The final week of the WPIAL regular season has arrived. Earlier this week I published a fully detailed post on all of the playoff scenarios still in play for the 9 playoff berths, the 12 home games, and the 7 conference titles yet to be clinched. All of the playoff spots in 6A and 5A have been secured after Peters Twp beat Canon-Mac and Fox Chapel beat Chartiers Valley last week. McKeesport and Gateway played another thriller last week that came down to the wire with McKeesport throwing an interception in the end zone at the end of the game. That result clinched the conference title for Penn-Trafford and means McKeesport will have to play a first round playoff game on the road. In 4A, Trinity beat Greensburg Salem to put the Hillers in the drivers seat for the final playoff spot in the Big Nine Conference. Aliquippa beat Central Valley to clinch the 23rd consecutive playoff berth for the Quips. In a bit of a surprise in 3A, South Park knocked off conference leader Elizabeth Forward 18-14 which could force a 3-way tie atop the Interstate Conference if South Park and Derry both win this week. In 2A, Washington and Steel Valley both clinched their conference titles while Avonworth beat South Allegheny in a game for the final playoff spot in the Three Rivers Conference. Frazier beat Bentworth in another Casket Match in the Interstate Conference for the final playoff spot. The 1A field is still wide open with 5 playoff berths to be decided this week.
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. This week, they are offering tickets for the North Hills at Hampton game, which you can buy online here. 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. Here is their list of the games they will be broadcasting tonight.
This week’s WMBS Game of the Week is Albert Gallatin at Laurel Highlands. Laurel Highlands is looking to close out the season with a .500 record in head coach Zach Just’s final game. Albert Gallatin already has two wins on their resume this season which is more than the Colonials had in the last three seasons combined. A third win would equal Albert Gallatin’s total from the prior six seasons and be their most in a year since 2009 when they went 3-6.
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.
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
Pine-Richland (5-0, 9-0) at North Allegheny (4-1, 7-2)
Nothing like a rivalry game in the final week of the season with a conference title on the line. Pine-Richland can win the Northern Seven Confernece straight out with a win over North Allegheny or a loss by fewer than 9 points. For North Allegheny to win the title, the Tigers need either a win by 9 or more over Pine-Richland or a win and a loss by Central Catholic to Penn Hills. Pine-Richland has been dominant on both sides of the ball this season, leading 6A in both offense (50 points per game) and defense (10 points allowed per game). The Rams are led by Notre Dame commit Phil Jurkovec who is second in the WPIAL with 2284 passing yards and 21 TDs. His favorite targets on the outside have been Lehigh-commit Raymond Falcone (745 yards, 8 TDs) and Jason DeFrancisis (588 yards, 4 TDs). RB Jordan Crawford has run for 669 yards and added 283 receiving yards and scored 19 TDs – including an astounding 7 touchdown performance against Central Catholic this year. Jurkovec has also done damage out of the backfield, rushing for 396 yards and 9 TDs. Since losing their first two games of the regular season, North Allegheny has gone on a 6-game winning streak where they have outscored opponents by 28 points per game. The Tigers have a dual-threat QB of their own in Luke Trueman who has thrown for 877 yards and 10 TDs and rushed for 788 yards and 6 TDs. Turner White has been the work horse in the backfield, rushing for 758 yards and 12 TDs while Ben Maenza (439 yards, 7 TDs) has also been part of the backfield rotation. On the outside, John Varzdell (381 yards, 8 TDs) has been Trueman’s primary target. Sam Humes, Cory Melzer and Joey Porter Jr have been big-play threats at WR and all average over 15 yards per reception but none have more than 8 catches. Porter is also a shut-down corner who should be a good matchup for Raymond Falcone on both sides of the ball.
Bethel Park (5-0, 7-1) at Mt Lebanon (5-0, 6-3)
Both conferences in 6A have head-to-head games in the final week of the seasons with conference titles on the line. Last season, Mt Lebanon topped Bethel Park in the final game to win the Southeastern Conference crown. This year, neither team has lost a conference game and all of their losses have come against Northern Seven Conference opponents. Bethel Park has the third-best offense in 6A at 35 points per game and the fourth-best defense at 17 points allowed per game. Mt Lebanon’s offense has also been explosive, averaging 32 points per game but their defense has allowed the most points of any of the 8 6A playoff teams. The WPIAL single-season receiving yardage record may fall in this game as Mt Lebanon WR Aidan Cain has posted 1447 yards and 13 TDs. Cain broke the regular season record (previously set by Avonworth’s Mike Grau in 1987) in Week 7 and has his sights set on South Fayette’s Justin Watson’s record of 1568 yards. Watson set his record over 16 games (including the State Championship) in 2013. The Blue Devils were rotating quarterbacks to start the season but have settled on senior James Stocker (1580 yards, 11 TDs) in recent weeks. Antonio LaSota (647 yards, 6 TDs) and John Naylor (417 yards, 8 TDs) have split the workload out of the backfield. They will need to contend with Bethel Park’s stout defensive line, which has shut down opposing offenses and held everyone except Pine-Richland to under 17 points. The Black Hawks feature a run-heavy offense with Tanner Volpatti (911 yards, 16 TDs), John Doleno (620 yards, 8 TDs), and Jehvonn Lewis (353 yards, 2 TDs) splitting carries. Anthony Chiccitt took over the quarterback role mid-season and has thrown for 802 yards and 6 TDs. Austin Lewis (283 yards, 2 TDs) has been the primary receiver while RBs Volpatti (217 yards, 3 TDs) and Doleno (157 yards, 1 TD) have supplemented the passing attack.
Honorable Mention: Penn Hills at Central Catholic
Both teams have clinched playoff spots and Central Catholic is still in the mix for a home playoff game. Central can not win the conference title but the result of this game could have an impact on the Northern Seven race if North Allegheny beats Pine-Richland. If Central wins, NA would have to win by 9 or more to win the conference or else Pine-Richland would win the three-way tie on Tiebreaker Points.
5A Games of the Week
Penn-Trafford (7-0, 9-0) at McKeesport (5-2, 6-2)
McKeesport was one of the preseason favorites in 5A, but the Tigers have dropped two games this season and will have to go on the road in the first round of the playoffs. That said, they are still an incredibly talented team and they are good enough to give conference champion Penn-Trafford a run for their money. After missing the playoffs for the first time since 2002 last season, Penn-Trafford has run unbeaten through the conference and already clinched the Big East crown. The Warriors have a balanced offense between their rushing attack of John Gay (911 yards, 15 TDs) and Caleb Lisbon (639 yards, 12 TDs) and the dual-threat abilities of QB Cam Laffoon (1063 passing yards, 12 pass TDs, 463 rushing yards, 4 rushing TDs). Laffoon has been able to spread the ball around to Dimitri George (290 yards, 2 TDs), Cam Suman (221 yards, 2 TDs), and Anthony Cervone (210 yards, 3 TDs). Penn-Trafford also boasts the best defense in 5A, holding opponents to just 7 points per game and pitched a shutout against Gateway, the top-scoring team in 5A. While Penn-Trafford’s offense has been balanced, McKeesport has relied almost entirely on their running game. The Tigers’ triple-option attack has been dominant with Layton Jordan (968 yards, 12 TDs), John Harper (825 yards, 12 TDs) and Carlinos Acie (613 yards, 8 TDs) as the feature backs. McKeesport has also been very good defensively, giving up just 11 points per game. This has all the makings of a low-scoring defensive struggle between two of the top teams in 5A that are both capable of making a run to Heinz Field.
Gateway (6-1, 8-1) at Franklin Regional (5-2, 6-2)
Both teams have wins over McKeesport and losses to Penn-Trafford this season. Therefore, neither can win the conference title but the winner will finish second in the Big East and get a home playoff game. Both teams are holding opponents to just 16 points per game, but have been drastically different offensively. Gateway is the highest-scoring team in 5A at 39 points per game while Franklin Regional has struggled to put points on the board, averaging just 19 points per game. Gateway boats the WPIAL’s leading passer in Brady Walker who has thrown for 2520 yards and 31 TDs. His primary target has been Courtney Jackson who is one of just two players over 1000 receiving yards this season and has scored 16 times. Jeremiah Josephs (368 yards, 5 TDs) has been Walker’s other target on the outside. RB Isaiah Cameron has run for 523 yards and added 433 yards through the air and scored 14 times. Franklin Regional has relied heavily upon Nate Leopold, who leads the team in rushing (486 yards), receiving (310 yards), and scoring (6 TDs). Leopold also filled in at quarterback in the middle of the season when Adam Rudzinski missed a few games. Rudzinski is now back and has thrown for 962 yards and 10 TDs. In addition to Leopold, Jacob Shedd (214 yards, 2 TDs) and Tyrese Kohlman (127 yards, 3 TDs) have been the leading receivers. Stephen Johns (301 yards, 3 TDs) has served as a complementary back to Leopold.
Honorable Mention: Woodland Hills at Upper St Clair
Upper St Clair has clinched the conference title and is looking to complete an undefeated run through conference play. Woodland Hills has secured their 22nd consecutive playoff appearance but will have to travel on the road in the first round.
4A Games of the Week
South Fayette (7-0, 9-0) at Montour (6-1, 7-1)
The Northwest Nine conference title is on the line as South Fayette travels to Montour. South Fayette is guaranteed a home playoff game regardless of the result. If Montour loses, the Spartans could finish in a 3-way tie for second place with New Castle and Mars, which could drop them out of a home playoff game. South Fayette enters with a WPIAL-leading 48-game winning streak against conference opponents dating back to 2011. The Lions have one of the top offenses in 4A at 44 points per game. QB Drew Saxton has thrown for 1861 yards and 24 TDs, spreading the ball between Noah Plack (529 yards, 6 TDs), Mike Trimber (430 yards, 6 TDs), and Rayquin Glover (309 yards, 2 TDs). Johnny Beck has been the workhorse out of the backfield, running for 844 yards and 17 TDs. Johnny Obenour (278 yards, 8 TDs) and Andrew Franklin (225 yards, 3 TDs) have averaged over 9 yards per carry in complementary roles. Montour also has a talented offense, led by dual-threat QB Kavon Morman. He has thrown for 1158 yards and 12 TDs and added 417 yards and a team-high 9 TDs on the ground. He has split carries in the backfield with Brayden Jones (570 yards, 5 TDs). On the outside, Morman’s favorite targets have been Branden Lipford (384 yards, 6 TDs), Ronald Deshantz (224 yards, 2 TDs), and Jaxon Schrenker (188 yards, 2 TDs). Both teams have defenses allowing just 10 points per game and Montour’s has been slightly better during conference play.
Ringgold (3-4, 3-5) at Trinity (4-3, 5-3)
The one remaining playoff spot in 4A will go to the 4th place team from the Big Nine Conference. If Greensburg Salem beats Uniontown, Trinity will get the spot regardless of the result of this game. Ringgold could steal the spot with a win over Trinity and if Uniontown is able to upset Greensburg Salem. After an 0-2 start to the season, Trinity has won 5 of their last 6 with their only loss being a 7-point defeat by conference champion Belle Vernon. The Hillers have the second-best offense in the conference, averaging 35 points per game. Trinity relies heavily on their rushing attack led by Joey Koroly’s 1517 yards and 18 TDs. QB Dylan Kern has thrown for 577 yards and 13 TDs, primarily throwing to Cole Bair (317 yards, 8 TDs) and Dausen Marry (223 yards, 1 TD). While Trinity’s offense has been explosive, Ringgold has struggled to score at times this season. The Rams are averaging just 19 points per game while allowing 28 on defense. Ringgold’s offense has been balanced between QB Caleb Eisel throwing for 810 yards and 6 TDs and RB Brenden Small rushing for 426 yards and 7 TDs. Eisel’s favorite targets have been Max Maciejewski (393 yards, 5 TDs) and Darius Tyree (200 yards, 3 TDs). Trinity is looking to make the playoffs for the first time since 2012 while Ringgold is looking to make the playoffs for the 8th straight season.
Honorable Mention: West Mifflin at Thomas Jefferson
Both teams have secured playoff spots but this rivalry game will have no impact on playoff positioning. Thomas Jefferson will be second behind Belle Vernon and get a home playoff game while West Mifflin will finish third and have to play on the road in the first round.
3A Games of the Week
McGuffey (4-2, 6-3) at Derry (5-1, 8-1)
There are 256 different scenarios that could take place to determine the last two playoff spots in 3A. This is the most impactful game in the playoff race. Derry is in with a win and out with a loss while McGuffey is out with a loss and finishes 3rd with a win and would have a chance at the Wild Card. Both teams have been strong offensively, averaging over 33 points per game. However, Derry’s defense has been much stronger, holding opponents to just 9 points per game while McGuffey has allowed 23 per game. Derry has been carried to this point by a run-heavy offense led by Colton Nemcheck (654 yards, 13 TDs), Shawn Broadway (525 yards, 10 TDs), and Onreey Stewart (408 yards, 6 TDs). In addition to their strong running game, the Trojans have been able to move the ball through the air with Ryan Polinsky throwing for 621 yards and 6 TDs, primarily to Justin Flack (196 yards, 3 TDs) and Colton Nemcheck (151 yards). McGuffey also has a run-heavy offense with the backfield tandem of Christian Clutter (911 yards, 14 TDs) and Andam Townsend (663 yards, 8 TDs). The Highlanders have been so reliant on their ground game they have averaged fewer than 8 pass attempts per game. Marshall Whipkey (415 yards, 10 TDs) has been the primary quarterback and Brendan Crowe (235 yards, 5 TDs) the main threat on the outside. This figures to be a ground-and-pound game and the team that is able to win in the trenches and slow down the other teams ground game will keep their playoff hopes alive.
Honorable Mentions: Shady Side Academy at Central Valley, Beaver at Beaver Falls, Freeport at Valley, Seton LaSalle at Keystone Oaks
There are so many scenarios involving numerous games in 3A, it would be difficult to summarize them all. Beaver needs a win over Beaver Falls to have a hope of making the playoffs as a wild card. If Beaver loses, the wild cards will go to Shady Side Academy and the third place team from the Interstate Conference. Shady Side Academy plays a non-conference game against Central Valley, and needs either a loss by Beaver or a win by Valley or Keystone Oaks to have a chance to earn a wild card.
2A Games of the Week
Serra Catholic (3-2, 5-3) at East Allegheny (4-1, 6-2)
With 15 of the 16 playoff spots determined in 2A and neither of the teams in the Wild Card race playing meaningful games, the only things left to be determined are which teams will play home playoff games. In the Three Rivers Conference, the winner of this game will clinch a home playoff game. This game features a battle of explosive passing attacks. East Allegheny QB Tamaine Underwood has thrown for 1831 yards and 18 TDs while Serra Catholic QB Evan Honick has thrown for 1065 yards and 7 TDs. Underwood has a stable of receivers he has spread the ball to, led by West Virginia-commit TJ Banks (507 yards, 6 TDs), Dan Kasmier (373 yards, 4 TDs), Tyler Padezan (275 yards, 3 TDs), and Ronnie McGill (208 yards, 2 TDs). The Wildcats have not run the ball much, but Khyree Marshall (240 yards, 3 TDs) and Tyvon Wright (163 yards, 4 TDs) have been the primary ball-carriers. While East Allegheny has a deep roster of contributors, Serra Catholic has relied on three primary playmakers. Khalil Smith has led the Eagles in rushing with 682 yards and 8 TDs while leading receivers JaQuae Jackson (676 yards, 4 TDs) and Malik Edmundson (403 yards, 4 TDs) average over 18 yards per catch.
Neshannock (4-2, 5-4) at Mohawk (4-2, 5-2)
In the Midwestern Confernece, Neshannock and Mohawk will battle with third place and a potential home playoff game on the line. Mohawk will be making their first trip to the playoffs since 2005 and have put together an impressive season that includes a win over a 3A team (Hopewell). The Warriors have been led by junior RB Braydon Cameron’s 1155 yards and 13 TDs. Fellow junior Nick Wheeler has thrown for 872 yards and 5 TDs, mostly to WR Nate McCutcheon (468 yards, 3 TDs). Both teams have found their stride late in the season. Mohawk has won 4 in a row and Neshannock has won 3 of their last 4. Neshannock’s turn-around coincided with a mid-season quarterback change. Jared Staph moved from QB to WR and Seth Fehrs took over under center. Fehrs has thrown for 506 yards and 4 TDs since taking over and adds a dual-threat ability as he has also rushed for 433 yards and 5 scores. Jey Nerti (542 yards, 8 TDs) is the Lancers leading rusher and Anthony Dovidio (327 yards, 1 TD) the leading receiver. It is worth noting that Staph has accounted for 159 receiving yards since making the switch to receiver just a few weeks ago, including a 94-yard game against Riverside.
Honorable Mentions: Washington at Beth-Center, Brentwood at Steel Valley
Washington and Steel Valley have already clinched their conference titles and finish the season against teams that will also be in the playoffs. This should be a good warm-up game for their respective first round matchups for the two presumptive favorites in 2A.
1A Games of the Week
Jeannette (6-0, 9-0) at Clairton (5-1, 6-2)
Since Jeannette moved down to the WPIAL’s smallest classification, they have faced Clairton 5 times. Clairton has won all five meetings, including the last two WPIAL Championship Games. This season, the script has changed slightly as Clairton has lost two regular season games for the first time since 2005. One of those losses was a low-scoring battle with Imani Christian and the other was a smothering defeat by Aliquippa (the top team in 3A). Jeannette has rolled through their schedule with an explosive offense averaging 47 points per game and a stifling defense holding opponents to just 11 per game. The Jayhawks have one of the top players in 1A in Robert Kennedy who has thrown for 1070 yards and 21 TDs and rushed for 718 yards and 19 TDs. Incredibly, Kennedy ranks in the Top 10 in the WPIAL in both rushing TDs (tied for 6th) and passing TDs (tied for 7th). The Jayhawks primary receivers have been Marcus Barnes (395 yards, 9 TDs) and Tre Cunningham (202 yards, 4 TDs). Imani Sanders has been an all-around threat with 248 rushing yards and 217 receiving yards and scoring 8 total TDs. Clairton still boats a capable defense, which statistically is the top unit in the conference at just 10 points per game. The fact that the Bears offense is averaging 32 points per game this season and it is considered a slightly “down” year tells you just how dominant Clairton has been over the past decade. The Bears have been led by Tre’sean Howard who leads the team in rushing (617 yards), receiving (265 yards), and scoring (12 total TDs). Howard has been complemented in the backfield by sophomore Aaron Thompson (475 yards, 9 TDs). Sophomore QB Brendan Parsons has thrown for 706 yards and 8 TDs. Clairton can still claim a share of the conference title with a win over Jeannette. A 10-point win by Clairton could send the conference title to a coin flip tiebreaker between Clairton, Jeannette and Imani Christian. On the other side, a Jeannette win would secure an outright conference title for the Jayhawks which they have not won since 2011.
GCC (2-4, 3-6) at Springdale (3-3, 4-5)
This is as close to a “Casket Match” as we will get this season. GCC is out of the playoffs with a loss and needs a win to force a 3-way tie with Springdale and Bishop Canevin. A 10-point win by GCC would create a perfectly even tie between the three schools which would need to be broken by a coin flip. A scenario actually exists where GCC cold have to endure TWO coin flips (if they lose the initial flip and wind up in a tie with Shenango for the Wild Card). Springdale’s path to their 15th playoff berth in 16 years is much simpler. The Dynamos can get in with a win or with a loss by fewer than 10 points. Springdale has been (for lack of a better term) dynamic on the ground this season. Their top four rushers Josh Harmon (770 yards, 11 TDs), Scott Landis (619 yards, 7 TDs), Parker Kline (310 yards, 4 TDs) and Dylan Hargenrader (298 yards, 7 TDs) all average over 6 yards per carry. QB Josh Jones has attempted fewer than 8 passes per game and thrown for 489 yards and 6 TDs. On the other side, GCC’s offense has been a bit more balanced this season. QB Max Pisula has thrown for 913 yards and 6 TDs, spreading the ball around to James Rice (239 yards, 2 TDs), Bryce Kurpiel (204 yards, 1 TD), and Bruce Leonard (149 yards). Tom Voelker has been the primary running back and has run for 695 yards and 2 TDs. Pisula has added 7 rushing scores of his own. Both teams have been porous defensively, allowing over 33 points per game. This game could turn into a shootout with a playoff berth on the line.
Honorable Mentions: Shenango at Union, Western Beaver at Rochester, Mapletown at Monessen, West Greene at California, Sto-Rox at OLSH (Saturday)
There are 5 playoff spots still to be secured in 1A. The Eastern Conference still has 2 spots available which will go to 2 out of Springdale, Bishop Canevin, and GCC. There is 1 spot in the Tri-County South which will either go to Jefferson-Morgan (if they beat Fort Cherry) or Monessen (if they beat Mapletown and Jefferson-Morgan loses). One spot remains in the Big Seven Conference which can be earned by Shenango, Sto-Rox, or Summit Academy. Shenango clinches the spot with a win over Union while Sto-Rox can make the playoffs with a win and a Shenango loss or a loss and losses by both Shenango and Northgate. Summit Academy would win a four-way tie if Shenango and Sto-Rox lose and Northgate wins. The Wild Card has even more scenarios in play. Western Beaver and Rochester have clinched playoff spots and the winner will get a home playoff game. West Greene will make the playoffs for the first time since 1993 and gets a shot at a California team that has run over everyone they have played this season. OLSH could win their first conference title in school history with a win over Sto-Rox.