Last Saturday, four teams were crowned as WPIAL Champions. Championship Saturday at Heinz Field started with Clairton claiming their 7th title this decade by defeating Sto-Rox. In the 3A Championship, Aliquippa made their 12th straight appearance at Heinz Field and battled Central Valley to a 6-6 tie in regulation. The Warriors scored first in overtime but Aliquippa answered. The Quips opted to go for two and the win but Central Valley’s defense came up with a big stop on an outside run to claim their third WPIAL title 13-12. Thomas Jefferson won their fourth title in five years, blowing out conference rival Belle Vernon. In the 6A Championship, Central Catholic won their seventh WPIAL title, defeating two-time defending champion Pine-Richland with a defensive masterpiece 10-7. The Vikings won thanks to a 40-yard field goal by Jonathan Opalko, the longest kick ever at Heinz Field in a WPIAL final. This week, the last two classifications will crown their champions.
Unlike in previous years when title games were held at Joe Walton Field at Robert Morris University, the 5A and 2A Championship Games will both be held at Norwin Stadium this year. Both games will take place on Saturday with the 2A title game between Washington and Avonworth kicking off at noon and the 5A Championship kicking off at 6pm. Both games will be televised on The CW and broadcast over the internet radio through the TribLive High School Sports Network.
As a reminder, if you’re going to be following along with the WPIAL action on Saturday, keep an eye on the #WPIAL hashtag on Twitter where people post score updates from games. I’ll also be posting score updates and commentary from my Twitter account @thesteelersnat.
Class 5A Championship
2. Gateway (11-2) vs 5. Peters Twp (12-1)
Peters Twp: @PetersTwpFB
How They Got Here
The saying “Defense wins championships” has been true in 5A this season. Gateway and Peters are the top two defensive squads in the classification. The Indians have the top-ranked unit, allowing just 8.5 points per game. The Gators have the second-ranked defense, allowing 12.2 points per game. Both teams have held 8 of their 13 opponents under 10 points. Offensively, both teams have scored exactly 428 points (32.9 per game) through 13 games this season.
Both teams finished in second place in their respective conferences during the regular season. Gateway lost to Penn-Trafford 28-7 in Week 2, their only WPIAL loss of the season. The Gators other setback was against a Massillion, Ohio team (one of the top teams in the state) that they scheduled to fill the slot vacated by Albert Gallatin. Gateway has played three close games in the playoffs, needing a big second half to get past Shaler in the first round. The Gators narrowly topped Bethel Park 17-13 in the quarterfinals and rival McKeesport 14-7 in the semifinals.
Peters Twp looked to be in control of the Allegheny Eight Conference until a Week 6 loss to Moon. That loss cost the Indians the outright conference title but still shared the title as both finished with one loss. Since that loss, Peters rolled through their next five games with an average margin of victory of 31 points. That streak included a quarterfinals rematch with Moon, which Peters won handily 33-7. In the semifinals, the Indians topped #1 seed Penn-Trafford 28-10 to reach their first WPIAL final in school history.
This is the second playoff meeting between Gateway and Peters Twp. Gateway won the only other meeting, in the first round of the AAAA playoffs in 2012. Gateway has made the playoffs in 17 of the last 18 years and reached the Championship Game 6 times in that span. In 2017 Gateway defeated Penn-Trafford 21-16 in the WPIAL 5A Championship to win their first title since 1986. The Gators made it to the State Championship Game where they lost to Archbishop Wood. Last year after an undefeated regular season, Gateway was upset by West Allegheny in the semifinals.
Peters Twp is in the midst of an unprecedented run of success. This is their first WPIAL Championship Game in school history. Last year the Indians got their first playoff victory since 2003, defeating Armstrong 35-7 and Penn-Trafford in the 5A Game of the Year 38-35. The Indians run came to an end in the semifinals with a loss to eventual WPIAL and PIAA Champions Penn Hills. Peters Twp had made the playoffs just 5 times between last year’s playoff berth and their last playoff victory in 2003.
Gateway has won six WPIAL Championships. The Gators won the WPIAL AAA Championship in 1969, 1972, 1974, and 1986. Gateway tied North Hills 0-0 in the 1985 Championship Game before the WPIAL had overtime. Gateway most recently won the WPIAL 5A Championship in 2017. Their 2017 run to the State title game was their best result in the PIAA playoffs.
Peters Twp is making their first WPIAL Championship game appearance. Last year the Indians lost to eventual WPIAL Champion Penn Hills in the semifinals. That semifinal appearance matched their best playoff result, which previously occured in 1972 and 1976.
The headliner in this game will be Gateway RB/S Derrick Davis, who is arguably the top junior in the state of Pennsylvania. Davis has done it all for the Gators this season, leading the team in rushing (1420 yards), receiving (547 yards), and scoring (28 total TDs). He has offers from every major college program, including Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State, Penn State, Notre Dame, LSU, and Oklahoma. Davis burst onto the scene as a freshman when he took over the starting running back role in the playoffs and carried Gateway to their first WPIAL title since 1986. After a sensational sophomore season, Davis has delivered once again as a junior.
The Championship game features two of the top three quarterbacks in 5A. Gateway senior Bryson Venanzio leads 5A with 2375 yards and 26 TDs while Peters Twp junior Logan Pfeuffer is not far behind with 2121 yards and 24 TDs. In addition to the aforementioned Derrick Davis, Venanzio has another D1 talent on the outside in senior WR Tui Faumuina-Brown (494 yards, 8 TDs) who has offers from nearly every MAC school. Jayden Hurt (337 yards, 4 TDs), Patrick Body (284 yards, 3 TDs), and Chamor Price (273 receiving yards, 137 rushing yards, 7 total TDs) have all been factors in Gateway’s passing game.
Peters Twp also has a D1 player on the outside in WR Josh Casilli, a Penn commit. Casilli has 862 receiving yards, 333 rushing yards, and scored a team-high 22 TDs. Senior RB Ryan Magiske has been the workhorse running back, rushing for 1276 yards and 17 TDs. Aidan McCall and Adrian Williams have done a bit of everything this year. McCall has 364 receiving yards, 189 rushing yards, and has scored 6 times. Williams has 216 rushing yards, 131 receiving yards, and 3 scores. The Peters defense is strong down the middle with linebacker Corban Hondru (who has a few Ivy League offers) and safety Donovan McMillon (who has an Akron offer).
Class 2A Championship
1. Washington (13-0) vs 2. Avonworth (13-0)
Saturday, 12:00 noon
How They Got Here
Washington and Avonworth have been the top two teams in 1A this season. They were two of the four teams in the entire WPIAL to complete an undefeated regular season (Thomas Jefferson and Burgettstown were the others). The Prexies led the classification in scoring at 42.5 points per game and won all of their regular season games by at least 21 points. This is a matchup of strength on strength as Washington’s top-ranked offense will have to face Avonworth’s defense which ranks just a shade behind Brentwood for the top spot in 2A at 10.6 points allowed per game. On the other side of the ball, both units also rank in the top five in 2A with Avonworth averaging 37.2 points per game and Washington giving up just 11.5 points per game.
Washington’s season started by getting revenge on conference foe Charleroi for dealing them a loss in Week 1 last year. From there, the Prexies cruised through the rest of their conference schedule, scoring at least 42 points in every outing until a Week 9 showdown with McGuffey. Both teams came in undefeated in conference play and after a close first half, the Prexies pulled away for a 36-14 victory, their closest result of the season. In the playoffs, Washington’s offense was not as dominant but still cruised past Shady Side Academy 21-7 and Freedom 28-0. In the semifinals, Wash High scored on their first two drives to take a 14-0 lead early but Brentwood hung tough and tied the game at 14 in the third quarter. A fourth quarter touchdown by Washington followed by some big defensive plays was enough to earn the Prexies a trip back to the title game.
Avonworth played arguably the toughest regular season schedule with 6 of their 10 victories coming against playoff teams. The Lopes beat Midwestern Conference Champion Neshannock in Week 0 and got a statement victory over defending 2A champion Steel Valley in Week 2. From there, the Lopes stacked victories over New Brighton, Apollo-Ridge, East Allegheny, McGuffey, and Shady Side Academy to earn the #2 seed in the playoffs. In the first round they blew out a Southmoreland team that was making their first playoff appearance since 1979. In a rematch with New Brighton, Avonworth’s ground game dominated by a 38-13 margin. The Lopes then thumped 14th-seeded Riverside, ending the Panthers’ Cinderella run.
This is the first playoff meeting between Washington and Avonworth. Washington made their 9th consecutive playoff appearance and 10th in the last 11 years. This is their third WPIAL Championship Game in that run. In 2012 Washington lost to Aliquippa in the AA title game. The Prexies won the WPIAL 2A Championship 37-10 over Steel Valley in 2017 then lost in the PIAA semifinals to Wilmington 49-42. Last year, they fell to Steel Valley in the quarterfinals.
Avonworth has a 12-year playoff streak, but this is just their second title game in that span. In 2014 the Lopes reached the Class A final but fell to Clairton 46-14. That 2014 Championship Game appearance was the first WPIAL final for Avonworth since 1959. This year marked the first time since 2014 that Avonworth reached the semifinals.
Washington has claim to six WPIAL Championships. Washington tied Johnstown 0-0 for the 1917 WPIAL Championship. The Prexies won the 1920 and 1926 WPIAL Championships with victories over Pittsburgh Fifth Avenue and Wilkinsburg. In 1923 Washington was declared the WPIAL Champion based on Gardner Points. Washington won the 1993 and 2001 WPIAL AA Championships, defeating Riverside and Beaver Falls. In 2001 they also captured the PIAA Championship, defeating Pen Argyl 19-12. Washington won the 2017 WPIAL 2A Championship, defeating Steel Valley.
Avonworth is making their third Championship Game appearance in school history. In the 1959 Class A Championship, Avonworth and Union tied 13-13 (no overtime existed then). Avonworth lost the 2014 Class A Championship to Clairton.
The biggest story coming into this game revolves around Avonworth WR/CB Kyros Thorpe. After playing for three years at Central Catholic, Thorpe transferred back to his home district for his senior season. He provided a dynamic spark to Avonworth’s offense, leading the team with 506 receiving yards and scoring 12 TDs while playing as a shutdown corner on the defensive end. However, due to the PIAA’s new (ridiculous) transfer rule, Thorpe is ineligible for the postseason because he transferred after his freshman season. Earlier this week, Thorpe filed an injunction in court in an attempt to allow him to play in the title game, but withdrew the request upon learning that the WPIAL and PIAA could retroactively make Avonworth forfeit all postseason wins he participated in if the injunction was unsuccessful. Unfortunately, because of the PIAA’s rule, one of the top skill players in 2A will not be able to play in the Championship Game.
Washington lost star RB Dylan Asbury to injury early in the season and dual-threat QB Zach Swartz has stepped up to shoulder the load of the offense. Swartz has thrown for 1820 yards and 22 TDs and run for 1031 yards and 26 TDs. Swartz and Zahmere Robinson have been a formidable tandem that no one in 2A has been able to stop. The dynamic Robinson has run for 817 yards and leads the team with 670 receiving yards and has scored 19 TDs. Tayshawn Levy (449 yards, 4 TDs) and Mike Allen (237 yards, 6 TDs) have been factors in the rushing attack. Caleb Jackson (565 yards, 7 TDs) has been a reliable target for Swartz and had a huge interception to seal the win last week. The Prexies are also strong in the trenches where Liberty-commit Chase Mitchell anchors both lines.
Avonworth’s offense has quality playmakers all over the field. Senior QB Park Penrod has thrown for 1851 yards and 27 TDs. The Lopes balanced offensive attack relies on Penrod and RB Jax Miller (1939 yards, 25 TDs) to keep things moving. Miller had a dominant performance in the semifinals, running for 256 yards and 4 TDs against Riverside. Two-way lineman Josh Elm anchors an offensive line that has been so good that the Lopes top three rushers have all averaged over 8 yards per carry. In addition to Miller, Ian Syam (627 yards, 2 TDs) has been a factor on the ground. With Kyros Thorpe out of the lineup, Penrod has spread the ball around to Theo Newhouse (405 yards, 8 TDs), Trevor Faulkner (316 yards, 6 TDs), and Jordan Rapp (205 yards, 4 TDs).