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 Tri-County South has been highly entertaining in the regular season but not produced many title contenders. In the last decade, only Frazier in 2015, California in 2017 and West Greene in 2019 made the semifinals. The last time a Tri-County South team played in a WPIAL Championship game was West Greene in 1993.
The Greyhounds program has come back from the ashes. They had been a playoff stalwart with 26 playoff appearances in 30 years between 1985 and 2014. But they have been up-and-down since the move to 6 classes, bottoming out with a winless season in 2020. Monessen has built themselves back up and finished in a 3-way tie for 2nd, nearly knocking off Fort Cherry in the playoffs. The Greyhounds return the cre of their offense from a team that averaged 37 points per game. Tyvaughn Kershaw (1363 yards, 20 TDs) led the way on the ground last year as a freshman. Second-leading rusher Daevon Burke (780 yards, 19 TDs) also returns for his senior year. Quarterback Daniel Dozier (634 passing yards, 10 TDs, 176 rushing yards, 3 TDs) is a rising junior. Leading receivers Tim Kershaw (420 yards, 7 TDs) and Rodney Johnson (220 yards, 4 TDs) also return. All in all, Monessen is still a young team that is poised to take the next step and challenge for the Tri-County South title.
The Trojans have been one of the most consistent teams in the TCS. They are the only squad in the conference to make the playoffs in all seven years of the six classification era. Last year’s team got off to a hot 4-0 start before dropping games to Monessen and Mapletown. But the Trojans rebounded to sweep through October and get back into the playoffs. Senior QB Jake Layhue is a dual-threat option who could challenge for the 1000/1000 club. Last year Layhue threw for 1224 yards and 14 TDs and ran for 943 yards and 13 TDs. His top receivers graduated which means that most of California’s offense will generate from their backfield this season. Spencer Petrucci (788 rushing yards, 162 receiving yards, 15 total TDs) is the top returning rusher (other than Layhue) and receiver. Zach Geleti (553 rushing yards, 136 receiving yards, 8 total TDs) also returns for his senior season. California is a run-heavy team so look for them to mix in more of junior Lee Qualk (225 yards, 3 TDs) who averaged 13 yards per carry last year.
Last year was a historic season for the Maples. They stormed through the regular season with a perfect 10-0 record, claiming their first conference title since 2005. Mapletown followed that up by winning their first playoff game in school history, defeating Leechburg 41-28. Landan Stevenson, who led the WPIAL in rushing, graduated, but there is plenty of talent to keep the Maples competitive this year. AJ Vanata (732 yards, 8 TDs) will take the helm in the backfield. Evan Griffin (225 rushing yards, 204 receiving yards, 5 total TDs) was a big-play maker, averaging 14 yards per touch. The Maples don’t throw much, but leading receiver Brock Evans (224 yards, 3 TDs) also returns.
The Mighty Mikes scored a big early-season victory over Fort Cherry in non-conference play, and also defeated Monessen in early October to force a 3-way tie for second place. They reached the playoffs for the second straight year after a 3-year drought. Most of their key offensive contributors have graduated and the Mikes will need to work in some new players. Junior WRs AJ Donaldson (231 yards, 2 TDs) and Brandon Yekel (210 yards, 2 TDs) are the top returning skill position players. Aydan Adamson is the top returning rusher after averaging 5 yards per carry in limited work. If the Mikes can work in new players at key offensive positions, they’ll be right in the mix for the playoffs once again.
The Pioneers stumbled out of the gate to an 0-4 start last season and never really recovered. Their only wins came over Bentworth and Jefferson-Morgan while their defense gave up a TCS-high 44 points per game. Senior RB Colin Brady (1897 yards, 25 TDs) was second in the WPIAL in rushing and will be the focal point of the offense. He will be joined in the backfield by fellow senior John Lampe (502 rushing yards, 192 receiving yards, 3 total TDs) who was also the team’s leading receiver. Junior QB Lane Allison (581 yards, 6 TDs) gets back both Lampe and junior WR Seth Burns (179 yards, 3 TDs) who were his primary targets. Health will be a big factor for West Greene’s small roster, but they certainly have the offensive talent to make a playoff push if they can tighten up on defense.
The Bulldogs moved down from 2A to 1A last season and returned to the Tri-County South where they had played before the split into six classifications. Back-to-back wins in early October over Bentworth and West Greene put them in position to challenge for a playoff spot, but the Bulldogs dropped their final two outings. Beth-Center likes to run the ball and had four players finish with over 100 rushing yards. Three of them return in junior Jonah Sussan (409 yards, 7 TDs), senior Ethan Varesko (258 yards, 9 TDs), and sophomore Teagan Veatch (189 yards, 3 TDs) who averaged a team-high 8 yards per carry.
The Bearcats started the season with back-to-back wins over Brownsville and Avella. Unfortunately, that was as good as it would get and they lost their final 8 outings. Bentworth allowed 42+ points in all but one of those losses, a 28-22 defeat by Jefferson-Morgan. Dual-threat QB Vitali Daniels returns for his senior year after throwing for 908 yards and 10 TDs and running for 570 yards and 9 TDs. Leading receiver Lucas Burt (441 yards, 4 TDs) was only a sophomore last season. Watch out for Benjamin Hayes who was the team’s second-leading rusher (359 yards), receiver (367 yards), and scorer (8 total TDs) as a freshman. If Bentworth can tighten up defensively, they have the young talent on offense to get out of the basement of the TCS.
The Rockets have not made the playoffs since 2012, which is tied for the 4th longest drought in the WPIAL. Things were looking up after a 4-2 start last season, but once the calendar flipped to October the Rockets lost 4 straight. Those 4 wins last year did match their total from the last two years combined. The Rockets were the lowest-scoring team in the conference last year, averaging under 20 points per game. Junior RB John Gilbert (581 yards, 2 TDs) and senior Collin Bisceglia (241 yards, 2 TDs) will lead the ground game. Leading receiver Houston Guessman (535 yards, 7 TDs) was only a sophomore last year. Jefferson-Morgan will need to work in a new quarterback to get him the ball and may lean more on their experience in the running game early in the season.