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.
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Central Valley completed a perfect season last year, winning their second straight WPIAL title and following it up with their first State Championship in school history. The Warriors are once again the favorites in 3A and could make a run at reaching Hershey for the third straight season. Avonworth was not selected for the playoffs last season by the WPIAL steering committee but have the talent to get back this season. Due to cancelled games, both Quaker Valley and Ambridge finished last season winless. 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): 1
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 30
The Warriors are the two-time defending WPIAL Champions and defeated Wyomissing to win their first State Championship in school history last season. Central Valley was clearly the cream of the crop in 3A last season, averaging 50 points per game and holding opponents under 10 per contest, both the top marks in the classification. Even after graduating 14 seniors, Central Valley should still be considered the clear favorites for the WPIAL title. The Terror of the Trenches Sean FitzSimmons returns for his senior year as a two-way lineman after commiting to Pitt. Landon Alexander led 3A in rushing last season with 1427 yards and 17 TDs leads a loaded backfield that also features Bret FitzSimmons (424 yards, 3 TDs). Junior WR Jayvin Thompson (229 yards, 2 TDs) leads the receiving corps. The only question offensively is who will step into the shoes of 3A Player of the Year Ameer Dudley at quarterback. Sophomore Marcus Lawson and junior Antwon Johnson both attempted a few passes in backup duty last season and should compete for the job in camp. All in all, this is a Central Valley team brimming with offensive talent and absolutely fearsome defensively with Matt Merritt leading the linebacking corps. They are not only a threat to win the WPIAL title but could make it back to the State Championship Game for the third straight season.
WPIAL ELO Rank (3A): 3
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 49
Avonworth won the WPIAL 2A Championship in 2019 then moved up to 3A in 2020. The Lopes went 4-2 overall with their head-to-head game against Central Valley cancelled. Somewhat controversially, the WPIAL steering committee did not select them for the 3A playoffs, opting for Mt. Pleasant instead. Looking back, you can probably point to the 20-13 loss to Keystone Oaks as the game that kept Avonworth from the playoffs. Avonworth graduated just 6 players and therefore return a number of starters, inlcuding junior Nathan Harper threw for 833 yards and 10 TDs last season. Leading rushers Ian Syam (870 yards, 10 TDs) and Ezra Tomko (91 yards, 2 TDs) both return for their senior seasons. On the outside, leading receivers Peyron Faulkner (293 yards, 5 TDs) and Neo Miller (198 yards, 1 TD) are also rising seniors. This offensive core getting another year on the field together should not only get the Lopes back into the playoffs but make them a threat for a deep postseason run.
WPIAL ELO Rank (3A): 11
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 62
The Vikings have not won more than 2 conference games since 2012, but they came close last season, losing to Avonworth by just 8 points. After losing their first three outings, Hopewell rebounded to trounce Ambridge and Quaker Valley to put themselves back into the playoff picture. But the Vikings closed the season with losses to Avonworth and Keystone Oaks. Hopewell has not made the playoffs since 2012, but could be in contention for a spot this season. Senior Micah Kimbrough (500 yards, 4 TDs) and sophomore Kaden Sarver (289 yards, 3 TDs) both saw time at quarterback last season. Kimbrough was also the Vikings leading rusher with 483 yards and 9 TDs. Leading receiver Jamar Jeter (402 yards, 4 TDs) also returns. With that offensive core, along with an offensive line where three starters return, Hopewell should be able to contend for a playoff spot.
WPIAL ELO Rank (3A): 4
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 50
The Golden Eagles returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2016 last season and repeated their feat of a run to the semifinals. Keystone Oaks won a thrilling quarterfinal with South Park where they came from 10 points down in the fourth quarter to win 28-24. After dual-threat QB Logan Shrubb graduated, the Golden Eagles will need to find a replacement under center. Kevin Drew (249 yards, 4 TDs) and Shawn Reick (228 yards, 1 TD) are the top returning running backs. Owen Minford (220 yards, 1 TD) and Tyler Perry (no, not that one) return on the outside to give quality targets to whomever takes over the quarterback position.
WPIAL ELO Rank (3A): 7
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 56
The Quakers won the WPIAL and State Championship in 2017 and returned to the playoffs once again in 2018. Since then, they have won just 2 games total after a winless 2020 campaign. Quaker Valley was the lowest-scoring team in 3A (4 points per game) and allowed the most points defensively (48 points against per game). All 20 of their points came in a non-conference game against Brentwood and they were shut out in their other four outings, along with having their final two games cancelled due to COVID. Connery Bulger and Patrick Curtchember both spent time at quarterback last season. Curtchember was also the team’s leading rusher with 182 yards and 2 TDs. Mason Diemert returns at wide receiver for Quaker Valley who had just 4 seniors graduate from last year’s team.
WPIAL ELO Rank (3A): 10
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 61
Ambridge enters the 2021 season with the longest conference losing streak in the WPIAL at 34 games. The Bridgers are the only team that has not won a conference game during the six classification era with their last win coming in Week 9 of 2015. Overall, Ambridge has lost 23 in a row (the second-longest streak in the WPIAL behind Northgate) with their last win coming in 2018 over Waynesburg. They lost all of their 2020 games by at least 30 points, though their season finale against winless Quaker Valley was cancelled due to COVID. Leading rusher Sedrick Seymour returns for his senior season.