As we enter the final third of the WPIAL season, playoff races are in full swing across the board. So far, 13 teams have clinched their spots with 12 teams securing those positions last week. That leaves 49 open spots across the six classifications. This week, 27 more teams have the opportunity to lock up their spot in the WPIAL Playoffs. Don’t forget to check out our detailed analysis of all the playoff clinching scenarios in play this week. While last week featured a number of massive matchups in 1A, this week’s loaded slate is in 2A where we profiled three “Games of the Week” and two more in the “Honorable Mentions” that are also high-profile matchups. 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 and WPIAL Wild Card Standings Page with 5A & 1A standings 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
Canon-McMillan (1-4, 2-4) at Norwin (2-3, 3-4)
This might not be a high-profile matchup of elite teams, but make no mistake – it is the most important game in 6A this week. Canon-Mac comes in with just 1 conference win but does have a remaining game against winless Butler. Norwin has wins over Hempfield and Butler and currently sits in the 6th and final playoff spot. A Canon-Mac win would put the Big Macs right back in the playoff picture. A Norwin victory would set the 6A playoff field, clinching spots for Seneca Valley, Central Catholic, Mt. Lebanon, and Norwin. The big question for Norwin this week is the health of QB Jack Salopek (1250 yards, 11 TDs) who left last week’s game with an injury. Nick Fleming came in last week after Salopek went out and would be the next guy up. Norwin does have a talented receiving corps led by Billy Kerston (307 yards, 4 TDs), Sean Pavlic (243 yards, 2 TDs), and Tanner Krevokuch (192 yards). Gianni Rizzo has been an all-around play-maker for the Knights with 130 rushing yards, 342 receiving yards and a team-high 11 TDs. Out of the backfield, Ezekial Houser (415 yards, 3 TDs) has been the leading rusher but Norwin is definitely built as a pass-first offense with Salopek’s arm. The Big Macs have a balanced offensive approach between QB Jon Quinque (755 yards, 6 TDs) and RB Josh O’Hare (704 yards, 7 TDs). On the outside, Drew Engel (342 yards, 4 TDs) has been the leading receiver. Both of these teams are giving up over 30 points per game on defense, so this one has the potential to be a shootout.
Honorable Mention: Mt. Lebanon at Pine-Richland
Pine-Richland and North Allegheny have separated themselves at the top of 6A while Mt. Lebanon is in the middle of the pack. These are two likely playoff teams but Mt. Lebanon has struggled against elite competition this year and Pine-Richland has one of the best offensive lines in the WPIAL.
5A Game of the Week
Baldwin (2-3, 4-3) at Bethel Park (3-1, 4-2)
This is an old rivalry that for years was the season finale in the AAAA Great Southern Conference. Baldwin dropped down to 5A in 2016 with the move to six classifications and Bethel Park joined them this year, putting the rivalry game back on the schedule. After going 3-15 with just 1 conference win in the last two years, Baldwin has seen a resurgence this season. The Highlanders are 4-3 overall and right in the thick of the 5A playoff race. Meanwhile Bethel Park can clinch their 18th consecutive playoff appearance with a win tonight. Baldwin’s rise has been thanks to dual-threat QB Mason Stahl who has thrown for 1130 yards and 15 TDs and run for 311 yards and 3 scores. He has been able to spread the ball around to Jarren Kelly (530 yards, 8 TDs), Dre Howell (269 yards, 5 TDs), and Naseer Penn (209 yards, 3 TDs). On the ground, Angelo Priore (568 yards, 4 TDs) has been an effective lead back, averaging 7 yards per carry. On the other side, Bethel Park’s ground and pound offense has once again dominated this season. Luke Surunis (507 yards, 7 TDs), Jehvonn Lewis (454 yards, 10 TDs), and Sean McGowan (375 yards, 7 TDs) are all averaging over 6 yards per carry and are also among the team’s leading receivers. QB Anthony Chiccitt has been effective when called upon, attempting about 10 passes per game and has thrown for 670 yards and 4 TDs.
Honorable Mentions: Latrobe at Plum, Armstrong at North Hills
Latrobe vs Plum might not sound like a big game considering the two teams are 1-4 and 1-5 in conference play, but it is a big game in determining the 5th and final playoff spot in the Big East Conference. A Plum win could force a 3-way tie with Connellsville while a Latrobe win puts them in the driver’s seat for a playoff spot. In the Northern Conference, Armstrong is looking to get back into the playoff hunt after losing to Shaler while North Hills is trying to stay in the conversation for a home playoff game.
4A Game of the Week
Belle Vernon (4-1, 5-1) at West Mifflin (4-0, 4-3)
This is an instrumental game in determining which two teams from the Big Eight Conference will get home playoff games. These two, along with Thomas Jefferson, have separated themselves at the top of the pack. Belle Vernon already has a loss to TJ while West Mifflin has yet to play the rival Jaguars. Both of these teams are able to generate offense out of the backfield. For Belle Vernon, that comes in the form of leading rusher Mason Pascoe (1074 yards, 14 TDs). Larry Callaway has been an effective change-of-pace back and despite only having 198 yards has scored 7 times (including 3 last week). QB Jared Hartman has thrown for 449 yards and 6 TDs. West Mifflin similarly relies on one running back to shoulder the load. Parrish Parker has run for 1065 yards and 18 TDs to lead the way for the Titans. Bryant Johnson is the team’s second-leading rusher (187 yards) and leading receiver (362 yards) and has scored twice. Like his counterpart for Belle Vernon, QB Matthew Schuster hasn’t had to throw often but has been effective, throwing for 457 yards and 2 TDs when called upon.
Honorable Mentions: Highlands at South Fayette, Knoch at New Castle
South Fayette and Blackhawk have separated themselves at the top of the Northwest Eight Conference. In the middle, five teams are fighting over the last two playoff spots. Beaver (3-2) has a slight edge over recently-surging Montour (2-2) with Highlands (2-3), Knoch (2-4), and New Castle (1-3) having work to do to but not out of it yet.
3A Game of the Week
Aliquippa (4-0, 7-0) at South Park (2-2, 2-4)
The Quips have been dominant this season, averaging 54 points per game and giving up just 26 total points, 20 of which came last week to Yough. Meanwhile, South Park has rebounded from a slow start to quietly put themselves right back into the thick of the playoff race. Aliquippa and Beaver Falls are clearly the top two teams in the Tri-County West Conference, but the other two playoff spots are wide open between Quaker Valley, Central Valley, and South Park who all sit with two conference losses. There is also some history between these teams as Aliquippa has knocked South Park out of the playoffs in 3 of the last 5 years. These teams also played non-conference games, making the Quips 4-0 over the Eagles in the last two years. The Quips revamped offense this year has taken to the air and blossomed with Eli Kosanovich throwing for 1486 yards and 23 TDs. William Gipson (789 yards, 8 TDs) and Deoveon Crute (257 yards, 6 TDs) have been his primary targets on the outside. Out of the backfield, Avante McKenzie has run for 857 yards and 16 TDs, averaging over 10 yards per carry behind the Quips massive offensive line. One can not talk about Aliquippa without discussing MJ Devonshire, who is the most exciting player in the WPIAL with the ball in his hand. Devonshire has 254 receiving yards and 5 TDs, 103 rushing yards and 2 TDs, and an incredible seven punt return touchdowns along with a defensive score to tally 15 total TDs. South Park will need to use their running game to not only keep Aliquippa’s offense off the field, but to avoid having to punt the ball to Devonshire. The Eagles ground game is led by Rudy Mihoces (538 yards, 9 TDs). QB Stephen Kmonk has thrown for 587 yards and 7 TDs, primarily to Brandon Goldbach (239 yards, 5 TDs).
Honorable Mentions: Hopewell at Central Valley, Derry at Yough
Central Valley is right in the thick of the Tri-County West playoff race while Hopewell is hanging on at the fringe of the picture and needs a victory over someone above them to get back in the conversation. Derry is locked in a 3-way tie with Elizabeth Forward and North Catholic atop the Big East while Yough is in the middle of the pack trying to fend off a hard-charging Freeport for the last playoff spot.
2A Games of the Week
East Allegheny (2-1, 5-2) at Avonworth (3-1, 6-1)
The top four teams in the Allegheny Conference have separated themselves from the bottom three. Shady Side Academy sits in first place with a perfect record, followed by the triumvirate of Steel Valley, Avonworth, and East Allegheny who all have one loss. Both of these teams have lost to Steel Valley but have yet to play Shady Side Academy, so the winner here will stay in the hunt for the Conference Title. East Allegheny has been led by dual-threat QB Dan Kasmier who has thrown for 387 yards and 4 TDs and run for 280 yards and 3 scores. Leading receiver Tyler Padezan has accounted for 285 yards and 2 TDs. As has been custom, Avonworth has one of the most exciting passing games in 2A. The Lopes are led by the tandem of QB Derek Johncour (1838 yards, 20 TDs) and the WPIAL’s receptions leader Turner Grau (647 yards, 12 TDs). Turner is the son of Mike Grau, who formerly held the WPIAL single-season receptions record. But Avonworth has more threats than just Grau, as Johncour has also been able to spread the ball between Drew Harper (424 yards, 3 TDs) and Ethan Syam (374 yards, 2 TDs). Out of the backfield, Jax Miller has run for 545 yards and 13 TDs.
McGuffey (5-0, 7-0) at Charleroi (4-1, 5-1)
McGuffey sits alone atop the Interstate Conference with three teams having only 1 loss right behind them. The undefeated Highlanders rolled past Beth-Center in Week 4 but now have to face Charleroi and Washington over the final three weeks of the season. Charleroi scored a massive victory over Washington in Week 1 but suffered a 1-point loss to Beth-Center after missing a game-tying extra point with 5 minutes to go. McGuffey’s offense runs through dual-threat QB Marshall Whipkey who has thrown for 614 yards and 11 TDs and added 452 yards and 6 TDs on the ground. The Highlanders are a run-heavy offense led by Christian Clutter (829 yards, 23 TDs) and Mckinley Whipkey (513 yards, 3 TDs). Those three players, along with Brendan Crowe (252 yards, 4 TDs) are all averaging over 7.6 yards per carry. While McGuffey wants to run the ball, Charleroi’s offense has been very balanced this season. They have one of the top QBs in the WPIAL in Geno Pellegrini (1113 yards, 20 TDs) but have also been incredibly effective on the ground. Brayden Milhalcin (655 yards, 11 TDs) and Pellegrini (476 yards, 7 TDs) have both averaged about 9 yards per carry. When the Cougars do take to the air, they have two quality targets in Dakota Romantino (427 yards, 8 TDs) and Legend Davis (373 yards, 4 TDs). Hunter Perry has been a jack-of-all-trades with 279 rushing yards, 238 receiving yards and 8 total TDs.
Washington (3-1, 6-1) at Beth-Center (4-1, 5-2)
After their Week 1 loss to Charleroi, Washington bounced back in a big way. The Prexies have averaged 52 points per game over the last 5 weeks and pitched 4 shutouts. Beth-Center got off to a hot 4-0 start but has lost 2 of their last 3 games. The Bulldogs did top Charleroi by 1 point in Week 5, so they do have the potential to play with the top teams in the conference. The Prexies come in with a balanced offensive attack led by dual-threat QB Zack Swartz (1493 passing yards, 21 TDs; 489 rushing yards, 7 TDs). Dylan Asbury (603 yards, 12 TDs) has formed a formidable tandem with Swartz out of the backfield, with both averaging over 10 yards per carry. On the outside, Zahmere Robinson (502 yards, 7 TDs) and TE Daniel Walker (406 yards, 11 TDs) have been the primary threats. Walker is also being recruited as a defensive end and has been stellar on that side of the ball. Beth-Center also comes in with a dual-threat QB in Bailey Lincoski (774 passing yards, 5 TDs; 747 rushing yards, 13 TDs) who is a threat to join the exclusive 1000 pass/1000 rush club this season. Leading rusher Dominic Fundy (938 yards, 6 TDs) along with Lincoski and Colby Kuhns (273 yards) have all averaged over 8 yards per carry. When Lincoski does take to the air, Devin Dingle (475 yards, 4 TDs) and JJ Green (265 yards, 2 TDs) have been the primary targets.
Honorable Mentions: Seton LaSalle at South Side Beaver, Serra Catholic at South Allegheny
Burgettstown has a clear lead in the Three Rivers Conference while five teams are battling for the remaining three spots. South Allegheny is 3-1 in conference but is coming off a lost to South Side Beaver, who is 3-2. Seton LaSalle and Serra Catholic are both 2-2, followed by Brentwood at 2-3. All of these teams have seemingly beaten each other this year, so any head-to-head matchups down the stretch will be pivotal in the playoff race.
1A Games of the Week
Clairton (4-0, 6-0) at West Greene (5-1, 5-2)
Last week we saw a number of big games in 1A, including Clairton putting forth another dominant defensive effort to slow down Imani Christian’s offense. In the Tri-County South, West Greene lost to California which sends the conference into a 3-way tie scenario between those two teams and Monessen. Additionally, in a battle of undefeated teams, Jeannette topped OLSH. This week’s marquee game features the conference leaders from the Eastern Conference and Tri-County South Conference. Clairton did not score a defensive touchdown last week, but their stifling defense set the stage for QB Brendan Parsons’ big day with 4 passing TDs and 2 rushing TDs. On the season, Parsons has thrown for 697 yards and 10 TDs and run for 129 yards and 5 scores. The Bears can strike at any moment with any player and have spread the offensive workload around. Out of the backfield, Taevon Thompson (238 yards, 5 TDs), Dontae Sanders (204 yards, 2 TDs) and Parsons have shared the work. When Parsons takes to the air, Keinlein Ogletree (266 yards, 3 TDs), Dom Solomon (126 yards, 5 TDs), and Andress Wiggins (114 yards, 1 TD) have all been effective receivers. On the other side, West Greene’s offense is built almost entirely around one person – RB Ben Jackson. Jackson’s 1429 yards is second in the entire WPIAL and his 24 TDs are the most of any player in Western PA. Last week in the Pioneers’ loss to California, Jackson still ran for 192 yards and 2 TDs. Since Jackson has been so good, QB Gavin Scott (369 yards, 2 TDs) has not had to throw much, but when he does Andrew Litton (185 yards) and Nathan Brudnock (168 yards, 2 TDs) have been his favorite targets. In limited work, Kolin Walker (270 yards, 3 TDs) has been effective at spelling Jackson out of the backfield.
California (3-1, 3-4) at Bentworth (3-2, 4-3)
California’s win over West Greene last week kept the Trojans in the playoff hunt. California, West Greene, and Monessen all have 1 conference loss and are 1-1 head-to-head against each other. Bentworth is sitting in 4th place with losses to West Greene and Monessen, but a win over California would give them a head-to-head tiebreaker and put the Bearcats right back into the playoff conversation as one of the possible third place Wild Card teams. California has run out a parade of running backs this season with 6 players all having at least 20 carries and over 100 yards. Jelani Stafford (550 yards, 8 TDs) leads the way, followed by Cochise Ryan (295 yards, 7 TDs) who is also the team’s leading receiver (100 yards) despite missing some time with injury. QB Austin Grillo has not had to throw much but has put up 376 yards and 5 TDs through the air and 250 yards and 4 scores on the ground. Lucas Qualk (244 yards, 1 TD) and Jaeden Zuzak (225 yards, 3 TDs) have also factored into the Trojans ground game. Bentworth comes in having dropped down from 2A where they missed the playoffs the last two seasons. The Bearcats have a balanced offensive attack with QB Shawn Dziak (713 yards, 7 TDs) and RB Trent Cavanaugh (877 yards, 13 TDs) leading the way. On the outside, Dziak has spread the ball around between Dylan Farkas (232 yards, 2 TDs), Cavanaugh (137 yards) and Bruce Hook (103 yards, 1 TD). Owen Petrisek has been an all-around threat with 287 rushing yards, 127 receiving yards and 7 total TDs.
Honorable Mentions: Cornell at Laurel, GCC at Jeannette
If California follows up their win over West Greene by beating Bentworth, it is likely that a Tri-County South team will earn one of the third place Wild Cards as the top three teams would be headed for a 3-way tie with 1 loss each. This means that there is one remaining playoff spot for a third place team in either the Big Seven or Eastern Conference where Sto-Rox, Cornell, Laurel, Imani Christian, and GCC all have 2 losses. The Cornell-Laurel game is essentially a playoff elimination game while a GCC loss to defending 1A Champions Jeannette would eliminate the Centurions.