We have reached the cusp of Heinz Field. In 6A, 4A, 3A, and 1A tonight’s games are the semifinals and the winners will go on to play at Heinz Field in the WPIAL Championship next Saturday. In 5A and 2A, where 16 teams made the playoffs, this week is the quarterfinals and the semis will take place next week at neutral sites before their respective Championship Games on November 23 at Norwin Stadium. In 5A the Allegheny Eight conference nearly had a clean sweep but McKeesport came from behind to beat Baldwin, denying the Highlanders their first playoff win since 1991. The Tri-County West Conference in 3A also nearly had a clean sweep but Beaver Falls fell by a point in overtime against Derry. In 2A the Midwestern Conference did complete a 4-team sweep with Neshannock, Freedom, New Brighton and Riverside advancing to the quarterfinals.
Last week’s opening round of the playoffs saw two massive upsets – in 3A #3 seed North Catholic fell to South Park (the first playoff victory for the Eagles since 2006) and in 2A #3 seed Burgettstown fell to Riverside in overtime. Southmoreland’s first playoff appearance since 1979 ended quickly at the hands of Avonworth, but it was still a huge accomplishment for the Scotties to make it this far and break their playoff drought of 40 years. Last week also had some historic results as Cornell got their first playoff victory in school history with a hard-fought 32-27 win over California. Additionally, West Greene won their first playoff game since 1993 with a 36-0 shutout of GCC and McGuffey earned their first playoff victory since 1994. A big congratulations to all of those schools on their historic achievements!
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.
Class 6A Semifinals
1. Central Catholic (9-1) vs 4. Mt. Lebanon (7-4)
at Fox Chapel
Central Catholic got the top seed in 6A by winning a 3-way tie with Pine-Richland and North Allegheny. The Vikings lost to Seneca Valley in the first round last year which broke a run of five straight trips to Heinz Field. Mt. Lebanon is making their second straight semifinal appearance. Last year, in their first semifinal appearance since 2005, the Blue Devils lost to eventual WPIAL Champions Pine-Richland. Mt. Lebanon has had an emotional season under first-year coach Bob Palko, playing for High School Principal Brian McFeeley who is battling cancer. Both the Mt. Lebanon team and opponents have sported green all season in support of the #McFeelyStrong cause. The Blue Devils have not been to a WPIAL final since 2000.
Central Catholic boasts 6A’s top defense, allowing just 8.7 points per game and featuring a number of D1-caliber talents. The Vikings defensive line features North Carolina-commit DE AJ Beatty, DT Ameer Allen who has a number of offers from MAC schools, and junior Elliot Donald whose is Aaron Donald’s cousin and has offers from a number of major programs. The Vikings come in with 6A’s leading rusher in Eddy Tillman (1546 yards, 22 TDs). Tillman ran for 206 yards and 4 TDs in the first meeting between these teams, which Central won 45-7. Both Tillman and Antonio Pitts (386 yards, 1 TD) have averaged over 9 yards per carry. Central has been so good on the ground that QB Dom Pieto averaged just 9 passes per game, throwing for 873 yards and 8 TDs. For Mt. Lebanon, Evan Jones was the Raider-killer this season, scoring 3 TDs in their first game against Seneca Valley then 5 TDs last week in the quarterfinals. On the season, Jones has 470 rushing yards, 401 receiving yards, and 16 total TDs. QB Joey Daniels has thrown for 1226 yards and 15 TDs, primarily to Jones and Sam Lasota (412 yards, 4 TDs). Mason Ventrone has been an all-around offensive star with 522 rushing yards, 300 receiving yards, and 11 total TDs while also playing defense as a shutdown corner.
2. Pine-Richland (9-1) vs 3. North Allegheny (10-1)
Both of the 6A semifinals are rematches of Week 9 games. Pine-Richland won that meeting 42-14, the first regular season loss by North Allegheny since the Rams beat them in the final week of 2017. That victory also earned a first round bye and home playoff game for Pine-Richland. The Rams have the top offense (40 points per game) and second-best defense (10 points against per game) in 6A. North Allegheny is about three points behind Pine-Richland in both metrics, averaging 37 points per game and 14 points against per game. While Pine-Richland is the two-time defending WPIAL Champions and looking for their 4th trip to Heinz Field in 6 years, North Allegheny has not been to Heinz since
the Ross Morgan Rager winning three straight Championships from 2010-2012.
In the first meeting, North Allegheny’s secondary struggled to defend against Pine-Richland’s passing game. The Rams have 6A’s leading passer in Cole Spencer (2490 yards, 29 TDs). Pine-Richland has a plethora of receiving talent, led by Eli Jochem (967 yards, 13 TDs), D’avay Johnson (512 yards, 6 TDs), and Luke Miller (314 yards, 6 TDs). The Rams throw more than they run, but Luke Meckler has been effective on the ground, running for 324 yards and adding 297 receiving yards and scoring 13 times. In a contrast of styles, North Allegheny’s offense is built around their running game and running behind Harvard-commit Jake Lugg. RB Percise Colon (1032 yards, 12 TDs) leads the Tigers offense. Princeton-commit Luke Colella leads the receiving corps with 490 yards and has run for 255 yards and scored a team-high 13 TDs. The Tigers opened up their passing attack last week in a rout of Canon-McMillan. WR Khalil Dinkins burst onto the scene with 4 catches for 105 yards and 3 TDs, doubling his production from the entire regular season. QB Ben Petschke has now thrown for 1113 yards and 14 TDs after throwing for 4 TDs and rushing for another last week.
Class 5A Quarterfinals
1. Penn-Trafford (10-1) vs 9. Upper St Clair (7-4)
at West Mifflin
Penn-Trafford breezed past Fox Chapel in the first round, the third straight time the Foxes saw their playoffs end at the hands of the Warriors. Upper St. Clair got past North Hills in a physical game that saw QB Ethan Dahlem exit at halftime with an injury. Penn-Trafford enters their third consecutive quarterfinal with 5A’s highest-scoring offense at 39 points per game. The Warriors also have the second-best defense, allowing just 12 points per game. On the other side, Upper St. Clair has been the “Cardiac Cats” this season as 8 of their 11 games have finished within two scores. The Panthers have 5A’s fifth-best offense, averaging 29 points per game.
This game pits two of the top dual-threat QBs in the classification. Penn-Trafford has been led by Gabe Dunlap who has thrown for 1539 yards and 16 TDs and run for 909 yards and 10 scores. Ethan Carr has emerged as the primary skill position player with 607 receiving yards, 268 rushing yards, and 18 total TDs. After senior RB Caleb Lisbon was lost to injury, the weight of the running game was picked up by Dunlap and Brad Ford (302 yards, 5 TDs). For Upper St Clair, their dual-threat QB is junior Ethan Dahlem who leads 5A in passing with 2151 yards and 17 TDs and has run for 847 yards and 14 scores. The Panthers also have the WPIAL’s leading receiver David Pantelis (1145 yards, 9 TDs). While Pentelis has seen most of the targets, Mateo Cepullio (372 yards, 6 TDs) has been a big play threat. Other than Dahlem, the work out of the backfield has been split between Ethan Hiester (405 yards, 1 TD) and Jaden Keating (303 yards, 5 TDs).
4. Moon (9-2) vs 5. Peters Twp (10-1)
at West Allegheny
Moon and Peters Twp both earned the title of Conference Champions as they both finished with 6-1 conference records, but Moon won the head-to-head meeting and thus the top seed from the Allegheny Eight. Moon won the first meeting 21-13 in impressive fashion, being the only team to hold Peters Twp under 23 points. In fact, their meeting was the only game after Week 3 that Peters was held under 30 points. Statistically, Peters Twp does have the edge with an offense averaging 33 points per game (third-best in 5A) and the top defense in the classification (9 points against per game). Moon was about a touchdown worse in both categories, averaging 26 points per game and giving up 16 per game, but found the winning formula in their first meeting. Last year, Peters Twp reached the semifinals for the first time since 1976. Moon won their first conference title since 2003, which was also their last trip to the semifinals.
While Moon already has a victory over Peters Twp, this Moon team will look a bit different from that squad. Starting QB Dante Clay (787 passing yards, 6 TDs, 653 rushing yards, 8 TDs) missed the first matchup due to injury. In Week 6, Tyler McGowan stepped in and threw for 116 yards and 2 TDs to lead the Tigers past Peters. The two have split time since Clay has returned and McGowan has thrown for 670 yards and 7 TDs on the season. Jamal Littlejohn (649 yards, 10 TDs) has been the workhorse running back while Dawson Snyder (565 yards, 7 TDs) leads the receiving corps. Peters Twp has a balanced offensive attack between QB Logan Pfeuffer (1865 yards, 21 TDs) and RB Ryan Magiske (1207 yards, 15 TDs). Magiske has been incredibly consistent this season, scoring at least 1 TD in all but one game. He ran for 116 yards and 1 TD in the first meeting between these two teams but it was Moon’s pass defense that held Pfeuffer to just 19 passing yards with no TDs and an interception. Pfeuffer’s favorite targets have been Josh Casilli (898 yards, 20 total TDs) and Aidan McCall (240 yards, 5 TDs).
2. Gateway (9-2) vs 7. Bethel Park (7-3)
Gateway was the top seed in 5A last year and was upset in the semifinals by Bob Palko’s West Allegheny team. The Gators are looking to get back to the semis for the fourth straight season. Bethel Park is in the playoffs for the 19th straight year but are looking to make their first semifinal appearance since 2009. Gateway has the second-best offense in 5A (36 points per game) but got a battle in the first round for Shaler. The Gators and Titans were tied at 14 at halftime and after a scoreless third quarter exploded for 21 points in the fourth to pull away to a 35-21 victory. Bethel Park also faced a Northern Conference opponent and after falling behind Kiski 10-0, the Blackhawks ran off 42 straight points to cruise to a victory.
Gateway has the top junior in the state of Pennsylvania in Derrick Davis. On the season Davis has run for 1307 yards and led the Gators with 511 receiving yards and scored 28 times. Davis scored 3 times last week, including twice in the fourth quarter to put the game away. Gateway has continued to find solid quarterback play, this yer with Bryson Venanzio (2062 yards, 22 TDs). In addition to Davis, Tui Brown (432 yards, 7 TDs) has been a big factor in the passing game. While Gateway has a balanced offensive attack, Bethel Park relies heavily on their running game. Sean McGowan was the star of last week’s win over Kiski rushing for 98 yards and 2 TDs and adding 103 yards and 1 TD on two catches. For the season, McGowan has accounted for 880 rushing yards, 286 receiving yards, and 11 total TDs. Change-of-pace back Jehvonn Lewis (519 rushing yards, 302 receiving yards, 10 total TDs) has also been a key factor. QB Anthony Chiccitt has an inspirational story recovering from cancer to continue his football career, and has thrown for 937 yards and 8 TDs and added 169 yards and 2 TDs on the ground.
3. Penn Hills (10-1) vs 6. McKeesport (8-3)
Penn Hills is the defending 5A WPIAL and PIAA Champions and have not lost to a 5A opponent since moving down from 6A last year. The Indians started their playoff run by beating Latrobe for the fourth time in the last two seasons. McKeesport got a scare from Baldwin and nearly became just the second team ever to lose to the Highlanders in the playoffs. Baldwin got out to a 14-0 halftime lead and the teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter with Baldwin failing on a two-point try to go up 20-7. McKeesport dominated the fourth quarter, scoring twice and converting the game-winning extra point to escape with a 21-20 victory. These two schools met last year in the quarterfinals with Penn Hills winning 34-7.
Penn Hills has a balanced offensive attack between Eddie McKissick’s arm and Germar Howard’s legs. McKissick has thrown for 1307 yards and 17 TDs while Howard has run for 1047 yards and 9 scores. The Indians have one of the best secondaries in the WPIAL and that talent carries over to their receiving corps, which is led by Dontae Pollard (403 yards, 7 TDs), Anthony Grimes (352 yards, 7 TDs) and Noel Roach (313 yards, 3 TDs). Aakeem Snell is one of the best safeties in the WPIAL and has contributied 4 TDs this season. While Penn Hills’ defensive strength is in their secondary, they will be tested in the trenches by McKeesport’s triple-option wishbone attack. The Tigers offense is led by QB Devari Robinson who has run for 1357 yards and 28 TDs this season. Robinson has attempted just 6 passes per game and thrown for nearly 300 yards and 6 TDs. McKeesport has a D1-caliber talent in WR Deamontae Diggs who has over 300 yards of total offense and 6 TDs this season. In addition to Robinson, the triple-option rushing attack has featured Tyron Adams-Wagner (775 yards, 3 TDs), Vernon Andrews (420 yards, 4 TDs), and Asaad Robinson (226 yards, 5 TDs).
Class 4A Semifinals
1. Thomas Jefferson (11-0) vs 4. Blackhawk (7-4)
at Chartiers Valley
The two 4A semifinals are rematches of last season. Thomas Jefferson beat Blackhawk by 40 last year en route to their fourth straight trip to Heinz Field. This is Thomas Jefferson’s 8th straight semifinal and 21st semifinal in the last 22 years. There is some history between these schools beyond last year’s semifinal. Blackhawk topped Thomas Jefferson in the 1992 and 1996 semifinals en route to winning WPIAL titles. Thomas Jefferson has dominated since the turn of the century, beating Blackhawk in the quarterfinals in 2001, semifinals in 2004, and AAA Championship Games in 2006 and 2008. Thomas Jefferson boasts 4A’s top defense, holding opponents to just 4 points per game and pitching 5 shutouts. The Jaguars also average 48 points per game, the second-best mark in 4A.
Thomas Jefferson returns a loaded lineup to their semifinal rematch with Blackhawk with some of the top skill position players in 4A. QB Shane Stump has thrown for 1955 yards and 28 TDs and added 336 yards and 5 TDs on the ground. Dylan Mallozzi (1108 yards, 17 TDs) leads a backfield where the top three rushers all average over 7 yards per carry. On the outside, Stump has three quality receiving options in Dan Deabner (718 yards, 15 TDs), Ian Hansen (623 yards, 8 TDs), and Preston Zandier (362 yards, 3 TDs). Blackhawk’s offense is built around their running game where the top backs are averaging over 8 yards per carry. Marques Watson-Trent (1222 yards, 20 TDs) and Josh Butcher (652 yards, 7 TDs) have been the focal points of the Cougars offense. Blackhawk averages about 10 pass attempts per game due to their strong rushing attack. Carson Davidson (581 yards, 5 TDs) started the season splitting time at quarterback with Logan Calior (209 yards, 1 TD) but took sole possession of the role for the second half of the season. When Blackhawk does throw, James Darno (276 yards, 2 TDs) has been the primary target.
2. South Fayette (10-1) vs 3. Belle Vernon (9-1)
at Peters Twp
South Fayette topped Belle Vernon 28-10 en route to winning the 4A title last year. However, that Belle Vernon team was missing some players due to injury. This year’s Leopards squad led 4A in scoring at 49 points per game and had the second-best defense, allowing just 10 points per game. Since losing to Thomas Jefferson in Week 2, Belle Vernon has not been held under 42 points and only one team has scored more than once. South Fayette won their eighth straight conference title with an offense that averaged 40 points per game and a defense that allowed just 13, both marks the third-best in 4A.
The Lions come in with the WPIAL’s leading passer Naman Alemada (2761 yards, 31 TDs). South Fayette has three big-time playmakers at wide receiver in Joey Audia (731 yards, 8 TDs), Charley Rossi (720 yards, 7 TDs), and Ryan McGuire (645 yards, 8 TDs). On the ground, Andrew Franklin (739 yards, 14 TDs) and Shay Aitken (469 yards, 4 TDs) have led the way, averaging over 6 yards per carry. Belle Vernon had to go through the playoffs last year without QB Jared Hartman who suffered a season-ending injury. Hartman has returned this year and thrown for 1530 yards and 27 TDs. His favorite receivers have been Nolan Labuda (465 yards, 10 TDs) and Hunter Ruokonen (292 yards, 7 TDs). The Leopards also have a quality running back in Larry Calloway (939 yards, 17 TDs). The player to watch out for is Devin Whitlock, who transferred from Monessen this year. Whitlock has run for 460 yards, has 272 receiving yards, and has scored 9 times.
Class 3A Semifinals
1. Central Valley (10-1) vs 4. Derry (9-2)
at North Allegheny
Central Valley and Derry are meeting for the third time in four seasons. Derry has come out on top in both previous occasions with a 46-0 victory last year and a 33-20 victory last year. After the merger of Center and Monaca to form Central Valley in 2010, the Warriors reached 6 straight semifinals and 4 WPIAL Championship Games. However, this is their first semifinal appearance since 2016 when the WPIAL moved to six classifications. Derry last to Aliquippa in the Championship Game last year, their first appearance in a WPIAL final since 1945. Central Valley has been the most dominant 3A team this season with a mercy rule victory over Aliquippa and a win over Big East Champion North Catholic. The Warriors average 40 points per game while allowing just 12, both marks the second-best in 3A. On the other side, Derry ranks fourth in 3A in both categories, scoring 31 points per game and giving up 14 per game.
Derry is built around their ground game and defense. This was on full display last week as the Trojans topped Beaver Falls 28-27 in overtime with RB Justin Huss running for 192 yards and 4 TDs, bringing his season total to 1995 yards and 32 TDs. Huss has been such an effective runner that QB Paul Koontz has only attempted about 9 passes per game. Koontz has thrown for 658 yards and 8 TDs, primarily to Matt McDowell (204 yards, 3 TDs). Central Valley on the other hand has a balanced offensive attack led by the tandem of QB Ameer Dudley and RB Jaylen Guy. Dudley has thrown for 1389 yards and 19 TDsa nd run for 369 yards and 7 more TDs. Last week Dudley compiled 188 total yards, throwing for 2 TDs and running for another. Jaylen Guy ran for 132 yards and a TD last week, bringing his season total to 969 yards and 11 TDs. On the outside, Dudley’s favorite targets have been Jawon Hall (578 yards, 10 TDs), Myles Walker (236 yards, 9 TDs), and Michael Barbuto (192 yards, 3 TDs).
2. Aliquippa (10-1) vs 6. South Park (5-5)
at North Hills
Aliquippa is making their 13th straight semifinal appearance and looking to extend their record streak of 11 consecutive trips to Heinz Field. The Quips are the defending WPIAL and PIAA Champions and beat South Park 29-0 earlier this season. Aliquippa has the top offense (41 points per game) and defense (10 points against per game) in 3A. South Park is coming off an upset victory over Big East Champions North Catholic. The Eagles came back from a 21-7 deficit to take a 26-21 lead with 4 minutes remaining. North Catholic immediately responded with a 90-yard touchdown but South Park drove it back down the field and scored again to go up 32-27 with 2 minutes left. In one of the gutsiest calls of the season, South Park called an onside kick and was able to recover, securing their first playoff victory since 2005.
Aliquippa got back on track last week with Antonio Quinn running for 102 yards and a score against Mt. Pleasant. Quinn has led the way this season with 1175 yards and 13 TDs and Vernon Redd running for 536 yards and 13 TDs. Vaughn Morris is at the helm of the Air Warfield offense and has thrown for 1029 yards and 16 TDs, primarily to Chinua Soloman (462 yards, 9 TDs). The Quips stout defense is led by Penn State-commit LB Zuriah Fisher who has scored 4 defensive TDs and added 2 more in limited offensive play this season. South Park’s offense is built around their ground game. Rudy Mihoces was the star of their quarterfinal upset of North Catholic, running for 198 yards and 4 TDs including the 59-yard game-winner. On the season Mihoces has 1114 yards and 12 TDs and backfield counterpart Nathan May has 590 rushing yards, leads the team with 351 receiving yards and has scored 8 times. QB Stephen Kmonk has thrown for 862 yards and 6 TDs.
Class 2A Quarterfinals
1. Washington (11-0) vs 8. Freedom (8-3)
Washington was the most dominant team in 2A this season, rolling to an undefeated record with an offense that averages 46 points per game. They won all 10 of their regular season games by at least 21 points. Last week, the Prexies topped Shady Side Academy 21-7, their closest result of the season. Washington lost in the quarterfinals to Steel Valley last year, the team they had topped the previous season in the WPIAL Championship Game. Freedom also lost to Steel Valley last year, their defeat coming in the semifinals. That was Freedom’s first semifinal appearance since 2003. The Bulldogs lost their last three regular season games but bounced back to beat Charleroi 21-14 last week.
Wash High has one of the best dual-threat QBs in the WPIAL in Zach Swartz who has thrown for 1602 yards and 22 TDs and run for 912 yards and 21 TDs. Zahmere Robinson has been the top complement to Swartz, running for 643 yards and adding 622 receiving yards and scoring 18 TDs. Caleb Jackson (438 yards, 7 TDs) has been an additional threat on the outside for the Prexies. Freedom also has a balanced offensive attack. QB Cole Beck has thrown for 1135 yards and 15 TDs, primarily to Reiker Welling (559 yards, 7 TDs). The load out of the backfield has been shared by Brett Boyd (634 yards, 7 TDs) and Josh Pail (402 yards, 7 TDs).
4. Neshannock (9-2) vs 5. Brentwood (9-2)
Neshannock won the Midwestern Conference title and rolled past Serra Catholic in the first round 31-13. Brentwood lost a close game to Burgettstown in Week 8 with the Conference Title on the line and beat East Allegheny 28-19 last week. Both of these teams lost Week 0 games then ran through the rest of their schedule with just one loss. Additionally, both teams won their first playoff game since 2016. Brentwood lost in the quarterfinals to Washington that year while Neshannock went on to beat Washington in the semifinals before losing to Steel Valley in the WPIAL final. While Neshannock reached the semifinals four times in five years between 2012 and 2016, Brentwood has not been to the semifinals since 2006.
This is a matchup of two teams built around their dual-threat QBs and strong running games. Neshannock is led by Braden Gennock (1440 yards, 22 TDs) and DJ Deblasio (485 yards, 6 TDs) who both average over 7 yards per carry. QB Jason Nativio has thrown for 895 yards and 7 TDs and added 325 yards and 11 scores on the ground. Cam Owens leads the Lancers in receiving with 344 yards and 3 TDs. Brentwood also has a quality dual-threat QB in John Milcic (1503 passing yards, 14 TDs, 674 rushing yards, 7 TDs). Aden Wardzinski has been the top skill player for the Spartans and leads the team in rushing (998 yards), receiving (513 yards), and scoring (13 total TDs). On the outside, Brentwood’s top receivers have been Eddie Gomez (471 yards, 6 TDs) and Jayneil Latham (322 yards, 3 TDs).
2. Avonworth (11-0) vs 10. New Brighton (8-3)
Avonworth was one of three teams in 2A that finished undefeated with 6 of their 10 wins coming against playoff teams, including a Week 3 victory over New Brighton. That 24-13 result was Avonworth’s closest game of the season. In the first round, the Lopes beat Southmoreland who was making their first playoff appearance since 1979. New Brighton has been playing playoff football for three weeks since losing to Western Beaver in Week 7. The Lions won their last two games (by 5 over Shenango and by 8 over Riverside), both of which were necessary to secure a playoff spot. Last week they won a shootout with Apollo-Ridge 35-21.
Due to the PIAA’s ridiculous new transfer rule, Avonworth has to navigate the playoffs without WR/CB Kyros Thorpe, their leading receiver and one of their top defenders. In the opening round, they did not miss a beat as QB Park Penrod threw for 168 yards and TDs to 3 different receivers. On the season, Penrod has 1635 yards and 25 TDs. Theo Newhouse had 103 receiving yards last week, nearly doubling his season total. The Lopes also have a strong rushing attack led by Jax Miller (1452 yards, 19 TDs) and Ian Syam (498 yards, 1 TD) who both average over 7 yards per carry. This game features two of the best quarterbacks in 2A as New Brighton is led by the tandem of QB Jackson Hall (1878 yards, 21 TDs) and WR Jacob Francona (1001 yards, 13 TDs). The Lions also have a quality running back in Nyasanu Greene (776 yards, 16 TDs).
6. McGuffey (9-2) vs 14. Riverside (7-3)
McGuffey opened the playoffs by exacting revenge on South Side Beaver who knocked them out in the first round last year. The Highlanders 54-23 victory stopped a two-game skid which saw them lose to the top two seeds in the 2A bracket. That was McGuffey’s first playoff victory since winning the WPIAL AAA Championship in 1994. McGuffey was the second-highest scoring team in 2A this season, averaging 41 points per game. Riverside upset unbeaten Burgettstown 42-35 in overtime, becoming the fourth team from the Midwestern Conference to advance to the quarterfinals. The Panthers reached the semifinals in 2016 and 2017, falling to Steel Valley both times.
McGuffey’s triple-option attack has been difficult to stop all season and exploded for 33 points in the first quarter last week, including a kickoff return TD and pick-six. The Highlanders offense is led by the Whipkey brothers. QB Marshall Whipkey has thrown for 1036 yards and 19 TDs and run for 585 yards and 12 TDs. McKinley Whipkey (782 yards, 9 TDs) leads the multi-pronged backfield. CJ Cole has been an outstanding receiver (471 yards, 9 TDs) who had the pick-six last week. Nate Yagle (606 rushing yards, 309 receiving yards, 14 total TDs) and Jared Johnson (345 rushing yards, 166 receiving yards, 11 TDs) have been all-around offensive threats. While McGuffey’s offense is built around their rushing attack, Riverside has the top quarterback in 2A in Ben Hughes (1930 yards, 28 TDs). The Panthers have two big threats on the outside in Nate Sciarro (1096 yards, 19 TDs) and Josh Bishop (716 yards, 6 TDs). On the ground, Hunter Nulph (1176 yards, 12 TDs) leads the way. Last week both Bishop and Sciarro had over 100 yards receiving with Sciarro hauling in 3 touchdown passes (including the overtime winner) and running for another score.
Class 1A Semifinals
1. Clairton (9-2) vs 4. Cornell (9-1)
Clairton dropped their first two games of the season to 3A Aliquippa and 2A McGuffey but have not lost against 1A competition this year. The Bears are on a 9-game run where they have averaged 40 points per game and allowed just two teams to score more than once. Clairton scored 5 TDs in less than 7 minutes to roll past defending WPIAL Champion OLSH 41-0 in the quarterfinals. Clairton is making their 14th consecutive semifinals appearance but have not been to the WPIAL final since 2016. On the other side, Cornell’s 32-27 victory over California was their first playoff win in school history. Prior to last week, Cornell had been 0-8 in the WPIAL playoffs plus the two schools that merged to form Cornell were 0-3 (Neville lost in the 1955 and 1956 Championship Games and Coraopolis lost in the 1969 Championship Game). Cornell’s only loss this season came by 3 points to Sto-Rox back in Week 3.
Statistically these teams are very similar with both averaging about 36 points per game and allowing 12 points per game. Both are also led by dual-threat quarterbacks. For Clairton that is Brendan Parsons who has thrown for 1535 yards and 16 TDs and run for 886 yards and 11 scores. For Cornell that is Zaier Robinson who has thrown for 2126 yards and 24 TDs and run for 667 yards and 15 TDs. Both teams also have a number of quality receivers on the outside, which should make for an excellent matchup. Clairton’s receiving corps is led by Kenlein Ogletree (694 receiving yards, 14 total TDs), an all-around star who has scored in all three phases this season, and Jonte Sanders (342 yards,5 TDs). The Bears also have a dominant rushing attack with 5 players averaging over 7.5 yards per carry including Parsons, Isaiah Berry (842 yards, 13 TDs), and Dontae Sanders (421 yards, 11 TDs). For Cornell, Harrison has spread the ball around between Isaiah Langston (549 yards, 7 TDs), Kaden DiVito (515 yards, 6 TDs), Raequan Troutman (299 yards, 2 TDs), and Blaine Sams (291 yards, 6 TDs). Harrison has handled most of the rushing attack for the Raiders but RB Savon Wilson has found ways to contribute, rushing for 303 yards and adding 328 receiving yards and scoring 9 times.
2. West Greene (10-1) vs 3. Sto-Rox (10-1)
West Greene made their third consecutive playoff appearance this season and broke through with a 36-0 victory over Greensburg Central Catholic, the first playoff win for the Pioneers since 1993. West Greene made the WPIAL final that season where they lost to Duquesne. On the other side, Sto-Rox defeated Jeannette in a 15-6 defensive struggle last week. This was Sto-Rox’s first playoff victory since reaching the WPIAL final in 2013. This game matches up the two highest-scoring teams in 1A. West Greene was the highest-scoring team in the WPIAL with over 500 points during the regular season, just the 9th team in WPIAL history to break that threshold. Sto-Rox averaged 40 points per game and has 1A’s second-best defense at 9 points against per game.
This game matches up two WPIAL record-setting players. Last season, Sto-Rox QB Eric Wilson became the first player in WPIAL history to surpass 3000 passing yards in the regular season. This year Wilson came up just 6 yards shy of repeating as the regular season passing champion and enters this semifinal with 2736 yards and 25 TDs. On the other side, West Greene RB Ben Jackson led the WPIAL in rushing this season and broke the single-season touchdown record with 47 TDs. After last week’s win, Jackson has accumulated 2923 yards and 49 TDs this season, putting him 32 yards shy of Zane Dudek’s single-season rushing record and 3 TDs away from breaking Tyler Boyd’s single-season record of 51. West Greene’s offensive line has been so good that while Jackson has led the WPIAL in rushing, his counterpart Kolin Walker has put up 906 yards and 11 TDs. This game is a dramatic contrast of styles between West Greene’s rushing attack and Sto-Rox’s passing game. Wilson has spread the ball around to Amahd Pack (687 yards, 15 TDs), Jaidon Berry (632 yards, 4 TDs), and Treynell Paxton (562 yards, 6 TDs). Leading rusher Zay Davis (698 yards) also has contributed in the passing game (268 yards) and scored 13 times.