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 Three Rivers Conference was dominated by Steel Valley the last two years, but the Ironmen have moved over to the Allegheny Conference. Avonworth and East Allegheny also were relocated to the Allegheny Conference. The last two seasons, Seton LaSalle opted to play up in 3A but their school board decided to stay in their natural classification of 2A for this cycle. Fort Cherry joins the conference after moving up from 1A. Burgettstown and South Side Beaver played elsewhere in 2A last cycle but were realigned into the Three Rivers Conference this year.
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 Rebels won their conference in 3A last season with a powerful ground attack. Their only regular season loss came in a non-conference game to Quaker Valley, who also knocked them out of the playoffs in the semifinals. They will need to find replacements at quarterback and running back after 14 seniors graduated. Leading receivers Jamar Shegog (335 yards, 1 TD) and Nick Vari (276 yards, 4 TDs) both return for their senior seasons. Junior Max Schipani played wide receiver last year (176 yards, 1 TD) but is expected to take over the quarterback role this season. With most of the Rebels top rushers graduating, Nick Vari may see some time there along with Mike Visnich. Even though this team lost a lot of talent to graduation, the move down to 2A should help Seton LaSalle stay in contention for the conference title and be a threat to win a WPIAL crown.
After a 6-year drought, the Eagles have made the playoffs each of the last two seasons. Last year they won their first playoff game in a decade, beating Beth-Center 27-20. Leading rusher Khalil Smith (840 yards, 10 TDs) returns for his senior season. Smith is also the top returning receiver after accounting for 131 yards through the air last year. Second-leading rusher Bre’Shaun Brown (258 yards, 5 TDs) is also a rising senior. Serra’s quarterback and starting receivers all graduated. Junior Patrick Brennan threw a handful of passes in spot duty last year and will likely take over the starting role.
The Blue Devils have made 3 consecutive playoff appearances for the first time in school history. On top of that, Burgettstown won a playoff game last year, the first time they had accomplished that feat since 1977. Their thrilling 31-28 victory over Neshannock was capped off by a last-second field goal. Dual-threat QB Ryan Lounder graduated but his younger brother Jake looks poised to step into the role as a rising junior. Burgettstown graduated a number of their top offensive skill players and will look to rebuild with young players. Junior Cyle Conley is the top returning receiver (129 yards) and added for 117 yards on the ground and scored 3 times. The top returning rusher is sophomore Shane Kemper (172 yards, 2 TDs). The Blue Devils have a run-heavy offense and will rely on their experience up front on the offensive line to clear the way as they work in young players.
Despite a 2-7 record, South Allegheny was a scrappy team that battled hard. In Week 4 they ended Steel Valley’s streak of Mercy Rules with a hard-fought 31-27 defeat. Their losses to playoff teams Serra Catholic and Brentwood were by 8 and 3 respectively. The Gladiators have made the playoffs just once (2012) since 1986 but could surprise some people this season. Senior QB Brandon Nolder threw for 1165 yards and 14 TDs last year. Antonio Epps was second on the team in both rushing (252 yards) and receiving (146 yards) and scored 5 TDs as a freshman. Senior TE Austin Matzak (118 yards, 1 TD) is the top returning receiver. South Allegheny has the talent to make some noise in the playoff hunt this season.
South Side Beaver
After a 2-0 start to the season, things fell apart for the Rams and they lost their next 7 in a row. Back-to-back losses to Mohawk by 8 and Freedom by 7 doomed their chances to make the playoffs for a 4th straight season. Leading rusher Jake Botkin (1050 yards, 6 TDs) returns for his senior season. Derek Franchek was the second-leading rusher with 277 yards but the team’s leading scorer with 8 TDs. Frankchek and Jordan Bruce (235 yards, 5 TDs) will also be seniors this year. At quarterback, Trenton Seik (344 yards, 6 TDs) was not asked to throw much as a sophomore. All in all, South Side Beaver brings back a number of skilled players, including their top 3 rushers in their ground-and-pound offense. Offense was not an issue for the Rams, but if they want to get back to the playoffs they will need to improve their defense which allowed over 33 points per game last year.
The Spartans have reached the playoffs in 9 of the last 10 seasons. That consistency may be tested this year after 12 seniors graduated and only 5 players on the current roster are seniors. This could lead to some growing pains for Brentwood, who has the opportunity to lay a strong foundation for the future. Junior QB John Milcic played only 1 game last year before breaking his ankle, but inherits the starting role this year. Fellow junior Ian Thomas is the top returning rusher after averaging 5.5 yards per carry. Drew Wilson is the top returning receiver, but Brentwood will likely rotate a number of young players through the lineup this year as they build for the future.
The Rangers offense put up big numbers each of the last two seasons in the 1A Tri-County South Conference. Now, they move up to 2A after 9 seniors graduated (including 5 offensive linemen and their dual-threat quarterback). Senior QB Brady Whalen saw spot duty last season and figures to take over the starting role. Second-leading rusher Zachary Vincenti (677 yards, 7 TDs) also returns for his senior year and figures to be the focal point of the Rangers offense. Fort Cherry doesn’t throw the ball much, but they will need to find new targets on the outside after their top receivers all graduated.
The Cougars have fallen on hard times recently. They have not made the playoffs since 2001 and enter this season on a 13-game losing streak. The good news is that only 4 seniors graduated from last year’s team so there are a lot of experienced players ready to take the next step. Senior Maclaine Greiner (417 yards, 2 TDs) and junior Hunter Crown (148 yards, 1 TD) split time at quarterback last year. Crown also played receiver where he will likely play this year along with Will Richardson. Junior RB Dallas Paolino has been starting since his freshman season. Carlynton was shut out 4 times last year and scored just 34 points all season. They will also need to improve on defense after allowing all but 1 opponent to score at least 42 points.