The 4A Classification is one of the deepest in the WPIAL this season (and perhaps statewide). The Top 5 teams in the WPIAL have all spent time in the Top 10 of the PennLive State Rankings this season. Belle Vernon earned the top seed after beating Thomas Jefferson in thrilling fashion on a walk-off TD then handily beating McKeesport in Week 9. Aliquippa looks to continue their incredible run of 13 consecutive WPIAL Championship Game appearances. Thomas Jefferson is the two-time defending WPIAL and State Champions, but got the #5 seed. The bracket did come with a bit of controversy as the WPIAL gave the #3 seed and first round bye to McKeesport, the second place team from the Big Eight Conference, over Hampton (the undefeated champions of the Greater Allegheny Conference). In doing so, they did separate Belle Vernon and McKeesport onto opposite halves of the bracket. There are three teams that qualified this year for the first time in the six-classification era (Highlands, Laurel Highlands, and Indiana).
Belle Vernon Leopards
Conference Record: 6-0 Overall Record: 8-0
4A #1 Seed – First round bye, will face the winner of Highlands-New Castle in the Quarterfinals
How they got here: Belle Vernon made two big statements in September, beating Penn-Trafford who was the top-ranked 5A team at the time, then beating rival Thomas Jefferson on a walk-off TD by Devin Whitlock on 4th down from 40 yards out. The Leopards persevered through an injury to star RB Quinton Martin and rolled into a Week 9 showdown with McKeesport where Martin and Whitlock stole the show. Other than the TJ game, Belle Vernon won all the rest of their games by at least 20 points.
Recent History: Belle Vernon is making their 13th consecutive playoff appearance. Belle Vernon has reached the semifinals in four straight seasons. They fell to Thomas Jefferson and South Fayette in 2017 and 2018 before breaking through and reaching the WPIAL final in 2019 where they lost to conference rival Thomas Jefferson. Last year they lost to Aliquippa in the semis.
WPIAL Playoff Appearances: 30
All-Time WPIAL Playoff Record: 19-29
Best Playoff Result: Won WPIAL Championship in 1995, beating Franklin Regional 22-6. That year, they lost to Sharon in overtime in the PIAA semifinals
Conference Record: 5-0 Overall Record: 8-1
4A #2 Seed – First round bye, will face the winner of Beaver-Laurel Highlands in the Quarterfinals
How they got here: The PIAA “success formula” forced Aliquippa to move up from 3A to 4A last season and the Quips didn’t miss a beat, winning yet another conference title and reaching their 13th straight title game where they fell in overtime to Thomas Jefferson. The Quips finished as the highest-scoring team in 4A (45 points per game) and the tightest defense (9.6 points against per game). Aliquippa’s only loss came against defending 3A State Champions Central Valley in non-conference play. It sounds odd to say that Aliquippa has had a quiet season, but the Big Eight Conference has dominated the storylines in 4A and the Quips have just done what they do – pound everyone they face into oblivion (Aliquippa’s average margin of victory in conference play was 39 points).
Recent History: Aliquippa is making their 27th consecutive playoff appearance, tied with Thomas Jefferson for the longest active streak. The Quips have reached the WPIAL title game in each of the last 13 seasons. After being upset by conference rivals two years in a row, they broke through in 2018 and beat Derry to win the WPIAL title. The Quips went on to also win the PIAA title, their third in school history. The last two seasons, the Quips have lost in overtime in the WPIAL Championship – to Central Valley in 3A in 2019 and to Thomas Jefferson in 4A last year.
WPIAL Playoff Appearances: 44
All-Time WPIAL Playoff Record: 93-27
Best Playoff Result: Won the most WPIAL Championships of any school (17). Won WPIAL AAA Championship in 1952, 1955, 1964, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, and 1989. Won WPIAL AA Championship in 1991, 1996, 2000, 2003, 2008, 2011, 2012, and 2015. Won 1991 and 2003 PIAA AA Championships. Won the 3A WPIAL and PIAA Championships in 2018
Conference Record: 5-1 Overall Record: 8-2
4A #3 Seed – First round bye, will play the winner of Armstrong-Montour in the Quarterfinals
How they got here: McKeesport quietly put together a strong start to the season with non-conference wins over 5A Woodland Hills and Armstrong. Their only loss came to a Canisius (NY) team that is one of the top-ranked schools in New York’s largest classification. They made a statement with a 42-28 thumping of Thomas Jefferson to set up a showdown with Belle Vernon for the conference title. The Tigers fell to the Leopards in Week 9 to finish second in the Big Eight.
Recent History: McKeesport is making their 24th consecutive playoff appearance. They lost the WPIAL Championship Game in overtime to West Allegheny in 2016. McKeesport lost in the first round to Plum last season, their first year without a playoff victory since 2012.
WPIAL Playoff Appearances: 30
All-Time WPIAL Playoff Record: 32-27
Best Playoff Result: Won WPIAL Championships in 1938 (AAA), 1994 and 2005. In 1932 McKeesport, Jeannette and New Castle finished tied in Gardner Points and were crowned as co-champions with no postseason games played. Won PIAA AAAA titles in 1994 and 2005.
Conference Record: 7-0 Overall Record: 10-0
4A #4 Seed – Will host #13 Plum in the first round.
How they got here:
Recent History: This is the second straight playoff appearance for the Talbots and their first conference title since 2014. Hampton had a successful run from 2000-2015, reaching the postseason 11 times and advancing out of the first round in 9 of those years. However, they only made it past the quarterfinals once, in 2009.
WPIAL Playoff Appearances: 14
All-Time WPIAL Playoff Record: 10-14
Best Playoff Result: Hampton reached the AAA semifinals in 2009.
Thomas Jefferson Jaguars
Conference Record: 4-2 Overall Record: 6-2
4A #5 Seed – Will host #12 Indiana in the first round.
How they got here: The two-time defending State Champs had to replace a number of starters but looked the part early in the season with wins over the top-ranked 5A team (Gateway) and South Fayette. A last-second loss to Belle Vernon did not deter the Jaguars who bounced back to pound Laurel Highlands. Their loss to McKeesport in Week 8 was their second straight loss to the Tigers since McKeesport moved down from 5A to 4A.
Recent History: The Jaguars are the two-time defending WPIAL and PIAA Champions. Thomas Jefferson is making their 27th consecutive playoff appearance, tied with Aliquippa for the longest active streak. They have reached the semifinals in 22 of the last 23 years. TJ has reached the WPIAL finals in six straight years, winning 5 WPIAL titles. Their only blemish in that time was losing to South Fayette on a last-minute interception at the goal line in 2018.
WPIAL Playoff Appearances: 32
All-Time WPIAL Playoff Record: 66-22
Best Playoff Result: Won WPIAL Championship in 1980, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2019, and 2020. Won PIAA Championship in 2004, 2007, 2008, 2019, and 2020.
Conference Record: 5-2 Overall Record: 7-3
4A #6 Seed – Will host #11 Montour in the first round.
How they got here: After losing by 1 point to Hampton to start conference play, the Riverhawks rattled off 3 straight victories. QB Cadin Olsen was one of the top passers in the WPIAL. After losing to Highlands, they won their final two outings to hold on to second place.
Recent History: This is Armstrong’s 4th playoff appearance in 6 seasons since the merger of Kittanning and Ford City. They lost in the first round in both of their prior three playoff trips.
WPIAL Playoff Appearances: 3
All-Time WPIAL Playoff Record: 0-3
Best Playoff Result: Armstrong has yet to win a playoff game. Kittanning’s best result was a 13-0 loss in the 1975 AA Championship Game to Beth-Center. Ford City reached the semifinals in 2005, 2006 and 2010.
Conference Record: 4-1 Overall Record: 7-2
4A #7 Seed – Will host #10 Laurel Highlands in the first round.
How they got here: The Bobcats were one of the most exciting teams in the WPIAL this season. After starting conference play with a loss to Aliquippa, they beat New Castle by 6, holding off a late comeback. Their next two wins over Chartiers Valley and Montour came in overtime then they beat Blackhawk on a last-minute field goal in the season finale.
Recent History: Beaver is making their 11th playoff appearance in the last 12 seasons. They have only lost in the first round once in their last 5 postseason appearances and reached the semifinals in 2013 and 2017.
WPIAL Playoff Appearances: 27
All-Time WPIAL Playoff Record: 23-24
Best Playoff Result: Beaver won the WPIAL AA Championship in 1972, the WPIAL AAA Championship in 1981, and the WPIAL AA Championship in 1982.
Highlands Golden Rams
Conference Record: 4-3 Overall Record: 7-3
4A #8 Seed – Will host #9 New Castle in the first round.
How they got here: Highlands had a rollercoaster season. The Rams won their first four games definitively, then dropped 3 straight to find their playoff hopes on the brink. But they found a way to bounce back and finish the year with 3 straight wins, including beating second-place Armstrong in Week 7.
Recent History: This is Highlands’ first playoff appearance since 2015. Prior to the move to six classes, Highlands had made the playoffs 8 times in 10 years.
WPIAL Playoff Appearances: 21
All-Time WPIAL Playoff Record: 10-21
Best Playoff Result: Highlands has never reached a WPIAL final. They lost in the semifinals in 1998, 2001, and 2008. Har-Brack tied Donora 0-0 in the 1953 AA (which later became AAA) Championship Game. Tarentum won the 1940 Class A (later AA) title, beating Mt. Pleasant Ramsay 14-12.
New Castle Red Hurricanes
Conference Record: 3-2 Overall Record: 6-4
4A #9 Seed – Will play at #8 Highlands in the first round.
How they got here: New Castle became the masters of late-game heroics this season, scoring in the final minutes to beat Montour, Blackhawk, and Chartiers Valley. They had a chance to split the conference title against Aliquippa in the final week, but lost in the final game ever at Carl Aschman Stadium.
Recent History: New Castle is making their 8th playoff appearance in the last 9 years. They reached the WPIAL Championship in 2016 where they fell to Thomas Jefferson. The Hurricanes have lost in the first round each of the last three appearances, falling to the eventual 4A runners-up (Montour, Thomas Jefferson, and Belle Vernon).
WPIAL Playoff Appearances: 29
All-Time WPIAL Playoff Record: 28-20-2
Best Playoff Result: Beat Charleroi in 1924 AAA WPIAL Championship Game. Tied Jeannette and McKeesport for 1932 WPIAL AAA Championship (no Championship Game played). Awarded 1933 and 1934 WPIAL AAA Championship based on Gardner Points (no Championship Game played). Won WPIAL AAA Championship in 1942, 1948, 1949, 1967, and 1973. Tied Upper St Clair 0-0 for the 1975 WPIAL Championship (no overtime). Won 1998 WPIAL Quad-A Championship. Lost 56-7 to Central Bucks West in the 1998 PIAA Quad-A Championship Game.
Laurel Highlands Mustangs
Conference Record: 3-3 Overall Record: 7-3
4A #10 Seed – Will play at #7 Beaver in the first round.
How they got here: The Mustangs ran out of the gates and got off to the first 5-0 start in school history. They then had to endure a murderer’s row of opponents with games against Belle Vernon, Thomas Jefferson, and McKeesport. After losing 3 in a row, Laurel Highlands won a thrilling game against Trinity to secure their first playoff appearance of the six-classification era.
Recent History: This is Laurel Highlands’ first playoff appearance since 2015. Laurel Highlands had made the playoffs 7 times in the decade prior to the move to 6 classes.
WPIAL Playoff Appearances: 10
All-Time WPIAL Playoff Record: 0-10
Best Playoff Result: Laurel Highlands has reached the playoffs 10 times but has never won a playoff game.
Conference Record: 2-3 Overall Record: 4-6
4A #11 Seed – Will play at #6 Armstrong in the first round.
How they got here: Montour got off to a slow start with an 0-3 record against West Hills neighbors South Fayette, Moon, and West Allegheny. A win over Blackhawk early in conference play set up a showdown with Chartiers Valley in the final week for a win-and-get-in scenario. Montour was on the losing end of a last-minute touchdown by New Castle and an overtime game against Beaver. The Spartans topped the Colts by 7 in the final week to earn the last Parkway playoff spot.
Recent History: Montour missed the playoffs in 2 of the last 3 years after a run to the Championship Game in 2017. Overall, Montour has reached the playoffs in 12 of the last 14 seasons, reaching Heinz Field 4 times during that run.
WPIAL Playoff Appearances: 24
All-Time WPIAL Playoff Record: 23-19-1
Best Playoff Result: Montour has won 5 WPIAL titles. Montour tied Avella in the Class B (later Single-A) Championship in 1957 (no overtime) and defeated Edgewood in the 1958 Championship. Montour won back-to-back titles in Class A (later AA) in 1963 over Freeport and 1964 over Arnold. Montour won the 2011 WPIAL AAA Championship and lost to Bishop McDevitt in the PIAA semifinals.
Conference Record: 3-4 Overall Record: 5-5
4A #12 Seed – Will play at #5 Thomas Jefferson in the first round.
How they got here: Indiana rode their two-headed monster in the backfield to the playoffs. Both Zach Herrington and Devin Flint topped 900 rushing yards this season. Indiana made an early statement with a win over defending conference champions Plum and scored wins over Highlands and Mars to give themselves enough Gardner Points to win any tiebreakers heading into the final week of the season.
Recent History: This is Indiana’s first playoff appearance of the six-classification era. Their last appearance came in 2014. The Indians reached consecutive quarterfinals in 2013 and 2014.
WPIAL Playoff Appearances: 8
All-Time WPIAL Playoff Record: 4-8
Best Playoff Result: Indiana has reached the quarterfinals 4 times in school history. Their first playoff win came in 2008 and they followed it up with first round victories in 2010, 2013, and 2014.
Conference Record: 3-4 Overall Record: 3-7
4A #13 Seed – Will play at #4 Hampton in the first round.
How they got here: After winning the conference title last year, Plum stumbled out of the gates, losing their first 4 contests. Things seemingly got back on track with wins over Mars, Highlands and Knoch but news would come down from the WPIAL that their win over Mars would be retroactively forfeit for using an ineligible player. Plum persevered and had an opportunity in Week 9 to play a Casket Match with Greensburg Salem, which they won on a late field goal to make it back to the playoffs.
Recent History: The move down to 4A was certainly beneficial for Plum as they won their first conference title since 1982 last season. Plum reached the semifinals after beating McKeesport in the first round and lost a tight game to eventual State Champions Thomas Jefferson in the semis.
WPIAL Playoff Appearances: 18
All-Time WPIAL Playoff Record: 9-17
Best Playoff Result: Plum won the 1983 WPIAL AAAA Division II Championship. In 1982 and 83 the WPIAL had so many Quad-A teams there were two divisions and two Quad-A Champions were crowned. Plum defeated New Castle 10-6 to win the Division II title.
Players To Watch
Devin Whitlock (QB – Belle Vernon) – Last year’s 4A Player of the Year is the most exciting player in the WPIAL with the ball in his hands. Whitlock accounted for over 1800 yards of total offense, throwing for over 850 and rushing for over 950. He scored 20 total TDs between rushing and punt returns, where he is extremely dangerous in the open field.
Quinton Martin (RB – Belle Vernon) – Belle Vernon’s sophomore RB endured a mid-season injury but came back strong, rushing for over 400 yards and 6 total TDs in the final three weeks of the season.
Tiqwai Hayes (RB – Aliquippa) – Aliquippa’s freshman running back topped 1000 yards and scored 12 TDs.
Quinton Goode (QB – Aliquippa) – The storylines around Aliquippa have mostly focused on Tiqwai Hayes, but Goode’s season as the leader of the Air Warfield offense should not be overlooked, throwing for 1352 yards and 13 TDs with dynamic receivers Cyair Clark and Tajier Thornton on the outside.
Bobbie Boyd (RB – McKeesport) – Boyd’s explosiveness keyed McKeesport’s big run this season. He was the second-leading rusher in the classification with nearly 1200 yards and 14 TDs.
Rodney Gallagher (QB/DB – Laurel Highlands) – Gallagher is one of the top two-sport athletes in the WPIAL and became the 13th player in WPIAL history to rush and pass for 1000 yards in the same regular season.
Wyatt Ringer (QB – Beaver) – Ringer was the force in Beaver’s backfield that carried them to the playoffs. He did most of his damage on the ground, rushing for over 1000 yards and 15 TDs.
Cadin Olsen (QB – Armstrong) – Olsen was one of the top passers in the entire WPIAL, finishing with over 2000 yards and 23 TDs. Late in the season his rushing abilities came on and he finished the season with nearly 800 rushing yards and 5 more TDs.
Brock Borgo & Christian Liberto (RBs – Hampton) – Hampton’s backfield duo both topped 1000 yards this season and scored double-digit TDs.
Chandler Thimons (QB – Highlands) – While Golden Rams RB Luke Bombalski led the classification in rushing (1239 yards, 16 TDs), Thimons abilities as a dual threat-quarterback were the key to Highlands’ offense. He threw for 1105 yards and 14 TDs and ran for another 806 yards and 11 TDs.