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 deepest classification in the WPIAL this season is 5A. There will once again be three conferences, but unlike last cycle where there were 24 5A teams, now there are only 18. Despite losing 8 programs to other classes, two marquee names were added to the group. Pine-Richland, who won the WPIAL and PIAA titles in 2017 then repeated as WPIAL Champions in 2018 before falling in the WPIAL final last year, moves down from 6A. Moving up from 4A is South Fayette who has a WPIAL-leading 64-game conference winning streak. With South Fayette moving up, Woodland Hills slides over from the Allegheny Conference to the Big East, which is more geographically appropriate for the Wolverines and restores some historic rivalries.
The playoff format in 5A will be dependent on the State Tournament. If the PIAA hosts a state tournament, eight teams will make the 5A 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 Standings Page throughout the season and follow our WPIAL Twitter account @WPIAL_Blitz. Teams are listed in their predicted order of finish.
WPIAL ELO Rank (5A): 2
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 3
Gateway has won 2 of the last 3 WPIAL Championships and in the year they didn’t win (2018) had a perfect regular season before being upset by West Allegheny in the semifinals. Interestingly, in the two years where Gateway won the WPIAL crown they did not win the conference title, falling to Penn-Trafford both times. The Gators are led by Derrick Davis who burst onto the scene as a freshman, leading Gateway to the WPIAL crown. Davis started picking up D1 offers after that season and hasn’t stopped, recently narrowing his list to Pitt, Penn State, Georgia, LSU, Clemson, USC, and Ohio State. Davis is arguably the top recruit in the WPIAL and while he is being recruited as a defensive back, is an offensive stud, rushing for 1507 yards, adding 547 receiving yards and scoring 28 TDs. Junior Carsen Engleka attempted a handful of passes last year and figures to step into the starting role. Gateway had 7 players with at least 200 receiving yards last year. Of that group, Davis, Patrick Body (467 yards, 4 TDs), Chamor Price (414 yards, 9 TDs), and Jayden Hurt (367 yards, 4 TDs) all return. Price has college offers from a number of MAC schools and Body (who is only a junior) already has a few D1 offers. Defensively, Gateway allowed just 13.5 points per game last year and could be even better this season. In addition to Davis, Hurt and Body their secondary also features Delaware-commit Shane Thrift. Up front, linemen Jaques Taylor and EDGE rusher Diego Bledsoe are high quality players. Gateway is absolutely a threat to repeat as WPIAL Champions and make a run at the state title in a loaded 5A classification.
WPIAL ELO Rank (5A): 5
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 8
The Warriors cruised through the regular season with 5A’s best offense (36 points per game) and second-best defense (12.5 points against per game). However, they ran into an even-stouter defensive squad in Peters Twp in the semifinals. The Warriors have never won a WPIAL title but have reached the finals in 2 of the last 5 seasons and at least the semifinals in 5 of the last 7 years. Penn-Trafford saw 21 seniors graduate and will rely heavily on Villanova-commit Ethan Carr. Last year, Carr did a little bit of everything, leading the Warriors in receiving (764 yards), adding 323 rushing yards, scoring a team-high 20 TDs and even attempting some passes (198 yards, 2 TDs). It remains to be seen whether Carr or junior Carter Green (who also saw some relief duty at QB last year) will take over under center. Brad Ford (302 rushing yards, 143 receiving yards, 5 total TDs) also returns to the offense, giving them two playmakers who can be moved around and contribute in different ways. Third-leading receiver Chase Vecchio (286 yards, 2 TDs) returns and watch out for junior Cade Yacamelli who found the end zone 6 times last year.
WPIAL ELO Rank (5A): 10
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 16
Woodland Hills snapped their 23-year playoff streak last season, the third-longest run in the WPIAL. The Wolverines dropped their first 6 games and winning 3 of their last 4 was not enough to get them into the postseason. They have moved from the Allegheny Eight conference over to the Big East to play more geographically-appropriate opponents like Gateway, Penn-Trafford, and Franklin Regional. Junior Deontae Williams split time at QB last year and threw for 397 yards and 5 TDs and should be the primary signal-caller this season. He returns two quality receivers in T’Rek Scipio (395 yards, 4 TDs) and Armani Bailey (210 yards). Second-leading rusher Taelen Brooks (315 yards, 6 TDs) also returns for the Wolverines. Defensively, Woody High is loaded with talent. Their secondary features Bailey, Scipio, and Brooks (who has an offer from Central Michigan), along with Eshawn Carter and Davion Rochelle (who both have offers from D1 schools).
WPIAL ELO Rank (5A): 12
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 19
The Panthers got off to a hot start to 2019, winning their first three games. However, they won just 1 of their last 5 and limped into the playoffs where they fell to Moon in the first round. Franklin Regional has reached the playoffs in 16 straight seasons but has not reached the WPIAL final since winning the AAA title in 2005. The good news is that the Panthers bring back a number of contributors from last year’s squad. Senior QB Trevor Brncic threw for 978 yards and 7 TDs last year along with his top 4 receivers in Jermaine Turner (329 yards, 1 TD), Brandon Zanotta (155 yards, 3 TDs), Mario Sarnic (144 yards, 1 TD), and Jeffrey Downs (126 yards, 2 TDs). In the backfield, second-leading rusher Colton Johns (239 yards, 2 TDs) will take over the lead back role after averaging 6 yards per carry.
WPIAL ELO Rank (5A): 14
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 25
Latrobe has reached the postseason each of the last two years after an 8-year playoff drought. However, Latrobe has not won a playoff game since 1968, one of the longest droughts among current WPIAL teams. The Wildcats finished the regular season on a 3-game winning streak last year before falling to Penn Hills in the opening round for the second straight season. Junior Bobby Fetter figures to take over the starting QB role after splitting time under center last season. Fetter gives the Wildcats a dual-threat option after he threw for 333 yards and ran for 437 yards and 8 TDs last year. Leading rusher Logan Gustafson (535 yards, 3 TDs) returns for his senior season, along with TE Tucker Knupp (179 yards, 1 TD).
WPIAL ELO Rank (5A): 18
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 41
The Falcons have not made the playoffs in 5 years and went just 2-8 last season. However, their two wins came against Fayette County rivals Uniontown (in the Coal Bucket Rivalry) and Albert Gallatin. The Falcons do have a talented back to build around in Ky’Ron Craggette who ran for 1010 yards and 8 TDs as a junior last season after transferring from Uniontown. Most of the other skill position players graduated. Connellsville scored the third-fewest points per game in 5A (16.1 PPG) and allowed the third-most points defensively (37.8 PPG).