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 Eastern Conference has been a dominant force in Class 1A for over a decade. Clairton is the defending WPIAL Champions and have won 7 of the last 10 WPIAL titles. Since moving down from AA to Class A in 2014, Jeannette 65-3 against all WPIAL opponents not named Clairton (but 2-7 against the Bears). With Southmoreland making the playoffs last year, the longest playoff drought in the WPIAL now rests with Leechburg, who was a 1-point loss in triple overtime against GCC away from making the playoffs last 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): 2
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 70
The Bears were the Top WPIAL team of the last decade, capping it off by capturing the WPIAL title for the 7th time in 10 years. Standards are a bit different in Clairton, and their two consecutive semifinal exits were “down years” after the way the Bears dominated the rest of the decade. Last season saw them drop their first two games against playoff teams from 3A (Aliquippa) and 2A (McGuffey). But once they returned to facing 1A schools the Bears became the Bears again and cruised through the competition, not losing again until they faced eventual state champion Farrell in the PIAA Semifinals. Only four seniors graduated from that team, making Clairton once again the favorites for the 1A title. Clairton’s backfield is led by the tandem of Isaiah Berry (1042 yards, 15 TDs) and Dontae Sanders (553 yards, 13 TDs) who both averaged over 7.5 yards per carry last year. Jonte Sanders was an all-around playmaker with 429 receiving yards, 210 rushing yards, and scoring 6 times and will take over the quarterback position this season. Clairton’s stout defense held opponents under 12 points per game overall last season, but if their games against McGuffey and Aliquippa are factored out 1A opponents averaged just 7.3 points per game against the Bears. They have two players with D1 offers in lineman Dametrius Weatherspoon and linebacker Dontae Sanders. Clairton should not only be considered the favorites to reclaim the WPIAL title, but with Farrell moving up to 2A they also have a legitimate shot to make a run at the State Title.
WPIAL ELO Rank (1A): 4
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 86
Jeannette got the short end of the stick from the WPIAL Playoff Committee last year when they were matched up with Sto-Rox in the first round. Jeannette had blitzed through the regular season, starting 9-0 (including 4 shutouts) before falling to conference champion Clairton in the season finale. They were arguably the 3rd best team in 1A last year, but had to face Sto-Rox (who reached the WPIAL final) in the first round because the playoff committee wanted to put them on the opposite side of the bracket from Clairton. The Jayhawks had the best defense in 1A (8.4 points against per game) and the second-best offense (38.6 points per game). Dual-threat QB James Sanders threw for 1357 yards and 16 TDs and ran for 265 yards and 1 TD last year. Roberto Smith also saw some time at QB and threw for 233 yards and 2 TDs and ran for 224 yards and 5 scores. Both players are rising seniors that Jeannette will look to get on the field together as often as possible. Regardless of who was playing quarterback, the Jayhawks spread the ball around in the passing game and had 5 receivers finish with over 200 yards. Toby Cline (301 yards, 5 TDs) and Brett Birch (246 yards, 3 TDs), who has an offer from Central Michigan, are the top returning receivers.
WPIAL ELO Rank (1A): 12
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 106
The Centurions returned to the playoffs last season thanks to a 1-point triple-overtime victory over Leechburg. David Altimore returns under center after throwing for 1118 yards and 14 TDs last season. His top three receivers and leading rusher all graduated, so GCC will need to work in some new offensive skill position players. In limited work last season, Danny Dlugos averaged 7.1 yards per carry (with 3 TDs) and Zach Dlugos averaged 12.5 yards per carry and scored once.
WPIAL ELO Rank (1A): 18
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 113
The Dynamos bounced back from a 2018 campaign where they went winless in conference play for a solid 6-4 season. They got off to a strong start with 4 straight victories but went just 2-4 down the stretch against the top teams in the conference. Rising junior Legend Ausk started the season at QB but Demitri Fritch took over in Week 3 and threw for 433 yards and 7 TDs and ran for 416 yards and 3 TDs. Springdale has traditionally been a run-heavy offense and figures to be so again with Ausk, Fritch, and Cavin Kindler (540 yards, 3 TDs) all returning to the lineup after all three averaged over 6 yards per carry.
WPIAL ELO Rank (1A): 15
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 109
With Southmoreland making the playoffs last season, the longest playoff drought in the WPIAL now belongs to Leechburg at 31 years. How close was that streak to ending last year? The Blue Devils lost by 1 point in triple-overtime to GCC, and would have made the playoffs if they had won that game. Coach Mark George has done a great job building the program up from the bottom of the Eastern Conference into a potential playoff contender. Senior QB Dylan Cook returns after throwing for 949 yards and 8 TDs. Cook may have to take on a bigger part of the offense after 11 players graduated from last year’s squad. Second-leading rusher Braylon Lovelace (312 yards, 3 TDs) returns for his junior season along with TE Eli Rich (268 yards).
WPIAL ELO Rank (1A): 19
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 114
The Crusaders only victory last year came against Northgate, but the program has taken significant efforts to invest in itself over the offseason with a revamped locker room and equipment overhaul. After having to forfeit a game against OLSH due to a lack of healthy players, Canevin’s youth gained significant experience last year. Only 5 seniors graduated from the team, which has created a solid base to build the program upon. Dual-threat QB Willie Banks-Hicks (420 passing yards, 3 TDs, 387 rushing yards, 1 TD) returns for his junior year along with leading rusher Keyshawn Harris (459 yards, 4 TDs). Leading receiver Xavier Nelson (164 receiving yards, 165 rushing yards, 4 total TDs) was just a freshman last year. Bishop Canevin is still building their program, but with the young core they have the future is bright.
WPIAL ELO Rank (1A): 10
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 104
The Saints roster was decimated by graduations the last few seasons, losing a load of talented players that took them to the playoffs three straight seasons and to the WPIAL final in 2017. A number of those players went on to play football at the next level, but last year was a rebuilding campaign as Imani went winless and had the third-worst defense in 1A, giving up nearly 39 points per game. The good news for Imani is that last year’s team had just two seniors so they return nearly their entire roster which gained valuable experience in 2019. A pair of rising juniors in Pharoh Fisher and Ray Jackson will lead the way this season for the Saints.
WPIAL ELO Rank (1A): 21
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 116
The Raiders 2019 season peaked in mid-year when they scored back-to-back victories against Imani Christian and Jefferson-Morgan. Other than that, the 2-7 campaign was one to forget as they were shut out 4 times and allowed 38 points per game, the fourth-highest mark in 1A. Riverview’s offense revolves around the run game and the Raiders return two fo their top three backs from last season. Both Dean Decere (288 yards, 2 TDs) and Anthony Mazur (124 yards, 1 TD) are rising juniors. Riverview did not throw the ball much last season, but do return starting QB Ryan Aber (123 yards).