The 2019 WPIAL Football season is officially here! When the state moved from four to six classifications in 2016, one of the changes was to permit teams to schedule their own games in “Week 0,” the week prior to the start of the regular season. These games count towards a team’s overall record and statistics accumulated count towards season totals. However, Week 0 games do not count towards any team’s conference records, which is the sole determinant of finishing position for the playoffs. Over the last two years, Week 0 has grown and now nearly all of the teams in the WPIAL will take part in games this weekend. The WPIAL does not schedule Week 0 games, it is up to individual teams to come to agreements on game dates and locations. This has led to many teams re-igniting old rivalry games during Week 0 which may have been lost when teams were split into 6 classifications. Other schools have scheduled games against teams from outside the WPIAL (including out-of-state teams), creating some high-profile early-season showdowns, including the “Western PA vs Everyone” showcase event that has expanded this year beyond the Wolvarena to include games at North Allegheny.
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.
Penn Hills at Pine-Richland
This is an unprecedented matchup to kick off the WPIAL season. The defending 6A and 5A Champions will face off. These two were also the top two overall teams in our newly-debuted WPIAL ELO Rankings. Pine-Richland brings back a number of players from their team that won the 6A title including dual-threat QB Cole Spencer, 1500-yard rusher Luke Meckler, and wide receivers Eli Jochem, Luke Miller, and Daedae Johnson. Penn Hills’ squad that went undefeated and won the State Championship in 5A last year saw 25 seniors graduate, so the Indians will need to restock their roster for this season. Penn Hills does have two D1 recruits in their secondary in Akeem Snell and Anthony Grimes.
Aliquippa at Clairton
Aliquippa Quips vs. Clairton Bears Aug. 24, 2019 @ 6pm. Neil C. Brown Staduim. “The Thriller on Miller”.
— BearsHC (@bears_hc) February 3, 2019
The two most dominant schools in WPIAL history will square off for the third time in the last four years. The Quips have won 17 WPIAL titles and appeared in WPIAL Championship games in 11 straight seasons. The Bears are not far behind with 13 WPIAL titles and have won 8 of those Championships in the last 11 seasons. Both teams are once again loaded with talented players. Aliquippa OLB/TE Zuriah Fisher is the most highly-touted recruit with offers from a number of Big Ten and ACC schools along with a few SEC quads. While Aliquippa will be replacing most of their offensive skill position players from their state championship squad, Clairton has a three-year starter at QB in Brendan Parsons. The Bears also return leading receiver Keinlein Ogletree and two-way lineman Dametrius Weatherspoon who has a William & Mary offer. Both teams have a “Hershey or Bust” mentality and “The Thriller on Miller” should live up to the hype.
Mt. Lebanon at Gateway
Mt. Lebanon and Gateway faced off last year and the Gators dominated to the tune of 31-8. Gateway’s Derrick Davis ran for 178 yards and 1 touchdown (on his first carry of the game). Davis is one of the top juniors in the entire state of Pennsylvania and has scholarship offers from major schools including Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, and nearly every Big Ten and ACC school. Gateway is one of the favorites in 5A this season after winning the title in 2017 and carrying an undefeated record to the semifinals where they were upset by West Allegheny last year. The fascinating subplot to this game is that Mt. Lebanon is now coached by Bob Palko who won 8 WPIAL titles at West Allegheny and ended Gateway’s season last year. The Blue Devils bring back their top three running backs (Drew Vaughn, Evan Jones, and Everett Lefever) and top two receivers (Sam Lasota and Mason Ventrone) from a team that reached the 6A semifinals last year.
Upper St. Clair at South Fayette
The neighbors in southern Allegheny County faced off last year to a thrilling 34-33 victory for Upper St. Clair. That was South Fayette’s first regular season loss since 2011. Upper St. Clair’s team will be breaking in nearly an entirely new group of starters after a large graduating class. Additionally, long-time head coach Jim Render retired after last season so this will be a season of transition for the Panthers. South Fayette won the WPIAL 4A Championship but Joe Rossi will need to find a new quarterback at the helm of the offense. This game should provide a good test for two teams with a tradition of winning that are looking to break in new starters for another strong run in 2019.
Apollo-Ridge at Leechburg – These two Alle-Kiski Valley teams have faced off each of the last three seasons in Week 0. Apollo-Ridge won the first two meetings. Last year, Leechburg entered on a 15-game losing streak that they snapped with a 28-13 victory over Apollo-Ridge. That win helped propel the Blue Devils to a 5-5 finish, their first non-losing season since 1991.
Burrell at Valley – These Alle-Kiski Valley neighbors were long-time conference foes. Valley has won 6 straight games over Burrell, but 4 of the last 5 were one-score victories. Last year Valley won 26-21 but Burrell returns a number of starters and wants to prove themselves as a potential threat in the 3A Big East Conference.
Connellsville at Uniontown – The “Coal Bucket Rivalry” has been played on and off since 1904 in Fayette County. This will be the WMBS Game of the Week as both squads are out to prove something this year. Connellsville should be right in the mix for a playoff spot in 5A while Uniontown is looking to end a 22-game losing streak, the longest in the WPIAL.
Hempfield at Greensburg Salem – Neighboring schools from the Greensburg area will meet for the fourth straight season in Week 0. Greensburg Salem comprises the City of Greensburg and Salem Township while Hempfield covers the areas around Greensburg proper. Interestingly, Hempfield Township separates Greensburg and Salem Township, giving geographic proximity to this rivalry. Hempfield, who plays in 6A, has defeated 4A Greensburg Salem each of the last three years. This should be a close one as last year’s game was a narrow 27-24 victory for Hempfield and Greensburg Salem will be playing their first game on a brand new turf on Offutt Field.
Latrobe at Derry – Between 1956 and 2012, the Westmoreland County neighbors met 54 times. The rivalry went on hiatus when the WPIAL realigned and adjusted schedules in 2012, but returned in 2016 with the advent of Week 0. In 2016, Derry got their first victory over their long-time rivals since 2004 and repeated the feat each of the last two seasons. Latrobe (who now plays in 4A) leads the all-time series 35-21-1 over Derry (who plays in 3A). In our interview with Derry lineman Gavin Adams, he named Latrobe as Derry’s biggest rival.
Moon at Montour – Montour did not play a Week 0 game in 2016 or 2017. Last year the two old Parkway Conference rivals met with Moon emerging victorious 32-6. Both teams missed the playoffs last season and will be right on the cusp in competitive conferences this season.
Norwin at Penn-Trafford – Norwin won a 44-36 shootout against their neighboring rivals last season. Both teams return a number of key starters including Norwin QB Jack Salopek, a Western Michigan-commit. Penn-Trafford RB Caleb Lisbon has a number of D1 offers including Navy and some FCS schools. Norwin missed the 6A playoffs last year while Penn-Trafford saw their season come to an end against Peters Twp in a shootout in the 5A quarterfinals.
Southmoreland at Mt. Pleasant – These two proximate rivals from southern Westmoreland County are no longer conference foes as Southmoreland dropped down to Class 2A last year. Mt Pleasant had dominated the rivalry in recent years but Southmoreland came out on top 18-14 last year in Week 0. The Scotties boast a number of returning starters and are hoping 2019 can deliver their first playoff berth since 1979.