Welcome to Week 1 2018 WPIAL Football Season! Last week, a number of teams started play with optional Week 0 games. These produced a number of notable results, including Upper St. Clair head coach Jim Render getting his 399th career victory and simultaneously ending South Fayette’s 57-game regular season winning streak. The Panthers jumped out to an early lead and held on as South Fayette battled back but ultimately lost on a missed two-point try with about 3 minutes remaining. Render is the winningest coach in WPIAL history and with a victory over Peters Township this week would become the 25th coach in the nation to reach the 400-win plateau.
The showdown between Central Catholic and Erie Cathedral Prep lived up to the hype, with Central Catholic pulling out a hard-faught 24-21 victory and ending Prep’s winning streak at 28 games. On the other side of the coin, Shaler entered 2018 with the WPIAL’s longest active losing streak (21 games) and ended it abruptly with a Week 0 win over New Castle. Connellsville also got off the schneid, ending a 17-game losing streak with a victory over Uniontown. A number of other notable upsets in rivalry games came with Leechburg beating Apollo-Ridge and Southmoreland topping neighbor Mt. Pleasant for the first time since 1995.
Thanks to the fine folks at Taps n’at in Derry, who are sponsoring all of our WPIAL content this year. With Week 0 behind us we are now into the full season schedule and conference games will count towards teams making the playoffs. In fact, there are a number of games this week that could be important down the stretch in playoff races. If you missed any of our conference-by-conference season previews, you can check them out here.
Last year, the former MSA Sports Network formed a partnership with Trib Total Media and debuted last week with the new website tribhssn.triblive.com. We are very happy for all of our friends at both entities and are thrilled that high school sports will continue to be broadcast over the internet airwaves for years to come. Here is their list of the games they will be broadcasting tonight.
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.
At the end of the night, I’ll be updating my WPIAL Standings Page with all of the results of tonight’s games, which count towards a team’s overall record but not towards making the playoffs.
North Allegheny at Norwin
This game is a battle of two of the top secondaries in 6A. North Allegheny is one of the presumptive favorites in the classification (along with Central Catholic and Pine-Richland) while Norwin is expected to be in the hunt for a playoff spot. Both teams played Week 0 games and scored victories. North Allegheny defeated COF Academy from Colombus, Ohio by a convincing 45-20 margin. The Tigers were led by Ben Maenza’s 137 yards and 3 touchdowns on the ground. Notably, WR/DB Joey Porter Jr, one of the top defensive back recruits in the state, suffered a knee injury during the game, but not before finding the end zone on a 14-yard reception. North Allegheny is big in the trenches with two D1 recruits on the line in Jake Lugg and Elijah Boyd. Norwin scored their first victory over Westmoreland County rival Penn-Trafford since 2010. The Knights 44-36 triumph was led by junior QB Jack Salopek who threw for 296 yards and 4 TDs and added 71 yards and a score on the ground. Billy Kerston was Norwin’s top receiver, hauling in 96 yards and 2 scores. While North Allegheny’s defensive backfield has Joey Porter Jr and Corey Melzer, Norwin counters with Youngstown State-commit Gianni Rizzo and Jayvon Thrift (who has offers from Pitt, WVU and Syracuse).
Honorable Mentions: Seneca Valley at Central Catholic, Canon-McMillan at Mt. Lebanon
All four of these teams are expected to be in the playoff hunt this season. Central Catholic is one of the favorites in 6A but is still working in a number of new starters. Seneca Valley, Canon-McMillan, and Mt. Lebanon all return a number of starters from last season.
Penn-Trafford at Gateway
Week 1 gives us a rematch of last year’s 5A title game. Both teams lost their starting quarterbacks to graduation, but seem to have found capable replacements. For the defending WPIAL Champions, Brendan Majocha led Gateway to a 31-8 victory over Mt. Lebanon with 155 yards and 2 TDs through the air and 76 yards and 1 TD on the ground. Gateway is loaded with D1 talent, starting with a pair of WR/DBs in Syracuse-commit Courtney Jackson and Miami (OH)-commit Jeremiah Josephs. In the backfield, sophomore RB Derrick Davis was simply on another level against Mt. Lebanon, rushing for 178 yards and 1 TD – a dazzling 56-yard dash up the middle on his first touch of the game. Penn-Trafford won the Big East Conference last year and defeated Gateway in the regular season. Dual-threat QB Gabe Dunlap has taken over under center and threw for 156 yards and 3 TDs and ran for 112 yards and 1 score against Norwin’s tough defense last week. Caleb Lisbon was the focal point of the offense, finishing with 138 yards of total offense and scored once. Play-making WR Dimitri George found the end zone on 2 of his 4 catches last week and also ran the ball a few times. While both teams are capable of lighting up the scoreboard, this game will come down to defense and who is able to get stops and get the ball back to their offense.
Honorable Mention: Woodland Hills at Bethel Park
Woodland Hills is coming off a loss on their home field against Woodrow Wilson High School from Washington, DC. Bethel Park did not play a Week 0 game but will face some new competition as they move down to 5A this season. Both teams figure to be in the mix for a playoff spot in the Allegheny Eight Conference.
New Castle at Montour
Another rematch of a playoff game from last season. In the first round of the 4A playoffs, New Castle got out to a 28-7 lead, but Montour battled back in the third quarter to tie the game at 28. After a New Castle field goal, Montour scored a 58-yard touchdown to win the game 35-31. Both teams are coming off losses to 5A schools in Week 0. New Castle lost to Shaler 34-21, breaking Shaler’s 21-game losing streak. Montour fell to neighboring Moon 32-6. Both teams will look to get back on the right track this week as conference play begins. New Castle’s run-heavy offense will rely heavily on senior RB Josh Thomason who ran for over 1100 yards last year. Montour’s offense did not find the end zone last week as their only points were scored on Anthony Tambellini’s pick-six.
Honorable Mention: Beaver at South Fayette, Ringgold at Thomas Jefferson
South Fayette’s 57-game regular season winning streak came to an end last week against Upper St. Clair. The Lions still have not lost to a conference opponent since 2011. Beaver moves up from 3A this year with a number of returning starters, including on the defensive side of the ball where they produced a ton of return TDs last year. Thomas Jefferson kicks off their campaign to win a fourth straight WPIAL title against Ringgold who now has former Aliquippa coach Mike Zmijanac at the helm.
Central Valley at Quaker Valley
Quaker Valley is the defending 3A State Champions and despite graduating a number of players seem primed to challenge Aliquippa at the top of the conference once again. Central Valley missed the playoffs for the first time in school history last year but should challenge for a spot in the new Tri-County West this season. Central Valley fell to Blackhawk last week as sophomore QB Ameer Dudley struggled, completing just 2 of 13 passes. Both of Dudley’s completions were to Anthony Mendicino. Junior Jawon Hall averaged 8 yards per carry last week after averaging 7.3 yards per carry last season and should see the ball more often as the season goes. Quaker Valley did not play a Week 0 game and will be adjusting to a new coach as well as a number of new starters. Ethan Moore, a Kent State-commit for baseball, will take over the starting QB role vacated by 3A Player of the Year Ricky Guss’ graduation. Ricky’s younger brother Isaac had the memorable tackle against Aliquippa in the WPIAL title game that resulted in a safety and figures to take on a big role as a running back this season. On the outside, keep an eye out for 6’5″ Ryan Jackovic.
Honorable Mention: Derry at Freeport
If you want tough, physical, hard-nosed football this is going to be the game for you. Both teams are defensive-minded that are led by strong linemen in the trenches.
Washington at Charleroi
These two teams finished atop the Interstate Conference last year and return a number of key players, making them the presumptive favorites once again. Washington is the defending WPIAL 2A Champions and is primed for a run at the title again this year. The Prexies got off to a hot start in Week 0, throttling a Laurel Highlands team that plays two classifications above them 59-25. Zack Swartz threw for over 2000 yards last season and came out gunslinging, throwing for 379 yards and 3 TDs and adding 94 yards on the ground. His favorite target on the outside was Daniel Walker who had 103 yards and a TD through the air along with a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Zahmere Robinson had two catches in the first quarter, finding the end zone both times on 62 and 74-yard touchdowns. Washington was no slouch on the ground either with Dylan Asbury running for 113 yards and 4 scores. With stats like that against a 4A team, it is worth asking if anyone can keep up with Washington. If there is a team in the Interstate Conference who can, it’s Charleroi. After the Cougars Week 0 game against Monessen was cancelled, they will need to come out fast against the Prexies. Charleroi returns QB Geno Pellegrini who threw for 2333 yards and 24 TDs last year. Leading receivers Dakota Romantino (1033 yards, 15 TDs) and Travis Lytle (427 yards, 10 TDs) also return for their senior seasons. Leading rusher Hunter Perry is also back after running for 1060 yards and 17 TDs. Both of these teams are the class of the conference and loaded with offensive firepower.
Neshannock at Riverside
Not often do you get one Week 1 game that could decide a conference title, let alone two. Neshannock stumbled out of the gate with a 49-21 loss to Avonworth. The Lancers are working in a number of new starters, including two players who sat out last season after transferring. Quarterback Jake McCormack transferred from Brownsville and RB Noah Karpiak came over from Connellsville. Both found the end zone last week but Neshannock will need to tighten up their defense which gave up 347 passing yards to Avonworth last week. The pass defense could be an issue against Riverside who returns junior QB Ben Hughes. The third-year starter threw for over 1500 yards and 21 TDs last year. Running back LeMarcus Cleckley split time last year and still nearly ran for 1000 yards and scored 10 times.
Honorable Mentions: Burgettstown at Seton LaSalle, Avonworth at Valley
All four of these teams should be in the hunt for a playoff spot. Burgettstown did not play in Week 0 while Seton LaSalle lost to McNeilly Road rival Keystone Oaks. Avonworth QB Derek Johncour (347 yards, 4 TDs) and WR Turner Grau (209 yards, 3 TDs) are among the WPIAL leaders in both categories. Their passing attack will go up against Valley’s ground game where Deonte Ross ran for 158 yards and 3 TDs against rival Burrell.
Sto-Rox at OLSH
These two teams both made the playoffs last year and figure to be right in the mix for a playoff spot again this season. Both have pass-heavy offenses so this game could quickly turn into a shootout. OLSH won the conference and won their first playoff game in school history last season. Senior QB Tyler Bradley threw for over 2700 yards and 31 TDs last season and picked up where he left off in Week 0, throwing for 201 yards and 3 scores. Leading rusher Richard Banks along with top receivers Andrew Schnarre and Rico Tate all return for the Chargers as well. Sto-Rox lost a close game to South Side Beaver in Week 0, but had an impressive offensive performance. Junior QB Eric Wilson threw for 395 yards and 4 TDs. Ahmad Pack lived up the the pre-season hype and finished with 232 receiving yards and 3 TDs. Wilson did spread the ball around, also getting Amir Austin and Jaidon Berry involved in the passing game.
Honorable Mentions: Springdale at Imani Christian (Saturday)
Imani Christian caught some flack for running up the score and throwing deep during the mercy rule period against Richard Wright Charter school from Washington, DC last week. Springdale did not play a Week 0 game and is breaking in a number of new starters. Considering (at most) only 3 teams from a conference will make the playoffs this year, Springdale needs to find a way to crack through the Jeannette/Imani/Clairton triumvirate if they want to keep their playoffs streak alive.