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 Midwestern Conference produced WPIAL Champions Beaver Falls. The rest of the group had a neck-in-neck race for the playoffs that Laurel won thanks to a 2-point victory over New Brighton. Laurel proved they belonged in the playoffs, nearly beating Sto-Rox in the opening round before the Vikings went on to reach the WPIAL final. The middle of the pack was very tight with Freedom topping Laurel by 7 and Neshannock losing to Laurel and New Brighton by just one score. This season, with the WPIAL’s full scheduling and playoff plan back in effect, 16 teams will make the 2A playoffs. The top FIVE teams from the Midwestern Conference are guaranteed a playoff spot, which means that strong middle of the pack could all find themselves in the postseason.
WPIAL ELO Rank (2A): 16
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 84
Laurel missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons in 2018 and 2019 playing in 1A. In both seasons, Laurel finished tied for a playoff spot but missed out due to tiebreakers. Last season, the Spartans moved back up to 2A and earned a playoff berth by winning a tiebreaker with New Brighton. In the playoffs, Laurel jumped out to an early lead on Sto-Rox but couldn’t hold on as the Vikings came back to win 21-20. Laurel is a run-heavy team and returns their top three rushers from last season. Luke McCoy (1039 yards, 12 TDs) returns for his senior season and has a chance to contend for the WPIAL rushing crown. Quarterback Kobe DeRosa was more productive on the ground (483 rushing yards, 5 TDs) than through the air (385 yards, 5 TDs) due to the ground-and-pound offense. Michael Pasquarello ran for 263 yards and was also Laurel’s leading receiver with 161 yards and found the end zone 9 times. With a loaded backfield all returning and after posting the best defense in the conference (16.4 points against per game), Laurel has the talent to challenge for the conference title this season.
WPIAL ELO Rank (2A): 1
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 43
Beaver Falls moved down from 3A to 2A last season and dominated the competition. The Tigers claimed their second WPIAL title of the six classification era by running over, around, and through the opposition. That was the fifth WPIAL Championship claimed by Beaver Falls in school history. The Tigers ran into an equally physical Wilmington squad in the State semifinals and lost a hard-fought battle for the right to face Southern Columbia for the State title. The Tigers were a run-heavy team last season with two players breaking the 1000-yard mark, but their top three rushers all graduated. Senior QB Jaren Brickner (951 yards, 5 TDs) should take on a bigger role in the offense this season and Beaver Falls may transition to more of a pass-oriented attack. Leading receiver Trey Singleton (405 receiving yards, 176 rushing yards, 3 total TDs) was only a sophomore last season. Quadir Thomas (311 yards, 3 TDs) also returns on the outside. The Tigers return a majority of their starters up front after only two seniors graduated from the line.
WPIAL ELO Rank (2A): 7
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 69
Since reaching the WPIAL Championship Game in 2016, Neshannock has been up-and-down. They have never been far from playoff contention, missing narrowly in both 2018 and 2020. The Lancers look to get back after a 7-point loss to Laurel and 6-point loss to New Brighton were all that stood between them and the playoffs last year. Neshannock returns a number of starters including the dynamic Cam’ron Owens who led the team in rushing (621 yards), receiving (98 yards), and scoring (8 total TDs) last season. Fellow rising senior Kurt Sommerfield was used as a dual-threat QB last season, throwing for 380 yards and 3 TDs and running for 186 yards and 3 TDs. Neshannock was a run-heavy team, featuring Owens and Sommerfield while sprinkling in Matt Ioanilli (140 yards, 2 TDs) who returns for his junior year. Neshannock was the second-highest scoring team in the conference last season (31 points per game) and returns their to three rushers, which absolutely makes the Lancers a threat to contend this season.
WPIAL ELO Rank (2A): 11
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 74
After reaching the playoffs in back-to-back seasons and earning their first playoff victory since 2001, New Brighton narrowly missed a return trip in 2021. The Lions missed out on playoff football due to losing the head-to-head tiebreaker against Laurel because of a 2-point loss in Week 5. New Brighton’s top two rushers graduated, so look for a to return to the passing attack that took them to the playoffs in 2018 and 2019. Gabe Haddox (354 yards, 4 TDs) didn’t have to throw much last season but should see his role expand this year. He gets back leading receiver Keandre Williams (107 yards, 1 TD). Get used to hearing about the Haddox to Williams connection early and often this season.
WPIAL ELO Rank (2A): 13
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 76
Riverside reached the semifinals in three of the first four seasons of the six classification era. Most recently in 2019, the Panthers surprising run was highlighted by upset victories in the first two rounds over higher-seeded teams. Riverside started Sam Hughes at quarterback last season as just a sophomore. The Panthers tried to shelter him a bit with their running game and as such Hughes wound up throwing for 311 yards and 3 TDs while rushing for 256 yards and 4 TDs. The top two rushers graduated, so Hughes and senior Brody Barton (169 yards, 1 TD) will have to shoulder the weight of the offense. The good news for Sam Hughes is that leading receivers Avery Orgavan and Aiden Wetzel will also return this season.
WPIAL ELO Rank (2A): 21
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 92
Mohawk reached the playoffs in back-to-back seasons in 2017 and 2018, their first postseason appearance since 2005. Since then, the Warriors have tumbled back down towards the bottom half of the conference. The Warriors dropped their final 6 games last season after winning the season opener to Ellwood City with none of those losses coming within 12 points. Mohawk allowed 33 points per game last season, the second-highest total in the conference. If Mohawk can improve defensively, they return QB John Voss who threw for 1206 yards and 12 TDs last season. Voss spread the ball around with five different players finishing with over 200 receiving yards. Of those, only Marc Conti (275 yards, 3 TDs) returns this season.
WPIAL ELO Rank (2A): 8
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 70
After making the playoffs just once in the 11 years prior to 2016, Freedom found success in the six classification era. The Bulldogs made the playoffs in four straight seasons, highlighted by a run to the semifinals in 2018. Freedom employed a pass-heavy offense last season, but after graduating their quarterback and leading receiver, the Bulldogs will need to find replacements. Carter Slowinski saw a few snaps in backup QB duty and also played WR last season may step into the starting role. Second-leading receiver Tristan Clear (101 yards, 2 TDs) will return to provide some stability on the outside. In the backfield, Josh Pail (121 yards, 2 TDs) is the top returning rusher. Keep an eye out for Kendall Komara who averaged 10 yards per carry in limited work last year.
WPIAL ELO Rank (2A): 24
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 96
Ellwood City has fallen on hard times. The Wolverines have not made the playoffs in 9 years and haven’t won a game in two seasons. Their last win came in the 2018 season finale against Brentwood. Ellwood City’s losing streak sits at 17 games, the third-longest in the WPIAL. Ashton Wilson saw a few opportunities as a backup QB last season and was also the team’s leading receiver (201 yards, 3 TDs). Wilson was the most explosive player on the team with the ball in his hands last season and the Wolverines would do well to maximize his opportunities this year. After finishing 2020 with the lowest-scoring offense and a defense that allowed the most points in 2A, Ellwood City will just be looking to get back in the win column this season.