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 once again 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 season 5A was the deepest and most exciting classification in the WPIAL. Peters Township won the conference title and reached the WPIAL Championship game for the second straight season. South Fayette moved up to 5A and saw their incredible 64-game conference winning streak that dated back to 2011 come to an end. Bethel Park saw their 19-year postseason streak end while Upper St Clair extended their streak to 21 years. This season, with the WPIAL’s full scheduling and playoff plan back in effect, the top four teams from each conference will qualify for the 12-team playoffs with the three conference champions and one second-place team receiving first-round byes.
Upper St Clair
WPIAL ELO Rank (5A): 8
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 13
The Panthers have earned the nickname of the “Cardiac Cats” over the last few years, playing a number of high-scoring and thrilling games. Last season, five of their eight games were within 10 points. This season, USC returns a number of talented players in their backfield. Ethan Heister (317 yards, 5 TDs) and Jamaal Brown (317 yards, 3 TDs) will be the focal point of the offense as USC works in a new starting quarterback. On the outside, second-leading receiver Aidan Besselman (276 yards, 2 TDs) also returns. With Brown and Besselman as rising juniors, the stage is set for Upper St Clair to be a serious contender over the next two seasons. The Panthers have the offensive talent to win the conference and make a run at a WPIAL title, but will need to improve a defense that allowed over 30 points per game last season.
WPIAL ELO Rank (5A): 6
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 11
After reaching the WPIAL final in Bob Palko’s last year as head coach, West Allegheny has gone two years without making the post-season. The Indians should be back in contention this year with Gavin Miller (1508 yards, 12 TDs) back at the helm after finishing in the Top 10 in the WPIAL in passing last season. With leading receivers Jashon Spencer (652 yards, 4 TDs) and Nodin Tracy (337 yards, 4 TDs) also returning, West Allegheny has the firepower to be right back in the mix for the conference crown.
WPIAL ELO Rank (5A): 10
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 16
A year after winning the conference title, Moon got off to a hot 3-0 start but dropped three in a row in October. Those 3 losses, capped by a 42-35 defeat to Upper St Clair, were enough to keep them out of the playoffs. Tyler McGowan returns for his senior season after throwing for 969 yards and 5 TDs. Leading rusher Dylan Sleva (277 yards, 4 TDs) also returns along with second-leading receiver Jeremiah Dean (122 yards, 1 TD). Two-way lineman Trent Fraley has attracted interest from FCS schools. The arrow is pointing up for the Tigers who should be in the mix for a playoff spot, which would be just their 4th postseason appearance in the last 15 years.
WPIAL ELO Rank (5A): 7
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 12
The Lions are one of the fastest rising districts in the state. Prior to the move to 6 classifications in 2016, South Fayette was a AA team. From 2016-2019 they played in 4A then jumped up to 5A last season. Their first year in the larger classification saw the Lions battle through the WPIAL’s toughest conference and extend their playoff streak to 12 seasons. Head coach Joe Rossi employs a wide open spread offense that has led South Fayette to 4 WPIAL titles but will have to find replacements for nearly all of his offensive skill positions after 18 players graduated.
WPIAL ELO Rank (5A): 3
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 4
The Indians have seen an historic run of success over the last three seasons, reaching their first WPIAL final in school history in 2019 but falling by 1 point to Gateway. Then last season they avenged that 1-point loss with a 1-point victory over Gateway in the semifinals only to fall to eventual State Champions Pine-Richland in the WPIAL final. However, they will need to replace a majority of their starting lineup after 16 seniors graduated. In a deep conference like this, having to replace nearly the entire starting core while remaining in playoff contention can be a difficult proposition.
WPIAL ELO Rank (5A): 11
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 17
The 2020 season was not kind to Bethel Park who not only saw their 19-year postseason streak end, but also went winless. The Black Hawks averaged just 7 points per game, the lowest mark in 5A and the 6th-lowest in the entire WPIAL. The good news is that a number of underclassmen saw significant playing time last season which leads to an experienced group returning for 2021. Leading rusher Troy Volpatti (506 yards, 3 TDs) figures to once again be the focal point of Bethel Park’s run-heavy offense. Quarterback Max Blanc (303 yards, 2 TDs) returns along with his top two receivers Jack Kircher (96 yards) and Aidan Currie (84 yards).