Week 1 of the WPIAL season got the season off to a roaring start. Upper St. Clair coach Jim Render won his 400th carrer game, becoming the first WPIAL coach and 25th coach nationwide to reach that plateau. There were two games that went to overtime. Derry fumbled at the goal line at the end of regulation but scored first in OT then kept Freeport out of the end zone to secure the 19-13 win. There was a wild ending between Fort Cherry and Carlynton. In the last 41 seconds of regulation there were 3 turnovers (a 4th down stop and 2 interceptions). Both teams scored in the first overtime, but a Carlynton missed field goal opened the door and Fort Cherry won in the second overtime.
The two biggest upsets of the night came from Charleroi and Monessen. Charleroi was one of the highest-scoring teams in 2A last year but got upset in the playoffs by Avonworth when they turned the ball over 6 times. The Cougars came out with a vengeance and took out their frustrations on defending WPIAL Champions Washington by an incredible 64-33 margin. That was the largest defeat for the Prexies since 2008. In 1A, nearly everyone expected defending Tri-County South Champions California to roll through the conference again. But a 16-point 4th quarter from Monessen turned a 20-14 California lead into a surprising 30-20 victory for the Greyhounds.
In a scary situation last week, Laurel sophomore Hayden Hamilton suffered a fracture in a vertebrae in his neck. A GoFundMe page has been set up to help Hayden and his family as he recovers from the spinal injury.
Thanks to the fine folks at Taps n’at in Derry, who are sponsoring all of our WPIAL content this year.
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.
6A Game of the Week
Central Catholic at North Allegheny
In what could be a preview of the 6A Championship Game, Central Catholic and North Allegheny square off in a monster Week 2 showdown. Central Catholic lost twice to Pine-Richland last year (in the regular season and in the WPIAL Championship). Prior to that, the last WPIAL team to beat the Vikings was North Allegheny back in Week 3 of 2015. The Tigers have dominated both of their opponents so far (COF Academy and Norwin) while Central scored narrow victories over Erie Cathedral Prep and Seneca Valley. North Allegheny relies heavily on their ground game behind an offensive line with two D1 prospects. Ben Maenza (144 yards, 5 TDs) and Gunnar Fisher (142 yards, 3 TDs) have been the workhorse backs so far. North Allegheny is also loaded with talent at WR and DB where Joey Porter Jr and Corey Melzer are both two-way players.
Honorable Mention: Canon-McMillan at Seneca Valley
Both teams lost their opening games, but put up good fights against Mt. Lebanon and Central Catholic, respectively. With only 6 teams making the playoffs in 6A, this game will go a long way towards sorting out who gets in and who is left out.
5A Game of the Week
Bethel Park at West Allegheny
West Allegheny was considered one of the favorites in 5A last year before a plethora of injuries forced a number of underclassmen into service. Bethel Park dropped down to 5A this season after being a strong contender in 6A the last two seasons. Neither team played a Week 0 game but both got off to hot starts with big wins in conference play last week. Bethel Park ran all over Woodland Hills with Jehvonn Lewis putting up 323 yards and 3 TDs. The Blackhawks as a team ran for over 500 yards against the Wolverines. West Allegheny’s was led by the Flati brothers over Chartiers Valley. Senior RB Dante Flati ran for 90 yards and 2 scores and sophomore Nico ran for 50 yards and a TD. Both of these teams are also strong defensively, which should lead to a good old-fashioned slug-fest in the trenches.
Honorable Mentions: Woodland Hills at Peters Twp, Kiski at North Hills
Woodland Hills and Peters Twp both lost their season openers against Bethel Park and Upper St Clair. The winner will remain in the hunt for a home playoff game. Kiski and North Hills both scored big victories last week. North Hills RB Tyler Brennan has been one of the most exciting players in the WPIAL this season with 353 yards and 10 TDs in two games.
4A Game of the Week
Thomas Jefferson at Belle Vernon
Thomas Jefferson is the three-time defending WPIAL Champions. But in two of those seasons, it was Belle Vernon who not only won the regular season meeting but also won the conference title. This year, they are the top two teams in the Big Eight Conference and among the top teams in 4A. Last year Belle Vernon beat TJ 21-17 on their home gold turf then lost 27-0 in the 4A Semifinals. In fact, since Belle Vernon debuted their gold turf in 2015, they are 16-1 at home. Belle Vernon’s only home loss on the gold turf came against West Mifflin in 2016 and they are 2-0 against Thomas Jefferson at James Weir Stadium. Neither team played a Week 0 game but both got convincing wins last week. Belle Vernon defeated Ambridge 43-0, led by Mason Pascoe running for 90 yards and 2 TDs. Jared Hartman threw for 108 yards and 2 more scores, primarily targeting Hunter Ruokonen and Nolan Labuda. Thomas Jefferson hammered Ringgold 62-0 with 3 touchdowns each from Dan Deabner and Jack Konick along with two from Max Shaw.
Honroable Mention: South Fayette at New Castle
Both teams got off to 1-0 starts in conference play. Many consider New Castle to be the top challenger to South Fayette in the Northwest Eight conference. With a win over Beaver already under their belt, the Lions can clear a path to the conference title with a victory over the Hurricanes.
3A Games of the Week
Quaker Valley at Aliquippa
A rematch of last year’s 3A Championship Game. Quaker Valley graduated a number of players while Aliquippa has most of their roster back. Interestingly, both schools have new coaches at the helm this season. Aliquippa handily won last year’s regular season meeting 22-7, but both offense were stifled by rain and soggy conditions and Heinz Field. This resulted in a Championship Game filled with turnovers and sloppy play (including an absurd amount of penalties) which was won 2-0 by Quaker Valley on a first-half safety. Nether team has allowed a point this season with Aliquippa storming past McKinley Tech (Washington DC) 48-0 and Waynesburg 55-0. Meanwhile, Quaker Valley topped Central Valley 18-0 last week. Mike Warfield’s promise to open things up on offense for the Quips has proven true with Eli Kosanovich throwing for 327 yards and 5 TDs. MJ Devonshire has been an all-around standout for Aliquippa with 6 total TDs (1 reception, 1 run, and 4 punt returns). William Gipson (117 yards, 1 TD) and Devonshire (101 yards, 1 TD) have been the top receivers. Aliquippa has not forgotten about the run game as Avante McKenzie has run for 159 yards and 4 scores. For Quaker Valley, they will need another big performance from senior QB Ethan Moore. Against Central Valley, Moore ran for two scores and threw for another, finishing with over 260 yards of total offense.
Freeport at North Catholic
(at Mars High School)
The rematch of the 3A title game gets the headline spot, but this is a similarly big game in the Big East Conference. North Catholic can assert themselves as one of the teams to beat with a victory here while Freeport is looking to get back in the win column after an overtime loss to Derry. Freeport is a team known historically for playing tough defense, but they will have their hands full with North Catholic’s offense. Junior QB Zack Rocco has thrown for 407 yards and 7 TDs through two games. Rocco’s leading receivers are Tyree Brown (173 yards, 3 TDs) and Nikhai Hill-Green (99 yards, 2 TDs) who are both averaging over 19 yards per catch. In the backfield, RB Cameron Branch has put up 164 yards and 3 TDs on the ground. Freeport is led by dual-threat QB Austin Romanchak who had over 150 yards of total offense and scored twice last week. Derry’s defense stifled RBs Ricky Hunter and Conor Selinger, but Romanchak was able to find some room to run. On the outside, his favorite receiver was Isiah Bauman who had 41 yards on 5 catches.
Honorable Mention: Beaver Falls at Central Valley
Beaver Falls bounced back from a winless 2017 campaign by beating South Park in a shootout last week. Central Valley has struggled to find the end zone this season, scoring just once in two games. This could be a deciding game in the playoff race.
2A Games of the Week
Steel Valley at Avonworth
The Ironmen have been to the 2A title game each of the last two seasons and are one of the favorites in 2A once again. Avonworth is a playoff contender in the Allegheny Conference but a win here would put the Lopes in the conversation for the conference title. In a contrast of styles, Steel Valley’s ground game will have to control the clock to keep pace with Avonworth’s passing attack. In their season opener against East Allegheny, Todd Hill ran for 206 yards and 2 TDs and Kam Williams ran for 140 yards and 2 scores. Williams also had 2 catches for 80 yards and another score. On the other side, Avonworth’s Derek Johncour is the WPIAL’s second-leading passer with 597 yards and 6 TDs. Turner Grau, whose father held the WPIAL single-season receiving record until Mt. Lebanon’s Aidan Cain broke it last year, is the WPIAL’s second-leading receiver with 332 yards and 5 TDs. The Lopes passing attack is not just all Grau though. They have two other quality receivers in Drew Harper (182 yards) and Nick Weiser (145 yards, 1 TD). Jax Miller has proven to be an effective runner, putting up 188 yards and 5 TDs.
Riverside at Freedom
Both teams got big victories last week to put themselves at the front of the race for the Midwestern Conference crown. Riverside jumped out to a big lead and cruised past Neshannock thanks to the tandem of QB Ben Hughes and RB Lemarcus Cleckley. Freedom welcomed Shenango to Class 2A with a 63-0 pounding where Bulldogs scored two defensive touchdowns. Jake Pail has led the way out of the backfield with 157 yards and 3 TDs. QB Zack Rosa has thrown for 152 yards and 2 scores and also had a pick-six last week. Cody Ross and Josh Pail have also featured in Freedom’s run-heavy offense and both have scored twice.
Honorable Mentions: McGuffey at Frazier, Neshannock at Mohawk, South Side Beaver at Serra Catholic
1A Game of the Week
Imani Christian at Jeannette
Week 2 brings us not one but TWO Championship Game rematches from last season. In a memorable 1A Final, Imani and Jeannette battled back and forth. Jeannette held a 4th quarter lead and Imani stormed back to nearly tie the game, coming up short on a 2-point conversion with just over 2 minutes to play. Jeannette recovered the onside kick attempt and held on to win 36-35. That win opened the gateway for Jeannette’s run to the State Championship, their third in school history. Many of the standouts from last year’s teams have graduated, but these are still two of the top teams in 1A. Both teams are 2-0 with Jeannette scoring victories over East Allegheny and Leechburg and Imani topping Richard Wright Charter (from Washington, DC) and Springdale. The defending State Champions are led by QB Seth Howard who has thrown for 248 yards and 4 TDs and added 2 more scores on the ground. Jackson Pruitt (132 yards, 1 TD) has been his best receiver while Imani Sanders leads the team in rushing (139 yards, 1 TD). Imani Christian enters the showdown with a high-flying offense. Israel Reed has thrown for 575 yards and 9 TDs and run for 2 more scores. On the outside, Rahmon Hart (324 yards, 6 TDs) and Dashaun Wright (202 yards, 6 TDs) are big-play threats every time they touch the ball.
Honorable Mention: West Greene at Chartiers-Houston
West Greene’s Ben Jackson (375 yards, 6 TDs) is one of the WPIAL’s top rushers. Chartiers-Houston ended their 12-game losing streak last week with a win over Jefferson-Morgan. With only the top 2 in each conference guaranteed a playoff spot in 1A, every conference game is important in the playoff race.