As hard as it is to believe, we have already reached the halfway point in the WPIAL Football Season. Playoff races in various conferences have begun to take shape and this week we have a loaded slate with a number of unbeaten teams facing off. Additionally, there are two marquee inter-classification matchups on the slate this week. Bethel Park, one of the top teams in 5A takes on 6A Central Catholic. Washington, arguably the best team in 2A takes on California who is in a battle for the conference title in the 1A Tri County South Conference.
Once again, I’m happy to be doing a guest spot on the WMBS pregame show. They’ll be broadcasting the Uniontown-Freeport game tonight which is a battle of 0-3 teams looking to turn their seasons around in the 3A Big East Conference. WMBS will also have bonus coverage of the Laurel Highlands-Greensburg Salem game, which is an important separator in the battle for the last playoff spot in the 4A Big Eight Conference. I talked about these games and some other games to watch on my guest appearance on the WMBS Pregame Show, you can listen to the show, 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. At the end of the night, I’ll be updating my WPIAL Standings Page with all of the results of tonight’s games.
6A Game of the Week
Mt. Lebanon (3-0, 3-1) at North Allegheny (3-0, 4-0)
North Allegheny won the 6A regular season crown last year and is off to a perfect start in 2019. Both of these teams fell in the semifinals and hold a slim half-game lead over two-time defending 6A Champions Pine-Richland (2-0, 4-0) in the standings. Mt. Lebanon is coming off an emotional come-from behind victory over Seneca Valley where the Blue Devils came from 14 down to win 26-20. North Allegheny also has a comeback win on their resume, an 11-10 victory over Central Catholic in Week 2. The Tigers returned a punt for a touchdown late in the 4th quarter and got the two point conversion for the win. Through 4 games, North Allegheny has the best defense in 6A (allowing just 4 points per game) while Mt. Lebanon’s offense has averaged 40 points per game. North Allegheny’s run-heavy offense has been led by Percise Colon (469 yards, 4 TDs). While Colon is the lead back, the Tigers will use a number of other rushers as last week 9 different players ran the ball against Canon-McMillan. Quarterback Ben Petschke has thrown for 294 yards and 3 TDs, primarily to Luke Colella (143 yards, 1 TD) and Khalil Dinkins (132 yards, 1 TD). Mt. Lebanon has also deployed a running back by committee approach with Mason Ventrone (250 yards, 5 TDs), Drew Vaughn (242 yards, 4 TDs) and Visawn Pennix (155 yards, 1 TD). Last week’s victory was driven by Joey Daniels’ 3 TD passes to Evan Jones. On the year, Daniels has thrown for 562 yards and 8 TDs while Jones has been a jack-of-all-trades, leading the team with 239 receiving yards, adding 154 rushing yards, and scoring 6 times. Sam Lasota (230 yards, 3 TDs) has been the other primary target in the passing game.
5A Game of the Week
North Hills (3-0, 4-0) at Peters Twp (3-0, 4-0)
This is a non-conference game between two unbeaten conference leaders in 5A that are both nicknamed the Indians. North Hills holds a slim lead over defending 5A Champion Penn Hills (2-0, 3-1) in the Northern Conference while Peters Twp has a narrow edge on Bethel Park (2-0, 3-0) in the Allegheny Eight Conference. Statistically, Peters Twp has the best defense in 5A, allowing just 7 points per game with 2 shutouts in 4 games. On the other side, North Hills has the highest-scoring offense in 5A at 38 points per game and have scored at least 34 in every outing. North Hills’ offense is built around their rushing attack of Tom McDonough (373 yards, 7 TDs) and Curtis Foskey (323 yards, 4 TDs). Quarterback Dylan Pawling has averaged just 6 attempts per game and thrown for 160 yards and 2 TDs but has been a threat on the ground, rushing for 240 yards and 7 TDs. Peters Twp has a balanced offensive attack, led by QB Logan Pfeuffer (640 yards, 10 TDs). His primary target in the passing game has been Josh Casilli (183 yards, 7 TDs). On the ground, Ryan Magiske (417 yards, 5 TDs) has been the workhorse back.
4A Game of the Week
West Mifflin (2-0, 2-2) at New Castle (2-1, 3-1)
Another non-conference game between playoff contenders in 4A who have gotten off to strong starts. New Castle’s only loss this season came against South Fayette. The Red Hurricanes have hard-fought 1-score wins over Shaler and Montour along with a blowout of Beaver. Both of West Mifflin’s losses came against 5A opponents, falling to Mars and Franklin regional in games where the Titans were held under 10 points. In their wins over Indiana and Trinity, West Mifflin has put up 40+ and pitched a shutout. New Castle’s balanced offensive attack starts with dual-threat QB Michael Wells who has thrown for 392 yards and 1 TD and run for 121 yards and 4 more scores. RB Demetris McKnight (486 yards, 10 TDs) has paired with Wells to make for a formidable tandem. On the outside, Jason Williams (126 yards, 1 TD) and Conny Cade (106 yards) have been Ne-Ca-Hi’s top receivers. West Mifflin has also had a balanced offensive attack. Quarterback Jaylen Dukes threw for 3 TDs in the Titans win over Indiana. Senior RB Jacob Davis ran for 2 scores and hauled in another on a pass from Dukes. Davis took over at quarterback in Week 2 against Indiana and ran for a touchdown and threw for 3 more. Last week against Franklin Regional he added another touchdown pass to Maurice Demery, his third receiving touchdown of the season. On the defensive side, keep an eye out for junior DE Nahki Johnson, a Pitt commit.
3A Games of the Week
Derry (2-0, 3-1) at North Catholic (2-0, 2-1)
This will be the third meeting in the last 12 months between the two Trojan teams in the Big East Conference. Derry won both the regular season and the semifinal matchups last year. This game will likely decide the Conference Title, though Elizabeth Forward was able to force a 3-way tie last year and is also unbeaten. Derry has won 3 in a row since losing to rival Latrobe in Week 0, including a 7-0 victory over Mt. Pleasant last week when blustery winds made passing near impossible. Derry has been led by Justin Huss who has run for 676 yards and added a team-high 96 receiving yards and scored 9 times. Paul Koontz has only averaged 8 pass attempts per game and has thrown for 270 yards and 5 TDs. On the other side of The Trojan War, Zack Rocco has thrown for 706 yards and 6 TDs. His primary targets on the outside have been Nick Maher (310 yards, 1 TD) and Anthony Serventi (147 yards, 3 TDs). On the ground, Rocco and Eamon Straub (212 yards, 2 TDs) have split the workload in the backfield.
Beaver Falls (2-1, 3-1) at Aliquippa (2-0, 4-0)
What a week it is in 3A. Beaver Falls’ loss to Central Valley makes the Warriors the primary contenders to the Quips reign atop the conference. That said, any time these two rivals meet it should be circled on the calendar. The Tigers have tried a slew of players under center this season, including Chase Thornton (277 yards, 3 TDs) and Jabarhi Cleckley (155 yards, 3 TDs). The majority of Beaver Falls’ offense has come on the ground. Led by Shileak Livingston (315 yards, 5 TDs) and Josh Hough (285 yards, 5 TDs), the Tigers as a team average over 7 yards per carry. They will get a massive test this week against Penn State-commit Zuriah Fisher and the Quips defense. The second year of Aliquippa’s “Air Warfield” offense has picked up where they left off with QB Vaughn Morris throwing for 579 yards and 10 TDs and backup Brendin Bricker throwing for 136 yards and 3 TDs. Chuinua Soloman, who has a Bowling Green offer, leads the receiving corps with 413 yards and 8 TDs. The Quips still have a strong rushing attack, led by Antonio Quinn (308 yards, 4 TDs) and Vernon Redd (182 yards, 2 TDs).
2A Games of the Week
Apollo-Ridge (2-0, 4-0) at Avonworth (2-0, 4-0)
With Steel Valley taking a massive step back this season (the defending 2A Champions were the last team in the entire WPIAL to score a point this season), the race for the Allegheny Conference crown is wide open. Apollo-Ridge topped East Allegheny last week, keeping the Vikings even with Avonworth and defending Conference Champions Shady Side Academy. The Vikings have been a run-first team this season with the tandem of Logan Harmon (551 yards, 7 TDs) and Keighton Reese (204 rushing yards, 123 receiving yards, 5 TDs) both averaging over 6 yards per carry. Quarterback Jake Fello has thrown for 366 yards and 3 TDs, primarily throwing to Reese and Klay Fitzroy (176 yards, 1 TD). On the other side, Avonworth counters with a balanced offense. Senior QB Park Penrod has thrown for 682 yards and 12 TDs while fellow senior Jax Miller has run for 562 yards and 5 TDs. Central Catholic transfer Kyros Thorpe has emerged as one of the top receivers in 2A, putting up 267 yards and 4 TDs so far. Theo Newhouse has just 84 yards but has scored on 4 of his 8 receptions. Both of these teams have held opponents under 10 points per game this season.
South Side Beaver (2-0, 2-2) at Burgettstown (2-0, 3-0)
These Three Rivers Conference foes played an epic game last season that saw Burgettstown spring out to an early lead then a weather delay cause the remainder of the game to be postponed until Saturday afternoon when South Side nearly stormed back and won. Burgettstown won the Conference Title with an unblemished record but South Side Beaver was able to stack wins together in the playoffs and reach the 2A title game while Burgettstown fell in the quarterfinals. Burgettstown is once again off to an unbeaten start thanks to a stifling defense and strong ground game led by Kyle Conley’s 6 TDs. Jake Lounder does more running than throwing but he tossed 2 TD passes last week in the Blue Devils’ win over Summit Academy. The X-factor for Burgettstown is Seth Phillis who might be the best kicker in the WPIAL and booted a 42-yard field goal last week along with scoring on a pass from Lounder and an interception return. South Side Beaver was a run-heavy team last year but has balanced their attack this season. Junior QB Aden Almashy has thrown for 534 yards and 7 TDs, primarily targeting Trenton Seik (340 yards, 5 TDs) and Brandon Barber (160 yards, 2 TDs). Out of the backfield, the tandem of Anthony Navarra (286 yards, 5 TDs) and Dominic Marino (261 yards, 1 TD) have shared the load.
1A Games of the Week
Laurel (2-0, 4-0) at Clairton (2-0, 2-2)
Trivia question: who was the only team to beat the “Killer T’s” Clairton Bears trio of Tyler Boyd, Terrish Webb and Titus Howard? The Laurel Spartans in Week 1 of the trio’s freshman year. After that loss, Clairton won their next 66 games with the Killer T’s graduating with a 63-1 record. Since then, a budding non-conference rivalry has developed between the two schools. Laurel comes in to this game as the only WPIAL team that has not allowed a point this season while Clairton’s 2 losses came against 3A Aliquippa and 2A McGuffey. These are two of the top teams in 1A and potential conference champions so this could also be a preview of a playoff matchup. Laurel’s offense is built around their power rushing attack where all of their backs average over 6 yards per carry. The Spartans have split the workload between Dom Wade (235 yards, 3 TDs), Daniel Blank (224 yards, 3 TDs), Luke McCoy (159 yards, 4 TDs), and Cameron Smith (153 yards, 1 TD). Quarterback Will Shaffer does not throw much (265 yards, 3 TDs), but when he does Dylan Aquaro (140 yards, 2 TDs) has been his top target. Dual-threat QB Brendan Parsons is the catalyst for Clairton’s offensive attack. Parsons ranks in the Top 10 in 1A in both passing (672 yards, 8 TDs) and rushing (312 yards, 5 TDs). The Bears top playmaker has been WR Kenlein Ogletree (363 yards, 7 total TDs). Isaiah Berry (195 yards, 2 TDs) has shared the workload out of the backfield with Parsons and Jonte Sanders (166 yards, 3 TDs) has contributed in the passing game.
Jeannette (2-0, 4-0) at Springdale (1-0, 4-0)
After finishing at the bottom of the conference last season, Springdale has bounced back with an undefeated start. The Dynamos now take on unbeaten Jeannette in an important game in the Eastern Conference playoff race. In 1A only two teams per conference are guaranteed playoff spots and with games against GCC and Clairton still on the schedule, the losing team here will be left with a very slim margin for error. Springdale’s reemergence has been on the back of RB Christian Vokes (653 yards, 10 TDs) who is second in 1A in rushing. The Dynamos are a run-heavy offense with Cavin Kindler (285 yards, 2 TDs) and QB Legend Ausk (165 yards, 2 TDs) all contributing. Ausk has averaged just 5 pass attempts per game and has more rushing yards than passing yards (112 yards, 1 TD). Jeannette is the defending Eastern Conference Champions and have balanced their offensive attack between QB James Sanders (568 yards, 10 TDs) and RB Imani Sanders (299 yards, 7 TDs). On the outside, Bayley Molter (208 yards, 4 TDs)and Toby Cline (96 yards, 1 TD) have been the top targets in the passing game. Last week’s win over Avella was a breakout game for Jackson Pruitt who had 2 receiving touchdowns and a pick-six.