The 2019 WPIAL Playoffs are here! This week, 60 of the 62 teams will be in action across the six classifications as they begin their journeys towards Heinz Field or Norwin Stadium. This week, I published primers with some highlighted storylines, historical successes and recent playoff results for all of the playoff teams. In 6A, 4 of the 6 playoff teams will be in action tonight with Central Catholic and Pine-Richland waiting to take on the victors. The 5A and 2A playoffs have 16 teams so tonight’s games are the first round and the winners will move on to the quarterfinals next week. The 4A, 3A, and 1A playoffs have 8 teams and will play their quarterfinal matchups tonight. The biggest storylines at the start of the playoffs are who IS here (namely Southmoreland reaching the postseason for the first time since 1979) and who is NOT here (namely Woodland Hills who missed the playoffs for the first time since 1995, ending the third-longest playoff streak in the WPIAL).
I’m happy to once again be doing a guest spot on the WMBS pregame show. They’ll be broadcasting the Cornell-California quarterfinal in the 1A playoffs tonight. We previewed that game and also discussed some other playoff highlights and what to watch for this week on the Sprowls Insurance Group Pregame Show, which you can listen to, starting at 6pm on Friday night.
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.
3. North Allegheny (9-1) vs 6. Canon-McMillan (3-7)
North Allegheny is coming off a loss to rival Pine-Richland which cost the Tigers a first round bye. Earlier this season NA defeated Canon-Mac 42-6. The Tigers offense relies on their ground game led by Percise Colon (911 yards, 12 TDs). QB Ben Petschke has thrown for 973 yards and 10 TDs while leading receiver Luke Colella has 455 receiving yards, 248 rushing yards and scored 12 times. North Allegheny has the stingiest defense in 6A, holding opponents to just 9 points per game. That is not a good recipe for a Canon-McMillan offense that is the lowest-scoring unit in the 6A playoffs at just 16 points per game. The Big Macs lost 1000-yard passer Jon Quinque to injury in Week 6 and have leaned on their running game with Ryan Angott (832 yards, 8 TDs). Ben Urso and Deuce Lyons have split time at QB over the last few weeks and have still been able to get the ball to Blake Joseph (669 yards, 7 TDs). The winner of this game will play at Pine-Richland next week.
4. Mt. Lebanon (6-4) vs 5. Seneca Valley (4-6)
Seneca Valley played in two of the three closest 6A games this season but lost both. The Raiders lost by 3 points to Central Catholic then two weeks later saw Mt. Lebanon come back from a 14-0 deficit to win 26-20. In that game, Mt. Lebanon took to the air after Seneca Valley’s defensive front shut down their running game. The Blue Devils have had an emotional season under coach Bob Palko (who has the most WPIAL titles of any coach) while playing for high school principal Brian McFeeley who is battling cancer. Mt. Lebanon’s offense has been led by QB Joey Daniels (1195 yards, 15 TDs). Sam Lasota (412 yards, 4 TDs) leads the receivers while Mason Ventrone (803 yards of total offense, 11 TDs) and Evan Jones (664 yards of total offense, 11 TDs) have contributed both on the ground and through the air. Seneca Valley relies on dual-threat QB Gabe Lawson (1122 passing yards, 8 TDs, 265 rushing yards, 8 TDs). Matt Stanger and Ethan West have both accounted for over 500 yards of total offense and combined for 11 TDs. The winner of this game will face top-seeded Central Catholic next week.
5A First Round
1. Penn-Trafford (9-1) vs 16. Fox Chapel (4-6)
Penn-Trafford earned the top seed in 5A after a dominant regular season where they averaged 38 points per game (the highest in 5A) and won 8 games by at least 21 points. Fox Chapel earned the 5A Wild Card after a Week 9 loss to Shaler. The Foxes are allowing 29 points against per game, the highest mark of any 5A playoff team. Penn-Trafford lost star RB/S Caleb Lisbon to an injury earlier this season but have not missed a beat since. Dual-threat QB Gabe Dunlap has taken command of the offense, throwing for 1426 yards and 14 TDs and running for 804 yards and 10 TDs. Ethan Carr is the top skill player with 537 receiving yards, 268 rushing yards, and 16 total TDs. Fox Chapel’s offense has relied on their passing game and QB Shane Susnak (1791 yards, 14 TDs) who finished third in 5A in passing. He has spread the ball around to Lorenzo Jenkins (476 yards, 6 TDs), Warner Macklin (392 yards, 2 TDs) and Khi’lee Patterson (232 yards, 2 TDs).
8. North Hills (6-4) vs 9. Upper St. Clair (6-4)
Not too long ago this would have been a marquee matchup of legendary coaches Jack McCurry and Jim Render. Now both are retired and their successors have continued the strong programs at both schools. Upper St. Clair has been the “Cardiac Cats” this season, with 8 games finishing within 2 scores, including 4th quarter comebacks over Woodland Hills and West Allegheny. North Hills lost their season finale to Penn Hills in a battle for the Northern Conference title. Upper St Clair has 5A’s leading passer in Ethan Dahlem (2077 yards, 16 TDs) and the WPIAL’s leading receiver in David Pantelis (1135 yards, 9 TDs). Dahlem has also led the Panthers on the ground with 762 yards and 11 TDs. North Hills’ offense is based on their rushing attack. QB Dylan Pawling ran for more yards (512 yards, 11 TDs) than he threw for (425 yards, 3 TDs). Curtis Foskey (634 yards, 8 TDs), Tom McDonough (576 yards, 10 TDs), and Tyler Tomasic (371 yards, 2 TDs) have also been featured in the Indians backfield.
4. Moon (8-2) vs 13. Franklin Regional (4-4)
Moon won their first conference title since 2003 and is looking for their first playoff win since 2006. Franklin Regional is making their 16th straight playoff appearance but backed in, losing 4 of their last 5 games. Moon is led by dual-threat QB Dante Clay who has over 600 yards through the air and on the ground this season. Clay threw for 5 TDs and ran for 8 more, but battled through injuries late in the season. Tyler McGowan filled in admirably, throwing for 500 yards and 5 TDs when Clay was out. On the ground, Jamal Littlejohn has run for over 500 yards and 8 TDs while leading receiver Dawson Snyder has over 600 yards and 6 TDs. Franklin Regional’s offense was led by the tandem of QB Trevor Brncic and RB Zac Gordon. Brncic threw for 826 yards and 6 TDs while Gordon ran for 848 yards and 10 TDs.
5. Peters Twp (9-1) vs 12. Mars (6-4)
Peters Twp reached the semifinals last year, tying their best playoff result in school history. Mars has played in the most WPIAL playoff games () of any team without winning a championship. Peters Twp has a balanced offensive attack with playmakers across the field. QB Logan Pfeuffer (1571 yards, 19 TDs) and RB Ryan Magiske (1092 yards, 12 TDs) both ranked in the top five in 5A in their respective categories. WR Josh Casilli finished with 680 yards and 18 total TDs. Mars, as is typical with a Mars team, is built around their running game. Teddy Ruffner (1845 yards, 25 TDs) led 5A in rushing. Complementary back Nick Spotti added 385 yards and 6 TDs with both backs averaging over 7 yards per carry.
2. Gateway (8-2) vs 15. Shaler (4-6)
Gateway had a dominant season with their only losses coming against Penn-Trafford and to a top-ranked team from Ohio. The Gators averaged 36 points per game and allowed just 12 per game, finishing as the second-best offense and third-best defense in 5A. Gateway has the best junior in the state of Pennsylvania in Derrick Davis who has offers from every major college program including Alabama, Clemson, LSU, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Penn State. Davis has run for 1227 yards and led the team with 477 receiving yards and scored 25 total TDs. QB Bryson Venanzio has thrown for 1834 yards and 21 TDs, targeting Davis and Tui Brown (396 yards, 6 TDs). Shaler is back in the playoffs for a second straight year after a 7-year playoff drought in which they had losing streaks of 34 and 24 games. This game has two of the Top 5 passers in 5A with Gateway’s Venanzio and Shaler’s Darin Mizgorski (1560 yards, 10 TDs). Joey Impavido (650 yards, 7 TDs) leadsShaler’s receiving corps. Leading rusher Jake Miller (828 yards) is the Titans second-leading receiver (326 yards) and has scored 15 times,
7. Bethel Park (6-3) vs 10. Kiski (5-5)
Bethel Park earned a home playoff game with a 1-point Week 9 win over Upper St. Clair and was the only team to beat conference champion Moon. Kiski finished third in the Northern Conference but is the lowest-scoring team in all of 5A (13 points per game). The Cavaliers scored more than 21 points just 3 times this year and won all of those games. Bethel Park’s run-heavy attack has relied on the trio of Sean McGowan, Jehvonn Lewis and Anthony Chiccitt. McGowan (782 rushing yards, 183 receiving yards, 8 total TDs) has been the featured back while Lewis (467 rushing yards, 302 receiving yards, 9 total TDs) is an all-around threat. Anthony Chiccitt has an inspirational story, overcoming a cancer diagnosis to come back and quarterback the Blackhawks, throwing for 724 yards and 6 TDs and running for 177 yards and 2 TDs. Kiski also has a run-heavy attack led by the duo of Kenny Blake (980 yards, 11 TDs) and Luke Lander (670 yards, 3 TDs).
3. Penn Hills (9-1) vs 14. Latrobe (5-5)
Penn Hills is the defending WPIAL and PIAA 5A champions, but have replaced most of their starters from last year’s team. Nevertheless, the Indians still have not lost to a 5A school since moving down with their only loss this year coming against defending 6A Champion Pine-Richland. This will be the fourth meeting between Penn Hills and Latrobe in the last two seasons as they have played regular season games and also met in the first round last year. Penn Hills won this year’s meeting 41-14. This year’s Indians squad has been led by QB Eddie McKissick (1149 yards, 13 TDs) and RB Germar Howard (1000 yards, 9 TDs). On the outside, Anthony Grimes (541 yards, 7 TDs) has been the leading receiver and along with Aakeem Snell anchored one of the best secondaries in the WPIAL. Latrobe’s offense is built around their rushing attack, which has been led by Logan Gustafson (535 yards, 3 TDs) and Bobby Fetter (436 yards, 8 TDs). The Wildcats only averaged about 10 pass attempts per game and the quarterback role was split between Fetter and Branden Crosby. Leading receiver Kam Stevens (170 yards) also ran for 200 yards and scored 8 times.
6. McKeesport (7-3) vs 11. Baldwin (5-5)
McKeesport had the third-highest scoring offense in 5A (34 points per game) while Baldwin’s defense allowed the third-most points of any playoff team (27 points against per game). McKeesport’s offense is built around their traditional triple-option wishbone attack. The Tigers offense has been led by QB Devari Robinson who has run for 1119 yards and 26 TDs. Robinson has only averaged about 5 pass attempts per game and thrown 6 TDs, primarily targeting Deamontae Diggs (208 yards, 5 TDs). Tyron Adams-Wagner (759 yards, 3 TDs) and Vernon Andrews (420 yards, 4 TDs) have also been factors in the triple-option attack. Baldwin does have the type of offense that could give McKeesport problems. If the Highlanders can hit some big plays through the air and get a lead, they can take McKeesport out of their comfort zone. Dual-threat QB Mason Stahl (918 passing yards, 7 TDs, 754 rushing yards, 11 TDs) has been the catalyst of the offense. Angelo Priore (853 yards, 8 TDs) has been the featured back while Nasser Penn (401 yards, 7 TDs) is their leading receiver.
1. Thomas Jefferson (10-0) vs 8. Montour (5-5)
Thomas Jefferson is making their 25th consecutive playoff appearance, tied for the longest streak with Aliquippa. The Jaguars had the second-highest scoring offense (48 points per game) and the stingiest defense (33 total points allowed all season, 5 shutouts) in 4A this year. TJ also had skill position players finish in the Top 4 in passing, rushing, and receiving. QB Shane Stump threw for 1776 yards (insert your own Thomas Jefferson/1776/Declaration of Independence reference here) and 25 TDs. RB Dylan Mallozzi ran for 955 yards and 15 TDs while Dan Deabner (659 yards, 13 TDs) and Ian Hansen (538 yards, 7 TDs) anchored the receiving corps. Montour won 4 of their last 5 games to make the playoffs and all 5 of their losses came by 8 points or fewer. Montour had the second-best defense in the Northwest Eight Conference, allowing just 16 points per game. The Spartans have done everything they can to get the ball in the hands of Dominic Magliocco (322 rushing yards, 530 receiving yards, 8 total TDs) including letting him play quarterback where he added another 175 yards and 1 TD. Luke Persinger (820 yards, 2 TDs) has been the primary signal-caller with Gannon Keadlecik (640 yards, 12 TDs) and William White (393 yards, 4 TDs) shouldering the load in the running game.
4. Blackhawk (6-4) vs 5. Greensburg Salem (5-5)
Blackhawk earned a home playoff game for the second straight season. Greensburg Salem is the lowest-scoring team in the 4A playoffs, averaging just 20 points per game. Defensively, they also rank last among the 4A playoff teams, giving up 28 points per game and are the only 4A playoff team with a negative scoring differential. Blackhawk is a run-heavy team, led by 1000-yard rusher Marques Watson-Trent who scored 18 times. Both Watson-Trent and Josh Butcher (570 yards, 6 TDs) averaged over 7.5 yards per carry. Greensburg-Salem’s offensive attack also centered around a “Trent” – dual-threat QB Trent Patrick who threw for 805 yards and 11 TDs and ran for 271 yards and 7 TDs. The Lions also had a solid tandem in the backfield in Alex Briggs (621 yards, 4 TDs) and Aaron Putt (301 yards, 4 TDs) who both averaged 5 yards per carry. This figures to be an old-school smash-mouth run-the-ball-and-play-defense type game.
2. South Fayette (9-1) vs 7. West Mifflin (5-5)
South Fayette won their 8th straight conference title and have won a WPIAL-leading 63 consecutive conference games. The Lions are led by the WPIAL’s leading passer Naman Alemada (2591 yards, 29 TDs) who topped defending passing champion Eric Wilson of Sto-Rox by just 6 yards. Alemada has spread the ball around to Charley Rossi (685 yards), Joey Audia (671 yards), and Ryan McGuire (561 yards) who have all scored 7 TDs. Out of the backfield, Andrew Franklin (601 yards, 11 TDs) and Shay Aiken (376 yards, 4 TDs) have formed a solid tandem. West Mifflin is coming off a blow-out loss to rival Thomas Jefferson in which a number of players were suspended for missing practice. Jacob Davis and Jaylen Dukes split time at quarterback this season with Davis leading the way (495 yards, 7 TDs). Davis also ran for 880 yards and 8 scores, complemented in the backfield by Laronday Wilder (507 yards, 10 TDs). On the outside, Keith Demery led the Titans receivers with 482 yards and 3 TDs.
3. Belle Vernon (8-1) vs 6. New Castle (6-4)
Belle Vernon bounced back from an early loss to Thomas Jefferson to cruise through the rest of their schedule and be 4A’s highest-scoring team (49 points per game). New Castle was the second-highest scoring team in the Northwest Eight Conference at 31 points per game. Belle Vernon has a team loaded with talent this season, led by QB Jared Hartman (1409 yards, 24 TDs) who missed the playoffs last year due to injury. The Leopards backfield has produced a number of big plays this year and their top three backs all average over 8 yards per carry. Larry Calloway (792 yards, 16 TDs) has been the featured back while Monessen transfer Devin Whitlock has been an all-around star with 421 rushing yards, 272 receiving yards, 9 total TDs plus a TD pass. Nolan Labuda (423 yards, 9 TDs) leads Belle Vernon’s receiving corps. New Castle has a balanced offensive attack and QB Michael Wells has thrown for 1348 yards and 13 TDs, primarily targeting Donny Cade (459 yards, 1 TD) and Jason Williams (429 yards, 4 TDs). RB Demetris McKnight topped the 1000-yard mark with 1056 rushing yards and has added 330 receiving yards and scored a team-high 17 times.
1. Central Valley (9-1) vs 8. Mt. Pleasant (5-5)
Central Valley captured the top spot in the 3A playoffs with a dominant 45-6 victory in The Pit at Aliquippa in Week 9. The Warriors also have a win over Big East Champion North Catholic this season and their only loss came to 4A top seed Thomas Jefferson. Mt. Pleasant beat out Burrell for the last playoff spot thanks to a head-to-head victory. Central Valley is led by dual-threat QB Ameer Dudley who threw for 1267 yards and 17 TDs and ran for 303 yards and 6 scores. Dudley’s favorite targets were Jawon Hall (566 yards, 10 TDs) and Myles Walker (219 yards, 9 TDs). Jaylen Guy led the Warriors rushing attack with 837 yards and 10 TDs. On the other side, Mt. Pleasant’s offense was built around their ground game. Jake Johnson led the Vikings in rushing (1062 yards), receiving (412 yards) and scoring (18 total TDs). Nick Loughner (630 yards, 6 TDs) and Pete Billey (478 yards, 3 TDs) were also factors in the running game, averaging over 7 yards per carry. Asher O’Conner averaged just 9 pass attempts per game but threw for 717 yards and 7 TDs.
4. Derry (8-2) vs 5. Beaver Falls (8-2)
Buckle your chin strap for this one. Both teams average over 31 points per game on the back of strong rushing attacks. This game will be won in the trenches. Derry’s Justin Huss leads 3A in rushing with 1803 yards and 28 TDs. The Trojans have averaged just 10 pass attempts per game and QB Paul Koontz has thrown for 596 yards and 8 TDs. While Derry relies on a single back and a stout defense that gives up just 13 points per game, Beaver Falls has a tandem approach that has yielded dividends. Josh Hough has run for 1126 yards and 17 TDs while Shileak Livingston has run for 917 yards and 15 TDs. Over the second half of the season, the quarterback duties have been split between Jaren Brickner (479 yards, 4 TDs) and Jabarhi Cleckley (325 yards, 4 TDs). Both of these Derry and Beaver Falls are grind-it-out smash mouth running teams which should make for a heck of a battle.
2. Aliquippa (9-1) vs 7. Elizabeth Forward (7-2)
The Quips are coming off their second loss to Central Valley in the Mike Warfield Era, but that didn’t stop them from winning the WPIAL and PIAA title last season. This year Aliquippa had the top offense (42 points per game) and defense (10 points against per game) in 3A. Elizabeth Forward had the second-best defense in 3A (11 points against per game). Aliquippa’s offense was led by the tandem of Antonio Quinn (1075 yards, 13 TDs) and Vernon Redd (522 yards, 12 TDs) who both averaged over 9 yards per carry. Vaughn Morris took the helm of the Air Warfield offense and threw for 936 yards and 15 TDs, primarily to Chinua Soloman (432 yards, 9 TDs). Penn State recruit Zuriah Fisher scored 5 TDs on defense this season. Elizabeth Forward’s offense was led by RB Evan Lewis (7 TDs) and WR Chase Whatton (6 TDs). Kicker Andrew Smith led 3A with 4 field goals this season.
3. North Catholic (8-1) vs 6. South Park (4-5)
North Catholic went unbeaten in the Big East Conference with their only loss coming to Central Valley in non-conference play. The Trojans had the third-highest scoring offense in 3A (34 points per game) while South Park has the worst defense in the 3A playoff field (27 points against per game). South Park struggled to put points on the board this season and had the fifth-lowest point total in all of 3A (19 points per game). North Catholic’s Zack Rocco (1759 yards, 21 TDs) is the only one of the Top 6 passers in 3A to make the playoffs. Nick Maher (719 yards, 10 TDs) led the Trojans on the outside. RB Anthony Serventi was an all-around star with 682 rushing yards, 289 receiving yards and 14 total TDs. South Park relied on their rushing attack, led by Rudy Mihoces (916 yards, 8 TDs). Nathan May was the Eagles’ second-leading rusher (511 yards), leading receiver (202 yards) and scored 7 times. Stephen Kmonk averaged about 11 pass attempts per game and threw for 672 yards and 6 TDs.
2A First Round
1. Washington (10-0) vs 16. Shady Side Academy (5-4)
No team in the WPIAL dominated the regular season like Washington. They won all of their games by at least 21 points, averaging a 2A-leading 48 points per game. Shady Side Academy got off to a strong start but suffered a number of injuries which caused them to forfeit a game to Apollo-Ridge and were not the same team the rest of the year with a limited roster. Washington relied on the tandem of Zack Swartz and Zahmere Robinson. Swartz was one of the top dual-threat QBs in the WPIAL, throwing for 1512 yards and 22 TDs and running for 839 yards and 19 TDs. Robinson ran for 567 yards and was the Prexies leading receiver with 581 yards and scored 18 times. Shady Side Academy also has a dual-threat QB in Josh Castro who threw for 3 TDs and ran for 5 more. Eddie Faulkner and Mason Tomlin (son of Mike Tomlin) both found the end zone four times.
8. Freedom (7-3) vs 9. Charleroi (7-2)
This is a matchup of two teams that lost in the semifinals last season. Freedom got off to a hot 7-0 start but dropped their last 3 games, costing the Bulldogs the conference title. Charleroi’s only loss after a Week 1 defeat by Washington was against McGuffey. The Cougars had the third-highest scoring offense in 2A (39 points per game). Both teams also have a balanced offensive attack. Freedom is led by QB Cole Beck (1021 yards, 12 TDs) whose favorite receiver has been Reiker Welling (478 yards, 6 TDs). The backfield tandem of Brett Boyd (617 yards, 7 TDs) and Josh Pail (398 yards, 7 TDs) has been solid for the Bulldogs. Charleroi also has a 1000-yard passer in Alex Conrad (1068 yards, 13 TDs). Conrad has also run for 484 yards and 9 TDs, complementing leading rusher Brayden Milhalcin (957 yards, 14 TDs). Legend Davis (who has the best name in the WPIAL) leads the Cougars receiving corps with 338 yards and has added 146 on the ground and scored 11 times.
4. Neshannock (8-2) vs 13. Serra Catholic (6-4)
Neshannock won the Midwestern Conference title outright thanks to Freedom’s Week 9 loss to Western Beaver. The Lancers averaged 34 points per game and allowed just 13 per game, both marks ranking in the Top 7 of 2A. These are two run-heavy teams with Neshannock’s offense led by Braden Gennock (1281 yards, 21 TDs) and DJ Deblasio (466 yards, 6 TDs) who both average over 7 yards per carry. Jason Nativio took over at quarterback halfway through the season and has thrown for 704 yards and 5 TDs and run for 276 yards and 10 TDs. Serra has relied on the physical running of Ray Holmes (1074 yards, 12 TDs) along with complementary backs Jayvon Campbell-Holt (472 yards, 5 TDs) and Machai Brooks (420 yards 4 TDs). Eagles QB Max Rocco has thrown for 1078 yards and 10 TDs, primarily to Terrell Booth (429 yards, 7 TDs).
5. Brentwood (8-2) vs 12. East Allegheny (7-3)
Brentwood’s defense carried the Spartans to the brink of the conference title this year, losing a close Week 8 game by just 3 points to Burgettstown. Brentwood allowed just 10 points per game and pitched 4 shutouts over the last 7 weeks of the season. East Allegheny had the second-best offense in the Allegheny Conference, averaging 27 points per game. Brentwood was led by dual-threat QB John Milcic who threw for 1447 yards and 13 TDs and ran for 598 yards and 7 TDs. Aiden Wardzinski led the Spartans in both rushing (882 yards), receiving (474 yards), and scoring (9 total TDs). Second-leading receiver Eddie Gomez (454 yards, 6 TDs) was also a big factor. East Allegheny’s offense is built around their passing game. QB Johnny DiNapoli (1728 yards, 18 TDs) has a number of talented receivers. Tyler Padezan (721 yards, 11 TDs) and Mikey Smith (408 yards, 3 TDs) led the way for the Wildcats through the air.
2. Avonworth (10-0) vs 15. Southmoreland (5-5)
Avonworth played one of the toughest schedules in 2A, beating 6 playoff teams en route to an undefeated record. The Lopes ranked in the Top 5 in offense (36 points per game) and defense (11 points against per game) in 5A. Southmoreland is one of the best stories in the WPIAL this season, making the playoffs for the first time since 1979. Southmoreland has a high-scoring offense (35 points per game) but also has the worst defense in the 2A playoff field, allowing 29 points per game. This game matches up two of the top quarterbacks in 2A. Southmoreland’s Zach Cernuto led the classification with 1752 yards and 15 TDs, primarily throwing to Riley Comforti (944 yards, 9 TDs) and Brandon Peterson (664 yards, 8 TDs). The Scotties also had a good ground game led by Colt Harper (711 yards, 21 TDs). Avonworth’s offense was led by Park Penrod (1467 yards, 22 TDs) who will be without top receiver Kyros Thorpe for the playoffs because of the PIAA’s asinine transfer rule. Luckily, the Lopes also have a strong rushing attack with Jax Miller (1320 yards, 18 TDs) and Ian Syam (482 yards, 1 TD) who both average over 7 yards per carry.
7. Apollo-Ridge (7-3) vs 10. New Brighton (7-3)
Apollo-Ridge rode their running game to a home playoff game against New Brighton’s outstanding passing attack. Apollo-Ridge’s Logan Harmon led 2A in rushing with 1338 yards and 18 TDs. Harmon was so good on the ground that QB Jake Fello only had to throw about 9 passes per game, throwing for 854 yards and 6 TDs). Klay Fitzroy did a little bit of everything for the Vikings, running for 177 yards, leading the team with 465 receiving yards and even throwing for 120 yards. All together Fitzroy accounted for 7 total TDs. New Brighton had the second-highest scoring offense in the Midwestern Conference and essentially has been playing must-win playoff-type games for the last two weeks. The Lions won their way into the playoffs thanks to the tandem of QB Jackson Hall (1648 yards, 19 TDs) and WR Jake Francona (903 yards, 13 TDs). New Brighton also has a capable back in Nyasanu Greene (648 yards, 13 TDs), giving balance to their offensive attack.
3. Burgettstown (9-0) vs 14. Riverside (6-3)
Burgettstown completed their second straight undefeated regular season and once again got the 3-seed in 2A. The Blue Devils have a dominant defense that held opponents to just 8 points per game, the lowest total in the classification. They will be challenged by Riverside’s passing game. The Panthers have 2A’s 2A’s third-leading passer in Ben Hughes (1687 yards, 25 TDs) and leading receiver in Nate Sciarro (985 yards, 15 TDs). On the ground, Hunter Nulph (1061 yards, 12 TDs) led the way for Riverside. Burgettstown’s offense is built around their rushing attack. The tandem of Jake Lounder (603 yards, 12 TDs) and Cyle Conley (545 yards, 10 TDs) shared the workload this season. Lounder has put up more yards on the ground than through the air, throwing for 545 yards and 9 TDs while averaging just 8 pass attempts per game. Leading receiver Seth Phillis (215 yards, 8 TDs) is also the best kicker in the WPIAL, finishing the season with 10 field goals.
6. McGuffey (8-2) vs 11. South Side Beaver (5-5)
McGuffey got off to a hot 8-0 start but lost their last two games to Avonworth and Washington with the conference title on the line. The Highlanders still finished with the second-best offense in 2A, averaging 40 points per game. This is a bit of a revenge game for McGuffey as they lost to South Side Beaver in the first round of the playoffs last year. The stars then aligned for the Rams who went on a big run to the WPIAL final, leaving McGuffey wondering what might have been if they had been able to get past the first round. McGuffey’s offense is led by the Whipkey brothers. QB Marshall Whipkey has thrown for 1018 yards and 18 TDs and run for 501 yards and 10 scores. McKinley Whipkey (641 yards, 8 TDs) has led the Highlanders’ triple-option rushing attack. CJ Cole leads the receivers with 471 yards and 8 TDs. Nate Yagle and Jared Johnson have been an all-around threats with Yagle accounting for over 750 yards of total offense and 10 TDs and Johnson over 500 yards of total offense and 11 scores. This year’s South Side Beaver team replaced a number of starters from last year’s team. While last year’s squad was based around their running game this season they have a balanced offensive attack. Aden Almashy has thrown for 924 yards and 8 TDs, primarily to Trenton Seik (640 yards, 5 TDs). On the ground, Anthony Navarra (695 yards, 9 TDs) Dominic Marino (583 yards, 3 TDs) and Andrew Moots (534 yards, 7 TDs) have shared the workload.
1. Clairton (8-2) vs 8. OLSH (7-3)
Clairton lost their first two games of the season against higher-classification opponents (Aliquippa and McGuffey) but bounced back to dominate their 1A opponents. Clairton was the first team to score against Laurel’s defense (in Week 4) and the Bears also topped Tri-County South Champion West Greene and beat Jeannette in the season finale. This is a rematch of last year’s semifinal which OLSH won, propelling the Chargers to their first WPIAL Championship. Clairton is led by dual-threat QB Brendan Parsons (1361 passing yards, 14 TDs, 786 rushing yards, 10 TDs). Leading receiver Kenlein Ogletree (549 yards) has been outstanding this season, finding the end zone in all three phases of the game, scoring 11 times. Isaiah Berry (773 yards, 12 TDs) and Dontae Sanders (334 yards, 10 TDs) have both averaged over 7.5 yards per carry. OLSH’s offense is also led by a dual-threat QB in Jaymar Pearson (1074 passing yards, 14 TDs, 738 rushing yards, 12 TDs). Steve Greer (722 yards, 9 TDs) has been a solid counterpart to Pearson in the running game. On the outside, his favorite targets have been Eric Olexa (521 yards, 8 TDs) and Bobby Brazell (344 yards, 6 TDs).
4. Cornell (8-1) vs 5. California (7-3)
Outside of Southmoreland, Cornell is the best story in the WPIAL this season. The Raiders last made the playoffs in 2011, which was their last year as a program before 4 year co-op with Quaker Valley. Cornell’s program restarted in 2016 and lost 19 straight games before winning in Week 9 of 2017. Dual-threat QB Zaier Harrison threw for 1971 yards (the second-most in 1A) and 22 TDs and ran for 590 yards and 14 TDs. Harrison has thrown to a number of receivers this season but the best have been Isaiah Langston (492 yards, 6 TDs), Kaden DiVito (466 yards, 6 TDs), and Blaine Sams (291 yards, 6 TDs). Savon Wilson has run for 270 yards and added 310 receiving yards and scored 8 times. California has battled through injuries all year and will finally have their full complement of players. California has been led by the backfield duo of Cochise Ryan and Lucas Qualk. Ryan threw for 640 yards and 8 TDs and ran for 741 yards and 17 TDs. Qualk ran for 500 yards and 11 TDs (including pick-6 last week). Due to injuries, players like Damoni Stafford (400 yards, 6 TDs) & Jayden Zuzak (171 yards, 8 TDs) have stepped up big in the last few weeks to show the depth of the Trojans talent. Leading receiver Malik Ramsey (300 yards, 4 TDs) is back from injury and opened the 2nd half with a kickoff return TD last week.
2. West Greene (9-1) vs 7. GCC (7-3)
The WPIAL did West Greene a huge favor by not matching them up against Jeannette in the first round. The Pioneers have a chance to get their first playoff win since 1993. West Greene scored 502 points this season, becoming the 9th team in WPIAL history to break the 500-point mark in the regular season. Greensburg Central Catholic returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2015, earning a Wild Card thanks to a 1-point triple-overtime victory over Leechburg. West Greene’s Ben Jackson led WPIAL in rushing with 2705 yards and broke Zane Dudek’s single-season TD record with 47. The Pioneers have been able to spell Jackson with Kolin Walker (792 yards, 9 TDs). While West Greene wants to run the ball all the time, GCC has a balanced offensive attack. QB David Altimore has thrown for 977 yards and 13 TDs, spreading the ball around to Brandon Brown (373 yards, 4 TDs), Ben LaCarte (307 yards, 6 TDs), and Luke Mazowiecki (289 yards, 6 TDs). Zach Kuvinka leads the running game with 404 yards and 5 TDs.
3. Sto-Rox (9-1) vs Jeannette (9-1)
Sto-Rox won the Big Seven conference by a head-to-head victory over Cornell while Jeannette’s only loss all season came against Clairton. The WPIAL wanted to keep Jeannette and Clairton on opposite halves of the bracket, but in doing so matched up (arguably) the second and third best 1A teams in the first round. Sto-Rox was the second-highest scoring team in 1A (42 points per game) while Jeannette had the stingiest defense (8 points allowed per game). These teams were very similar statistically and this game very well could have been the WPIAL final if the bracket had been seeded differently.
Sto-Rox has a great quarterback in Eric Wilson who became the first player in WPIAL history to throw for 3000 yards last season then came just 6 yards shy of repeating as WPIAL passing champion this year (2585 yards, 25 TDs). Wilson spread the ball around between Jaidon Berry (623 yards, 4 TDs), Amahd Pack (612 yards, 15 TDs), and Treynell Paxton (549 yards, 6 TDs). On the ground, the Vikings were led by Zay Davis (675 yards, 12 TDs). Jeannette’s offense also has a quality quarterback in James Sanders (1264 yards, 16 TDs) who has spread the ball around to multiple receivers. Leading receiver Jackson Pruitt (323 yards, 6 TDs) suffered a scary injury last week against Clairton and thankfully was released from the hospital this week. The Jayhawks have enough talent on the outside to go around with Bayley Molter (318 yards, 5 TDs), Toby Cline (270 yards, 5 TDs), Brett Birch (239 yards, 3 TDs), and Kalen Piscar (206 yards, 2 TDs). On the ground, Imani Sanders (939 yards, 20 TDs) has been the workhorse back for Jeannette.