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. Pine-Richland breezed through the regular season and won the WPIAL and PIAA titles. However, the biggest story of the offseason also came from Pine-Richland as the school board fired the entire coaching staff. After the upheaval at Pine-Richland, a number of other teams in the conference who struggled last year but all have a core of returning starters will be out for their shot at the crown. 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.
WPIAL ELO Rank (5A): 1
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 1
The defending 5A State Champions are the biggest unknown in the WPIAL this season. After graduating a class of 30 seniors that included State Player of the Year Cole Spencer, the next generation seemed poised to step into their roles. However, a few months ago the entire program was thrown into disarray when the school board fired head coach Eric Kasperowicz. With an entirely new coaching staff at the helm, it will be interesting to see how the team comes together. That is not to say that the Rams are lacking in talent. Far from it, as the current group of seniors is stacked with talent. Jeremiah Hasley has committed to Duke as a linebacker but will also play on offense at wide receiver where he hauled in 294 yards and 1 TD last season. Up front, Jalen Klemm, the son of Steelers offensive line coach Adrian Klemm has a number of D1 offers. Cole Boyd attempted a handful of passes in the backup QB role last year. Brooks Eastburn (358 yards, 5 TDs) figures to take over the lead back role after averaging 9.2 yards per carry last season. On the outside, Alex Gochis (400 yards, 3 TDs) returns as another quality option in the passing game.
WPIAL ELO Rank (5A): 5
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 8
Penn Hills stumbled out of the gate in 2020, going 1-3 with a freshman quarterback, running back, and many other underclassmen starters. But the Indians found their footing in the second half of the season and won their last 3 games to make the playoffs for the fourth straight season. Their defense was strong, holding opponents under 20 points per game but they will need their offense to improve on their 16 points per game average this season. Those underclassmen built a strong foundation for this season. With QB Julian Dugger (826 yards, 6 TDs) and RB Amir Key (267 yards, 2 TDs) playing starting roles as freshmen, the stage is set for Penn Hills to have backfield stability for the foreseeable future. The Penn Hills tradition of having outstanding defensive backs/wide receivers continues as both Jaden Dugger (106 yards, 1 TD) and Raion Strader have multiple D1 offers.
WPIAL ELO Rank (5A): 15
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 29
After an 0-3 start to the 2020 season, the Foxes bounced back for wins over Shaler and Kiski that put them in position to challenge for a playoff spot. However, they dropped their final two games to Penn Hills and North Hills. In a rare occurrence in high school sports, Fox Chapel returns all of their offensive skill position starters from last season. Collin Deitz (660 yards, 7 TDs) split time at quarterback last year and returns for his senior season along with leading rushers Zidane Thomas (245 yards, 1 TD) and Maurice Sampson-Schulter (108 yards). Second-leading receiver Colin Kwiatkowski (285 yards, 3 TDs) also returns.
WPIAL ELO Rank (5A): 13
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 22
North Hills was once again a middle-of-the-pack squad in the Northeast Conference last season. Their hard-fought 14-7 loss to Penn Hills was all that kept them out of the playoffs. North Hills has made the playoffs in 7 of the last 10 years but have not won a playoff game since back-to-back trips to the semifinals in 2009 and 2010. WR/DB Robert Dickerson (347 receiving yards, 265 rushing yards, 4 total TDs) has an offer from Pitt and a number of FCS schools. Junior QB John Green attempted a few passes and threw 2 touchdowns as a backup last season and should take over the starting role. Chase Foskey figures to take over the lead back role in the Indians run-heavy offense after averaging 6.9 yards per carry last season.
WPIAL ELO Rank (5A): 16
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 31
After reaching the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, Kiski finished just 2-5 last year. They played a number of close games and were the second highest-scoring team in the conference. Kiski will rely on two-way lineman Brandon Lawhorn, who has offers from a number of MAC schools, to set the tone in the trenches. Rising senior Logan Johnson (510 yards, 6 TDs) and junior Lebryn Smith (337 yards, 4 TDs) both spent time at quarterback last year. Johnson proved to be a bit of a dual threat, adding over 200 yards and a score on the ground. Leading rushers Brock Wilkins (282 yards, 3 TDs) and James Pearson (208 yards) along with leading receiver Calvin Heinle (509 yards, 8 TDs) also return. Kiski has the talent offensively to contend for a playoff spot but will need to improve on a defense that allowed 36 points per game, the third most in 5A.
WPIAL ELO Rank (5A): 17
WPIAL ELO Rank (Overall): 33
Shaler went winless last season, the 6th time in the last decade the Titans failed to win a game. They will need to improve on both sides of the ball this season after finishing next-to-last in 5A both offense (13 points per game) and defense (46 points allowed per game). Two-way lineman Logan Bernesser has an offer from UConn. Underclassmen Dominic Ross (361 yards, 4 TDs) and Keegan Smetanka (201 yards, 2 TDs) both played quarterback last season. Leading rusher Josh Miller (235 yards, 1 TD) and leading receiver Dylan Schlagel (155 yards, 3 TDs) will both return for their senior seasons.