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2022 WPIAL Semifinals Preview

Preview of WPIAL Semifinals in 4A, 3A, 2A & 1A

by Ian

The penultimate weekend of the 2022 WPIAL playoffs is here. On Friday night the semifinals will take place in 4A, 3A, 2A, and 1A and the winners will move on to Championship Saturday at Heinz Field Acrisure Stadium on November 26. In 5A and 6A, because they enter the state playoff bracket a round earlier, they play their Championship Games this Saturday at Norwin High School. In addition to the WPIAL action this weekend, City League Champions Westinghouse will be playing their PIAA playoff game against Central Clarion (which is a co-op team formed by the union of Clarion, Clarion-Limestone, and Northern Clarion). The Westinghouse-Central Clarion game will be on Friday at 7pm at Cupples Stadium with the winner taking on the winner of the 2A District 10 Championship between former WPIAL member Farrell and Sharpsville.

Last weekend’s quarterfinal action saw some historic storylines come to an end (such as Mapletown’s run which included their first playoff win ever) but other Cinderella stories continue (such as Union and Rochester). The quarterfinal round saw the first weekend where weather played a significant factor as the remnants of Hurricane Nicole doused the region Friday night. The only classification where the top four seeds all reached the semifinals was in 2A. In 4A the top three seeds along with 5th-seeded McKeesport all made the semis and in 3A Shady Side Academy’s upset of #3 Elizabeth Forward was the only one to breakup the chalk. The bracket of chaos has been 1A where only one of the top four seeds (top-ranked Bishop Canevin) reached the semifinals this weekend.

Check out this week’s edition of the WPIAL Blitz Show for a breakdown of all the results from last week as well as a preview of this week’s games. Also, be sure to follow our WPIAL Twitter account @WPIAL_Blitz and check out our WPIAL Blitz Facebook Page.

This year, our WPIAL coverage is proudly presented by Sports Solutions Marketing. The Sports Solutions network provides pay per view hosting and broadcasting for high school sporting events. More information is available via EasternPAFootball.com.

4A Semifinals

1. Aliquippa vs 5. McKeesport

at Canon-McMillan

For the second straight year, Aliquippa and McKeesport meet in the semifinals. Last year’s game was a showdown of epic proportions, culminating with an Aliquippa victory in double overtime. That win propelled the Quips on to the state title. For Aliquippa, this is their 16th straight WPIAL semifinal and they are looking to reach the title game for an incredible 15th consecutive season. McKeesport has not been to the WPIAL finals since 2016 when they lost in overtime to West Allegheny. This game will be an all-out war in the trenches between two of the best lines in the WPIAL. Aliquippa’s Trench Dawgs have been dominant all season, clearing the way for Tiqwai Hayes (1468 yards, 25 TDs) and Jon Tracy (465 yards, 8 TDs). When the Quips do take to the air, Quentin Goode (1586 yards, 17 TDs) has produced big plays with his arm. The WR/DB tandem of Donovan Walker (521 yards, 4 TDs) and Brandon Banks (370 yards, 6 TDs) are threats to score any time they touch the ball – on either offense or defense. McKeesport’s triple-option offense has produced two 1000-yard rushers and the top five guys have all averaged over 7 yards per carry. Quarterback Jahmil Perryman (1417 rushing yards, 22 TDs, 419 passing yards, 5 TDs) leads the way. Perryman has been dominant this postseason with 7 total TDs over the Tigers two games. Bobbie Boyd (1153 yards, 14 total TDs) was hampered by a midseason injury but has returned to form, returning a punt for a score last week. Larry Gibson (515 yards, 8 TDs) and Anthony Boyd (249 yards, 2 TDs) have also been the benefactors of the plethora of opportunities in McKeesport’s rushing attack.

2. Central Valley vs 3. Thomas Jefferson

at North Allegheny

This will be the 4th playoff meeting in 13 seasons between Central Valley and Thomas Jefferson. The Warriors are the three-time defending WPIAL 3A Champions and two-time defending State Champions who moved up to 4A this season. The Jaguars won the 2019 and 2020 WPIAL and PIAA titles in 4A. Before they were separated by the move to six classifications, the two schools met 3 times in 6 years between 2010 and 2015 in the AAA playoffs. For both teams, success this year has started in the trenches. Central Valley’s top three rushers all average over 9 yards per carry. Bret FitzSimmons (1605 yards, 30 TDs) leads the way, complemented by Brandon Singleton (417 yards, 4 TDs). Central Valley hasn’t had to throw much this season, but when they do Antwon Johnson has been outstanding, putting up 1174 yards and 14 TDs. Leading receiver Jayvin Thompson (582 yards, 15 total TDs) is also a standout defensive back who has made noise in all three phases of the game. Deniro Simpson has been an all-around playmaker with 244 rushing yards, 169 receiving yards, and 3 total TDs. Thomas Jefferson’s offense has evolved to rely on their passing game and QB Brody Evans (1910 yards, 19 TDs). Evans has been able to spread the ball around between Sean Sullivan (880 yards, 11 TDs), Ryan Lawry (371 yards, 3 TDs), Jordan Mayer (252 yards, 4 TDs), and Jason Salman (225 yards, 1 TD). Mayer is a Wisconsin-commit as a defensive end who dominated the Jaguars game against McKeesport, scoring on a fumble recovery in the second half. Last week when they needed to rely on their running game, it came through. Elias Lippincott (863 yards, 10 TDs) and Aidan Whalen (551 yards, 9 TDs) both put up over 100 yards and found the end zone in the quarterfinal against Latrobe.

3A Semifinals

1. Belle Vernon vs 4. Freeport

at Gateway

These are two schools that have benefitted this season from Realignment. Belle Vernon moved down from 4A to 3A and has absolutely dominated the competition at this level. Freeport had played second-fiddle to North Catholic for years in the Allegheny Conference but with the Trojans moving up, the Yellow Jackets captured the conference title and have reached their first semifinal since 2015. For Belle Vernon, this is their 5th straight semifinals and they were the WPIAL runners-up in two of the last three seasons. Belle Vernon’s offense runs through RB Quinton Martin who is one of the top juniors in the state. Martin leads the Leopards in rushing (994 yards), receptions (18 for 273 yards), and scoring (24 total TDs). He has been complemented in the ground game by fellow junior Jake Gedekoh (495 yards, 14 TDs). Belle Vernon’s line has been so good at opening holes this year that Martin, Gedekoh, and Anthony Crews (180 yards, 2 TDs) are all averaging over 8 yards per carry. When they do take to the air, Braden Laux (762 yards, 8 TDs) generally targets either Martin or Chase Ruokonen (295 yards, 3 TDs).  Similarly on the other side, Ben Lane is the catalyst for Freeport’s offense, leading the team in rushing (1075 yards), receptions (21 for 168 yards), and leads the Jackets in scoring (23 total TDs). Lane is coming off a 4 TD performance in the quarterfinal win over West Mifflin. Complementing Lane in the backfield are Zach Clark (489 yards, 9 TDs) and dual-threat QB Gavin Croney (1001 passing yards, 11 TDs, 350 rushing yards, 7 TDs). Other than Lane, the Yellow Jackets receiving corps is made up of a pair of Brady’s – Brady Stivenson (422 yards, 3 TDs) and Brady Sullivan (200 yards, 3 TDs).

2. Avonworth vs 6. Shady Side Academy

at Fox Chapel

Historically these schools have some familiarity and are both growing programs. Avonworth moved up from 2A to 3A in 2020 and Shady Side made the same move this season. Both teams have been outstanding on the defensive side of the ball. Avonworth has held opponents to just 10 points per game en route to a Western Hills Conference title and their 3rd semifinal appearance in four years. For Shady Side Academy, this is a historic run of success as they are in the semifinals for the first time since 2008 and are looking to reach the WPIAL title game for the first time since 1998.  Avonworth has been a dominant defensive team all season but also have some outstanding playmakers on offense. Quarterback Nate Harper (1381 yards, 18 TDs) leads the way for a Lopes passing attack that has five players with at least 10 catches and 140 yards. Peyton Faulkner (397 yards, 6 TDs), Andrew Kuban (338 yards, 5 TDs), and Austin Johncour (249 yards, 3 TDs) lead the receiving corps. On the ground, Luke Hilyard (1185 yards, 15 TDs) has been the go-to back with Brandon Biagiarelli (453 rushing yards, 153 receiving yards, 10 total TDs) playing a complementary role. Both Hilyard and Biagiarelli ran for over 100 yards and found the end zone in the quarterfinals against Beaver. Shady Side’s offense is built around their ground game. Joey Bellinotti (13 total TDs) and Darrin Haynes (6 total TDs) lead the way. Bellinotti scored four times in the opening round victory over South Park and once last week in the win over Elizabeth Forward. The Bulldogs have overcome a season-ending injury to QB Max Wickland with Darrin Haynes stepping in and Eddie DeBruce throwing a touchdown pass last week.

2A Semifinals

1. Steel Valley vs 4. Neshannock

at Montour

This game is a rematch of the 2016 WPIAL Championship which the “Mercy Boys” Steel Valley team won en route to their first State Title. For Neshannock, that was their only trip to a WPIAL Championship Game in school history. Steel Valley has been one of the most dominant teams in 2A since the move to 6 classifications, making their 5th semifinal appearance in 7 years. This game features two offenses that revolve around dual-threat quarterbacks. Steel Valley is led by Miami (Ohio)-commit Cruce Brookins (625 passing yards, 6 TDs, 1381 rushing yards, 29 TDs) who ran for 332 yards ad 6 TDs against McGuffey last week. The Ironmen line, led by Greg Smith, has been so dominant that the top 5 rushers all average over 10 yards per carry. In addition to Brookins, Quaron Pierce (635 yards, 3 TDs), Donald Barksdale (614 yards, 12 TDs), Jesean Wright (353 rushing yards, 174 receiving yards, 6 total TDs), and Da’ron Barksdale (293 yards, 5 TDs) are all outstanding runners. For Neshannock, QB Jonny Huff who has thrown for 1099 yards and 10 TDs and run for 1826 yards and 22 TDs. Complementing Huff in the backfield is Matt Ionilli (637 yards, 17 TDs) who has 5 TDs through two playoff games, and Jackson Billyk (462 yards, 6 TDs) who has scored 3 postseason TDs. When the Lancers do take to the air, Luciano DeLillo (546 yards, 5 TDs) has been Huff’s top target.

2. Beaver Falls vs 3. Sto-Rox

at Ambridge

The Tigers and Vikings meet for the second time in three seasons in the WPIAL playoffs. In 2020, they faced off in the WPIAL Championship with Beaver Falls’ running game stealing the show. The Tigers ran out to a 28-0 halftime lead and enacted the mercy rule at 36-0 shortly after the break. But Sto-Rox battled back with the running clock and eventually closed the gap to a 43-30 deficit by the final whistle. Interestingly, both quarterbacks in this game faced off as sophomores in that WPIAL Championship two years ago and now are the top two passers in 2A. Sto-Rox QB Josh Jenkins (2272 yards, 30 TDs) leads the classification with Beaver Falls’ Jaren Brickner (1620 passing yards, 13 TDs, 653 rushing yards, 14 TDs) not far behind. While Sto-Rox has a dynamic receiving corps with multiple threats, Beaver Falls’ passing attack has relied heavily on Trey Singleton (996 receiving yards, 296 rushing yards, 16 total TDs. Singleton is also one of six Tigers with at least 230 rushing yards on the season. Brickner leads the ground game with Brixx Rawl (467 yards, 5 TDs), Drey Hall (371 yards, 6 TDs), Singleton, Datalian Beauford (268 yards, 4 TDs), and Michael Blackshear (239 yards, 2 TDs) all contributing. While the Tigers have a slew of runners, the Vikings have a plethora of playmakers at receiver. All of them are speedsters capable of scoring any time they touch the ball and Sto-Rox has used all of them as receivers, rushers, and in the return game. Drevon Miller-Ross (612 receiving yards, 199 rushing yards, 12 total TDs) is the leading receiver with Jaymont Green-Miller (581 receiving yards, 11 TDs), and Zay Davis (548 receiving yards, 211 rushing yards, 8 total TDs) also seeing significant targets. While Sto-Rox is a pass-first offense, Amere Hibbler (681 rushing yards, 163 receiving yards, 13 total TDs) has been effective in the ground game and is coming off a 3 TD performance against Keystone Oaks.

1A Semifinals

1. Bishop Canevin vs 5. South Side Beaver

at Peters Twp

Bishop Canevin is the defending WPIAL 1A Champions and rolled through the regular season as they vie for a repeat title. South Side moved down from 2A to 1A this season and had a successful year with their only setback coming against conference champions Laurel. The Crusaders have used both Kole Olszewski (1314 yards, 16 TDs) and Jason Cross at quarterback. Cross, who has D1 offers as a safety, has been impactful all over the field with 1015 passing yards (and 14 TDs), 215 rushing yards, 174 receiving yards, and 11 total TDs. Last year’s 1A Player of the Year Xavier Nelson (1086 yards, 19 total TDs) leads the receiving corps and is a threat to score any time he touches the ball on offense, defense, or special teams. Jayden Lindsey (339 yards, 4 TDs) and Lasae Lacks (254 yards, 2 TDs) have also contributed to the receiving corps. Leading rusher Marquis Carter (1463 yards, 10 TDs) is an explosive back, capable of taking it to the house any time he finds a gap. Carter ran for 250 yards in the quarterfinals against Clairton. South Side’s run-heavy offense revolves around dual-threat QB Brody Almashy (976 passing yards, 11 TDs, 547 rushing yards, 13 TDs). Complementing Almashy in the backfield are Ryan Navarra (744 yards, 14 TDs) and Alex Arrigo (469 yards, 6 TDs). Leading receiver Parker Statler (455 receiving yards) has also been a factor in the ground game (501 rushing yards) and scored 11 times. Last week in the runaway win over Mapletown, Navarra was the star – running for 135 yards and 3 TDs and returning a blocked punt for a fourth touchdown.

10.  Union vs 14. Rochester

at Freedom

These conference foes met in a 6-0 defensive struggle earlier this season where Union prevailed. Now they meet again with a trip to the WPIAL finals on the line. This is a historic run for the Union Scotties who are in the semifinals for the first time since 1979 and have not been to a WPIAL final since 1973. Rochester, on the other hand, is making their 5th semifinal appearance in 7 years and has played in 13 WPIAL finals all-time, most recently in 2018. Union has relied heavily on dual-threat QB Braylon Thomas who has thrown for 4 TDs and run for 8. Mike Gunn has also scored 7 times for the Scotties and was on the receiving end of a touchdown pass from Thomas last week. Union’s defense has been sound all season and the Scotties are battle-tested, having played a number of close games this year. Rochester’s run-heavy offense has centered on the tandem of Antonio Laure (1234 rushing yards, 260 receiving yards, 24 total TDs) and Jerome Mullins (396 rushing yards, 482 receiving yards, 13 total TDs). Laure led the way in the Rams quarterfinal victory over Fort Cherry, accounting for 187 yards and 4 TDs on the ground. Jayden Norman (430 yards, 2 TDs) stepped in at quarterback after a mid-season injury to starter Parker Lyons.

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