The WPIAL season is now past the halfway point. Playoff races are heating up across every conference. No one has been eliminated yet and no one has clinched a playoff spot, so the field remains wide open. Last week we saw a number of games get delayed, called early, or moved to Saturday because of the severe storms that moved through the region on Friday night. This weekend’s forecast looks like ideal High School Football weather. Summit Academy put points on the board last week, so now every WPIAL team has scored and no teams are left that have shut out all of their opponents. Overall, 16 teams remain with undefeated (either 5-0 or 4-0) records. On the other side, 13 teams reached the midpoint of the season without winning a game. 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
Central Catholic (2-1, 4-1) at Pine-Richland (3-0, 4-1)
All eyes in Western PA will be on this game between the teams that have won the last five titles in the WPIAL’s largest classification. This game will be the 22 The Point showcase game of the week, so everyone in the greater Pittsburgh area should be able to watch it from the comfort of their living rooms. With North Allegheny already beating Central Catholic this year, this game could go a long way in determining which two teams get the coveted first round byes in the 6A playoffs. Pine-Richland is built around their strong line anchored by Notre Dame-commit Andrew Kristofic, Indiana-commit Michael Katic, and Mike Dorundo who has some FCS offers. On defense, the Rams have allowed just 21 points to WPIAL opponents, thanks in large part to linebacker Tyler King, a Navy-commit. Offensively, Pine-Richland has turned to dual-threat QB Cole Spencer to take over the reigns on offense. Spencer has thrown for 597 yards and 7 TDs and leads the team with 203 yards and 5 TDs on the ground. A running back by committee approach has seen Luke Meckler (177 yards, 5 TDs), Ryan Geyer (177 yards, 3 TDs), Caden Schweiger (125 yards, 1 TD), and Jordan Burns (124 yards, 2 TDs) all get a share of the workload. On the outside, Shane Cafardi (157 yards, 1 TD) and Luke Miller (157 yards, 1 TD) are the top receivers.
On the other side, Central Catholic has won with defense this season. The Vikings have built a 4-1 record but their offense is averaging just 16.4 points per game and yet to break the 30-point mark. Defensive end Brian Dallas is a Kent State-commit and defensive back Dominic Dodson has committed to Columbia. Central’s best player this year has been Gavin Thomson who leads the team in receiving (282 yards) and has added 66 rushing yards and scored 4 times, including their only touchdown last week against Bethel Park. Central has not been able to find an offensive combination that works yet this season. Dominic Pieto (291 yards, 2 TDs) and Dontre Jones (102 yards) have split time at quarterback while Eddy Tillman (242 yards, 3 TDs) and Kenneth Blake (167 yards, 1 TD) have shared the workload in the backfield. The last time that Central Catholic lost multiple regular season games to WPIAL opponents was in 2012.
Honorable Mention: Seneca Valley at North Allegheny
Seneca Valley has been in every game they have played. The Raiders only setback is a narrow loss to Central Catholic. They need a win over North Allegheny to stay in the conversation for a bye. A win by North Allegheny and a loss by Butler would clinch a playoff spot for the Tigers.
5A Game of the Week
Armstrong (1-1, 3-2) at Penn Hills (3-0, 5-0)
With North Hills losing last week, Penn Hills is the only remaining undefeated team in the Northern Conference. Armstrong is sitting right in the middle of the pack and fighting for their playoff lives against the likes of Mars and Kiski who both lost to Penn Hills in the last two weeks. Penn Hills has the second-highest scoring offense in 5A, averaging 43 points per game and is coming off a 64-28 win over Kiski where both Daequan Hardy and Tank Smith scored 4 times. For the Indians it all starts with QB Hollis Mathis (1133 yards, 15 TDs). Daequan Hardy (376 yards, 10 total TDs) is the leading receiver but Anthony Grimes (246 yards, 2 TDs) and Dante Cephas (235 yards, 3 TDs) have also been weapons in the passing game. On the ground, Tank Smith has racked up 547 yards and 9 TDs with Mathis adding 293 yards and 3 more scores. Defensively, Penn Hills boasts the best secondary in the WPIAL, led by Hardy, Cephas, Cory Thomas and Akeem Snell – all of whom have D1 offers. For Armstrong, they suffered their first setback in conference play when they lost to Mars last week. The Riverhawks have leaned heavily on their running game. The tandem of RB Isaac Ridinger (473 yards, 4 TDs) and QB Jalen Price (311 yards, 1 TD) have been the primary ball-carriers. Isaiah Price has also gotten a handful of carries, particularly in the red zone and leads the team with 5 touchdowns. Jalen Price is averaging just 6 pass attempts per game and has thrown for only 183 yards but 2 of his 10 completions have been for touchdowns. The concern for Armstrong is their pass defense. Last week against Mars, a traditionally run-heavy team, they allowed 250 yards and 3 TDs through the air. Now they have to face 5A’s second-leading passer in Hollis Mathis. You can watch this game live tonight on the Penn Hills Football YouTube Channel.
Honorable Mentions: Woodland Hills at West Allegheny, North Hills at Gateway
Woody High got off to a slow 0-4 start, but rebounded with a win over Baldwin last week. The Wolverines still have time to get back into the playoff picture but can’t afford many more losses. West Allegheny is coming off a hard-fought win over Upper St Clair and looking to stay atop the Allegheny Eight Conference. North Hills and Gateway meet in a non-conference game. Gateway comes in undefeated while North Hills’ only loss came last week against Peters Twp.
4A Game of the Week
Blackhawk (4-0, 5-0) at South Fayette (2-0, 4-1)
Everyone expected South Fayette to run through the Northwest Eight Conference once again. No one expected Blackhawk to be the team that presented the biggest challenge and stood between the Lions and a conference title. South Fayette has not lost a conference game since 2011 against Seton LaSalle. Both teams have been strong offensively, averaging over 35 points per game. On defense, both schools have held their opponents under 14 points per game. South Fayette’s pass-heavy offence relies on QB Jamie Diven (1204 yards, 17 TDs) to spread the ball around. Leading receivers Mike Trimbur (353 yards, 6 TDs) and Charley Rossi (285 yards, 4 TDs) are both averaging 16.8 yards per catch. Peyton Tinney (196 yards, 4 TDs) has been a big play threat, averaging nearly 22 yards per catch. The Lions will run the ball, with Andrew Franklin (372 yards, 4 TDs) as the lead back and Rayquin Glover (256 yards, 4 TDs) as the change-of-pace back. All told, the Lions are a tough offense to slow down and use some advanced passing schemes that will be tough to defend. The best chance Blackhawk has to slow down South Fayette’s offense is to use their strong running game to hold on to the ball and control the clock. The Cougars have three different backs with over 50 carries this season. Marques Watson-Trent (465 yards, 7 TDs) leads the way with Kenny Gawley (361 yards, 6 TDs) and Josh Butcher (278 yards, 3 TDs) all contributing significantly as well. Quarterback Chance Liptak has not had to throw much, averaging just 5 attempts per game, but he has thrown for 359 yards and 6 TDs. Ryan Heckathorn (117 yards, 2 TDs) has found the end zone on both of his receptions this season.
Honorable Mention: Greensburg Salem at Belle Vernon
Greensburg Salem scored a big victory over Laurel Highlands last week that gave the Golden Lions the inside track to a playoff spot. Now, they get to test themselves against one of the elite teams in 4A.
3A Game of the Week
Derry (3-0, 5-0) at Elizabeth Forward (3-0, 4-0)
Last week, Derry shut out an explosive North Catholic offense to set up a showdown between undefeated teams at the top of the Big East Conference. Derry’s victory was keyed by Justin Flack’s four touchdowns – two rushing and two receiving. On the season, Flack leads the Trojans with 457 rushing yards, 215 receiving yards, and 12 total touchdowns. Derry’s ground-and-pound offense is built around Flack, Onreey Stewart (392 yards, 2 TDs), Colton Nemcheck (187 yards, 1 TD), and Dom DeLuca (160 yards, 2 TDs). Nemcheck is the only one of those four backs averaging fewer than 7 yards per carry. Paul Koontz has been an effective passer when necessary, throwing for 309 yards and 6 TDs. The Trojans also have the second-best defense in 3A, holding opponents to just 8 points per game. On the other side, Elizabeth Forward is averaging 28 points per game. The Warriors are built around dual-threat QB Zachary Benedek. Benedek has thrown for over 300 yards and 5 TDs and added over 300 yards and 7 TDs on the ground. Nate Alberts has been his favorite receiver and they have hooked up for 4 touchdowns. The secret weapon on the team might be kicker Andrew Smith who has converted 4 field goals and made the game-winning extra point last week against Quaker Valley.
Honorable Mentions: Quaker Valley at Keystone Oaks, Mt Pleasant at North Catholic, Yough at Freeport
All three of these games are between teams that are right in the thick of the playoff races. None of these teams can clinch spots, but the winners will significantly improve their positioning for the stretch run.
2A Game of the Week
Charleroi (3-0, 4-0) at Beth-Center (3-1, 4-1)
This game lost a little of its luster when Beth-Center fell to McGuffey last week, but it is still a matchup between two of the top teams in the Interstate Conference. Charleroi is the highest-scoring team in the entire WPIAL, averaging an absurd 59.3 points per game. The Cougars came out with a bold statement win in Week 1 over defending 2A Champion Washington with QB Geno Pellegrini throwing for 208 yards and 5 TDs in that win. Since then, Charleroi has turned more to their running game and leaned on Brayden Milhalcin (527 yards, 10 TDs). Pellegrini has thrown for 565 yards and 13 TDs and added 324 yards and 5 more scores on the ground. Hunter Perry has been a jack-of-all trades, piling up 235 rushing yards, 133 receiving yards and scoring 5 times. On the outside, Dakota Romanito (229 yards, 6 TDs) and Legend Davis (161 yards, 2 TDs) have been the top receivers. Beth-Center’s offense is no slouch either, averaging 42 points per game. The Bulldogs have a balanced attack, led by a pair of dual-threat QBs. Bailey Lincoski has thrown for 637 yards and 4 TDs and rushed for 417 yards and 9 scores while splitting time with Colby Kuhns who has thrown for 166 yards and 3 TDs and run for 254 yards. Despite the rotation at quarterback, RB Dominic Fundy has been the constant, running for 727 yards and 4 TDs. Regardless of who is throwing, Beth-Center has two quality receivers on the outside in Devin Dingle (347 yards, 3 TDs) and JJ Green (260 yards, 2 TDs).
Honorable Mentions: Burgettstown at Serra, Steel Valley at South Allegheny
Burgettstown took the lead in the Three Rivers Conference with a two-day victory over South Side Beaver. The Blue Devils jumped out to a big lead on Friday night, then hung on Saturday morning after the game was postponed to come up with a big stop on a two-point conversion that would have tied the game with no time left on the clock. South Allegheny has been one of the surprising teams this season after losing a number of close games last year they have turned those into victories in 2018. Steel Valley is still one of the favorites to make a deep run despite their loss to Shady Side Academy.
1A Game of the Week
Rochester (2-1, 4-1) at Cornell (2-1, 3-1)
This year only 8 teams will make the 1A playoffs. Like with 3A the last two seasons, this means that only the top 2 from each conference are guaranteed a playoff spot and 2 of the 3 third place teams will make it. With OLSH out in front of the Big Seven Conference, it is a four-team race for second place between Rochester, OLSH, Sto-Rox (all 2-1 in conference play) and Laurel (1-1 in conference). Cornell is one of the best stories in the WPIAL this year. After joining with Quaker Valley under a cooperative agreement from 2012-2015, the school re-started their own football program in 2016. The Raiders endured two years of losing before finally winning in their season finale last year. In 2018 the Raiders have built upon that lone victory and come out with a strong start, averaging over 32 points per game. Dual-threat QB Zaire Harrison has led the way with 630 yards and 9 TDs through the air and 293 yards and 3 TDs on the ground. Luke Piccolo has formed a formidable backfield tandem with Harrison, with 282 yards rushing, 282 receiving yards and 5 total TDs. Second-leading receiver Jalen Lee has 179 yards and 3 TDs. Rochester is a perennial powerhouse in the Big Seven Conference and also averages 32 points per game. The Rams rely on a power running game led by the tandem of Noah Whiteleather and Darius Goosby. Whiteleather has compiled 879 rushing yards and also leads the team with 118 receiving yards and has scored 9 times. Goosby has added 335 rushing yards and 8 TDs. The Rams have been so good on the ground that QB Zaine Jeffers has averaged just 4 pass attempts per game and thrown for 183 yards and 1 TD. The winner of this game will maintain their position in the 1A playoff race while the loser will have some work to do over the later half of the season to stay in contention.
Honorable Mentions: California at Jefferson-Morgan, Bentworth at Monessen, Laurel at OLSH (Saturday)
As stated above, with the limited number of playoff spots in 1A every conference game has a big impact on the standings. All three of these games are between teams currently in the hunt for the playoffs. The California