It’s hard to believe, but the 2018 WPIAL football regular season is nearly half over. The races for playoff spots and conference titles will be heating up over the next few weeks as every team has now played at least one conference game and is getting into the thick of the schedule. For some teams that have gotten off to a slow start, there is still time to right the ship and turn things around, while for the remaining unbeaten teams they will look to keep rolling and build momentum towards the playoffs. This week features a number of marquee games, including a few that may decide conference titles once all is said and done. Once again this week I got to do a guest appearance on the WMBS Pregame Show, you can listen to the show, starting at 6pm on Friday night.
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 some game notes from the evening’s action. I’ll also 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.
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.
6A Game of the Week
North Allegheny (3-0, 4-0) at Mt. Lebanon (2-1, 2-2)
North Allegheny knocked Mt. Lebanon out of the playoffs last year, and this game features a matchup of strength on strength. Mt. Lebanon’s offense is built on their passing game where senior QB Seth Morgan has thrown for 794 yards and 7 TDs. Morgan has spread the ball around to Lucas Decaro (168 yards, 1 TD), Tim Walters (165 yards, 3 TDs), Mason Ventrone (156 yards, 1 TD), and Sam Lasota (119 yards, 2 TDs). Morgan is also the team’s leading rusher with 232 yards and 2 scores on the ground. The Blue Devils seem to have found a big-play threat in Drew Vaughn, who has 190 rushing yards, 99 receiving yards (averaging over 11 yards per touch) and has scored 3 times. For North Allegheny, they have won in the trenches with a powerful offensive line featuring two D1 prospects in Jake Lugg and Elijah Boyd. Offensively they have won with their running game of Ben Maenza (486 yards, 10 TDs) and Gunnar Fisher (231 yards, 4 TDs). Fisher took over as the starting QB last week and threw for over 100 yards and a TD. Where the Tigers are dangerous is on the outside. Joey Porter Jr, ranked as one of the top defensive backs in the country, recently committed to Penn State. Porter is the leading receiver on offense and has scored 3 total TDs this season between offense, defense, and special teams. Corey Melzer is a Slippery Rock-commit and has also been a talented two-way player with 140 yards and 1 TD on offense and providing another threat to pick off any pass thrown his way on defense. With a win over Central Catholic in the bag, North Allegheny and Pine-Richland look to be the top two teams in 6A while Mt. Lebanon is battling in the middle of the pack with Central Catholic and Seneca Valley.
Honorable Mentions: Pine-Richland at Norwin, Central Catholic at Bethel Park
As mentioned previously, Pine-Richland looks like one of the elite teams in 6A, but the Rams have yet to play an opponent that has won a conference game. Norwin is in the playoff conversation and should provide the Rams their first measuring stick game. Central Catholic has struggled to get their offense going this year and face a tough Bethel Park team who has looked good after moving down to 5A. The last time Central Catholic lost to a WPIAL team not named “Pine-Richland” or “North Allegheny” was in the 2012 when the Vikings lost to Seneca Valley in the regular season and fell to Upper St Clair in the playoffs.
5A Game of the Week
West Allegheny (2-1, 2-1) at Upper St Clair (3-0, 4-0)
This game is the 22 The Point Game of the Week and will be available for broadcast live on channel 22 in the Western Pennsylvania region. This is the last meeting between legendary WPIAL coaches Jim Render and Bob Palko. Jim Render is the only WPIAL coach (and one of 25 men nation-wide) to win 400 games. On the other sideline, Bob Palko has won more WPIAL titles (eight) than any other coach. Last year when these two met, Upper St Clair won a wild game where after USC turned it over on downs, West A fumbled a snap while they were attempting to kneel it out. The Panthers recovered and drove for the tying score. After Upper St Clair scored first in overtime, West Allegheny answered. Bob Palko opted to try a two-point conversion which the Panthers defense snuffed out and came away with the victory.
This season Upper St Clair has built their 4-0 record on close victories. Their total margin of victory in those games is just 12 points and the Panthers have 16-14 victories over Peters Twp and Woodland Hills. The Panthers have a balanced offense led by QB Jason Sweeney (505 yards, 6 TDs) and RB Antonio Orsini (386 yards, 4 TDs). The Pantellis brothers have been stars on the outside with Chris leading the way with 234 yards and 5 TDs and David close behind with 183 yards and 2 scores. West Allegheny won an overtime game against Bethel Park where they succeeded on a two-point conversion but fell last week to Peters Township. For West A, their offense has run through Dante Flati (345 yards, 5 TDs). Kam Kruze (455 yards, 4 TDs) and Gavin Miller (111 yards, 1 TD) have split time at quarterback. Tight end Mateo Vandamia (who has a number of FCS offers) has been the top target but has only totalled 86 yards and 2 TDs. Drevon Baldwin (170 yards, 2 TDs) and Kyle Guilfoil (145 yards, 2 TDs) are the Indians leading receivers.
Honorable Mentions: Armstrong at Mars, Kiski at Penn Hills, Peters Twp at North Hills
The Northern Conference is stacked with great matchups this week. Armstrong and Mars are both 3-1 on the season but have only played 1 conference game to date. Both figure to be in playoff contention so this will be an important game for seeding. Penn Hills had a dominant win over Mars last week and now will take on 3-1 Kiski who is also right in the middle of the playoff conversation. After Peters Twp’s surprising 42-28 win over West Allegheny, they get a non-conference game against undefeated North Hills. The story here will be whether or not Indians star RB “Touchdown” Tyler Brennan will be able to play after he left last week’s game with an injury.
4A Game of the Week
Laurel Highlands (0-1, 2-2) at Greensburg Salem (1-0, 1-3)
Last week’s 4A Game of the Week between Laurel Highlands and Belle Vernon was a “measuring stick” game for the Mustangs against one of the top teams in 4A. They came up short and now have to take on Greensburg Salem in a game with massive playoff implications. In the Big Eight Conference, Thomas Jefferson has asserted themselves as the clear favorites after beating Belle Vernon and West Mifflin is also undefeated in conference play. In all liklihood, this means that Greensburg Salem, Trinity, Indiana, and Laurel Highlands will compete for the last playoff spot. Greensburg Salem already has a win over Trinity so a win over Laurel Highlands would make the Golden Lions tough to catch. The focal point of this game will be the two dual-threat quarterbacks – Laurel Highlands’ Conner Basigner and Greensburg Salem’s Trent Patrick. Basinger has put up over 800 yards of total offense and produced 11 total TDs (6 passing, 5 rushing). After being stifled by Belle Vernon’s defense last week, Basinger and the Mustangs will look to break out against a Golden Lions defense allowing 31 points per game. On the other side, Trent Patrick has thrown for 462 yards and 6 TDs and run for 146 yards and a team-high 4 scores. Aaren Putt is Salem’s leading rusher with 243 yards and 2 TDs. On the outside, Patrick’s favorite target has been Tyler Williams (155 yards, 3 TDs).
Honorable Mentions: New Castle at West Mifflin
The Red Hurricanes and Titans are both expected to compete for playoff spots, which makes this an intriguing non-conference game between playoff-caliber teams.
3A Game of the Week
There is not one but TWO monster games in 3A this week, both of which will likely decide the conference champions. Therefore, we have co-Games of the Week in 3A.
Aliquippa (2-0, 4-0) at Beaver Falls (3-0, 4-0)
The Aliquippa revenge tour has been rolling through the WPIAL this season. After losing in the WPIAL Championship two straight years, the Quips under new head coach Mike Warfield are averaging a WPIAL-leading 56 points per game. As the passing game has opened up, Eli Kosanovich has come into his own, throwing for 794 yards and 15 TDs. His top receivers have been Will Gipson (321 yards, 4 TDs), MJ Devonshire (121 yards, 3 TDs), and Deoveon Crute (104 yards, 4 TDs). Devonshire is the most dangerous return man in the WPIAL, already with SIX punt return touchdowns on the season. The Quips have not forgotten about their ground-and-pound heritage as Avante McKenzie has run for 296 yards and 7 TDs. Beaver Falls has seen a revival this season after a 1-win 2017 where they were decimated by transfers and injuries. The Tigers are undefeated and averaging 39 points per game thanks to a strong ground attack. Leading rusher Josh Hough (264 yards, 4 TDs) has split the workload with Amen Cottrill, who is the team’s second-leading rusher (238 yards), leading receiver (217 yards), and leading scorer (7 total TDs). Dayln Brickner has not been asked to throw the ball much as the Tigers have been able to play with a lead, but has put up a solid 374 yards and 5 TDs through the air to add to 193 yards and 4 scores on the ground.
North Catholic (2-0, 4-0) at Derry (2-0, 4-0)
The Trojan War
This game may ultimately decide the Big East Conference Champion. Both schools are 4-0 and off to a strong start. While North Catholic has been able to win with their dynamic offense, Derry has won with a traditional run-the-ball-and-play-defense mentality. This should be an excellent matchup of strength on strength with a good offense taking on a quality defense. Despite the slight historical inaccuracy, in a matchup of Trojans vs Trojans, we have to give this game the moniker of The Trojan War. North Catholic is led by one of the top passers in the WPIAL in Zack Rocco (826 yards, 12 TDs). Rocco has two big-play threats on the outside in Nikhai Hill-Green (261 yards, 4 TDs) and Tyree Brown (238 yards, 4 TDs). who are both averaging over 21 yards per catch. Cameron Branch has been the primary ball-carrier, running for 222 yards and 3 TDs. For Derry, their running game has been keyed by the tandem of Justin Flack (431 yards, 8 TDs) and Onreey Stewart (392 yards, 2 TDs). Flack is also the team’s leading receiver with 112 yards. Quarterback Paul Koontz has averaged fewer than 8 pass attempts per game and has thrown for 200 yards and 4 TDs. For Derry, this game will be about controlling the clock with their running game and keeping the North Catholic offense off the field. If you’re heading out to Derry for the game, I would be remiss if I did not mention our sponsors Taps n’at, located on North Bank Street in Derry. Stop by before or after the game and check out their solid lineup of craft beers and some delicious wings.
WMBS Game of the Week
Our friends at WMBS radio will be broadcasting the Freeport-Uniontown game this week. Two winless teams that need to turn things around quickly if they want to make a run at the playoffs. Freeport is 0-3 but has close losses to both Elizabeth Forward and Derry while Uniontown has suffered 3 blowout losses and is allowing 53.5 points per game. You can listen live online here.
2A Game of the Week
Burgettstown (2-0, 3-0) at South Side Beaver (2-0, 4-0)
Overall, Class 2A has been crazy so far this season. The defending champions in the Allegheny and Interstate conferences have taken losses, in the Midwestern Conference the top teams are all beating each other, and the presumptive favorites in the Three Rivers Conference have all lost so far. Burgettstown and South Side Beaver are two of the three remaining unbeaten teams in Three Rivers Conference Play. Both teams have made it this far on the strength of their running games. Burgettstown’s backfield is led by the tandem of Shane Kemper (259 yards, 4 TDs) and Jake Lounder (211 yards, 1 TD). The ground game has been solid this season, which has taken the pressure off of Jake Lounder from throwing the ball. Burgettstown has also been stout on the defensive side of the ball, shutting out their last two opponents by identical 41-0 scores. South Side Beaver has also made their hay on the ground, thanks to the “Thunder and Lightning” tandem of Jake Botkin and Derek Franchek. Botkin is one of the leading rushers in the entire WPIAL with 834 yards and 10 TDs. Franchek is leading the team with an 8-yard per carry average and has run for 183 yards and 6 scores. Trenton Seik and Aden Almashy have both played quarterback this season. Almashy started last week’s shootout against Carlynton and threw for 3 TDs on just 6 completions.
Honorable Mentions: McGuffey at Beth-Center
With Charleroi’s Week 1 win over Washington, the Cougars are right in the mix along with Beth-Center and McGuffey at the top of the Interstate Conference. Both of these teams are averaging over 42 points per game and this will be an important game in the Interstate Conference playoff race.
1A Game of the Week
Monessen (2-0, 3-0) at West Greene (2-0, 2-1)
The Tri-County South Conference gets the nod for the 1A Game of the Week. Monessen got off to a hot start this season with a victory over defending conference champion California. West Greene is also unbeaten in conference play as the Pioneers look to earn their first back-to-back playoff trips since 1993. Monessen is loaded with athletes and able to score from all over the field. Against Springdale the Greyhounds scored by a punt return (Devin Whitlock), a kick return (Antwon Tucker) and a pick-six (Marquell Smith). Devin Whitlock followed that up by throwing 3 passing touchdowns and adding another on the ground last week against Jefferson-Morgan. Vaughn Taylor leads the way with 4 rushing touchdowns this season. On the other side, West Greene’s offensive game plan has been simple – give the ball to Ben Jackson. On the season Jackson has run for 874 yards and 14 TDs, averaging an incredible 12.1 yards per carry. QB Gavin Scott has thrown a handful of passes for 257 yards and 1 TD. Nathan Brudnock (143 yards, 1 TD) has been the Pioneers leading receiver. When Jackson has taken a breather, Kolin Walker has been successful as well with an 8-yards per carry average and 2 TDs. With only 8 teams in 1A making the playoffs, and only the top 2 in each conference guaranteed a spot, this is an important game in both the playoff race and in the conference title discussion.
Honorable Mentions: Clairton at Laurel
If someone asked you, “Who was the only team to beat the Killer T’s Clairton Bears during Tyler Boyd/Terrish Webb/Titus Howard years?” Would you remember that it was the Laurel Spartans on the first game of the Killer T’s freshman season? Clairton certainly hasn’t forgot so even though the Killer T’s era is long over, this game carries some extra weight for the Bears and their fans.