WPIAL Championship Saturday has arrived! Last night, four semifinals in 2A and 1A took place with Steel Valley and Washington winning in 2A and Imani Christian and Jeannette winning in 1A. Those four will compete for their respective championships next week at Robert Morris University’s Joe Walton Stadium. Today is an all-day event at Heinz Field, starting at 11am with the 3A Championship game between conference foes Aliquippa and Quaker Valley. That game is the confluence of storylines as the Quakers are making their first WPIAL Championship Game appearance while the Quips are making their 10th straight appearance at Heinz Field. Following that, the day will roll on with the 6A Championship between Pine-Richland and Central Catholic at 2pm, the 5A Championship between Penn-Trafford and Gateway at 5pm, and concluding with the 4A Championship between Montour and Thomas Jefferson at 8pm. With the exception of the 4A Championship, the other 3 games are all rematches of games already played this season, feature conference opponents, and feature the top two seeds in their brackets. In 4A, neither conference champion reached the title game as #3 seed Thomas Jefferson and #4 seed Montour exacted revenge for earlier losses on their respective conference champions in the semifinals.
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.
All season, you’ve heard us talk about the great work our friends at the TribLive High School Sports network do to broadcast games on the internet. They are going all-out for WPIAL Championship Saturday and will have radio streams broadcasting from Heinz Field for all four games broadcasting live. You can find them all on their website tribhssn.triblive.com. AT&T SportsNet (formerly ROOT Sports) will also be showing the first two games of the day live with the 5A and 4A Championships tape-delayed and shown after the Penguins game.
Here's a look at our #WPIALChamps schedule for Saturday. Good luck to @Qvfootball #AliquippaQuips @centralvikings @PRRamsFootball @GHS_Gators @PTWarriors @wjhsd @MontourFootball! pic.twitter.com/7hiZLT7Pyf
— AT&T SportsNet™ PIT (@ATTSportsNetPIT) November 16, 2017
As a reminder, if you’re going to be following along with the WPIAL action throughout the day, keep an eye on the #WPIAL hashtag on Twitter where people post score updates from games. I”ll also be posting score updates and commentary from my Twitter account @thesteelersnat.
Class 6A Championship
1. Pine-Richland (6-0, 12-0) vs 2. Central Catholic (5-1, 10-2)
How They Got Here
For the second straight year, the 6A semifinals contained all four Northern Seven Conference playoff teams. Pine-Richland topped North Allegheny 49-25 while Central Catholic beat Penn Hills 17-8 in rematches of two Week 9 games.
Pine-Richland swept through their schedule with a perfect record, averaging a 6A-leading 50 points per game. Pine-Richland also has the top-ranked defense in 6A, holding opponents to just 13 points per game. The Rams defeated Central Catholic 47-17 in Week 6 and have defeated all of their opponents by at least 20 points. In addition to sweeping through the Northern Seven Conference, Pine-Richland also has victories over the top four teams from the Southeastern Conference.
Central Catholic’s season got off to a rough start with a 40-7 loss to Erie Cathedral Prep in Week 0. The Vikings rebounded once WPIAL play started and rode their stout defense to an 8-1 regular season record with their only loss coming to Pine-Richland. In the regular season, Pine-Richland and Seneca Valley were the only teams to score more than twice against Central’s defense. Peters Twp gave the Vikings a battle in the first round of the playoffs but Central prevailed 27-20. Central has the second-best defense in 6A at 16 points per game, a number which drops to 14 per game against WPIAL competition.
This is the third playoff meeting between Pine-Richland and Central Catholic in the last four seasons. Since Pine-Richland moved up to AAAA in 2008, this is the fourth time these schools have met in the playoffs. Central Catholic holds a 2-1 edge over that timespan with a first round victory in 2010 and a semifinal victory last year. Pine-Richland’s victory came in the 2014 Championship Game.
Central Catholic is the two-time defending WPIAL Champions and is making their fifth consecutive appearance at Heinz Field. Central Catholic won the 2015 State Championship and lost to St Joe’s Prep in the State Championship last year. This year was Central Catholic’s 15th consecutive playoff appearance and this is their 8th trip to Heinz Field in that span.
Pine-Richland is making their second Championship Game appearance in the last 4 years. The Rams won the 2014 WPIAL AAAA title over Central Catholic in a game most remembered for their student section bringing a live ram to the tailgate (and it subsequently getting loose on the North Side).
Pine-Richland reached the semifinals in each of the last two seasons, losing to Penn-Trafford in 2015 and Central Catholic last year.
Central Catholic has won 6 WPIAL titles (including 3 of the last 4) in 2003, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015, and 2016. Central also won the PIAA title in 1988, 2004, 2007, and 2015. Interestingly, Central Catholic did not win the WPIAL title in 1988 (they lost the Championship Game to Upper St Clair) but because Upper St Clair School District decided not to compete in the PIAA Championships, Central Catholic took their place and won the title.
Pine-Richland has won two WPIAL titles. They won the 2003 WPIAL AAA Championship and 2014 AAAA Championship. In both of those seasons, the Rams reached the State Championship game but came up just short of winning the title. Additionally, prior to the consolidation of schools, Richland High School won WPIAL titles in 1969 and 1970.
Pine-Richland is absolutely loaded with talent all over the field. The Rams are led by senior dual-threat QB Phil Jurkovec (a Notre Dame commit) who is second in the WPIAL with 3003 yards and 30 TDs and has run for 805 yards and 13 TDs. In the semifinals against rival North Allegheny, Jurkovec threw for 432 yards and 5 TDs and ran for 108 yards and another score. Leading receiver Ray Falcone (745 yards, 8 TDs) has committed to Lehigh while tight end Jason DeFrancisis (635 yards, 8 TDs) has been Jurkovec’s most reliable target. In the backfield, Jordan Crawford has been an all-around threat with 975 rushing yards, 401 receiving yards and 24 total TDs. Kenny White, who won a WPIAL title last year with West Allegheny, missed some time early in the season but has run for 563 yards and 10 TDs and anchors the secondary as a shutdown corner.
This will be the fourth and final meeting between Jurkovec and Central Catholic QB Troy Fisher, who have had one of the better head-to-head rivalries in the WPIAL in recent memory. Fisher won the first two matchups, scoring the game-winning touchdown in the final minute in 2015 then leading the Vikings to a 48-35 victory last year. Jurkovec struck back earlier this season when he led the Rams to a 47-17 victory in Week 5. Fisher has committed to Lafayette and plays behind an offensive line with 3 D1 recruits in David Green, Josh Trautman, and Tony Young. He has thrown for 1346 yards and 19 TDs and added 453 yards and 8 TDs on the ground. Last week, with leading rusher and top CB Khalil Weathers injured, Fisher put the team on his back, throwing for 280 yards and 2 TDs and rushing for 94 yards. With Weathers injured, sophomore Dontre Jones has taken on the role of lead back in the playoffs and run for 189 yards in two games. On the outside, WR Corey Thomas (377 yards, 4 TDs) has some offers from MAC schools while Cam Laconi (212 yards, 4 TDs) has some FCS offers. Junior Gavin Thomson has been a two-way star for the Vikings with 357 yards and 7 receiving TDs and two pick-sixes.
Class 5A Championship
1. Penn-Trafford (7-1, 11-1) vs 2. Gateway (7-1, 11-1)
How They Got Here
The top two teams from the Big East Conference are also the two highest-scoring teams in 5A. Gateway leads the classification averaging 38 points per game while Penn-Trafford is not far behind at 34 per game.
Penn-Trafford got off to a 9-0 start to the regular season behind a dominating defense. The Warriors pitched 3 shutouts in their first 6 games, including a 28-0 victory over Gateway. After locking up the conference title, Penn-Trafford was topped by McKeesport in Week 9 27-24. The Warriors fought off an upset-mindend Fox Chapel squad in the first round of the playoffs then cruised past Allegheny Nine Conference Champion Upper St Clair in the semifinals. Penn-Trafford enters the title game with the best defense in 5A, allowing just 11 points per game.
Gateway’s only blemish on their record is their Week 5 shutout by Penn-Trafford. Other than that, the Gators scored at least 33 points against every team not named McKeesport. Their two games against the rival Tigers were thrillers. In Week 8, Gateway picked off a pass in the end zone to stave off a comeback and secure a 21-18 victory. In the semifinals, Gateway got revenge for last year’s semifinal when McKeesport hit a hook-and-ladder hail mary to win the game. This year, Gateway freshman RB Derrick Davis scored with about a minute to go to break a 21-all tie. After McKeesport executed another hook-and-ladder to convert a 4th and 15, Gateway’s defense stood strong and held on the next set of downs to send the Gators to Heinz Field.
Penn-Trafford is making their second trip to Heinz Field in the last 3 seasons. They lost the 2015 AAAA Championship to Central Catholic and missed the playoffs last year. Prior to last year’s narrow miss, Penn-Trafford had made 13 consecutive playoff appearances and the Warriors have reached the postseason in 24 of the last 27 years. This will be only their third trip to the Championship Game in that time.
Gateway is making their first trip to Heinz Field since they lost 3 consecutive Championship Games from 2007-2009. The Gators missed the playoffs in 2015, which is the only time in the last 16 years they did not qualify for the postseason. Last year they lost in the semifinals in dramatic fashion to McKeesport.
Penn-Trafford has never won a WPIAL Championship. They reached the AAAA Championship Games in 1997 and 2015 but lost to Upper St Clair 28-27 in ’97 and Central Catholic 24-17 in ’15. Additionally, Trafford High School lost in the 1949 Class B (which became Single-A) Championship Game 64-0 to Bridgeville and Penn Joint High School lost in the 1961 AA Championship to Albert Gallatin 19-6.
Gateway is making their fifth appearance in a WPIAL Championship Game in the last 14 years. The Gators have gone 0-4 at Heinz Field in that span, losing to Central Catholic in 2004 and 2007, Bethel Park in 2008, and Woodland Hills in 2009. Gateway has won 5 WPIAL Championships in school history. They won outright titles in 1969, 1972, and 1986. Gateway tied Upper St Clair in the 1974 Championship Game and tied North Hills in the 1985 Championship Game because the WPIAL did not have overtime. This will be Gateway’s 13th WPIAL Championship Game in school history.
The last time Penn-Trafford reached a title game they were led by senior QB Brett Laffoon. This year, Brett’s younger brother Cam has led the way with 1433 passing yards and 15 TDs and 707 yards and 8 scores on the ground. Leading rusher John Gay IV has run for 1231 yards and 17 TDs and has a few D1 offers. Last week, change-of-pace back Caleb Lisbon was the star, running for 110 yards and 2 TDs and adding a receiving touchdown to lead the Warriors past Upper St Clair. On the season, the sophomore Lisbon has run for 818 yards and 15 TDs and averaged 11 yards per carry. On the outside, Cam Suman (417 yards, 3 TDs), Dimitri George (392 yards, 3 TDs), and Anthony Cervone (235 yards, 4 TDs) have been Laffoon’s top targets. Penn-Trafford’s running game and dominant defense has been keyed by Akron-commit Logan Hawkins who plays on the interior on both sides of the ball.
Gateway features the WPIAL’s leading passer in senior Brady Walker who has thrown for 3394 yards and 37 TDs this season and added 527 yards and 3 TDs on the ground. Walker’s favorite target has been junior Courtney Jackson who is the WPIAL’s second-leading receiver with 1382 yards and 20 TDs. Fellow junior Jeremiah Josephs has accounted for 487 yards and 6 TDs. Senior RB Isaiah Cameron has over 1000 yards of total offense with 576 rushing yards, 433 receiving yards and 14 total TDs. In the playoffs, it has been freshman RB Derrick Davis (who picked up an offer from Pitt this week) who has stolen the show. In the first round against Woodland Hills, Davis ran for 111 yards and 3 TDs. Last week he ran for just 55 yards but scored the game-winning touchdown with a minute to go in the game.
Class 4A Championship
3. Thomas Jefferson (7-1, 10-1) vs 4. Montour (6-2, 9-2)
How They Got Here
4A is the only classification that does not have the top two seeds competing in the Championship Game. Both competitors in this game finished in second place in their respective conferences during the regular season and topped their conference champions in the semifinals. This is also the only WPIAL Championship Game that does not feature two teams from the same conference.
Thomas Jefferson is statistically the best team in 4A, averaging 42 points per game on offense and allowing just 4 per game on defense. The Jaguars have pitched 6 shutouts this season – including in 3 of their last 4 games since losing to Belle Vernon in Week 7. That 21-17 loss to Belle Vernon was the only time a team has scored more than once against TJ’s defense. Additionally, their two games against Belle Vernon were the only times the Jaguars were held under 34 points this season. Their defense was downright dominant in the first two rounds of the playoffs, shutting down the WPIAL’s second leading rusher Joey Koroly and Trinity in the first round then exacting their revenge on Belle Vernon and holding the Leopards without a first down until the fourth quarter in the semifinals.
— Steelers Youth FB (@SteelersYouthFB) November 11, 2017
Montour got off to a strong start with big wins over New Castle and Indiana but suffered a setback in Week 3 with a loss to Mars. The Spartans then ran through the next 5 weeks of their schedule and entered Week 9 with a shot at the conference title if they could beat South Fayette. It was a precarious position for Montour as a loss in that game could have cost them a home playoff game if they finished in a 3-way tie with Mars and New Castle. Luckily, Mars lost to Knoch and Montour’s Week 1 victory over New Castle was enough to give the Spartans the head-to-head tiebreaker for a home playoff game. Montour battled back from a 28-7 third quarter deficit in the opening round to top New Castle 35-31. In the semifinals, Montour once again came from behind to rally from a 27-14 deficit to score 3 fourth quarter touchdowns and pull off a 35-27 upset of top-seeded South Fayette.
This is the third playoff meeting between the schools in the last 11 years. Thomas Jefferson won both previous games, the Championship Game in 2007 and a first round game last year. Thomas Jefferson has been one of the most consistent WPIAL playoff teams, making at least the semifinals in 19 of the last 20 years and is tied with Aliquippa for the longest streak of consecutive playoff appearances at 23 years. Thomas Jefferson is the two-time defending WPIAL Champions, winning the AAA title in 2015 and the 4A title last year. TJ lost to Erie Cathedral Prep in the PIAA Quarterfinals each of the last two seasons.
Montour is making their 11th consecutive playoff appearance and their fourth trip to Heinz Field in that span. They are 1-2 in WPIAL Championship Games over that time. This season was the first time since 2012 that the Spartans won a playoff game.
Thomas Jefferson has won 7 WPIAL Championships and 3 State titles. The Jaguars won the WPIAL title in 1980, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2015, and 2016. They won the PIAA Championship in 2004, 2007, and 2008. This will be their 9th appearance at Heinz Field in the last 15 seasons.
Montour won WPIAL Championships at three different levels of competition. In Class B (which became Single-A), they tied Avella for the 1957 title (no overtime) and beat Edgewood for the 1958 title. In AA, they won the 1963 and 1964 WPIAL titles. The Spartans defeated Knoch to win the AAA title in 2011. Montour also reached Heinz Field in 2007 and 2010, losing to Thomas Jefferson and Central Valley, respectively.
Thomas Jefferson’s dominant defense is anchored by a defensive line featuring two Pitt commits. Defensive tackle Devin Danielson and defensive end Noah Palmer have both been outstanding this season for the Jaguars. On the offensive side of the ball, TJ has had a balanced attack. Sophomore QB Shane Stump has thrown for 1397 yards and 22 TDs. He has been aided by the Jaguars strong ground game and senior RB Justin Vigna (1701 yards, 24 TDs). Vigna has carried the load in the playoffs, rushing for 134 yards and 2 TDs against Trinity then 203 yards and 2 TDs against Belle Vernon. Second-leading rusher Sean Bell has been used in reserve and has run for 351 yards and 6 TDs but is averaging 11 yards per carry. On the outside, Garrett Fairman has been Stump’s favorite target and has accounted for 838 yards and 13 TDs.
The last time Montour won the WPIAL title, their run to the Championship was led by RB Julian Durden who transferred from North Catholic. This year, another transfer in WR Brandon Lipford has been instrumental to the Spartans run to Heinz Field. Lipford won a WPIAL title with West Allegheny last year and has led the Spartans in receiving with 652 yards and scored 9 TDs. But it was Lipford’s defensive play that sparked Montour’s upset last week. He returned an interception 81 yards to the 4-yard line then scored on a jet sweep to put the Spartans ahead of South Fayette 28-27 then returned another interception 66 yards to set up a touchdown to put the Spartans up by 8 late in the fourth quarter. Offensively Montour has been led by dual-threat QB Kavon Morman who has a few FCS offers. Morman has thrown for 1641 yards and 15 TDs and rushed for 663 yards and 15 scores. Morman stole the show offensively last week, throwing for 212 yards and rushing for 128 yards and 3 TDs. Morman’s rushing has been instrumental as leading rusher Brayden Jones (668 yards, 6 TDs) is working his way back from a mid-season injury. In addition to Lipford on the outside, Montour has talented receivers in Temple-commit Ronald Stevenson (138 yards, 2 TDs) and Ronald Deshantz (254 yards, 2 TDs).
Class 3A Championship
1. Aliquippa (6-0, 12-0) vs 2. Quaker Valley (5-1, 11-1)
How They Got Here
The top two teams in the Beaver Valley Conference were the top 3A teams in defense and offense, respectively. The 2017 season was essentially the Aliquippa Revenge Tour after the Quips suffered 3 surprising defeats last year. They started the season by avenging their Championship Game loss to Beaver Falls with a 36-0 pounding then got revenge on Beaver who had ended their 7-year unbeaten streak against conference opponents. In Week 6, the Quips topped Clairton in a rematch of a non-conference game that Clairton won last season. The Quips defense was outstanding this season, allowing just 1 offensive touchdown (to Quaker Valley) during the regular season and pitching 6 shutouts. Aliquippa has given up 3 touchdowns in the playoffs (two to South Park in a 48-12 first round victory and one to Beaver in a hard-faught 14-7 semifinal). The Quips dodged some bullets against Beaver last week as Pitt-walk on-commit Will Connelly missed two short field goals in the first half. Aliquippa has allowed just 42 points through 12 games this season.
On the other hand, Quaker Valley’s offense has averaged over 40 points per game and scored at least 39 in all but two games. Their 22-7 loss to Aliquippa in Week 7 is the only blemish on their resume. The Quakers won a shootout against a high-scoring Derry team 51-29 in the first round then shut down the WPIAL’s leading rusher Lionel Deanes and Seton La Salle by a 40-7 mark in the semifinals.
Aliquippa is making their 10th straight appearance at Heinz Field, an incredible WPIAL record of success that gets better every year. The Quips are 4-5 in those title games and are coming off a loss to Beaver Falls in last year’s championship. Aliquippa and Thomas Jefferson are tied with the longest active playoff streaks in the WPIAL, having reached the postseason in 23 consecutive years.
Quaker Valley is making just their second playoff appearance since 2000. In 2013, they hosted their first playoff game in school history and won their first round game over New Brighton before losing to Aliquippa in the second round. This will be their third playoff meeting with Aliquippa, the prior two coming in the quarterfinals in 1996 and 2013.
Aliquippa is making their 10th straight Championship Game appearance and has won more WPIAL titles than any other school with 16. The Quips won the WPIAL AAA Championship in 1952, 1955, 1964, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, and 1989. They won the WPIAL AA Championship in 1991, 1996, 2000, 2003, 2008, 2011, 2012, and 2015. The Quips won the PIAA AA Championship in 1991 and 2003. This will be Aliquippa’s 28th WPIAL Championship Game appearance in school history.
Quaker Valley is making their first Championship Game appearance in school history. Prior to this season their best playoff run was reaching the WPIAL semifinals in 1983. Predecessors to Quaker Valley High School (Leetsdale High School and Sewickley High School) both played in WPIAL Championship games. Leetsdale lost the 1942 Class B (which became Single-A) Championship Game to Bridgeville and Sewickley lost the 1937 Championship Game to Masontown and tied Glassport 0-0 for the 1938 Championship (no overtime).
Aliquippa is once again absolutely loaded with talent. Their shut-down defense has been led by Kwantel Raines, a West Virginia-commit and one of the top safeties in the nation. Raines had two big interceptions last week against Beaver – the first to set up Aliquippa’s first touchdown and the second to seal the game in the closing minutes. The week prior it was sensational junior MJ Devonshire’s pick-six that broke open the game against South Park. Devonshire is also the team’s leading receiver with 322 yards and 9 TDs. Aliquippa has used two quarterbacks this season and rotated between Eli Kosanovich (640 yards, 10 TDs) and William Gipson (325 yards, 4 TDs). Gipson has also played receiver and accounted for 205 yards and 4 TDs. As always, the name of the game on offense for the Quips is a smashmouth running game. The ground-and-pound attack is led by Avante McKenzie whose phyiscal rushing style has led to 1567 yards and 18 TDs. Tariq Jones (513 yards, 8 TDs) and Xavier Harvey (473 yards, 4 TDs) have also gotten their share of carries to spell McKenzie.
Quaker Valley has taken the Guss Bus to Heinz Field. Senior QB Ricky Guss has been one of the top dual-threats in the WPIAL this season. He has thrown for 1942 yards and 24 TDs and rushed for 1032 yards and 26 TDs. Guss accounted for 245 total yards and 5 total TDs (3 passing, 2 rushing) to lead the Quakers past Seton La Salle in the semifinals. In just two playoff games Guss has thrown for 312 yards and 5 TDs and run for 247 yards and 6 scores. While Guss has been the primary threat, he also has an extremely talented supporting cast. Isaiah McNair has been the primary target on the outside with 806 receiving yards and has added 282 rushing yards and scored 14 times. Senior RB JT Taylor has run for 854 yards and been the second-leading receiver with 370 yards and scored 12 total TDs. Ryan Jakovic is a 6’5″ junior who has been a big play threat, averaging over 21 yards per catch and tallying 364 yards and 2 TDs. Fellow junior Ethan Moore has only gotten a handful of carries but has run for 346 yards and 2 TDs, averaging over 11 yards per carry.