After a pandemic-shortened 2020 high school football season, we are back for a full campaign in 2021. There were a number of changes that the WPIAL had planned to institute from both a scheduling and a playoff format standpoint in 2020 that were delayed until 2021. All of the schedules are now back-loaded with conference game and the WPIAL attempted to schedule intriguing matchups and historical rivalries in the first few weeks before conference play begins.
This year, our WPIAL coverage is sponsored by the Sports Stream Premium Network and PA Mortgage Protection and Life Insurance. The Sports Stream Premium Network enables schools to turn their livestreamed events into pay-per-view events where schools receive 100% of the revenue generated.
Last year the Allegheny Conference produced two WPIAL semifinalists in Apollo-Ridge and Serra Catholic. Those schools did not play a head-to-head game in the regular season due to cancellations so they shared the conference title. The gap between the top teams might be a little wider this season as most of Serra’s squad returns while Apollo-Ridge graduated a number of starters. Don’t count out Ligonier Valley from contention after the Rams started a number of young players in their first year of WPIAL play. This season, with the WPIAL’s full scheduling and playoff plan back in effect, 16 teams will make the 2A playoffs. The top three teams from the Allegheny Conference are guaranteed a playoff spot. There will also be one “Wild Card” spot for either the fourth place team from the Allegheny Conference or the fourth place team from the Three Rivers Conference.
WPIAL ELO Rank (2A): 15
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 79
Serra Catholic shared the conference title last season after their head-to-head game was cancelled. The Eagles went on to show off their explosive offense in the playoffs, winning a thrilling game against McGuffey then losing in a shootout to Sto-Rox in the semifinals. Serra has now reached the playoffs in all five years of the six-classification era and their run to the semifinals was their deepest since winning the Single-A Championship back in 2007. The Eagles return a talented and experienced group, led by QB Max Rocco who threw for 899 yards and 11 TDs last year. Leading rushers Machai Brooks-Dutrieuille (475 yards, 8 TDs) and Paul Pearson (238 yards, 5 TDs) are also both rising seniors. On the outside, leading receivers Terrell Booth (378 yards, 7 TDs) and Jayvon Campbell-Holt (338 yards, 6 TDs) will also be back. Keep an eye out for Pharoh Fisher who has offers from military academies. Serra was the highest-scoring team in the WPIAL entering the playoffs last year and they might be even more explosive this season. They are the clear favorites in the conference and should be considered one of the favorites to challenge for the WPIAL 2A title.
WPIAL ELO Rank (2A): 17
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 85
Ligonier Valley joined the WPIAL from District 6 last season. They had a solid middle-of-the-pack season, which was far from what the Rams were used to after two straight unbeaten seasons in D6. The Rams were a relatively young team last year with just one senior, which gives them plenty of experience heading into 2021. Rising junior Haden Sierocky showed his dual-threat abilities last season, throwing for 559 yards and 7 TDs and running for 676 yards and 12 scores. He shared the backfield with Nick Beitel (642 rushing yards, 147 receiving yards, 4 total TDs). Leading receiver Matthew Marinchak (166 yards, 1 TD) and the multi-talented Grant Dowden (118 rushing yards, 149 receiving yards, 3 total TDs) are both rising seniors.
WPIAL ELO Rank (2A): 3
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 59
Apollo-Ridge shared the conference title with Serra Catholic last season. The Vikings went on to beat Washington in the first round of the playoffs for their first postseason victory since 2014. That trip to the semifinals was the deepest into the playoffs for Apollo-Ridge since the school merger in 1969 (Apollo made the Class B title game in 1965). The Vikings saw their starting QB, RB and top two receivers graduate. Sophomore Karter Schrock may get the reigns at quarterback after seeing some backup duty last season. If Schrock does win the job, he could have dual-threat potential after rushing for 103 yards and 1 TD last season, averaging 6 yards per carry. Nick Curci (193 yards, 2 TDs) is the top returning rusher after averaging 12 yards per carry.
WPIAL ELO Rank (2A): 2
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 55
Steel Valley was the most successful WPIAL team in the beginning of the six classification era, winning 2 of the first 3 WPIAL titles and reaching the Championship game in the third. But since then they have fallen off a bit, missing the playoffs each of the last two seasons. Last year they won just one game, a narrow victory over Brentwood. The good news for Steel Valley is that they only lost 5 players to graduation and will return a number of key players. Leading rusher NiJhay Burt (611 yards, 11 TDs) returns for his senior season and will be the featured back for the third straight year. Burt has a D1 offer from Buffalo and could accumulate more interest as the season goes on. Fullback Quaron Pierce (136 yards) averaged 11 yards per carry on a handful of touches last season. On the outside, Nyzair Burt (96 yards, 1 TD) also returns. Rising junior Cruce Brookins figures to take over the quarterback spot for the Ironmen who run an I-formation smash-mouth brand of football and don’t throw often. If Steel Valley is going to return to the playoffs, they will need to shore up a defense that allowed over 32 points per game last season.
Shady Side Academy
WPIAL ELO Rank (2A): 6
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 67
The biggest news out of Shady Side this season is their adoption of a new mascot – the Bulldogs. After dropping their first three games last season, Shady Side closed strong with wins over Steel Valley and Valley and a narrow loss in a shootout with Ligonier Valley. Junior Max Wickland will likely take over the starting quarterback role. He will have support from second-leading rusher Chris Sullivan (107 yards, 1 TD). On the outside, Isaiah Greer (189 yards, 3 TDs) and Joe Bellinotti (106 yards, 3 TDs) led the team in receiving as sophomores last year. In order to make it back to the playoffs, Shady Side will need to improve a defense that allowed over 38 points per game last season, the highest mark in 2A.
WPIAL ELO Rank (2A): 27
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 111
Summit Academy, the school for adjudicated youth, did not play last season. The Knights see complete roster turnover every season as the youth are only with them for a short time. Given the uncertainties of the COVID pandemic last year, the school opted not to participate. They have made the playoffs twice in their history.