This is a big weekend of WPIAL football. Friday starts a two-day extravaganza with the semifinals in Classes 2A and 1A around the region, followed by the Championship Games at Heinz Field for 3A, 4A, 5A, and 6A on Saturday. The winners of Friday night’s games will face off next week at Joe Walton Stadium at Robert Morris University. A full preview of the 3A, 4A, 5A, and 6A Championships will be coming soon while this post covers the four semifinals going down in Classes 2A and 1A. The top four seeds in both classifications reached the semifinals and three of the four games are rematches of games played earlier this season. Seven of the eight teams reached this point with relative ease, with only Jeannette getting a strong challenge from Rochester in their quarterfinal. The Jayhawks needed a come-from-behind victory to overcome an 11-point deficit in the final 8 minutes of the game to get back to the semis.
Thanks to our WPIAL content sponsors TicketRoar, an online ticketing company that provides services for high schools so you can preorder your tickets and have them on your phone when you get to the gate. A few local schools are already on board and have seen a much more efficient process of getting fans through the gate and into the game. You can find them on Twitter @TicketRoar and on Facebook.
The new partnership between Trib Total Media and the MSA Sports Network debuted with the new website tribhssn.triblive.com. We are very happy for all of our friends at the (former) MSA Sports Network and are thrilled that high school sports will continue to be broadcast over the internet airwaves for years to come. Tonight they will be broadcasting all 4 playoff games and will also have broadcasts and video streams of all four games tomorrow.
This week’s WMBS Game of the Week features the top seed in 1A the California Trojans taking on Imani Christian. A full preview of that game can be found later in this post. You can tune in online here with a pregame show starting at 6:30 (with a brief appearance by yours truly!) and the WPIAL Scoreboard Show following the game at 10pm.
As a reminder, if you’re going to be following along with the WPIAL action tonight, keep an eye on the #WPIALhashtags on Twitter where people post score updates from games. I”ll also be posting score updates and commentary from my Twitter account @thesteelersnat.
1. Steel Valley (6-0, 10-0) vs 4. Riverside (6-1, 9-2)
at North Hills
This will be the fourth meeting between the Ironmen and Panthers in the last two seasons. They met in Week 1 in non-conference play both last year and this year and also met in the semifinals last year. Steel Valley is 3-0 in those meetings and won a sloppy penalty-laden game 48-28 earlier this season. The Ironmen are the only team in the WPIAL that has not lost during the 6-classification era and carry a 25-game winning streak into the semifinals as the defending WPIAL and PIAA Champions. Statistically, these are two of the top teams in 2A with Steel Valley ranking 2nd in offense (42 points per game) and 3rd in defense (15 points against per game) and Riverside ranking 4th in offense (36 points per game) and 2nd in defense (12 points against per game). Neither team has been challenged yet in the playoffs with Steel Valley rolling past Laurel and Burgettstown and Riverside dominating Frazier and Avonworth. Steel Valley is loaded with talent all over the field, starting with all-around star Trevon Adams who has 642 rushing yards, 536 receiving yards and scored 16 total TDs. The Ironmen’s power running attack has been led by Kameron Williams (1001 yards, 19 TDs) who has run for 342 yards and 6 TDs over the last two weeks. Ronnell Lawrence took over the quarterback position mid-season and has thrown for 691 yards and 10 TDs. On the outside, Adams and Amonte Strothers (412 yards, 10 TDs) have been the primary targets. This game will feature one of the best head-to-head matchups of Friday night as Strothers and Riverside’s Austin Dambach (both D1 recruits) will go head-to-head on both sides of the ball as WRs and CBs. Riverside has featured a balanced offensive attack with a strong two-pronged rushing attack making life easy for sophomore QB Ben Hughes. On the season, Hughes has thrown for 1576 yards and 21 TDs. Austin Dambach has been the leading receiver with 694 yards and has added 243 yards on the ground and scored 16 times. Second-leading receiver Kyle Marweg has 394 yards and 5 TDs. The Panthers rushing attack has been keyed by the combination of Noah Harris (973 yards, 15 TDs) and LeMarcus Cleckley (930 yards, 10 TDs). Riverside’s rushing attack has been dominant in the playoffs with Harris running for 229 yards and 5 TDs and Cleckley churning out 221 yards and 4 TDs. While Steel Valley is looking for a return trip to the WPIAL Championship, Riverside is in search of their first title game appearance since a three-year run from 1991-1993 where they lost in 3 straight championship games.
2. Washington (7-0, 11-0) vs 3. CWNC (7-0, 10-2)
Both teams have seen early-round playoff success in recent years but have come up short of reaching the WPIAL title game. Washington has made the semifinals in 3 of the last 4 years and CWNC has been to the semis in 5 of the last 6 seasons. However, Washington’s last trip to the title game was in 2012 and CWNC’s was in 2013. Washington dominated their regular season slate with a perfect record and boasts 2A’s top offense (45 points per game) and defense (8 points allowed per game). The Prexies have been stifling on defense this season and only 3 teams have scored in double-digits against them. Offensively, they boast a balanced attack led by QB Zack Swartz (1737 yards, 25 TDs) and RB Nick Welsh (1865 yards, 26 TDs). Miami (Ohio)-commit Isaiah Schoonmaker (688 yards, 11 TDs) has been the top target on the outside, followed by Daniel Walker (494 yards, 9 TDs). Second-leading rusher Dylan Asbury has run for 497 yards and 4 TDs and averaged 10 yards per carry. For Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic, the numbers do not tell the entire story. The Trojans are undefeated against 2A competition this year and two of their losses came against 3A teams. Against 2A opponents they have averaged just 16 points against per game which would be the 5th best mark in the classification. The Trojans have a dynamic passing attack led by sensational sophomore Zack Rocco (2186 yards, 29 TDs). He has spread the ball around to Ryan Maziarz (419 yards, 8 TDs), Tyree Brown (418 yards, 7 TDs), Nikhai Hill-Green (334 yards, 7 TDs), and Cameron Branch (306 yards, 4 TDs). Leading rusher Joe Meinert has run for 1225 yards and added 314 receiving yards and scored 15 times. Rocco is also the team’s second-leading rusher with 370 yards and 10 TDs on the ground. This is the only game on Friday night that is not a rematch of a game from earlier this season.
1. California (7-0, 12-0) vs 4. Imani Christian (6-1, 10-2)
at Peters Twp
California’s quest to become the first Tri-County South team to reach a WPIAL Championship since 1995. The Trojans are the seventh team from the Conference to reach the semifinals since then, but none have made it through. California’s last trip to the WPIAL Championship came in 1986. Imani Christian is making just their second playoff appearance in school history and this will be their first WPIAL semifinal. These two met in Week 3 with California running all over the Saints to the tune of a 41-26 victory. The Trojans ground game has been outstanding this year, led by Jelani Stafford’s 1580 yards and 28 TDs. Cochise Ryan has run for 714 yards and is also the team’s leading receiver with 204 yards and scored 13 times. QB Collin Phillips hasn’t had to throw much (437 yards and 7 TDs) but has run for 634 yards and 14 TDs. In addition to those three, Zion Aldrich (558 yards, 10 TDs), Jonathan Wood (489 yards, 11 TDs), and Austin Grillo (244 yards, 3 TDs) have all averaged over 10 yards per carry. While California wants to ground and pound, Imani Christian’s offense is centered around their passing game. QB Tawan Wesley has thrown for 2404 yards and 31 TDs. He has spread the ball around to Sam Fairley (1156 yards, 21 TDs), Rahmon Hart (748 yards, 9 TDs), and Ray Jackson (550 yards, 6 TDs). RB Asante Watkins has also been a big-play threat, rushing for 1084 yards and adding 298 receiving yards and scoring 20 total TDs. The Saints are loaded with skill position talent but in the first meeting it was California’s ground game that stole the show with Stafford rushing for 236 yards and getting touchdowns from Stafford, Ryan, Phillips and Aldrich.
2. Clairton (6-1, 9-2) vs 3. Jeannette (6-1, 11-1)
at Elizabeth Forward
Clairton-Jeannette VII. Since moving down to the WPIAL’s smallest classification in 2014, Jeannette is 43-1 against teams not named Clairton and 0-6 against the Bears. Clairton has had Jeannette’s number and beat them in the last two WPIAL Championship Games and earlier this season by a 40-6 mark to force a 3-way tie for the conference title that the Bears eventually won on tiebreakers. In that game, Tre’sean Howard stole the show for Clairton with 194 rushing yards, 92 receiving yards and scoring 3 times. Clairton’s defense, the second-best unit in 1A at 11 points per game, stifled Jeannette to just 76 yards of total offense in their first meeting and held star QB Robert Kennedy to just 1 completion and 2 interceptions. Things might be different this week, however, as Jeannette made a switch last week and brought in Seth Howard at QB and moved Kennedy to WR. The swap paid off and Howard sparked a comeback from 11 points down in the final 8 minutes, capping it off with a 29-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah Winters with under a minute left. It will be interesting to see how head coach Roy Hall organizes Jeannette’s offense this week. Robert Kennedy has been their star, throwing for 1244 yards and 23 TDs and rushing for 915 yards and 20 scores this season. His primary targets on the outside have been Marcus Barnes (446 yards, 9 TDS) and Tre Cunningham (292 yards, 5 TDs). RB Imani Sanders has run for 362 yards and added 216 receiving yards and scored 12 times. For Clairton, Tre’sean Howard has led the way in the playoffs, scoring 4 total TDs last week on runs of 21 and 47 yards, a 55-yard punt return, and a 95-yard kickoff return. On the season, Howard has rushed for 966 yards, added 448 receiving yards, and scored 23 total TDs. RB Aaron Thompson has been the second-leading rusher with 611 yards and 11 total TDs and returned a fumble for a score last week. Sophomore QB Brendan Parsons has been efficient this season, throwing for 1044 yards and 12 TDs, including a 175-yard 2-TD performance in the first round against Summit Academy. Will Clairton continue to have Jeannette’s number or will the Jayhawks break through and topple their rivals? Clairton is seeking their 4th straight WPIAL Championship Game appearance and 10th in the last 12 years while Jeannette is looking for their third straight title game appearance.