Home WPIAL WPIAL 2021 3A Playoff Primer

WPIAL 2021 3A Playoff Primer

by Ian

Central Valley is the two-time defending WPIAL Champions and defending State Champions. The Warriors steamrolled through the regular season and are once again the top seed in the playoff bracket. North Catholic continued the longest conference winning streak in the WPIAL, extending it to 25 games as they dominated the Allegheny Seven Conference. Avonworth, the second-place team in the Northwest Six Conference, was given the #3 seed over Interstate Conference Champions Elizabeth Forward, separating Central Valley and Avonworth on the bracket. This also sets up a rematch between former rivals North Catholic and Avonworth (who had a number of great battles in Single-A in the early 2010s) in the semifinals. There are three noteworthy teams in this bracket. The first is Southmoreland who ended a 40-year playoff drought two years ago and is now back in the postseason for the second time in three years. The others are Burrell and South Allegheny who are making their first playoff appearances since 2012. The 3A Championship Game will be back at Heinz Field this season, with the title game kicking off at noon on Saturday, November 27.

Check out the 3A Preview as part of this week’s WPIAL Blitz Show.

Also, check out our Playoff Primers for the other classifications: 1A | 2A | 3A | 4A | 5A | 6A

The Bracket

The Teams

Central Valley Warriors
Conference Record:
5-0 Overall Record: 10-0
3A #1 Seed – First round bye, will host the winner of Southmoreland-East Allegheny in the Quarterfinals
How they got here: Central Valley was the highest-scoring team in 3A this season, averaging 48 points per game. Only Aliquippa and Blackhawk (who are both 4A teams) managed to score more than once against the Warriors stout defense this season. Other than their 9-point win over Aliquippa, Central Valley won all of their games by at least 23 points and only one of their conference games was closer than 40 points (a 37-point win over Avonworth). The Warriors look the part of the two-time defending WPIAL Champions and defending State Champs and look poised for another run at the crown.
Recent History: Since the merger of Center and Monaca School Districts in 2010, Central Valley made at least the semifinals in each of their first 6 seasons. After the change to 6 classifications, Central Valley dropped to 3A and missed the playoffs for the first time then were bounced in the first round two straight years. The Warriors won the 2019 WPIAL title with a 13-12 overtime win over Aliquippa then making a run to the State title game where they lost to Wyoming Area 21-14. Last year, Central Valley dominated the competition, rolling to the WPIAL title and defeating Wyomissing to win their first state title in school history.
WPIAL Playoff Appearances: 10
All-Time WPIAL Playoff Record: 24-6
Best Playoff Result:  Won WPIAL AAA Championship in 2010 and 2014 and won the WPIAL 3A Championship in 2019 and 2020. Monaca won the WPIAL Class A Championship in 1975, 1982, and 1985. Reached the PIAA finals three times, losing to Archbishop Wood in 2014 and Wyoming Area in 2019 before defeating Wyomissing in 2020.

North Catholic Trojans
Conference Record: 6-0 Overall Record: 10-0
3A #2 Seed – First round bye, will host the winner of Keystone Oaks-South Allegheny at Mars High School in the Quarterfinals.
How they got here: North Catholic completed yet another perfect season in conference play, extending their WPIAL-leading streak of conference wins to 25 games. The Trojans defense was outstanding this season, pitching 6 shutouts. Their only close call was a 1-point win over 4A Blackhawk in non-conference play. Every other game they won by at least 17 points.
Recent History: North Catholic is making their 10th consecutive playoff appearance and 15th in the last 16 years. The Trojans have reached the semifinals 7 of the last 9 seasons and won the WPIAL and PIAA Championship in 2013. Last year they lost in the semifinals to Elizabeth Forward.
WPIAL Playoff Appearances: 24
All-Time WPIAL Playoff Record: 26-23
Best Playoff Result: Won the WPIAL Class A Championship in 2013, defeating Sto-Rox 14-0. Won the PIAA Class A Championship in 2013, defeating Old Forge 15-14 in overtime.

Avonworth Antelopes
Conference Record: 4-1 Overall Record: 8-2
4A #3 Seed – First round bye, will host the winner of Mt. Pleasant-Burrell in the Quarterfinals
How they got here: Avonworth’s only losses were a 3-point non-conference loss to Sto-Rox (one of the top teams in 2A) and a 37-point loss to Central Valley (which was the closest any 3A team came to the Warriors). Other than that, Avonworth put together a strong campaign. The Lopes defense pitched 4 shutouts and held 3 more teams to just one score.
Recent History: Avonworth is making their 13th playoff appearance in the last 14 years. They missed the playoffs last year when the WPIAL Selection Committee did not choose them for a playoff spot. The Lopes won the 2019 2A WPIAL Championship before moving up to 3A last season.
WPIAL Playoff Appearances: 19
All-Time WPIAL Playoff Record: 16-17-1
Best Playoff Result: Tied Union 13-13 in the 1959 Class A Championship Game (no overtime). Defeated Washington 28-6 in the 2019 WPIAL 2A Championship. Reached the 2019 PIAA Championship Game where they lost to Southern Columbia.

Elizabeth Forward Warriors
Conference Record: 6-0 Overall Record: 8-2
3A #4 Seed – First round bye, will host the winner of Freeport-Ambridge in the Quarterfinals
How they got here: After reaching the WPIAL finals for the first time in school history last year, Elizabeth Forward stumbled a bit out of the gate. They narrowly beat Ringgold and lost non-conference games to Ligonier Valley and West Mifflin. Once conference play started, the Warriors rolled, scoring at least 35 points in every outing and allowing only one team to reach double-digits against their defense.
Recent History: Elizabeth Forward reached the playoffs for the 5th straight season. Last year they made their first Championship Game in school history and won their first playoff game since 2000.
WPIAL Playoff Appearances: 16
All-Time WPIAL Playoff Record: 7-16
Best Playoff Result: Elizabeth Forward reached WPIAL Championship Game for the first time in school history in 2020, losing to eventual State Champions Central Valley.

Freeport Yellow Jackets
Conference Record: 4-1 Overall Record: 5-4
3A #5 Seed – Will host Ambridge in the first round.
How they got here: Freeport’s non-conference schedule was stacked with teams from higher classes (Armstrong and Knoch), a quality 3A opponent (Avonworth), and one of the top teams in 2A (Serra Catholic) who they scheduled after both teams had opponents cancel on them. In conference play, the Jackets stout defense held every team not named North Catholic under 10 points.
Recent History: This is Freeport’s 4th playoff appearance in the last 5 years. They reached the AA semifinals in 2015.
WPIAL Playoff Appearances: 30
All-Time WPIAL Playoff Record: 15-30
Best Playoff Result: Freeport reached the WPIAL AA Championship game 7 times but has never won. They lost to Montour in 1963, Burrell in 1967 and 1968, Beaver in 1972, Albert Gallatin in 1974, Jeannette in 1981, and Steel Valley in 1989.

Mount Pleasant Vikings
Conference Record: 4-2 Overall Record: 5-4
3A #6 Seed – Will host #11 Burrell in the first round.
How they got here: 
Mt. Pleasant split their non-conference games, beating 3A teams Burrell (who they face again in the first round) and Derry. They lost to teams from higher classes (Greensburg Salem and Latrobe). When conference play rolled around, the Vikings won their first two outings before Brownsville forfeit to them. Mt. Pleasant had the opportunity to stake a claim to the conference title but fell to Elizabeth Forward in Week 7. They also lost the season finale to South Allegheny to set up a 3-way tie for second place.
Recent History: Mt. Pleasant is making their third consecutive playoff appearance. Prior to their 2-year absence in 2017 and 2018, the Vikings had reached the postseason in 13 of 14 years between 2003 and 2016 but only won 4 playoff games in that timespan.
WPIAL Playoff Appearances: 27
All-Time WPIAL Playoff Record: 16-25
Best Playoff Result: Mt. Pleasant won the WPIAL AAA Championship in 1983 and 1986, defeating Aliquippa in 1983 and Kiski in 1986. Mt. Pleasant Hurst was awarded the 1931 Class B (later Single-A) Championship on Gardner Points. Mt. Pleasant Hurst beat Wilmerding in the 1938 Class A Championship and tied Dormont in the 1942 Class A Championship (Note: Class A became AA in 1973). Mt. Pleasant Ramsay reached the WPIAL Championship Game 4 times, beating East Pittsburgh in the 1933 Class B Championship.

Keystone Oaks Golden Eagles
Conference Record: 3-2 Overall Record: 5-5
3A #7 Seed – Will host #10 South Allegheny in the first round.
How they got here: Keystone Oaks started the season with blowout wins over Brentwood and South Park. The Eagles lost a thrilling overtime game to Chartiers Valley 35-34, which sent them spiraling on a 5-game losing streak. After being shut out in consecutive weeks by Avonworth and Central Valley, KO got back on the right track and won their final three games to lock up a playoff spot and get a home playoff game.
Recent History: This is Keystone Oaks’ second consecutive playoff appearance. They reached the semifinals in their prior two appearances (2016 and 2019).
WPIAL Playoff Appearances: 11
All-Time WPIAL Playoff Record: 6-11
Best Playoff Result: Keystone Oaks has reached the semifinals three in school history, losing to the eventual WPIAL Champions every time. In 2009 they lost to GCC and in 2016 they fell to eventual State champions Beaver Falls. Last year they also lost to eventual State Champions Central Valley. Dormont High School had a very successful run in the 1940s. They reached the Class A (later AA) Championship game 5 times in 8 years. Dormont tied Mt. Pleasant Hurst for the 1942 title and Glassport for the 1943 title (no overtime). Dormont won the 1945 title, defeating Derry 30-19.

Southmoreland Scotties
Conference Record: 
4-3 Overall Record: 5-5
3A #8 Seed – Will host #9 East Allegheny in the first round.
How they got here: Southmoreland started the season on a high note with a dominant win over McGuffey who had terrorized them for years in 2A. The Scotties started conference play by beating South Allegheny and losing to Mt. Pleasant. They rolled into a Week 8 game with Elizabeth Forward where a win would have potentially split the conference title but lost. In Week 9, they needed a win over South Park to secure a playoff spot and got two fourth quarter touchdowns to break a 14-all tie and finish in a 3-way tie for second place with Mt. Pleasant and South Allegheny.
Recent History: 
 Southmoreland snapped a 40-year playoff drought in 2019, making the playoffs for the first time since 1979. They have never won a playoff game.
WPIAL Playoff Appearances: 2
All-Time WPIAL Playoff Record: 0-2
Best Playoff Result: This is just the third playoff appearance in Southmoreland’s history. The Scotties lost their opening game in 2019 to eventual WPIAL Champions Avonworth and their other playoff game was in 1979 when they lost to Penn Hills in the first round of the AAA playoffs.

East Allegheny Wildcats
Conference Record: 3-3 Overall Record: 4-5
3A #9 Seed – Will play at #8 Southmoreland in the first round.
How they got here: The Wildcats bounced back after losing to two of the top 2A squads (Serra Catholic and Steel Valley) to beat Burrell in their conference opener. That win would prove vital as they dropped games to North Catholic, Deer Lakes, and Freeport. East A got dominant victories over Derry and Valley to get them enough tiebreaker points to win a 3-way tie with Burrell and Deer Lakes for third place in the conference.
Recent History: East Allegheny is making their 6th straight playoff appearance. In 2017 they defeated Mohawk in the first round, which was their first playoff victory since 2000.
WPIAL Playoff Appearances: 19
All-Time WPIAL Playoff Record: 5-18
Best Playoff Result: Won the 1992 WPIAL AA Championship, defeating Riverside 33-13. Lost in the 1992 PIAA Championship Game to Valley View 21-13.

South Allegheny Gladiators
Conference Record:
4-2 Overall Record: 4-6
3A #10 Seed – Will play at #7 Keystone Oaks in the first round.
How they got here: After losing their first four games, the Gladiators got wins over conference bottom-dwellers Yough and Brownsville to get themselves back into the playoff picture. A Week 7 win over South Park set them up with a chance to break their 8-year playoff drought. The Gladiators secured their spot by closing out Glassport Memorial Stadium in style with a 21-7 victory over Mt. Pleasant to force a 3-way tie for second place. Glassport Memorial Stadium had opened in 1936, but the Gladiators will be getting a new turf stadium which they broke ground on earlier this year.
Recent History: This is South Allegheny’s first playoff appearance since 2012 and just their second playoff appearance since 1986.
WPIAL Playoff Appearances: 4
All-Time WPIAL Playoff Record: 4-3
Best Playoff Result: South Allegheny won the 1977 WPIAL AA Championship, defeating Laurel 12-6. Glassport tied for the WPIAL Class B (later Single-A) Championship in 1932, 1935, and 1938. Glassport tied for the Class A (later AA) Championship in 1943. They were awarded the Class B title on Gardner Points in 1934 and 1939.  Glassport defeated Burgettstown in the 1944 Class A Championship Game.

Burrell Bucs
Conference Record:
3-3 Overall Record: 3-7
3A #11 Seed – Will play at #6 Mt. Pleasant in the first round.
How they got here: Burrell’s season got off to a rocky start by losing their first 6 games and only coming within 14 points of one team. But the Bucs showed their resolve and scored a 28-24 victory over Deer Lakes in Week 6. That would prove to be decisive as they topped Derry and Valley in the final two weeks to force a 3-way tie with East Allegheny and Deer Lakes. East Allegheny topped the tiebreaker for third place and Burrell’s head-to-head win over Deer Lakes put the Bucs into the fourth and final playoff spot.
Recent History: Burrell is making their first playoff appearance since 2012.
WPIAL Playoff Appearances: 18
All-Time WPIAL Playoff Record: 16-14
Best Playoff Result: Burrell has won 4 WPIAL Championships. In 1967 and 1968 they defeated rival Freeport by identical 6-0 scores in the Class A (later AA) Championship Game. In 1986 Burrell defeated Beth-Center 3-0 in the AA Championship Game. Burrell won the 1995 WPIAL Championship, defeating Washington 14-13 in overtime.. The Bucs lost in the 1995 State Championship Game to Bishop McDevitt (Harrisburg).

Ambridge Bridgers
Conference Record:
2-3 Overall Record: 2-8
3A #12 Seed – Will play at #5 Freeport in the first round.
How they got here: Ambridge entered the season on a 24-game overall losing streak (dating to Week 2 of 2018) and a 34-game conference losing streak (dating back to 2015). The Bridgers were the only team that had never won a conference game in the six-classification era. They snapped both of those streaks (the overall streak had reached 28 games and was the longest in the WPIAL at the time) in definitive fashion in Week 5 against Hopewell. Ambridge followed that up with a Week 8 win over Quaker Valley that was enough to get them the 4th and final playoff spot in the conference.
Recent History: This is Ambridge’s first playoff appearance since 2015. That 2015 playoff appearance had been their first since 2005. Ambridge’s last playoff victory came in 2004.
WPIAL Playoff Appearances: 11
All-Time WPIAL Playoff Record: 4-11
Best Playoff Result: Ambridge was awarded the 1932 Class A (later AA) title on Gardner Points. They lost in WPIAL Championship Games in 1934, 1939, and 1985.

Players to Watch

Sean FitzSimmons (DL – Central Valley) – “The Terror of the Trenches” has absolutely lived in opponents backfields this season.

Landon Alexander (RB – Central Valley) – 3A’s leading rusher ran for 1362 yards and 22 TDs, averaging 11 yards per carry.

North Catholic’s Line – The key to North Catholic’s dominance on both offense and defense this season has been the play of the dudes up front controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. And when I say “dudes” I mean some dudes. The O-line of JJ Iaquinta, Andrew Stephens, Tyler Primrose, Justin Smith, and Shamus Straub who also see time on defense with Lucius Marbella and TE/DE Daniel Long who has been a one-man wrecking crew. These guys have been a force to be reckoned with on both sides of the ball.

Kyle Tipinski (Slot – North Catholic) – Tipinski plays in the “slot back” role for North Catholic where he can either run routes or take handoffs on jet sweeps. He accounted for over 800 yards of total offense and score 17 TDs.

Joey Prentice (QB – North Catholic) – The dual-threat QB overcame an injury early in the season to throw for over 1000 yards and 16 TDs and run for 7 more scores.

Antwon Johnson (QB – Central Valley) – Matt Merritt (who is also an outstanding linebacker) started the season at quarterback for the Warriors but an injury to Merritt opened the door for Johnson who came in and lit it up, throwing for nearly 900 yards and 14 TDs in just 7 games. Once Merritt came back, Central Valley used both quarterbacks.

Ian Syam (RB – Avonworth) – In addition to having a great first name, Ian Syam ran for over 1000 yards and 15 TDs as the focal point of the Lopes ground game. On defense, he was part of an outstanding unit that held teams under 10 points per game.

Zach Boyd (WR/DB/KR – Elizabeth Forward) – The do-it-all player for the Warriors has scored 16 touchdowns this season in all facets of the game.

Anthony Govern (QB – Southmoreland) – The Scotties got back to the playoffs thanks to their dual-threat QB who threw for 1100 yards and 10 TDs and ran for over 650 yards and 15 TDs.

Nick Buckley (QB – Keystone Oaks) – 3A’s leading passer put up 1466 yards and 10 TDs.

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