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. Pine-Richland joins the Northern Conference which has been won by Penn Hills each of the last two seasons after they moved down from 6A in 2018.
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 Football ELO Rankings and WPIAL Standings Page throughout the season. Teams are listed in their predicted order of finish.
WPIAL ELO Rank (5A): 1
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 1
One of the biggest stories with WPIAL realignment was Pine-Richland moving down from 6A to 5A. The Rams have been one of the most successful WPIAL programs recently, reaching Heinz Field in 4 of the last 6 seasons, winning 3 WPIAL titles and a State crown. Pine-Richland had reached the WPIAL final each of the last three seasons, winning two in a row before falling to Central Catholic last season. Now, they move down a classification but return a number of starters, including RPO QB Cole Spencer who led 6A in passing with 2994 yards and 36 TDs while rushing for 297 yards and 6 TDs. Spencer is a 2-time State medalist as a wrestler has committed to Penn’s wrestling team. Leading receivers Eli Jochem (1065 yards, 14 TDs) and D’avay Johnson (610 yards, 8 TDs) both return, along with Luke Miller (356 yards, 7 TDs) and Jeremiah Hasley (247 yards, 1 TD) who were also factors in the passing game. Jochem and Johnson have received offers from FCS schools and Miller has committed to Kent State as a linebacker. Other than Spencer, the top returning rusher is rising junior Tristen Tayler (215 yards, 3 TDs) but the Rams figure to be a pass-heavy attack this season with a 3-year starter in Spencer at the helm of the offense. Pine-Richland will be strong in the trenches once again with Liberty-commits Harrison Hayes and Miguel Jackson. Pine-Richland has the depth, experience, and talent to not only challenge for the WPIAL crown but to also make a run at a State title, but there will be significant competition from WPIAL teams, starting in-conference with Penn Hills, but also with Gateway and Peters Twp pursuing similar goals.
WPIAL ELO Rank (5A): 3
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 4
Since moving down from 6A to 5A in 2018, Penn Hills has not lost a conference game. The Indians completed a perfect season in 2018, running through all of their opponents en route to their second State Title. Last season they lost a Week 0 game to Pine-Richland then went unbeaten through the regular season before falling to McKeesport in the quarterfinals – their first loss to a 5A opponent in two years. Penn Hills has been producing high quality defensive backs over the last few seasons, which should make for a fascinating matchup against Pine-Richland this season. Both Akron-commit Noel Roach and all-conference DB Dontae Pollard (who has some FCS offers) lead the way in the defensive backfield. Pollard led the Indians in receiving last season (526 yards, 7 TDs) and Roach was also a significant contributor (313 yards, 3 TDs). Penn Hills will need to find a new QB this season, but he should be well-protected behind a line anchored by Claude Vangelus. Three of the top four rushers graduated, with only Derrick Topeck (233 yards, 3 TDs) returning.
WPIAL ELO Rank (5A): 13
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 20
North Hills has reached the playoffs in 7 of the last 8 years, but have not won a playoff game since reaching the semifinals in 2010. Last year the Indians got off to a hot 4-0 start, but a slew of injuries slowed down their offensive attack. North Hills relies on a run-heavy attack and had 4 players rush for over 400 yards last season. Of those, leading rusher Curtis Foskey (685 yards, 8 TDs) and Tyler Tomasic (410 yards, 2 TDs) both return. Junior QB Ethan Marker attempted a few passes in a backup role last season and figures to step into the starting role. North Hills averaged just 9 pass attempts per game last season and with two returning rushers who both averaged over 5 yards per carry, that trend is likely to continue.
WPIAL ELO Rank (5A): 17
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 29
Kiski was the lowest-scoring team in all of 5A last season (13.5 points per game) but managed to make their second-straight playoff appearance thanks to a solid defense. The Cavaliers locked up their playoff spot with victories over Mars and Armstrong in the final two weeks of the regular season. Of their 5 wins, only 1 came by more than 10 points. Kiski had a young lineup last year and returns a number of starters, led by do-it-all RB Kenneth Blake who led the team in rushing (980 yards), receiving (144 yards), and scoring (11 total TDs). Blake recently picked up his first D1 offer from Army and also has received attention from FCS schools. Kiski was a run-heavy team last year and split the quarterbacking duties between sophomore Thomas Burke (143 yards, 1 TD) and freshman Lebryn Smith (230 yards). Burke had the team’s only TD pass and the team averaged fewer than 7 pass attempts per game. If the passing game expands this year, they will have the luxury of TE Jack Dilts who has offers from a number of local FCS schools as a defensive end.
WPIAL ELO Rank (5A): 16
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 28
The Titans have now made the playoffs in two straight seasons, after enduring a 24-game losing streak. They will now look to take the next step and win their first playoff game since 2009. Rising junior QB Dominic Rossi saw some spot duty last season in relief and figures to take over the starting role this season. The Titans lost their leading rusher and receivers to graduation. The top returning skill player is junior RB Josh Miller (328 yards, 1 TD). Keep an eye out for towering WR Dylan Schalgle who had 178 yards as a sophomore last season. With a strong crop of rising juniors, Shaler can compete in the middle of the conference this year lay the foundation for a strong push in 2021.
WPIAL ELO Rank (5A): 15
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 27
After an 0-4 start to 2019, the Foxes won 4 of their next 5 games to put themselves into the playoffs for the 2nd time in 3 seasons. Senior QB Justin Rice was the backup last season and only attempted a handful of passes but will take the helm in 2020. Leading receiver Lorenzo Jenkins (511 yards, 7 TDs) and Khi’lee Patterson (248 yards) are both rising juniors. Second-leading rusher Zidane Thomas (258 yards, 2 TDs) is also part of the class that saw significant playing time last year as sophomores. In order to make their first back-to-back playoff appearance since 1996-97, Fox Chapel will need to improve a defense which allowed 31 points per game last season.