The Eastern Conference has traditionally dominated Class A. However, last year both WPIAL finalists came from the Big Seven Conference. This was the first time since 2014 that this conference did not produce both finalists. Jeannette’s run of three straight WPIAL Championship Game appearances ended last year with their semifinal loss to Rochester. That was the first time the Jayhawks lost to a WPIAL team not named Clairton since 2014. For their part, Clairton has reached at least the semifinals every year since 2006 but it has been two years since the Bears played at Heinz Field. Imani Christian graduated nearly their entire starting lineup which opens the door for teams like Greensburg Central Catholic and Leechburg (who was one of the surprises of 2018) to make a run at the third place spot.
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: 1260
1A Rank: 3
WPIAL Rank: 89
Twitter: @CCSDathletes, @Clairtonschool
Clairton fell to eventual 1A Champions OLSH in the semifinals last year, marking the second straight year the Bears did not reach Heinz Field. By Clairton standards, that is noteworthy as the team has reached at least the semifinals in 13 straight seasons and won 9 WPIAL titles in that span. Last year’s Clairton team won with defense, holding opponents to just 10 points per game and scoring opportunistic defensive touchdowns. Senior QB Brendan Parsons has been a starter since his sophomore year and threw for 1357 yards and 17 TDs last year. On the ground, Parsons added 325 yards and 7 TDs. Leading receiver Keinlein Ogletree (554 yards, 8 TDs) returns for his senior season. Junior RB Donte Sanders was the Bears’ second-leading rusher with 401 yards and 5 TDs and should take over the lead back role this year. Clairton should be tough in the trenches once again as two-way lineman Dametrius Weatherspoon has a D1 offer from William & Mary. Expect the Bears to be in contention for a spot at Heinz Field once again this season.
ELO Rating: 1287
1A Rank: 2
WPIAL Rank: 88
Twitter: @jhawkathletics, @JeannetteFootb1
The Jayhawks won the 2017 WPIAL 1A Championship and rolled through the State playoffs to claim their second PIAA crown. Last year, the Jayhawks looked the part of defending champion, cruising through the regular season while topping title contenders Imani Christian, OLSH and rival Clairton all by at least 15 points. But in the playoffs the Jayhawks struggled, barely getting past Monessen in the first round then getting shut out by Rochester in the semifinals. Junior Jimmy Sanders saw some time as the backup quarterback last year and also had over 450 yards of total offense as a rusher and receiver, scoring twice. Leading rusher Imani Sanders (633 yards, 10 TDs) returns for his senior season and will be the focal point of Jeannette’s offense. Second-leading receiver Jackson Pruitt (303 yards, 5 TDs) also returns for his senior year. Jeannette had the best defense in 1A last year, allowing just 9 points per game. If they can continue to play stout defense, they will be right in the mix for the conference title once again.
ELO Rating: 1007
1A Rank: 13
WPIAL Rank: 106
Twitter: @GCCHSFootball, @GCC_Centurions, @GCC_Legion
The Centurions put together a strong 7-3 season last year, but in 1A’s limited playoff field it was not enough to reach the postseason. GCC will have to find a new quarterback this season, and may turn to junior David Altimore. He will have the advantage of returning GCC’s top three receivers in Brandon Brown (483 yards, 7 TDs) and Ben LaCarte (229 yards, 6 TDs) and Luke Mazowiecki (162 yards, 6 TDs). The top two rushers graduated for the Centurions, but Tom Voelker and Zach Kuvinka seem poised to take on bigger roles on the offense. Both saw limited work last year with Voelker averaging 4 yards per carry. Statistically, GCC had the look of a playoff team, averaging 30 points per game and only allowing 15 per game. Their best shot at finding a way into the Top Three this season is likely by beating Imani Christian in Week 4.
ELO Rating: 1149
1A Rank: 7
WPIAL Rank: 96
Twitter: @ICAFOOTBALL, @imanipgh
Imani Christian reached the WPIAL final in 2017, falling to Jeannette on a failed two-point conversion in the closing minutes. Last year they had the second-highest scoring offense in 1A (36 points per game) and two 1000-yard receivers. The Saints had a small roster all season and their lack of depth caught up with them in the playoffs when they were knocked out by eventual champions OLSH. Sophomore Pharoah Fisher mostly played receiver last year but may step into the quarterback role this year. This may be a bit of a transition year for Imani as nearly half of their roster graduated last spring.
ELO Rating: 907
1A Rank: 17
WPIAL Rank: 112
Twitter: @leechbdfootball, @LASD15656 @LeechburgZ
One of the most under-the-radar storylines in the WPIAL last year was the Leechburg Blue Devils winning 4 of their last 6 games to finish with a .500 record. A 5-5 mark may not seem like much, but it was the first non-losing season for Leechburg since 1991. Running back Jake Blumer led the team with 10 TDs last season and will be back for his senior year. Junior QB Dylan Stump also returns for a Blue Devils team that lost only 4 players to graduation. Leechburg has the experience to be right in the mix in the middle of the conference once again this season.
ELO Rating: 900
1A Rank: 19
WPIAL Rank: 115
Twitter: @SpringdaleFB, @springdale_hype
The Dynamos had a year to forget last season, finishing last in the conference. Their sole victory came over Northgate in non-conference play. Springdale averaged just 10 points per game while giving up nearly 35 per contest. Last year’s team had just 4 seniors so plenty of underclassmen will return after seeing significant playing time. Senior Christian Vokes is the top returning rusher (311 yards, 5 TDs) after averaging 7.8 yards per carry. Leading receiver Demitri Fritch (207 yards) also returns for his junior year. The Dynamos will need to find a new quarterback to get him the ball and may turn to sophomore Legend Ausk as they build for the future.
ELO Rating: 880
1A Rank: 20
WPIAL Rank: 116
The Raiders had the second-lowest scoring offense in all of 1A, averaging just 7 points per game. That said, they beat rival Springdale in Week 7 to give their season a bright spot. Unfortunately, Riverview lost nearly all of their skill position starters to graduation. Sophomore Dean Cecere is the top returning rusher after averaging 5.5 yards per carry and scoring once in very limited work. Riverview also had the second-worst defense in 1A last year, allowing 39 points per game.