The WPIAL Championships at Heinz Field are here. Once again this season, four of the six title games will be played on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. The 1A Championship returns to Heinz Field this season after two years at Joe Walton Stadium at Robert Morris University. The 6A, 4A, and 3A title game are also at Heinz Field this season. On Friday night, 5A and 2A both play their semifinals with their Championship Games to be played next week. The winners of this week’s games advance to the PIAA quarterfinals.
Thanks to our WPIAL content sponsors Taps n’at from Derry who have been throwing viewing parties to follow the Trojans trip to the title game all season. Check out their video from last week when Derry got a police and fire escort back into town after their come-from-behind semifinal victory over North Catholic.
From all of us at TAPS N'AT, GREAT JOB TROJANS! We're so proud and happy for you guys!
Posted by Taps N' At on Friday, November 9, 2018
This year, all six WPIAL Championship Games will be broadcast on The CW and KDKA. This is a change from previous years when ROOT Sports/AT&T Sports Net broadcast the first two games live then the evening games were tape-delayed (usually because of a Penguins game). The best part of the WPIAL games moving to The CW this year is that all of them will be shown live.
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. Below I’ve listed team-specific accounts to also keep an eye on throughout the day. I’ll also be posting score updates and commentary from my Twitter account @thesteelersnat.
Class 6A Championship
5. Seneca Valley (9-3) vs 2. Pine-Richland (9-2)
How They Got Here
After losing in Week 0 to an all-star high school squad out of Florida (IMG Academy), Pine-Richland got back to business. They won 8 straight games against WPIAL opponents, averaging 42 points per game. The only team to hold them under 38 points was Seneca Valley in Week 8. Then in Week 9, the Rams rushing attack was slowed by North Allegheny’s stifling defense. Pine-Richland finished second in the conference and earned a first round bye. They rebounded from their loss to rival North Allegheny to throttle Mt. Lebanon 46-16 in the semifinals. Now the Rams are back at Heinz Field with a shot to defend their WPIAL title.
Seneca Valley lost their first WPIAL game, a 20-14 defeat by Central Catholic. The Raiders defense tightened up from there, holding their next 6 opponents to 14 points or fewer. They eked past Mt. Lebanon 17-14 but lost to North Allegheny 10-6. Seneca Valley still had the opportunity to earn a first round bye entering Week 8, but lost to Pine-Richland. In Week 9, Mt. Lebanon defeated Central Catholic by 10 and Seneca Valley only beat Norwin by 8, which dropped the Raiders to the 5th seed. In the playoffs, it has been a revenge tour of their losses as Seneca Valley has topped Central Catholic 15-14 and top-seeded North Allegheny 31-14. Now, they get another shot at Pine-Richland with the chance to win their first WPIAL title.
This is the first playoff meeting between Pine-Richland and Seneca Valley, though the two schools have played in the same conference since Pine-Richland moved up to AAAA in 2008. In that time, Pine-Richland is 7-4 against Seneca Valley and have won 5 straight meetings. The two teams met in Week 9 with Pine-Richland coming out on top 21-7.
Pine-Richland is the defending 6A State Champions and is making their third appearance at Heinz Field in the last five seasons. 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).
The 2017 version of the Pine-Richland Student Section did not attempt to repeat the feat of bringing livestock to Heinz Field, but on the field there was a similar result as the Rams beat Central Catholic to win the WPIAL title.
Seneca Valley is making their second appearance in the WPIAL Championship Game in the last three seasons. Their prior appearance also came after upsetting North Allegheny in the semifinals. Since the Raiders missed the playoffs last season, their last two playoff appearances have resulted in trips to Heinz Field.
Pine-Richland has won three WPIAL titles. They won the 2003 WPIAL AAA Championship, the 2014 AAAA Championship, and the 2017 6A Championship. In all three of those seasons, the Rams reached the State Championship game. They came up just short of winning the title in 2003 and 2014 but won the State Championship last year with a 41-21 victory over St. Joe’s Prep. Additionally, prior to the consolidation of schools, Richland High School won WPIAL titles in 1969 and 1970.
Seneca Valley has never won a WPIAL title. This is the Raiders third appearance in the Championship Game. In 1989 they lost to Aliquippa in the AAA Championship Game 17-9 and in 2016 they lost to Central Catholic in the inaugural 6A Championship Game 42-7.
Pine-Richland has reached their second straight title game on the strength of their offensive line and rushing attack. The line is anchored by D1 talents in Notre Dame-commit OT Andrew Kristofic, Indiana-commit OG Michael Katic, and center Michael Dorundo who has some FCS offers. They have plowed the road for junior RB Luke Meckler who has run for 1138 yards and added 215 receiving yards and scored 18 TDs. Sophomore QB Cole Spencer had the unenviable task of taking over for Phil Jurkovec and has performed admirably, throwing for 1184 yards and 11 TDs and running for 592 yards and 11 TDs. Caden Schweiger (325 yards, 2 TDs) has also been a factor in the Rams rushing attack. Pine-Richland does not have a dominant receiver but Spencer has been able to spread the ball around to Eli Jochem (288 yards, 1 TD), Luke Miller (273 yards, 2 TDs), and Shane Cafardi (220 yards, 2 TDs). On defense, Linebackers Tyler King (a Navy-commit) and Anthony Cerminara have been key factors in shutting down opposing offenses.
Seneca Valley is also led by a dual-threat QB in Gabe Lawson who has thrown for 1169 yards and 11 TDs and run for 365 yards and 8 TDs. Junior RB Matt Stanger (537 yards, 5 TDs) and Jake Mineweaser (494 yards, 5 TDs) have complemented Lawson in the Raiders ground attack. When Lawson has taken to the air, he has three quality receivers in Josh McLean (541 yards, 7 TDs), TE Jake Stebbins (390 yards, 2 TDs), and Luke Smith (350 yards, 5 TDs). Stebbins is also a stand-out linebacker who has committed to Cornell. Fellow linebacker Saige Ley has also attracted D1 attention. Like Pine-Richland, Seneca Valley has a number of under-classmen who have been significant contributors this season (including Lawson, who is a junior) so the future is certainly bright for the Raiders.
Class 4A Championship
1. Thomas Jefferson (11-0) vs 2. South Fayette (11-1)
How They Got Here
Thomas Jefferson is the defending WPIAL Champions and have reached Heinz Field for the fourth straight season. The Jaguars are looking to become the third team in WPIAL history to win four straight titles. They have looked the part of defending Champions this season, scoring at over 35 points in every game and only allowing one team to score more than twice. The Jaguars had the best offense and defense in 4A, averaging 50 points per game and holding opponents to just 9 points per game. Incredibly, their 36-14 win over Belle Vernon was the only game Thomas Jefferson has played where they won by fewer than 30 points.
South Fayette started their season by losing their first regular season game since 2011. Fortunately for the Lions it was a Week 0 tilt with neighbor Upper St Clair and did not adversely affect them in the standings. From there, South Fayette did what they have typically done under Joe Rossi – breezed through the regular season to a conference title. After their 1-point loss to Upper St Clair, the Lions won the rest of their regular season games by at least 20 points and pitched 5 shutouts. After blowing out Greensburg Salem in the playoff opener, they beat Belle Vernon 28-10 in the semifinals to earn their first trip to Heinz Field since moving up to 4A in 2016.
This is the game that everyone has been waiting for since Thomas Jefferson and South Fayette were both placed in Class 4A in 2016. Unfortunately, South Fayette was upset in the quarterfinals (by New Castle) and semifinals (by Montour) the last two years. Thomas Jefferson topped both of those squads on the Heinz Field turf to claim the last two WPIAL titles. As mentioned at the outset, Thomas Jefferson is chasing history, looking to become the third team in WPIAL history to win four straight titles. The Jaguars also have some unfinished business ahead of them as Erie Cathedral Prep has knocked them out of the State playoffs each of the last three seasons.
South Fayette is making their first appearance at Heinz Field in the six-classification era. Prior to that, the Lions were one of the top teams in AA, reaching the title game 4 times between 2010 and 2015 and winning 3 Championships. This is the first ever playoff meeting between South Fayette and Thomas Jefferson.
Thomas Jefferson is the three-time defending WPIAL Champions and is looking for their 8th title in school history, previously winning Championships in 1980, 2004, 2006, 2007, and 2008. The Jaguars also have won 3 PIAA titles in 2004, 2007, and 2008. Thomas Jefferson has become synonymous with playoff success, having reached at least the semifinals in 20 of the last 21 seasons. This will be Thomas Jefferson’s 10th appearance at Heinz Field in the last 16 seasons.
South Fayette has won 5 WPIAL Championships in school history and 2 State titles. Their first WPIAL Championship came in Class B (which became Single-A) in 1936 when they defeated Aspinwall 20-7. The Lions were awarded the 1964 Championship based on Gardner Points and no Championship Game was played. They won the WPIAL AA title in 2010 then went back-to-back in 2013 in 2014 winning both the WPIAL and PIAA titles in those seasons. Their two-plus-year unbeaten run came to an end in the 2015 WPIAL Championship against Aliquippa.
This game features some of the top players in 4A. Thomas Jefferson is led by a trio of players who all topped 1000 yards in their respective categories. Junior QB Shane Stump has thrown for 1668 yards and 24 TDs. Fellow junior Dan Deabner (1219 yards, 21 TDs) has been the Jaguars top receiver and formed a formidable tandem with Stump. Beyond Deabner, only James Martinis (222 yards, 4 TDs) has more than 5 receptions. Senior RB Max Shaw (1759 yards, 32 TDs) has been the workhorse back, averaging over 10 yards per carry. Dylan Mallozzi (298 yards, 7 TDs) and Nate Werderber (285 yards, 1 TD) have seen a handful of carries this season and both averaged over 8 yards per carry. Up front, Dominic Serapiglia has on offer from Duquesne.
South Fayette features 4A’s leading passer Jamie Diven who has thrown for 2767 yards and 41 TDs. He has had the benefit of throwing to Mike Trimbur (936 yards, 14 TDs) who has committed to Cornell. Charley Rossi (523 yards, 8 TDs) and Peyton Tinney (418 yards, 7 TDs) have also been key factors in the passing game. The Lions will run the ball and senior RB Andrew Franklin (789 yards, 11 TDs) has averaged 6 yards per carry this season behind an offensive line with D1 talents in Tom Elia and Dominick Thomas. Rayquin Glover has been a jack-of-all-trades for the Lions, rushing for 243 yards, adding 321 receiving yards, and scoring 10 times. The secret weapon for South Fayette may be kicker Ryan Coe who has committed to Temple and converted 7 field goals this season.
Class 3A Championship
1. Aliquippa (11-1) vs 2. Derry (11-1)
How They Got Here
One of the biggest stories of the offseason was Aliquippa replacing long-time coach Mike Zmijanac. Former Quips QB and Central Valley QB coach Mike Warfield was hired as the new head coach. Warfield opened up the offense from the old ground-and-pound style with an explosive passing attack that was dubbed the “Air Warfield” offense. The Quips blew through their first 9 games, averaging 55 points per game. Then in Week 9, Warfield’s old team Central Valley (with the help of some bad weather) put the clamps on the Aliquippa offense and sprung a 14-8 upset. Aliquippa still won the Conference title and earned the top seed in the playoffs, blowing past Freeport and rival Beaver Falls to get back to Heinz Field for the 11th straight season.
While Aliquippa is appearing in their 11th straight Championship Game, Derry is making their first WPIAL Championship appearance since 1945. The Trojans dream season has been spurred by a sound defense that pitched a shutout over North Catholic early in the season and walloped Central Valley 46-0 in the quarterfinals. Derry’s only loss came by a 25-22 margin to Elizabeth Forward where the Trojans stormed back late but could not complete the comeback. In the semifinals Derry came from 15 points down in the 4th quarter to win on a pick-six with under two minutes to play.
Aliquippa is making their 11th consecutive WPIAL Championship appearance but have not won the WPIAL title since 2015 when they beat South Fayette in an epic showdown that featured a WR pass for the game-winning TD. The last two seasons the Quips were upset by conference foes they had defeated earlier in the season. In 2016 it was rival Beaver Falls that beat Aliquippa at Heinz Field then went on to win the PIAA title. Last year Quaker Valley beat the Quips 2-0 thanks to a solid defensive effort and a massive downpour that induced a number of turnovers by both teams. Like Beaver Falls before them, Quaker Valley also went on to win the State Title. Aliquippa is 4-6 at Heinz Field in their current run of title game appearances.
Derry is making their first Championship appearance since 1945. The move to 6 classifications has benefited Derry as they have reached the playoffs in three straight seasons – the first time in school history the Trojans accomplished that feat. Derry has faced Aliquippa once previously in the playoffs, a 46-20 Quips victory in the 2016 semifinals.
Aliquippa has won more WPIAL titles than any other school with a record 16 Championships. The Quips won the WPIAL AAA Championship in 1952, 1955, 1964, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, and 1989. After moving down in classification they won the WPIAL AA Championship in 1991, 1996, 2000, 2003, 2008, 2011, 2012, and 2015. They have also won the 1991 and 2003 PIAA AA Championships.
Derry Township was awarded the 1930 WPIAL Class B (which became Single-A) Championship based on Gardner Points. Derry lost in the 1945 AA Championship Game to Dormont 30-19.
As previously mentioned, the “Air Warfield” offense has opened up Aliquippa’s passing attack. Eli Kosanovich (2471 yards, 31 TDs) leads 3A in passing while Ball State-commit William Gipson (1329 yards, 15 TDs) is 3A’s leading receiver. It is impossible to talk about Aliquippa without mentioning the electric MJ Devonshire, the most exciting player in the WPIAL with the ball in his hands. Devonshire tied a national record this season with 8 punt return touchdowns. On offense he has 400 receiving yards, 158 rushing yards, and scored 19 total touchdowns between the return game, offense, and defense. Devonshire has a number of offers from FBS schools as a defensive back (including Ohio State, Pitt, West Virginia, and Michigan State). In addition to Gipson and Devonshire, Duquesne-commit Deoveon Crute (368 yards, 6 TDs) has been a factor in the passing game and in the secondary. It is impossible to mention Aliquippa’s secondary without giving a shout-out to Larry Walker who had three interceptions last week against Beaver Falls and has a number of FCS offers. While the Air Warfield offense has put up big numbers all season, the playoffs have also featured a return to the Quips ground-and-pound heritage. Avante McKenzie (1396 yards, 30 TDs) ran for 5 TDs against Freeport then 144 yards and 4 more scores against Beaver Falls.
Derry has built their tough, physical mentality on the backs of players who are also wrestling standouts. The Trojans will pound the ball on the ground and play tough hard-nosed defense. Derry is led by do-it-all talent Justin Flack who has run for 1240 yards, leads the team with 275 receiving yards and is second in the entire WPIAL in scoring with 35 TDs. Flack made a name for himself by scoring 8 TDs in Derry’s Week 7 victory over Yough, but it was his 3-touchdown performance last week that makes him a contender for the 3A Player of the Year title. With Derry trailing by 1 point with under 2 minutes to go, Flack picked off a pass and took it 30 yards to the house to put the Trojans in the lead and send them to Heinz Field. Derry has also gotten significant contributions on the ground from Onreey Stewart (984 yards, 7 TDs), Colton Nemcheck (452 yards, 4 TDs), Dom DeLuca (262 yards, 4 TDs), and Hunter Hebenthal (245 yards, 5 TDs). Derry’s top five rushers all average over 6.5 yards per carry behind the Trojans physical offensive line. They do not throw much, but when they do QB Paul Koontz has thrown for 606 yards and 11 TDs. He has primarily targeted Flack, Jason Geary (120 yards, 2 TDs) and Justin Huss (106 yards, 4 TDs).
Class 1A Championship
3. OLSH (11-1) vs 5. Rochester (11-1)
How They Got Here
OLSH won the Big Seven Conference Title for the second straight season. The Chargers went unbeaten in conference play, including a 37-8 victory over Rochester in Week 3. Their only setback this season was a 28-13 defeat by Jeannette in Week 6. Besides that loss, OLSH held all of their other opponents under 14 points and only Rochester and Cornell got within 30 points of them. In the first round of the playoffs, OLSH got revenge on Imani Christian who had knocked them out of the playoffs the last two seasons. In the semifinals, the Chargers topped Clairton 27-7 to reach their first Championship Game in school history.
Rochester has relied heavily on their ground game and defense all season. The Rams are averaging 37 points per game and giving up just 13 per game. All but one of Rochester’s wins have come by double-digits. In the playoffs, they out-ran West Greene 52-14 then exacted revenge on defending State Champions Jeannette who had knocked them out each of the last two seasons.
This is the first time since 2012 that a team from the Eastern Conference has not made the WPIAL Championship Game. Both of this year’s teams come from the Big Seven Conference. OLSH began playing WPIAL football in 2010. OLSH and Rochester have faced each other every year since 2012. This is the first playoff meeting between the two teams, but Rochester holds a 4-3 edge in regular season play, though OLSH has won the last two meetings. The Chargers made the playoffs for the first time in 2016 and lost in the first round to Imani Christian. Last year OLSH won the Big Seven Conference title but fell to Imani Christian once again, this time in the quarterfinals. The Chargers won the Big Seven Conference for the second straight season and finally topped their nemesis Imani this year. They have progressed further in the playoffs each season and are making their first WPIAL Championship appearance.
Rochester was one of the dominant Single-A teams of the 2000s. Between 2000 and 2010 the Rams reached the WPIAL Championship Game 8 times. Rochester fell on some hard times between 2013 and 2015, missing the playoffs in 3 straight seasons. The Rams bounced back after the move to 6 classifications and have made the playoffs each of the last 3 seasons. They lost to Jeannette in the semifinals in 2016 and quarterfinals in 2017 before breaking through to the title game this season. This is Rochester’s first title game appearance since 2010.
OLSH is appearing in their first WPIAL Championship Game.
Rochester has won 8 WPIAL Championships, tied for the 5th most all-time. Their first Championship came in 1921 when they tied Westinghouse 0-0 in the title game. Rochester would not make it back to a Championship Game for over 60 years until 1984 and would not win another crown until 1991. The Rams won the WPIAL Class A Championship in 1991, 1992, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2004. They aslo won the PIAA Class A Championship in 1998, 2000, and 2001.
These teams are dramatically different in style. OLSH has a pass-heavy offense while Rochester has a run-heavy attack. For OLSH, Tyler Bradley is one of the top QBs in the WPIAL, throwing for 3059 yards and 42 TDs. Richard Banks ran for 1000 yards last season and moved to receiver this year and leads the way with 796 yards through the air, 333 yards on the ground and 13 total TDs. Banks’ move to WR was necessitated by the return of RB Austin Wigley (817 rushing yards, 380 receiving yards, 22 total TDs) from an injury that sidelined him for last season. In addition to Banks, Andrew Schnarre (649 yards, 5 TDs) and Ricco Tate (566 yards, 10 TDs) have also been important factors in OLSH’s passing attack. Noah Campalong has done a little bit of everything for the Chargers, running for 223 yards and adding 247 receiving yards and scoring 10 times.
On the other side, Rochester’s offense is all about controlling the game with their rushing attack. Noah Whiteleather leads the way with 1913 rushing yards, 129 receiving yards, and 26 total TDs. He has been complemented in the backfield by Darius Goosby (894 yards, 18 TDs). The tandem dominated in last week’s win over Jeannette – Whiteleather ran for 107 yards and 3 TDs and Goosby ran for 183 yards and 1 score. Rashawn Reid (381 yards, 7 TDs) and Dah’vell Duke (248 yards, 2 TDs) have also seen a handful of carries for the Rams this season. Rochester’s rushing attack has been so good that they are averaging just 3 pass attempts per game this season. QB Zaine Jeffers has thrown for 311 yards and 3 TDs with Tyreek Sherod (151 yards, 2 TDs) and Whiteleather leading the way in the receiving game.