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.
There were a number of games cancelled across 3A last season, some of which impacted the playoff races. In the Allegheny Seven Conference, Freeport and East Allegheny tied for second place as their head-to-head game was cancelled. Both wound up making the playoffs. North Catholic won the conference title for the fourth straight season last year and looks primed to make a run at a fifth this year. This season, with the WPIAL’s full scheduling and playoff plan back in effect, 12 teams will make the 3A playoffs with the top four teams each conference qualifying.
WPIAL ELO Rank (3A): 5
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 52
North Catholic enters the 2021 season with the longest conference winning streak in the WPIAL at 19 games. The Trojans have not lost to a conference opponent since Week 4 of 2018 when they fell to Derry. That said, for all their regular season success they have not made it back to the WPIAL title game since winning the WPIAL and State Championship in 2013. The Trojans reached at least the semifinals in 7 of the last 9 years but are just 1-6 in those games. The move to Cranberry has certainly benefitted the school as it has grown from Single-A prior to the move to six classifications to 2A in 2016-17 and up to 3A since 2018. North returns one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the WPIAL in Joey Prentice who threw for 1208 yards and 16 TDs and ran for 568 yards and 12 TDs last season. With a full schedule this year, Prentice may be a threat to join the 1000/1000 club. Running back Kyle Tipinski (602 yards, 11 TDs) also returns for his senior season with offers from a few MAC schools. On the outside, Tyler Maziarz (146 yards, 1 TD) and Liam Straub (95 yards, 1 TD) both return and should see increased roles in the passing game. With a plethora of returning starters, the Trojans should once again be a threat to win the conference title and make a run at a WPIAL Championship.
WPIAL ELO Rank (3A): 8
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 57
The Yellow Jackets have reached the playoffs in 3 of the last 4 years and will look to take a step forward this season by winning their first playoff game in the six-classification era. Freeport battled through a number of injuries last season and many underclassmen saw significant playing time. At quarterback, a trio of rising juniors all saw time between Ben Lane (592 yards, 4 TDs), Zach Clark (164 yards, 1 TD), and Brady Stivenson (151 yards, 1 TD) who also saw time at receiver. Lane was also the team’s leading rusher with 341 yards and 8 TDs. Senior Vinnie Clark (496 yards, 4 TDs) will return on the outside as the top target for whoever John Gaillot decides to install at quarterback.
WPIAL ELO Rank (3A): 13
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 66
East Allegheny and Freeport’s head-to-head game was cancelled last season and the Wildcats got the short end of the stick, drawing the #8 seed and eventual state champions Central Valley in the first round of the playoffs. East Allegheny has won just one playoff game in the last 20 years but has a talented team that could change that this season. The Wildcats did lose QB Johnny DiNapoli to a transfer, but Michael Smith (398 yards, 3 TDs) saw some time under center last year. Smith was the team’s leading receiver last year (291 yards, 3 TDs) and could be used in a slot back role if Mike Cahill wins the starting quarterback job after also seeing some time last year. Watch out for defensive end Robert Washington who has attracted interest from FCS programs.
WPIAL ELO Rank (3A): 14
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 68
Burrell has not made the playoffs since 2012 and will need to find a replacement at quarterback to run their up-tempo no-huddle offense this season after Alex Arledge graduated. Leading rusher Caden DiCaprio (510 yards, 5 total TDs) is the only offensive skill position starter to return for the Bucs this season. If the Bucs are going to make a run at their first playoff berth in nearly a decade, they will need to improve defensively where they allowed nearly 36 points per game last season, the second-highest in the conference and fifth-highest in 3A.
WPIAL ELO Rank (3A): 6
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 53
Derry had seen a strong run of success in the six-classification era, reaching the semifinals 3 times in 4 years and making the WPIAL final in 2018. After head coach Tim Sweeney took the job at Baldwin, the Trojans missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 2015 after finishing in the middle of the pack. They should be right back in the mix this season. Running back Eric Cantone returns for his senior season and should be the focal point of the offense after 14 players graduated from last year’s squad.
WPIAL ELO Rank (3A): 17
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 83
The Vikings have not made the playoffs since 2013 and have not won a postseason game since 2005. Despite winning just one conference game last season, Valley was not incredibly far off. They came within two scores of both Burrell and Derry, so if the Vikings can improve on an offense that averaged just 17 points per game, they could contend for a playoff spot. Junior Domanick Simmons figures to take over the starting quarterback spot after seeing backup duty last year and throwing a touchdown pass. Fellow junior Xavier Wilson ran for 138 yards and a touchdown last season. While still a relatively young team, the Vikings can build around Simmons and Wilson over the next two seasons to take a run at ending their playoff drought.
WPIAL ELO Rank (3A): 15
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 81
The Lancers suffered through a difficult 2020 campaign that saw them average fewer than 5 points per game while giving up over 42 per game, both marks the worst in the conference and in the bottom five in 3A. They did not score more than once in any game and the scorelines got progressively worse as the season went on. Derek Burk (531 yards, 3 TDs) got starting quarterback experience as a freshman. He also gets back his second-leading rusher Colton Bach (171 yards) and receiver Brandon Colledge who was the only player to find the end zone more than once last season as the Lancers look to put 2020 behind them.