Class 2A saw the biggest changeover of teams in any WPIAL classification. This realignment cycle increased the number of teams from 23 to 31. Additionally, 6 teams moved down from 3A while only one moved up and 5 moved up from 1A while 3 moved down. This year, Class 2A has moved to 4 conferences from which the top 4 teams will make the playoffs. The WPIAL Championship will be played at Norwin High School and the winner will advance to the semifinals of the PIAA Playoffs. The Midwestern Conference saw the departure of conference champion North Catholic and the arrival of Ellwood City (from 3A) and the additions of Shenango and Western Beaver (from 1A).
This season, our WPIAL football coverage is sponsored by the fine folks at Taps N’at in Derry. Over the next few weeks we will be previewing every conference in the WPIAL and you can check out the previous previews here.
The Panthers were 1 point shy of the Conference title last season, losing 29-28 on a 2-point conversion to North Catholic in Week 7. They rode the second-best defense in 2A (12 points per game) to the WPIAL semifinals where they took defending champion Steel Valley to overtime, only to fall 13-10. Rising junior Ben Hughes is entering his third year as the starting quarterback. He threw for 1015 yards and 7 TDs as a freshman then followed it up with 1576 yards and 21 TDs last season. His top receivers all graduated, so Hughes will have to work out a rapport with new targets this season. Second-leading rusher LeMarcus Cleckley (930 yards, 10 TDs) returns for his senior season and may challenge for the 2A rushing title after averaging 7.8 yards per carry last season. If Riverside should be right at the top of the conference once again and with Hughes and Cleckley have the experience and talent to make another deep playoff run.
The Lancers have been on the most successful run of seasons in school history. They have reached the playoffs in 6 straight seasons, made 4 semifinal appearances, and reached their first championship game in school history in 2016. Two seniors split time at quarterback last year and their top rushers also graduated. Fortunately, the Lancers have players poised to step in. Last summer, the WPIAL deemed two transfers ineligible for the 2017 season, deeming the moves were for athletic intent. Both players are now eligible and will play key roles for the Lancers. Jake McCormack will be the starting quarterback and Noah Karpiak will be the primary running back. McCormack transferred from Brownsville where he threw for 737 yards and 5 TDs in 2016 as a sophomore. Karpiak transferred from Connellsville where he ran for 664 yards and 5 TDs as a sophomore. After sitting out a year, both players are poised for breakout seasons. Leading receiver Anthony Dovidio (402 yards, 1 TD) and RB DJ DeBlazio (236 yards, 1 TD) also return for their senior seasons. With the additions of McCormack and Karpiak to an already strong group, the Lancers should challenge for the conference title.
The Warriors broke an 11-year playoff drought by qualifying for the postseason last year. They rebounded from a 1-2 start to win 4 in a row and break the slump. A trio of juniors led the team last year and all return for their senior seasons as they look to deliver the school’s first playoff victory since 2005. Braydon Cameron was the focal point of the offense, rushing for 1308 yards and 17 TDs. Quarterback Nick Wheeler (1021 yards, 6 TDs) and his top receiver Nate McCutcheon (490 yards, 4 TDs) also return. Wheeler did a good job spreading the ball around last season, and in addition to McCutcheon and Cameron (who was second on the team with 16 receptions) gets back Tight Ends Parker Lyons (174 yards, 1 TD) and Jaizi Ziegler (112 yards). This is a senior-laden group looking to build off a strong season and should be right in the thick of the playoff hunt.
After just 1 playoff appearance between 2005 and 2015, Freedom has reached the postseason in both years under the 6-classification format. Last year the Bulldogs started strong with a 5-2 record but their coach resigned midseason and lost their last 4 games, getting outscored by an average of 30 points per game. Quarterback Zach Rosa returns for his senior year after throwing for 749 yards and 6 TDs and rushing for 308 yards and 4 TDs. He will form a formidable backfield tandem with Slippery Rock-commit RB Cody Ross (314 yards, 3 TDs). Freedom runs a traditional Wing-T offense, so Jake Pail should see an increased role this season after accounting for 171 yards of total offense last year. Noah Yeck and TE Noah Henderson were a big-play threats last year, both averaging over 21 yards per reception. Yeck led the team with 6 total TDs and Henderson scored once. Freedom has the talent to make the playoffs for a third straight season, which would be the first time in school history they accomplished such a feat.
The Lions finished last in the conference and went just 2-8 overall but gave a number of teams close games. They came within a score of both South Side Beaver and conference champions North Catholic. Offense was not a problem last year but their defense gave up over 36 points per game. New Brighton missed the playoffs each of the last two seasons after a run of 3 straight postseason apperances. Junior QB Jackson Hall carried a heavy load last season, throwing for 1410 yards and 9 TDs. Two of his top three receivers return in Caleb Shuler (426 yards, 5 TDs) and Jacob Francona (311 yards, 6 TDs). Leading rusher Ashton Fath (319 yards, 4 TDs) also returns for his senior season. If New Brighton can improve on the defensive side of the ball, they have the experience and talent on offense to challenge for a playoff spot.
The Wolverines move down to Class 2A should benefit them in a number of ways this season. First, they no longer have to face Beaver Valley powerhouses like Aliquippa, Central Valley, Beaver, Beaver Falls, and Quaker Valley. Second, the stakes of their rivalry game against neighboring Riverside are raised even higher now that they are conference opponents once again. Three players split time at quarterback last year with Ryan Gibbons claiming the job in the second half of the season and throwing for 552 yards and 4 TDs. Gibbons was only a freshman last year and is one of the few sophomore QBs in the WPIAL with starting experience. The top returning skill player is Rick Petrelli who led the team in rushing (331 yards) and was second in receiving yards (128 yards) and scoring (2 TDs). Ellwood City played in a brutally tough defensive conference last season, but finished the year as the lowest-scoring team in 3A (10 points per game). If they are going to compete for a playoff spot this season the Wolverines will need to find a way to put the ball in the end zone with more regularity.
After a 3-year drought the Golden Beavers got back to the playoffs last year. Western Beaver started the season strong with a 5-1 record but faltered once the calendar flipped to October, losing 4 of their last 5 including a playoff loss to Carmichaels. The Golden Beavers have not won a playoff game since 2008 and moving up from 1A to 2A will only make things more difficult as they look to replace 9 seniors. Raven Chandler (736 yards, 5 TDs) is the top returning rusher and figures to see the bulk of the work in the bakcfield. Rising junior Noah Gray is the top returning receiver after accounting for 258 yards and 4 TDs last year. Four of the nine seniors that graduated played on the offensive line, which could make for a tall task as Western Beaver breaks in a new quarterback.
Shenango’s run of 3 straight playoff appearances ended last season after the Wildcats lost a 3-way tie to Summit Academy and Sto-Rox for the final playoff spot. This season could produce more growing pains as the Wildcats move up in classification from 1A to 2A and look to replace all of their significant contributors on offense. Junior RB Carlton Sluder (261 yards, 1 TD) is the top returning rusher. Second-leading receiver Jason Kraner (171 yards, 3 TDs) also returns. Sophomore Reis Watkins threw a handful of passes last season but is also one of the top returning receivers (148 yards, 3 TDs).