The WPIAL playoffs kicked off last week. For the most part, the games were dominated by the top seeds and home teams. This week, four of the six classifications (6A, 4A, 3A, 1A) move into the semifinals. Heinz Field and the WPIAL Championships await next weekend for tonight’s winners in those classifications. In 5A and 2A where 16 teams made the playoffs, tonight’s games are the quarterfinals and there are still two weeks until their Championships. All of tonight’s games start at 7:30pm and are at neutral sites, except in 6A where the two teams which received first round byes get home playoff games.
Thanks to the fine folks at Taps n’at in Derry, who are sponsoring all of our WPIAL content this year. At the end of the night, check back for a post with all of the scores and the Championship matchups (in 6A, 4A, 3A, and 1A) and semifinal games (in 5A and 2A) for next weekend. As a reminder, if you’re going to be following along with the WPIAL action tonight, keep an eye on the #WPIAL hashtag on Twitter where people post score updates from games. I”ll also be posting score updates and commentary from my Twitter account @thesteelersnat.
1. North Allegheny (10-0) vs 5. Seneca Valley (8-3)
(at North Allegheny)
Two years ago, these two schools met in the WPIAL semifinals where North Allegheny was the heavy favorites. Seneca Valley scored a go-ahead touchdown with 1:21 to play but North Allegheny drove back down the field and scored with no time left on the clock to make it 28-27. Shockingly, Seneca Valley blocked the extra point to prevent overtime and send the Raiders to the Championship Game in Heinz Field. Including that game, Seneca Valley has beaten North Allegheny just twice in the last 17 years, and lost a 10-6 defensive struggle earlier this season. This is the third straight semifinals appearance for North Allegheny, who is looking to get back to Heinz Field for the first time since the
Ross Morgan Rager Tigers won 3 straight WPIAL titles from 2010-2012. North Allegheny won the 6A regular season title which earned them a first round bye. Last week, Seneca Valley beat Central Catholic 15-14, the first time the Vikings had a first round playoff exit since 1997.
North Allegheny has rolled to an unbeaten record on the strength of their rushing attack snd defense. It all starts in the trenches for the Tigers where they have two D1 recruits in Nebraska-commit Jake Lugg and Elijah Boyd who has a few FCS offers. Ben Maenza (1035 yards, 17 TDs) and Percise Colon (343 yards, 10 TDs) lead the rushing attack. On defense, they have a solid linebacking corps anchored by BYU-commit Cade Hoke (son of former Steeler Chris Hoke) and a stellar secondary led by Penn State-commit Joey Porter Jr (son of you-know-who) and Corey Melzer. North Allegheny does not take to the air often, and QB Ben Petschke (552 yards, 7 TDs) took over as the starter mid-season. Luke Colella (202 yards, 3 TDs) is the top receiver while Melzer (156 yards, 1 TD) and Porter (141 yards, 3 TDs) will play receiver as well. Seneca Valley’s defensive unit is also anchored by a D1 talent in linebacker Jake Stebbins, a Cornell-commit. Offensively the Raiders have a balanced attack with dual-threat QB Gabe Lawson throwing for 1009 yards and 10 TDs and rushing for 321 yards and 7 TDs. In addition to Lawson, their ground game is built around Matt Stanger (506 yards, 5 TDs) and Jake Mineweaser (328 yards, 3 TDs). Lawson’s favorite receivers have been Josh McLean (523 yards, 7 TDs), Stebbins (352 yards, 2 TDs), and Luke Smith (241 yards, 4 TDs).
2. Pine-Richland (8-2) vs 3. Mt. Lebanon (6-5)
Pine-Richland is the defending 6A State Champions and has defeated Mt. Lebanon in 4 straight seasons. In 2015 the Rams topped Mt. Lebanon in the AAAA quarterfinals then beat them each of the last two years during the regular season. The teams met earlier this year with Pine-Richland coming out on top 42-24. The loss to the Rams in Week 7 was Mt. Lebanon’s 4th in a 5-game stretch. The Blue Devils turned things around after that, defeating Norwin to clinch a playoff spot then beating Central Catholic to vault to the #3 seed. In the first round they overcame a halftime deficit to defeat Canon-McMillan 38-31 and earn their first trip to the semifinals since 2005. By virtue of finishing second in 6A, Pine-Richland had a first round bye.
Mt. Lebanon comes in with 6A’s leading passer Seth Morgan (2098 yards, 15 TDs). In the Blue Devils quarterfinal win over Canon-Mac, Morgan threw for 259 yards and 2 TDs and ran for 71 yards and another score. On the season Morgan has also led the Blue Devils in rushing (551 yards, 7 TDs). Morgan has been able to spread the ball around for Lucas Decaro (716 yards, 5 TDs), Mason Ventrone (339 yards, 3 TDs), Sam Lasota (328 yards, 3 TDs), and Tim Walters (227 yards, 3 TDs). Drew Vaughn has joined Morgan in the backfield and run for 393 yards and 6 TDs. Pine-Richland also has a dual-threat QB in Cole Spencer (1080 passing yards, 8 TDs, 536 rushing yards, 10 TDs). However, the Rams offense is built more around their rushing attack, led by Luke Meckler (1014 yards, 16 TDs), Spencer, and Caden Schweiger (325 yards, 2 TDs). Like Mt. Lebanon, the Rams have a number of receivers that can do damage. Spencer has spread the ball around to Eli Jochem (257 yards, 1 TD), Luke Miller (247 yards, 1 TD), Shane Cafardi (215 yards, 1 TD), and Meckler has added 247 receiving yards. Meckler was the star of the first meeting between these teams, rushing for 106 yards and 3 TDs.
1. Gateway (11-0) vs 9. Franklin Regional (7-3)
These two schools are located just 6 miles apart but have to travel to a school that is 10 miles south of both of their campuses in order to play this quarterfinal game. Gateway is the defending 5A WPIAL champions and rolled through the regular season, including a 63-3 victory over Franklin Regional in Week 6. This will be the second playoff meeting between the two teams with Gateway winning the only prior matchup in the 2002 quarterfinals. The Gators come in with the top offense (51 points per game) and top defense (4.5 points against per game) in 5A. Both teams breezed through their first round matchups with ease. Gateway topped Kiski 63-7 and Franklin Regional dominated Bethel Park 56-28. Franklin Regional is looking for their first semifinal appearance since 2015.
Gateway stormed through the season thanks to a slew of talented players all over the field. At quarterback, Brendan Majocha has taken over the reins this year and thrown for 2003 yards and 30 TDs and rushed for 741 yards and 8 scores. The Gators ground attack has been led by sophomore sensation Derrick Davis (1154 rushing yards, 284 receiving yards, 21 total TDs). Gateway also has two D1 recruits that play cornerback and wide receiver in Syracuse-commit Courtney Jackson (835 yards, 17 TDs) and Miami (OH)-commit Jeremiah Josephs (198 yards, 6 TDs). Franklin Regional comes in with a dual-threat QB of their own in Adam Rudzinski (1428 pass yards, 19 TDs, 385 rush yards, 6 TDs). Last week, Rudzinski threw for 3 TDs and ran for 2 more in the Panthers onslaught of Bethel Park. His favorite targets have been Mike Evans (751 yards, 9 TDs – including 3 last week), Nick Leopold (333 yards, 8 TDs), and Devon Powell (288 yards, 6 TDs). On the ground the Panthers have found balance with Zac Gordon (536 yards, 6 TDs) and Brandon Zanotto (331 yards, 3 TDs) complementing Rudzinski. Gateway’s secondary played a key role in shutting down Franklin Regional in the first meeting, intercepting Rudzinski 3 times.
5. West Allegheny (8-2) vs 13. Woodland Hills (5-6)
(at North Hills)
Another rematch of conference opponents, this time from the Allegheny Eight Conference. West Allegheny head coach Bob Palko will retire after this season and is looking to make a final run to add to his record total of WPIAL Championships. On the other side, Woodland Hills rebounded from an 0-4 start to the season to win 5 of their last 7 games, including a 14-0 upset of 4th-seeded Mars in the first round. In that game, Woody High’s defense was able to stifle Mars’ offense and shut down 5A’s leading rusher Garrett Reinke. West Allegheny breezed past Shaler, who was making their first playoff appearance since 2011, by a 37-0 margin. West Allegheny eked out a 1-point victory (14-13) when these two teams met in Week 5 and is 4-0 against Woody High since 2016 (including a 2016 semifinals victory).
West Allegheny has a balanced offense attack, led by QB Kam Kruze (1009 pass yards, 10 TDs, 275 rush yards, 7 TDs). The Flati brothers have been a solid tandem in the backfield to complement Kruze with Dante running for 788 yards and 10 TDs and Nico running for 235 yards and 1 TD. On the outside, Kruze has spread the ball around to Drevon Baldwin (263 yards, 5 TDs), Kyle Guilfoil (241 yards, 2 TDs), and Mateo Vandamia (208 yards, 4 TDs). Vandamia is a two-way TE/DE with D1 offers from FCS schools. Woodland Hills has relied heavily on their ground game this season and have a solid backfield tandem of Anthony Merideth (857 yards, 5 TDs) and William Clark (845 yards, 7 TDs). In the first round against Mars both backs topped 100 yards. When the Wolverines have taken to the air, Gavin Judson (836 yards, 10 TDs) has been effective. Woody High’s top receivers have been Jay Smith (353 yards, 3 TDs), Jayden Lucas (166 yards, 2 TDs), and Toledo-commit Mike Coleman (144 yards, 2 TDs). These are the only remaining 5A teams that average fewer than 30 points per game, so expect a close, low-scoring affair.
2. Penn Hills (11-0) vs 7. McKeesport (9-2)
(at Fox Chapel)
Penn Hills was the only team from the Northern Conference to advance past the first round, but did so in convincing fashion with a 55-7 victory over Latrobe. McKeesport scored a touchdown with just over a minute to play to top Upper St Clair in a defensive struggle 13-7. Surprisingly, despite these teams playing in Quad-A for a number of years, they have never met before in the playoffs. On paper, they are statistically similar with offenses averaging around 40 points per game and defenses holding teams to fewer than 2 touchdowns per game. McKeesport’s losses came against Gateway and Penn-Trafford while Penn Hills topped all but one WPIAL opponent by at least 20 points. Both schools reached the semifinals last year with Penn Hills achieving the feat in 6A and McKeesport in 5A.
While the numbers are similar between the teams, their styles of play are dramatically different. Penn Hills comes in with 5A’s leading passer Hollis Mathis (2139 passing yards, 29 TDs, 611 rush yards, 6 TDs). Mathis, a Howard-commit, is arguably the top quarterback in the state and has a plethora of talented receivers to target. Daequan Hardy (610 yards, 17 TDs) and Kent State-commit Dante Cephas (451 yards, 7 TDs) lead the way. Anthony Grimes (392 yards, 5 TDs), Cory Thomas (198 yards, 4 TDs), and Richard Martin (190 yards, 3 TDs) have also been factors. On the ground, Howard-commit Tank Smith (1145 yards, 16 TDs) has been an absolute force, rushing for over 100 yards and 2 TDs in his first 2 carries last week. The Indians also have the best secondary in the WPIAL, anchored by Hardy (a D1 recruit with offers from Big Ten schools), Cephas, Thomas, and Aakeem Snell. On the other side, McKeesport’s wishbone triple-option offense has been keyed by QB Konota Gaskins. Gaskins has run for 595 yards and 12 TDs and thrown for 701 yards and 12 more TDs and has scholarship offers from some FCS schools. The Tigers have used a running back by committee approach around Gaskins with Devin Sims (518 yards, 12 TDs), Quaran Sayles (491 yards, 5 TDs), and Devari Robinson (443 yards, 9 TDs) all getting in on the action. When Gaskins does throw, Deamontae Diggs (424 yards, 4 TDs) has been his top target.
3. Peters Twp (9-2) vs 6. Penn-Trafford (9-2)
(at West Mifflin)
It has been the best season in recent memory for Peters Township as they won their first conference title since the 1970s and won their first playoff game since 2003. The Indians blew out Armstrong in the first round 35-7. Both of these teams lost inter-classification games against 6A opponents. Penn-Trafford rebounded from an 0-2 start which included a loss to Gateway and is on a 9-game winning streak. The Warriors topped North Hills 42-7 in the first round. Penn-Trafford has reached the WPIAL Championship game in their last 2 playoff appearances and has made at least the semi-finals in their last 4 playoff trips. On the other side, Peters Twp is looking for their first semifinal appearance since 1976.
These are two balanced offensive attacks and teams that play solid defense, which should make for a good semifinal showdown. Peters Twp has been led by QB Logan Pfeuffer (1748 yards, 20 TDs) and 5A’s second-leading receiver Josh Casilli (794 yards, 13 TDs). Jackson McCloskey (352 yards, 6 TDs) and Corban Hondru (256 yards, 1 TD) have also been factors in the passing game. The Indians ground attack is built around the tandem of Ryan Magiske (949 yards, 19 TDs) and Adrian Williams (404 yards, 2 TDs). Magiske led the way in the first round, running for 100 yards and 2 TDs. Penn-Trafford also has a strong rushing attack with the tandem of Caleb Lisbon (1145 yards, 16 TDs) and QB Gabe Dunlap (788 yards, 10 TDs). In the first round the Warriors ran all over North Hills with Lisbon going for 180 yards and 3 TDs. Dunlap, who has thrown for 1202 yards and 14 TDs on the season, threw for 100 yards and ran for 90 yards and 2 more TDs against North Hills. Dunlap’s favorite targets have been Dimitri George (670 yards, 9 TDs) and Noah Allen (203 yards, 4 TDs).
1. Thomas Jefferson (10-0) vs 4. Blackhawk (10-1)
(at Peters Twp)
Thomas Jefferson is the 3-time defending WPIAL Champions and is seeking to become just the third school ever to win 4 straight titles. Perhaps almost as impressive is the Jaguars run of of 20 semifinals appearances in the last 21 years. For Blackhawk, this is just their second playoff appearance since they lost to Thomas Jefferson in the 2008 AAA Championship Game. This will be the 7th playoff meeting between the two schools with Thomas Jefferson holding a 4-2 edge. In addition to the 2008 Championship Game, Thomas Jefferson beat Blackhawk in the 2006 AAA title game. Both of Blackhawk’s head-to-head wins came in the 1990s while Thomas Jefferson’s 4 victories came in the 2000s.
Thomas Jefferson’s blowout of New Castle highlighted their balanced offensive attack. Their top three skill players all went over 1000 yards this season in their respective categories. QB Shane Stump threw for 1576 yards and 24 TDs, primarily to Dan Deabner (1150 yards, 21 TDs) and James Martinis (222 yards, 4 TDs). On the ground, Max Shaw has led the way with 1445 yards and 27 TDs and averaged over 10 yards per carry. All three showed up big time in the quarterfinals with Stump throwing 4 TDs (3 of them to Deabner) and Shaw running for 224 yards and 2 TDs. On top of his 3 receving TDs, Deabner added a 73-yard punt return for a score. Blackhawk is typically a ground-and-pound team but they exploited West Mifflin through the air last week. Chance Liptak threw for 185 yards and 3 TDs, all 3 coming in a 20-point second quarter, to lead the Cougars to victory. On the season Liptak has thrown for 868 yards and 11 TDs. Kenny Gawley (805 yards, 9 TDs), Marques Watson-Trent (649 yards, 13 TDs), and Josh Butcher (636 yards, 7 TDs) have split the workload in the backfield and all three have carried the ball at least 90 times this season. When Liptak does throw, Watson-Trent (193 yards), Ryan Heckathorn (187 yards, 4 TDs), and James Darno (147 yards, 5 TDs) have been his top receivers.
2. South Fayette (10-1) vs 3. Belle Vernon (9-1)
One of these two schools will finally break through and reach Heinz Field for the first time in the six-classification era. South Fayette has not lost a conference game since 2011 and has been one of the top two seeds the last two years but has been upset by New Castle and Montour before reaching the title game. Belle Vernon won their conference title last year but was seeded on the same half of the bracket as Thomas Jefferson and fell to the Jaguars in the semifinals. South Fayette appeared in 3 straight AA Championship Games from 2013-2015 but has yet to make it back to Heinz Field since the move up to 4A in 2016. Belle Vernon is back in the semifinals for the second straight season but has not been to a WPIAL final since 1999.
South Fayette enters the semifinals with 4A’s leading passer Jamie Diven (2436 yards, 38 TDs). Diven led the way in the quarterfinals with 3 TD passes and a TD run. He has spread the ball around this season to Mike Trimbur (809 yards, 13 TDs), Charley Rossi (477 yards, 7 TDs), and Peyton Tinney (383 yards, 7 TDs). The Lions have also been effective on the ground, led by Andrew Franklin (750 yards, 11 TDs). Rayquin Glover has been a swiss-army-knife on offense, running for 371 yards and adding 243 receiving yards and scoring 9 times. Belle Vernon has been a run-heavy team all season and lost starting QB Jared Hartman to a knee injury late in the season. The Leopards have replaced him with the tandem of Nolan Labuda and Andrew Pacak who both threw for touchdowns against Beaver. Labuda was the star of the first round, running for 3 TDs, throwing 2, and catching one from Pacak. Labuda’s rushing ability adds to an impressive backfield tandem of Mason Pascoe (1538 yards, 17 TDs) and Larry Callaway (584 yards, 11 TDs).
1. Aliquippa (10-1) vs 4. Beaver Falls (9-2)
Both of the 3A semifinals are conference rematches. This one between rivals Aliquippa and Beaver Falls carries some additional weight as the last time these two met in the playoffs Beaver Falls upset the Quips to win the WPIAL title. Aliquippa is looking to reach the WPIAL final for the 11th consecutive season while Beaver Falls missed the playoffs last year after winning the WPIAL and PIAA titles in 2016. Both teams also have new coaches since that 2016 title game with Mike Warfield replacing Mike Zmijanac this year for Aliquippa and Nick Nardone replacing Ryan Matsook last year for Beaver Falls. Aliquippa won the Week 4 meeting 39-0, one of the Quips 6 shutouts this season. Aliquippa’s Air Warfield offense averaged a 3A-leading 50 points per game and their stifling defense held opponents under a touchdown per game. The Quips physically dominated Freeport 40-17 in the first round. Beaver Falls ran past Elizabeth Forward by a 33-14 margin.
The Quips Air Warfield offense is led by 3A’s leading passer Eli Kosanovich (2363 yards, 30 TDs). He has done most of his damage throwing to 3A’s leading receiver William Gipson (1267 yards, 14 TDs). RB Avante McKenzie (1252 yards, 26 TDs) was the star of the quarterfinals, finding the end zone 5 times. MJ Devonshire has been the most exciting player in the WPIAL with the ball in his hands this season. Devonshire tied a national record with 8 punt return TDs this year and had 400 receiving yards, 141 rushing yards and scored 10 other TDs. If Beaver Falls is going to spring the upset on their rivals, they will need a big game from dual-threat QB Dayln Brickner who has thrown for 1061 yards and 17 TDs and run for 854 yards and 15 TDs. Brickner has been complemented in the backfield by Josh Hough (757 yards, 11 TDs) and Amen Cottrill (439 rushing yards, 370 receiving yards, 10 total TDs) who is also the Tigers’ leading receiver.
2. Derry (10-1) vs 3. North Catholic (10-1)
The Trojan War, Part II. In something out of a Greek play, the (Derry) Trojans will take on the (North Catholic) Trojans at the (Hempfield) Spartans stadium. And yes, I do know that the actual Trojan War was between the Achaeans and the Trojans, but this is too good of a branding opportunity to pass up. Derry is making their second semifinals appearance in the last three seasons and is looking to reach their first WPIAL final since 1945. On the other side, this is North Catholic’s 6th semifinal in the last 7 years. North Catholic has appeared in one WPIAL Championship Game in 2013 when they defeated Sto-Rox and went on to win the PIAA title. Derry delt North Catholic their only loss of the season in Week 4 by a 27-0 margin. Both teams average 38 points per game and hold opponents to about 10 per game. Derry breezed past a hot Central Valley team 46-0 in the first round while North Catholic overcame 6 turnovers to defeat defending 3A State Champions Quaker Valley 31-24.
Justin Flack was the star of the first meeting, scoring all 4 of Derry’s TDs. On the season Flack leads the Trojans in rushing (1165 yards), receiving (275 yards), and scoring (32 TDs). Derry has been a run-heavy team all season, led by Flack, Onreey Stewart (770 yards, 6 TDs), and Colton Nemcheck (447 yards, 4 TDs). Derry averages about 9 passing attempts per game, and when they do throw QB Paul Koontz has been effective, throwing for 568 yards and 10 TDs. On the other hand, North Catholic’s offense is built around their passing game. Zack Rocco has thrown for 1721 yards and 24 TDs and run for 469 yards and 10 TDs, including the game-winner against Quaker Valley last week. Rocco has spread the ball around to Tyree Brown (653 yards, 8 TDs), Nikhai Hill-Green (323 yards, 7 TDs), Nick Maher (233 yards, 6 TDs), and speedster Rashod Allen (154 yards, 7 TDs). In addition to Rocco, the Trojans ground game has featured Cameron Branch (677 yards, 6 TDs) and Anthony Serventi (390 yards, 6 TDs).
1. Shady Side Academy (10-0) vs 8. South Side Beaver (8-3)
Shady Side Academy rolled through the regular season averaging 48 points per game but got a tough challenge in the first round for Serra Catholic who they eked past 22-20. That was Shady Side’s first playoff victory since 2011 and now they are looking to make their first semifinal since 2008. South Side Beaver won a grind-it-out affair between two strong rushing attacks over McGuffey to get their first playoff win since 2014. The Rams are looking for their first semifinal since 2004.
The biggest storyline for Shady Side Academy, and possibly in all of the 2A quarterfinals, is whether or not star QB Skyy Moore will be able to play. Moore became the first player in WPIAL history to pass and rush for 1000 yards in TWO seasons. This year Moore threw for 1275 yards and 16 TDs and ran for 1049 yards and 19 TDs. However, he was injured in their opening game against Serra Catholic and offensive lineman Ronan O’Connor finished the game at quarterback. The Indians also have a D1 receiver in Dino Tomlin (son of Mike Tomlin) who has scored 18 TDs and recently committed to Maryland. While Shady Side did most of their damage through the air, South Side Beaver is built around their ground game. Jake Botkin (1266 yards, 18 TDs) leads the way and is complemented by Derek Franchek (535 yards, 10 TDs), and Jordan Bruce (494 yards, 4 TDs). In the first round, it was QB Trenton Seik (504 yards, 3 TDs) who helped open up the offense with 150 passing yards. Jake Mcdougal (523 yards, 2 TDs) is the Rams top receiver.
4. Charleroi (9-1) vs 5. Mohawk (9-2)
These are two teams that broke long playoff droughts last year and won conference titles this season. Additionally, both teams got their first playoff wins in over a decade. Charleroi’s 35-21 victory over Riverside was their first playoff win since 1998 and Mohawk’s blowout of Seton LaSalle was the Warriors first playoff victory since 2005. This should be a matchup of strength-on-strength as Charleroi comes in with the second-best offense in 2A (49 points per game) while Mohawk has the third-best defense (11 points allowed per game).
Charleroi has one of the most dynamic offenses in the WPIAL with playmakers all over the field. QB Geno Pellegrini has thrown for 1920 yards and 28 TDs and run for 675 yards and 10 TDs. His leading receivers have been Dakota Romantino (830 yards, 15 TDs) and Legend Davis (551 yards, 9 TDs). In the backfield, Pellegrini has been joined by Brayden Milhalcin (1022 yards, 15 TDs). Hunter Perry has proven to be a dynamic offensive weapon with 443 rushing yards, 447 receiving yards, and 16 total TDs. Mohawk also has a balanced offensive attack, led by QB Nick Wheeler (1715 yards, 22 TDs). Wheeler’s top targets have been Nate McCutcheon (861 yards, 10 TDs), Dmitri Pendro (443 yards, 3 TDs), and Jordan Mollenkopf (200 yards, 5 TDs). On the ground, Brayden Cameron (1632 yards, 16 TDs) and Jake Stapleton (243 yards, 1 TD) have led the way for the Warriors.
2. Burgettstown (10-0) vs 7. Freedom (10-1)
(at Central Valley)
Last season Burgettstown got their first playoff victory since 1977 then followed it up this year with their first home playoff victory in school history. The Blue Devils went undefeated this season thanks to a strong defense and running game. This one figures to be a low-scoring defensive struggle as these two squads rate as the top two defensive units in 2A. Burgettstown leads the way, allowing just 5 points per game while Freedom is the only other team in single-digits, allowing 9 points per game. The aforementioned 1977 season was the last time Burgettstown reached a WPIAL semifinal. Freedom also reached the semifinals in 1977 but made another appearance at that stage in 2003. The Bulldogs survived the first round, winning a tough battle with Avonworth 24-21, coming up with a defensive stand in the closing minute.
Burgettstown reached this point thanks to their defense and running game. The Blue Devils have relied on a trio of players to carry the load – RB Shane Kemper (650 yards, 8 TDs), QB Jake Lounder (645 yards, 11 TDs), and Cyle Conley (465 yards, 7 TDs). Lounder averages just 6 pass attempts per game and has thrown for 375 yards and 5 TDs, primarily to Dylan Poirier (167 yards, 3 TDs). Freedom has a bit more balance to their offense as QB Zack Rosa has thrown for 1160 yards and 20 TDs. RB Jake Pail has been the primary offensive weapon, leading the Bulldogs with 857 rushing yards, 370 receiving yards, and 14 TDs. Cody Ross (602 yards, 11 TDs) and Max Ujhazy (309 yards, 3 TDs) have also done damage out of the backfield. Noah Yeck (378 yards, 7 TDs) is the team’s leading receiver.
3. Steel Valley (9-1) vs 6. Washington (10-1)
(at Elizabeth Forward)
A rematch of last year’s 2A Championship Game in the quarterfinals. Buckle up. Both of these teams are good enough to go all the way, but unfortunately they got slotted in the same pod in the bracket. Washington is the highest-scoring team in 2A (53 points per game) but also has the worst defense of any remaining 2A playoff team (22 points per game). Last year in the title game the Prexies ran away from the Ironmen after Trevon Adams went out with an injury. This season, Steel Valley is back with a vengeance, averaging 45 points per game and holding opponents to 14 per game. These are two high-scoring offenses and it is very likely this one turns into a shootout. Washington has been comfortable with shootouts this year, winning their last 4 games while giving up 31 points per game.
Steel Valley had TWO running backs top the 1000-yard mark this season in Kam Williams (1666 yards, 20 TDs) and Todd Hill (1329 yards, 25 TDs). Ronnell Lawrence has been an effective passer, throwing for 949 yards and 11 TDs. The strong ground game has opened things up for Lawrence to get the ball to Eshawn Carter (453 yards, 7 TDs), Williams (355 yards), and Hill (136 yards). Washington brings back a number of playmakers that were key to their WPIAL Championship victory over the Ironmen last year. QB Zack Swartz threw for 2205 yards and 28 TDs and run for 702 yards and 11 TDs. Zahmere Robinson was the star of their first round game and leads the team in receiving with 1094 yards and 15 TDs. Daniel Walker (573 receiving yards, 370 rush yards, 18 total TDs) has been a force on both sides of the ball and Dylan Asbury (814 yards, 16 TDs) leads the way on the ground.
1. Jeannette (11-0) vs 5. Rochester (10-1)
Defending 1A State Champion Jeannette got all they could handle in the first round from Monessen. The Jayhawks barely escaped with an 18-14 victory but Monessen had the ball in Jayhawk territory in the closing minutes of the game. This will be the third straight year these two teams have met in the playoffs as Jeannette has knocked out Rochester the last two years. Jeannette is looking for their 4th straight trip to the WPIAL Championship Game while Rochester is seeking their first title game appearance since 2010. In the first round, Rochester ran all over West Greene 52-14, knocking out the Pioneers for a second straight season.
Jeannette’s offensive attack is led by dual-threat QB Seth Howard (1306 pass yards, 15 TDs, 569 rushing yards, 10 TDs). Howard is joined in the backfield by Imani Sanders (596 yards, 10 TDs). On the outside, Marcus Barnes (527 yards, 9 TDs), Jackson Pruitt (272 yards, 5 TDs), and Jimmy Sanders (240 yards, 2 TDs) have been Howard’s top receivers. Rochester’s offense is built around their rushing attack and the tandem of Noah Whiteleather (1806 yards, 23 TDs) and Darius Goosby (711 yards, 17 TDs). Rashawn Reid has been a change-of-pace back, running for 381 yards and 7 TDs and averaging an incredible 18 yards per carry. The Rams don’t go to the air often, averaging just 3 pass attempts per game. Zaine Jeffers has thrown for just 311 yards and 3 TDs with Tyreek Sherod (151 yards, 2 TDs) the leading receiver.
2. Clairton (9-1) vs 3. OLSH (10-1)
(at Keystone Oaks / Dormont Stadium)
Two teams whose only loss this season came by 15 points against top-seeded Jeannette. OLSH was the highest-scoring team in 1A and flexed their offensive muscles in a 60-6 thrashing of Imani Christian in the first round. Imani had knocked out OLSH the prior two seasons and the Chargers jumped out early and didn’t let up. Clairton, on the other hand, has one of the top defenses in the classification and did what they have done all season, scored a defensive touchdown, which extended their lead over California and helped solidify a 27-17 victory. OLSH has scored at least 4 touchdowns in every game this year except their 28-13 loss to Jeannette. This is Clairton’s 13th consecutive semifinals appearance and the Bears are looking for their 10th trip to the title game in that stretch. This will be OLSH’s first semifinal appearance.
Clairton doesn’t have a singular dominant player like they have in years past, but have talented players up and down the lineup that can all produce big plays on offense, defense, and special teams. The Bears offense is led by QB Brendan Parsons (1263 pass yards, 17 TDs, 314 rush yards, 6 TDs). Parsons has spread the ball around to Keinlein Ogletree (526 yards, 8 TDs), Andress Wiggins (264 yards, 3 TDs), and Leonard Robinson (173 yards, 4 TDs). On the ground, Taevon Thompson (584 yards, 7 TDs) and Dontae Sanders (401 yards, 5 TDs) have been the Bears primary ballcarriers. Dom Solomon has been an all-around threat, producing over 300 yards of total offense and 6 TDs. OLSH’s offense put up some big numbers this season but also struggled when they faced Jeannette’s tough defense. Tyler Bradley is one of the top QBs in the WPIAL, throwing for 2899 yards and 40 TDs. Richard Banks ran for 1000 yards last season and moved to receiver this season and leads the way with 761 yards through the air and 312 yards on the ground and 12 total TDs. Banks’ move to WR was necessitated by the return of Austin Wigley (773 yards, 21 TDs) from an injury that sidelined him for last season. Andrew Schnarre (586 yards, 5 TDs) and Ricco Tate (566 yards, 10 TDs) have also been important factors in OLSH’s passing attack.