The 2023 WPIAL football season is nearly upon us! Over the next few weeks we will be previewing all 17 conferences in preparation for kickoff on August 25. We are also thrilled to announce that the WPIAL Blitz Show will be back on the YouTube airwaves this season. Subscribe to the Sports Stream Premium channel with new shows dropping each Tuesday during the season!
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With four conferences in 1A, the playoff format is simple. The top four teams from each conference qualify for the postseason. Traditionally, the Eastern Conference had been one of the strongest in the classification. Clairton and Jeannette had combined to win 6 of the last 9 WPIAL Championship. In fact, when Bishop Canevin won the 2020 title, they also played in the Eastern Conference that season. But last year was a down year for the league. Conference champion GCC was the only team to get a home playoff game as second-place Clairton was seeded 9th. However, GCC was upset by Rochester in the opening round and Clairton was the only Eastern Conference team to win a playoff game.
The Bears were the only Eastern Conference team to win a playoff game last season. They defeated OLSH, who they have faced in the playoffs in five straight seasons. Clairton was a young team that took their lumps early but got better as the season went on. Michael Wright figures to step in at QB after seeing some backup duty last season. Wright threw for a touchdown and ran for 131 yards and 4 scores. He will be joined in the backfield by junior Drahcir Jones (535 yards, 6 TDs) and sophomore Donte Wright (455 yards, 8 TDs). Both Michael Wright and Drahcir Jones averaged over 8 yards per carry last season and could make for a dynamic backfield duo. Leading receiver Michael Ruffin was only a freshman but flashed big play ability, putting up 334 receiving yards, 227 rushing yards (averaging 10 yards per carry!) and scoring 4 times. All in all, Clairton is loaded with young athletes all over the field who are poised to take the next step and contend for both a conference and WPIAL title.
The Centurions claimed the conference title last season but were upset by Rochester in the opening round of the playoffs. GCC got off to a 2-2 record in non-conference play before storming through the Eastern Conference. Their closest conference game was a 16-point win over Clairton. QB Tyree Turner (1601 yards, 21 TDs) returns for his senior season. Turner is also the team’s top returning rusher (198 yards) after the top four either graduated or transferred. He does return leading receiver Samir Crosby (473 yards, 15 TDs). GCC had an explosive offense last year, averaging 43 points per game. With Turner and Crosby returning, GCC should have plenty of firepower once again to challenge for the conference title.
The Blue Devils were the highest-scoring team in 1A last season. They graduated just 5 players, but those five were among the most impactful on the roster. They do return junior QB Jayden Floyd (1360 yards, 17 TDs). The top three receivers all graduated, so Leechburg will need to work in some skill position players on the outside. Second-leading rusher Brandin Gilmer (398 yards, 3 TDs) figures to take on the leading role in the backfield after averaging 12 yards per carry. Floyd also has some running ability after putting up 265 yards and 6 TDs. Tim Andrasy (164 yards, 4 TDs) saw some work as a freshman last year and should see his role increase. Leechburg has made the playoffs in consecutive seasons after a 32-year drought that spanned from 1988 until 2021.
The Jayhawks have had a roller coaster ride the last few seasons. In 2020 they won the WPIAL Championship but saw a slew of graduations and transfers decimate the team. After a 1-win 2021 campaign they tripled that total and made the playoffs last year. Jeannette will look to build on that playoff appearance as their program revitalization continues. Dual-threat QB Payton Molter (1048 passing yards, 12 TDs, 409 rushing yards, 10 TDs) returns for his senior season at the helm of the offense. Michael Mason is the top returning skill position player after posting 171 receiving yards, 138 rushing yards and 3 TDs.
The Raiders won 4 games last season, which was the most they had won in a year since 2015. In fact, those 4 wins were more than they had in the prior three seasons combined. Now they will look to take the next step and earn their first playoff appearance since 2016. Rocco Cecere (600 yards, 2 TDs) returns at quarterback in Riverview’s option offense. Leading rushers Carlo Buzzatto (1021 yards, 10 TDs) and Landon Johnson (764 yards, 8 TDs) are both rising seniors. Most of the Raiders offense came out of their backfield last season. Leading receiver Rio Stotts (239 receiving yards) also ran for 446 rushing yards and scored 6 times. The top three rushers for Riverview all averaged over 7 yards per carry, a testament to the quality of the Raiders offensive line. If Riverview is going to contend for a playoff spot this season, they will need to improve a defense that allowed nearly 30 points per game last year.
After reaching the quarterfinals in two straight seasons, the Dynamos struggled through a winless campaign last year. Springdale averaged just 8 points per game while giving up over 47 per game, the second-most points allowed by a 1A squad. The good news is that last year’s team had just 3 seniors so a lot of underclassmen saw significant playing time. This is a special year for Springdale as they are celebrating the 50th anniversary of their 1973 WPIAL Championship team and the 20th anniversary of the title-winning 2003 team.
The Commodores moved down from 2A to 1A and their only victory came against winless Springdale. Despite that 25-12 win, Frazier finished as the lowest-scoring team in the conference. Leading rusher Derek Diamond (360 yards) was only a freshman. Brennen Stewart (378 yards, 3 TDs) returns at quarterback. Two of his top three receivers – Austin Wilson (143 yards, 2 TDs) and Andrew Bandish (125 yards, 3 TDs) both return. Frazier has not made the playoffs since 2017 and will need to improve on both sides of the ball in order to end that postseason drought.