This will be a completely different season of high school football than anyone has ever experienced. Recently, in response to the Governor’s recommendation, the PIAA decided to push back the start of the season by two weeks to engage in further discussions regarding a safe return to play for fall sports. Even though there is uncertainty about this season of high school football, there are many coaches and players who have worked their tails off to get ready for this season, and we felt their efforts deserved to be highlighted. Therefore, we are rolling ahead with our 2020 WPIAL Season Previews. This year, our WPIAL coverage is sponsored by the Small Player Big Play App, which provides schools the opportunity to fundraise by live-streaming their games and events. Check out their Twitter page and get the app for free on Apple or Andriod devices.
The Big Seven Conference has a fascinating assortment of teams this season. Two years ago OLSH and Rochester both reached the WPIAL title game. Last year, Sto-Rox made the WPIAL final, but the Vikings moved up to 2A this season. Cornell is coming off an historic season where they won their first playoff game in school history. Shenango and Burgettstown both move down from 2A with the Blue Devils having won two straight conference titles. On the bottom end, Northgate and Fort Cherry have the two longest active losing streaks in the WPIAL, so at least one team will get off the schneid this season.
The playoff format in 1A will be dependent on the State Tournament. If the PIAA hosts a state tournament, eight teams will make the 1A playoffs. If the PIAA does not host a state tournament, only four teams will make the playoffs. In an 8-team bracket, the top two from each conference plus two Wild Card third place teams would make the playoffs. In a 4-team bracket, only the conference champions and one Wild Card would make the playoffs. Be sure to keep tabs on our WPIAL Football ELO Rankings and WPIAL Standings Page throughout the season. Teams are listed in their predicted order of finish.
WPIAL ELO Rank (1A): 11
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 105
Shenango moves down from 2A after a bounce-back 2019 season where they narrowly missed the playoffs. After going 1-9 in 2018, the Wildcats put together a solid 6-4 campaign last season and return enough talent to challenge for the conference title. Leading rusher Reis Watkins (1269 yards, 13 TDs) returns for his senior season and is also the anchor of Shenango’s defense. Junior QB Santino Campoli threw for 1612 yards and 13 TDs last year as a sophomore to give Shenango a balanced offensive attack. Second-leading receiver Adam Bryant (254 yards, 1 TD) also returns for his junior season.
WPIAL ELO Rank (1A): 3
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 85
A year after winning the WPIAL title for the first time in school history, OLSH returned to the playoffs thanks to a head-to-head victory over Laurel. Just 3 seniors graduated from that squad, and the returning group is stacked with talented players. Dual-threat QB Jaymar Pearson threw for 1074 yards and 14 TDs and ran for 738 yards and 12 TDs as a sophomore last season. His backfield counterpart Steve Greer (722 yards, 9 TDs) is also a rising junior and both players averaged over 7 yards per carry behind an offensive line that returns four starters. On the outside, Bobby Brazell (344 yards, 6 TDs) is the top returning receiver. OLSH has the talent and experience to once again challenge for the conference title.
WPIAL ELO Rank (1A): 1
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 65
The Blue Devils move down from 2A after winning two straight conference titles but suffering early upsets in the playoffs. Burgettstown has won 14 straight conference games, the third-longest streak in the WPIAL. The Blue Devils have built a strong defense over the last few seasons and last year were the second-best unit in 2A, allowing just 11.2 points per game. Burgettstown’s offense is built around their rushing attack, which lost the top two RBs to graduation. Shane Kemper (234 yards, 2 TDs) figures to step into the lead role. Look for senior Alex Mitko (106 yards, 3 TDs) to take on a bigger role after averaging over 7 yards per carry last season.
WPIAL ELO Rank (1A): 9
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 100
Last year was an historic campaign for the Raiders who won their first playoff game in school history, defeating California 32-27. Cornell shared the conference title with Sto-Rox, losing just once in the regular season. The Raiders are poised for a youth movement this year as a trio of sophomores who all saw playing time as freshmen figure to step into key offensive roles. Sophomore QB EJ Dawson attempted a handful of passes last year in backup duty and figures to step into the starting role this year. The Raiders had a strong passing attack last season with 5 players topping 290 yards, but four of them graduated. Sophomore Raequan Troutman (318 yards, 8 TDs) is the top returning receiver for Cornell. Their top two running backs graduated, leaving sophomore Ameer Hibbler (231 yards, 7 TDs) as the top returning rusher after he averaged over 8.5 yards per carry last year.
WPIAL ELO Rank (1A): 5
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 95
The Rams got off to a strong start in the six-clasification era, reaching the playoffs 3 times with a 2016 trip to the semifinals and a 2018 trip to Heinz Field where they lost to OLSH in the title game. However, 2019 was a rebuilding year after a number of key starters graduated. The Rams started the season on a 7-game losing streak but bounced back to win their final three outings. The good news for Rochester is that two of their top three running backs return in senior Rashawn Reid (9 TDs) and junior Denny Robinson (6 TDs). Rochester does not throw the ball very often, so Reid and Robinson should see a lionsshare of the work on offense.
WPIAL ELO Rank (1A): 17
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 112
The Scotties had an up-and-down 2019 season, losing their first three games then winning 3 in a row to get back to .500 then dropping their last four. Union boasts a legitimate D1 talent in two-way lineman Aaron Gunn who has offers from Michigan State, Louisville, and Kentucky. On the offensive side of the ball, junior WR Tyler Staub is the top returning playmaker after finding the end zone 5 times last year. Jackson Clark will step into the lead back role after scoring 2 TDs for the Scotties. Union has made the playoffs 3 times in the last decade, reaching the Quarterfinals twice (2012 and 2017). If they are going to make another push for the playoffs this year they will need to improve a defense that allowed 31 points per game.
WPIAL ELO Rank (1A): 22
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 117
Two of the three longest losing streaks in the WPIAL are both in the Big Seven Conference, as Northgate enters 2020 with a 24-game winless drought. The team has undergone a rebranding effort (with some excellent helmets). Northgate relied heavily on their passing game last season but threw nearly twice as many interceptions (21) as they did TDs (11). Junior Davonte Christie saw some time as the backup QB last year and will step into the starting role. Fellow junior Delvin Mitchell (494 yards, 3 TDs) was the team’s leading receiver as a sophomore. Four starters return on the offensive line for the Flames. If Northgate is going to get back to playing winning football, they will need to improve a defense that finished last in 1A last season, allowing 51.1 points per game.
WPIAL ELO Rank (1A): 13
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 107
The move down to 1A is a much-needed change of scenery for the Rangers who have lost 18 straight games, the third-longest streak in the WPIAL. Fort Cherry made the playoffs in 1A in both 2016 and 2017 but had to move up to 2A in 2018. Their last win came in Week 1 of 2018 and their return to 1A is certainly welcomed. Last year, Fort Cherry scored just 28 points the entire season, the lowest total by any WPIAL team. Leading rusher Chase Belsterling returns for his senior season.