the Panthers have two capable receivers in Dom Cepullio (321 yards, 2 TDs) and Tom Kyle (287 yards, 1 TD). This game also matches up two of the most legendary coaches in WPIAL history in Upper St Clair’s Jim Render against West Allegheny’s Bob Palko.
— WA Sports Network (@WASportsNetwork) October 4, 2017
Honorable Mentions: Penn-Trafford at Frankin Regional, Hampton at Fox Chapel, North Hills at Woodland Hills
Comning off a shutout victory over Gateway, Penn-Trafford gets another test against Franklin Regional who was the only team to beat McKeesport this year. The Allegheny Nine Conference has five teams fighting over the last two playoff spots. Four of them face off this week as Hampton plays Fox Chapel and North Hills takes on Woodland Hills.
5A Playoff Scenarios
Allegheny Nine Conference
– Upper St Clair clinches a playoff spot with a win over West Allegheny AND a Hampton loss
4A Game of the Week
South Fayette (4-0, 6-0) at New Castle (4-1, 4-2)
A rematch of the biggest upset of last year’s playoffs. South Fayette ran away with the Northwest Nine Conference title last year but was upended by New Castle in the first round of the playoffs. New Castle went on to reach Heinz Field but fell in the title game to Thomas Jefferson. Both teams have aspirations of deep playoff runs once again. South Fayette sits unbeaten atop the conference, riding a WPIAL-leading 46 game winning streak against conference opponents. New Castle lost to Montour in Week 1 but have rattled off 4 straight wins, including a double OT victory over Highlands and a 2-point win over Mars last week. South Fayette has been dominant on both sides of the ball and are second in 4A in both offense (41 points per game) and defense (6 points against per game). The Lions offense is led by QB Drew Saxton who has thrown for 1242 yards and 12 TDs. He has spread the ball around to Noah Plack (325 yards, 3 TDs), Mike Trimber (244 yards, 3 TDs), Ryan Kokoski (211 yards, 3 TDs), and Rayquin Glover (189 yards, 1 TD). In the backfield, Johnny Beck has been the feature back and run for 543 yards and 12 TDs on the season. New Castle, on the other hand, features a run-heavy attack. Marcus Hooker, who has committed to Ohio State as a defensive back, has run for 784 yards and 7 TDs. Josh Thomason has served as a complimentary back and run for 531 yards and 2 TDs. Hooker has split time at quarterback this season with Daniel Minenok, but as a team the Red Hurricanes are averaging fewer than 10 pass attempts per game. Drew Cox is the leading receiver with 119 yards. New Castle is allowing 25 points per game on defense and will need to control the game with their rushing attack to keep South Fayette’s potent offense off the field.
Honorable Mentions: Montour at Highlands, Trinity at Belle Vernon, Mars at Thomas Jefferson
With losses to Mars and New Castle, Highlands’ playoff hopes rest on this week’s game against Montour then hoping tiebreakers fall in their favor. Montour still has an outside chance at the conference title if they can win out. Belle Vernon and Thomas Jefferson are atop the Big Nine Conference while four teams (West Mifflin, Trinity, Ringgold, and Greensburg Salem) battle over the other two spots. Thomas Jefferson takes on Mars in a non-conference game between two playoff teams.
4A Playoff Scenarios
Big Nine Conference
– Belle Vernon clinches a playoff spot with a win over Trinity
3A Games of the Week
Apollo-Ridge (2-2, 4-2) at Freeport (3-0, 4-1)
With only 8 teams making the playoffs in 3A, every conference game matters. Last year, no one made the playoffs with 3 conference losses, which makes this a do-or-die game for Apollo-Ridge. The Vikings are coming off a loss to conference leader Seton-La Salle in which they struggled to slow down the Rebels rushing attack. Offensively, Apollo-Ridge has found balance with dual-threat QB Kyle Fitzroy throwing for 639 yards and 6 TDs and rushing for 327 yardsa and 2 TDs. He has split the backfield work with leading rusher Logan Harmon (483 yards, 10 TDs). Fitzroy has spread the ball around to Klay Fitzroy (197 yards, 2 TDs), Keighton Reese (164 yards, 2 TDs), and Alex Gamble (102 yards, 2 TDs). Freeport will have to defend all over the field if they want to stop the Vikings offense. The Yellow Jackets have the talent on defense to match up and have held opponents to 15 points per game, the best mark in the conference and 4th best in 3A. Offensively, Freeport has been able to rely on QB Austin Romanchak who has thrown for 292 yards and 3 TDs and rushed for 425 yards and 8 scores. Romanchak has paired with RB Conor Selinger (409 yards, 4 TDs) for make a formidable backfield tandem.
Honorable Mentions: Beaver Falls at Quaker Valley, Hopewell at Central Valley, Derry at Mt Pleasant
Beaver Falls is off to a 1-4 start, but only has 2 conference losses and is not technically eliminated yet. The Tigers still have an outside chance to make the playoffs but likely would need to win out, starting this week against a Quaker Valley team that is tied for the conference lead and has the best offense in 3A. Central Valley and Hopewell are both battling for contention in the middle of the conference, hoping to stay alive for that third place position and possibly a wild card berth in the playoffs. Mt Pleasant has stumbled out to a 1-3 start and takes on Derry who is right in the mix at the top of the conference in playoff contention.
2A Game of the Week
Burgettstown (4-0, 5-0) at Beth-Center (3-0, 6-0)
At the midway point in the season, the Century Conference boasts three undefeated teams. The three will all face off over the final four weeks of the season to determine the race for the conference title. The first of those matchups features the best statistical team in 2A in Burgettstown against a surprising Beth-Center squad. Burgettstown has run up 45 points per game on offense and stifled opponents, allowing just 9 total points on defense. Burgettstown has been able to score in all three phases of the game this season, led by dual-threat QB Ryan Lounder who has thrown for 6 TDs, rushed for 5 TDs and returned 2 kicks for scores. Leading receiver Jarred John has 3 receiving touchdowns, a pick-six, and a fumble return for a score. Leading rusher Nic Speer has run for 5 TDs. Beth-Center has featured a balanced offensive attack with their own dual-threat QB in Bailey Lincoski. The Bulldogs signal-caller has thrown for 687 yards and 9 TDs and rushed for 616 yards and 6 scores. Leading rusher Dominic Fundy has rumbled for 850 yards and 10 scores. Trevor Anderson leads the team in receptions with 16 and has accounted for 188 receiving yards, 314 rushing yards, and 6 TDs. Dylan Dingle leads Beth-Center in receiving with 198 yards and 3 TDs. While Burgettstown has the highest-scoring offense in the classification, Beth-Center is no slouch and averages 39 points per game.
Honorable Mentions: Neshannock at Riverside, Avonworth at East Allegheny
Riverside is currently atop the Midwestern Conference while Neshannock is part of a group of teams in the middle fighting for a home playoff game. Similarly, East Allegheny is atop the Three Rivers Conference hile Avonworth is amidst a pack of teams in the middle.
2A Playoff Scenarios
– Burgettstown has clinched a playoff spot
– Washington clinches a playoff spot with a win over Bentworth
– Beth-Center clinches a playoff spot with a win over Burgettstown AND a loss by either Bentworth or Brownsville
– Riverside clinches a playoff spot with a win over Neshannock OR a South Side Beaver loss
– CWNC clinches a playoff spot with a win over Laurel AND a South Side Beaver loss
Three Rivers Conference
– East Allegheny clinches a playoff spot with a win over Avonworth OR losses by both South Allegheny and Carlynton
– Steel Valley clinches a playoff spot with a win over Carlynton AND a South Allegheny loss
1A Game of the Week
Carmichaels (4-0, 4-1) at California (4-0, 6-0)
The Tri-County South may finaly have a team that is capable of making a deep run in the WPIAL playoffs. Since 2000, only 5 Tri-County South teams have reached the semi-finals (Carmichaels in 2002, Beth-Center and Jefferson-Morgan in 2006, Monessen in 2007, and Frazier in 2015). Monessen was the last TCS team to reach the WPIAL final back in 1995. This season, California has a legitimate chance to join that list as the Trojans have run out to an impressive start, averaging 60 points per game. California has scored 359 points this season which puts them 251 points away from Clairton’s regular season scoring record. The Trojans have relied heavily on their ground game which features 5 players with over 200 yards, led by Jelani Stafford’s 964 yards and 14 TDs. Cochise Ryan is the second-leading rusher with 290 yards and leading receiver with 141 yards and has scored 9 times. Jonathan Wood (262 yards, 5 TDs) and Zion Aldrich (253 yards, 8 TDs) both avearge over 9 yards per carry. QB Collin Phillips has averaged fewer than 4 passes per game, but has thrown for 263 ards and 5 TDs and run for 201 yards and 5 scores. California already has a big non-conference win over Imani Christian under their belts and a win over Carmichaels would put them clearly out in front of the Tri-County South. Carmichaels is the top challenger for the TCS crown and features a balanced offensive attack. The Mighty Mikes are led by QB Kevin Kelly who has thrown for 405 yards and 6 TDs and rushed for 187 yards and 2 scores. Dylan Wilson (212 yards, 2 TDs) and Garrett Ponick (111 yards, 2 TDs) have been his primary targets. Nicholas Mundell (489 yards, 6 TDs) leads Carmichaels in rushing and will need to have a big game to keep California’s explosive offense off the field.
Honorable Mentions: Bishop Canevin at Imani Christian, Rochester at OLSH, Jeannette at Springdale
Imani Christian is coming off a surprising upset of Clairton in which 5 of their players were suspended. The Saints will have a full complement of players this week as they take on Bishop Canevin in a game that could have implications on home playoff games. Jeannette is now the clear favorite in the Eastern Conference and takes on a Springdale team that has won two in a row and is right in the middle of the playoff mix. Rochester has a slight lead in the Big Seven Conference over Western Beaver, Union, and OLSH. The Rams can put themselves further out in front with a win over OLSH.
1A Playoff Scenarios
Big 7 Conference
– Rochester clinches a playoff spot with a win over OLSH
– Jeannette clinches a playoff spot with a win over Springdale AND a GCC loss
Tri-County South Conference
– The winner of Carmicheals-California will clinch a playoff spot