The Big Seven Conference produced both WPIAL finalists last year in OLSH and Rochester. For OLSH, it was the culmination of a run for a senior class that earned the school’s first playoff berth in 2016, won their first playoff game in 2017, then won the WPIAL title in 2018. For Rochester, the return to Heinz Field marked another step in their return to dominance (more on this below). Nearly all of OLSH and Rochester’s starters graduated, which leaves room at the top for another team to make a run at the title. There are a number of talented teams in the Big Seven Conference this year, but since only 2 or 3 will make the playoffs, it should make for an exciting race throughout the season.
The playoff format in 1A is the same as last year. The playoffs will consist of 8 teams with the Championship Game played on Saturday, November 16 at Heinz Field. The top two teams from each of the three conferences will make the playoffs. Additionally, two of the three third place finishers will make the playoffs based on the Wild Card formula. Home playoff games in the first round will go to the three conference champions plus one second place team, based on the Wild Card. Both semifinal games will be played at neutral sites. Be sure to check out our new WPIAL Football ELO Rankings and the rest of our WPIAL Season Previews. Teams are listed in their predicted order of finish.
ELO Rating: 1036
1A Rank: 11
WPIAL Rank: 104
Twitter: @StoRoxSports, @StoRoxFB, @StoRoxSD
The highest-scoring offense in 1A last year belonged to the Sto-Rox Vikings (42 points per game). But the Vikings dropped 2 of their last 4 games to Rochester and Laurel, causing them to miss the playoffs. Eric Wilson returns for his senior year after throwing for 30003 yards and 38 TDs with a scholarship offer from Howard. Leading receiver Amahd Pack returns for his senior year after finishing 4th in the WPIAL with 1352 yards and 22 TDs. Second-leading receiver Jaidon Berry (631 yards, 12 TDs) also returns. Berry, along with defensive back Darnell Anderson, both have offers from Valparaiso. Linebacker Diontae Givens is the fourth member of this Sto-Rox squad with a D1 offer, his coming from William & Mary. All in all, this is the most talented team Sto-Rox has had since they reached 3 straight WPIAL finals from 2011-2013 and they have a great shot to get back there on the back of an explosive offensive attack.
ELO Rating: 1260
1A Rank: 4
WPIAL Rank: 90
The Spartans moved down to 1A last year and after a rough start to the season won their last 4 games and nearly made the playoffs. Laurel finished 3rd in the Big Seven Conference but lost out to Imani Christian for the 1A Wild Card. Laurel only had 6 seniors graduate and return a loaded lineup. Leading rushers Daniel Blank (961 yards, 16 TDs) and Luke McCoy (917 yards, 13 TDs) both return. McCoy is only a sophomore so expect big things out of him in the future. Quarterback Dom Wade returns for his senior year after throwing for 341 yards and 4 TDs and running for 274 yards and 7 scores in Laurel’s run-heavy attack. Sophomore TE Cam Caldararo led the team in receiving with 133 yards and 2 TDs. Laurel has the ability to challenge for the conference title and will get an early test with a Week 1 game against Rochester.
ELO Rating: 1252
1A Rank: 5
WPIAL Rank: 92
The Rams were a Heinz Field staple during the 2000s, reaching 8 Championship Games between 2000 and 2010. Last year, they finally made it back after springing a shocking 27-0 upset on defending champions Jeannette in the semifinals. Rochester lost just two games last season, both of them against conference foe OLSH, the second coming on the Heinz Field grass. The Rams had a pair of backs run for over 1000 yards, but both graduated. Rising junior Rashawn Reid (381 yards, 7 TDs) looks poised to step in to the lead back role after averaging an incredible 18.1 yards per carry in just 21 attempts. Quarterback Zaine Jeffers averaged just 3 passes per game and threw for 342 yards and 3 TDs. Jeffers returns for his senior season and will likely take on a bigger role in the offense. Rochester’s offense has traditionally been built around a strong rushing attack and should do so again. Rising sophomore lineman Corynne Hauser already has an offer from Robert Morris.
ELO Rating: 936
1A Rank: 16
WPIAL Rank: 111
Twitter: @CoachDawson 17
After re-starting their football program in 2016, Cornell had their best season since 2011. The Raiders started 3-1 but won just 1 of their last 5 and came up short of the playoffs. Dual-threat QB Zaire Harrison returns for his senior year after throwing for 1614 yards and 18 TDs and running for 345 yards and 5 scores. His top returning receiver is Kaden Divito (213 yards, 3 TDs). In order to make a run at the top 3 spots in the conference and have a chance at one of the limited number of playoff spots in 1A, Cornell will need to improve a defense that gave up 27 points per game last year.
ELO Rating: 1400
1A Rank: 1
WPIAL Rank: 76
Twitter: @olshsports, @OLSH_HighSchool, @olshozone
The Chargers stormed through the regular season with the second-highest scoring offense (39 points per game) and second-best defense (9 points against per game) in 1A. Their only setback came against defending champions Jeannette in Week 6. In the playoffs, they exacted revenge on Imani Christian for knocking them out the year prior then topped a defensively stout Clairton team en route to beating Rochester at Heinz Field for their first WPIAL title in school history. OLSH saw 15 seniors graduate from that team and will have to find replacements across the board on both sides of the ball. Rising sophomore Jay Pearson is the top returning rusher (181 yards, 4 TDs).
ELO Rating: 965
1A Rank: 14
WPIAL Rank: 107
The Scotties got off to a decent 3-3 start but did not win a game after the calendar flipped to October. Leading rusher Michael Flowers returns for his senior year after scoring 5 times last season. Quarterback Tyler Benedict also returns after throwing for 3 touchdowns and running for 3 more. Union averaged just 15 points per game last season, but return an experienced lineup including 4 starters on the offensive line.
ELO Rating: 944
1A Rank: 15
WPIAL Rank: 110
Twitter: @crusaderathdept, @bishopcanevin, @BCStudentSec59
The Crusaders won twice in the first four weeks with dominant victories over non-conference opponents Avella and Springdale. But once they got into the meat of the conference schedule they struggled, getting shut out 4 times in the last 6 games. Willie Banks-Hicks started his freshman year at wide receiver (177 yards, 2 TDs) but took over at quarterback late in the season and threw for a touchdown. He may take over the starting role this season and form a backfield tandem with fellow rising sophomore Keshawn Harris who led the team with 678 rushing yards and 8 TDs.
ELO Rating: 902
1A Rank: 18
WPIAL Rank: 114
Northgate lost 5 starters, including their presumed quarterback, to injury in the season opener against 2A McGuffey last year. The Flames did not have enough roster depth to recover and went winless, getting shut out in 5 of their 10 games. This year, the school preemptively decided to forfeit to McGuffey in order to preserve their healthy players for the conference games that count. There is still a long way to go for the Flames team that had the worst defense in 1A (44 points allowed per game) and one of the lowest-scoring offenses (9 points per game).