Home WPIAL WPIAL 2021 5A Playoff Primer

WPIAL 2021 5A Playoff Primer

by Ian

This season has been a wild one in 5A. Defending State Champions Pine-Richland had to work through a complete overhaul of their coaching staff and a number of injuries that plagued the team this season. When the dust settled, Moon was the only team to survive the season undefeated. Nevertheless, the Tigers had a handful of narrow victories which sets up a wide open playoff bracket. The 5A bracket came with a bit of controversy. Penn Hills technically won the 3-way tie atop the Northeast Conference based on the WPIAL Tiebreaker system. However, the Selection Committee opted to give the Indians the 5th overall seed, slotting them behind Pine-Richland who was also part of the 3-way tie atop the conference and would have been second based on the tiebreakers. It is likely the WPIAL considered non-conference results as Pine-Richland beat both Penn Hills (the #5 seed) and Gateway (the #4 seed) and Penn Hills lost to Gateway.  The Championship Game will return to Heinz Field this season and be the conclusion of the WPIAL Weekend at Heinz on Saturday night at 6pm.

Check out the 5A 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

Moon Tigers
Conference Record: 5-0 Overall Record: 10-0
5A #1 seed – First round bye, will face winner of Bethel Park-Woodland Hills in Quarterfinals.
How they got here: Moon won their second conference title in three seasons and was the only undefeated team in 5A this season. Back-to-back 3-point victories over Peters Twp and Upper St Clair set up a Week 8 showdown with Bethel Park for the conference crown. Moon’s running game and defense have been stout this season. Moon’s defense
Recent History: In 2019 Moon won their first playoff game since 2006, but fell in the quarterfinals to Peters Twp. This is just Moon’s 4th playoff appearance in the last 15 years, but it is their second conference title in the last 3 years so Ryan Linn seems to have turned the program around.
WPIAL Playoff Appearances: 16
All-Time WPIAL Playoff Record: 14-14
Best Playoff Result: Won WPIAL Championship in 1998, defeating Blackhawk in the AAA Championship at Three Rivers Stadium. Lost to Allentown Central Catholic in the 1998 PIAA Championship Game.

Penn-Trafford Warriors
Conference Record: 5-0 Overall Record: 8-2
5A #2 seed – First round bye, will face winner of Upper St Clair-Fox Chapel in Quarterfinals.
How they got here: Penn-Trafford rolled through the season with the second-best offense (33 points per game) and defense (12.6 points against per game) in 5A. They lost to Belle Vernon, the top-seeded team in 4A, as well as Peters Twp early in the season, but ran through conference play. Penn-Trafford beat Gateway for the second straight time, clinching their third consecutive conference title.
Recent History: This is the 18th playoff appearance in the last 19 years for Penn-Trafford. The Warriors lost at Heinz Field in 2015 (in AAAA) and in 2017 (in 5A).
WPIAL Playoff Appearances: 29
All-Time WPIAL Playoff Record: 21-29
Best Playoff Result: Reached the WPIAL Championship game in 1997, 2015, and 2017. Lost to Upper St Clair 28-27 in the 1997 Championship, lost to Central Catholic 24-17 in 2015, and lost to Gateway 21-16 in 2017. Trafford High School lost to Bridgeville in the 1949 Class B (which became single-A) Championship Game and Penn Joint lost to Albert Gallatin in the 1961 Class A (which became AA) Championship Game.

Pine-Richland Rams
Conference Record: 4-1 Overall Record: 6-4
5A #3 seed – First round bye, will face winner of North Hills-Peters Twp in Quarterfinals.
How they got here: Pine-Richland had a tumultuous start to the season with a new coaching staff, blowing second-half leads to Harrisburg, Seneca Valley, and Central Catholic. The Rams righted the ship once they got into 5A play, beating both Upper St Clair and Gateway by two scores. They endured a number of injuries and lost a close game to North Hills, which dropped them into a 3-way tie atop the Northeast Conference.
Recent History: Pine-Richland is the defending WPIAL and PIAA 5A Champions. They have reached the WPIAL finals in four straight seasons – making it 3 times in 6A before moving down to 5A last year. This is their 9th consecutive playoff appearance. The Rams won the WPIAL AAAA title in 2014 and 6A Championships in 2017 and 2018.
WPIAL Playoff Appearances: 21 (18 as Pine-Richland, 2 as Richland High School)
All-Time WPIAL Playoff Record: 31-14
Best Playoff Result: Defending WPIAL and PIAA Champions. Won back-to-back WPIAL 6A Championships in 2017 and 2018, claiming both the WPIAL and PIAA Championships in 2017. Also won the WPIAL Championship in 2003 (AAA) and 2014 (AAAA). Richland High School won the WPIAL title in 1969 and 1970

Gateway Gators
Conference Record: 4-1 Overall Record: 7-3
5A #4 seed – First round bye, will face winner of Penn Hills-Franklin Regional in Quarterfinals
How they got here: Gateway topped Delaware Valley in Week 0, a 6A team from the Philly area then lost a much-anticipated showdown with Thomas Jefferson. They opened 5A play with wins over fellow playoff teams Penn Hills and Bethel Park before losing a showdown of the last two 5A champions against Pine-Richland. Their only close game in conference play was a 15-10 loss to Penn-Trafford.
Recent History: Gateway has made the playoffs in 19 of the last 20 years. In 2017 Gateway defeated Penn-Trafford 21-16 in the WPIAL Championship to win their first title since 1986. The Gators made it to the State Championship Game where they lost to Archbishop Wood. Gateway repeated the feat in 2019, winning the WPIAL title by a 21-20 score over Peters Twp then going on to lose to Archbishop Wood 24-21 in the PIAA semifinals.
WPIAL Playoff Appearances: 35
All-Time WPIAL Playoff Record: 53-28-2
Best Playoff Result: Gateway has won two of the last four WPIAL 5A Championships. The Gators won the WPIAL AAA Championship in 1969, 1972, and 1986. Gateway tied Upper St Clair 6-6 in the 1974 Championship Game and North Hills 0-0 in the 1985 Championship Game, both before the WPIAL had overtime. Their 2017 run to the State title game was their best result in the PIAA playoffs.

Penn Hills Indians
Conference Record: 4-1 Overall Record: 6-3
5A #5 seed – Will host #12 Franklin Regional in first round
How they got here: After getting outscored 89-20 in the first two weeks, Penn Hills defense turned it up in victories over Woodland Hills and Upper St Clair. Their only loss after Week 2 was a 7-point defeat to Pine-Richland. The Indians held their last 7 opponents to just 15.6 points per game.
Recent History: Penn Hills is making their 8th playoff appearance in the last 9 years and their 22nd in the last 24 years. The Indians won the 2018 5A WPIAL and PIAA Championships, defeating West Allegheny in the WPIAL Championship and Manheim Central in the PIAA Championship.
WPIAL Playoff Appearances: 38
All-Time WPIAL Playoff Record: 
Best Playoff Result: Won the WPIAL AAA Championship in 1976 and 1978. Tied Butler for the 1977 WPIAL AAA Championship (no overtime). Defeated Gateway in the 1979 WPIAL Championship Game, which was later vacated by the WPIAL because of an ineligible player. A federal judge overturned the WPIAL’s decision and restored the 1979 title to Penn Hills. Won the 1995 WPIAL AAAA Championship by defeating Upper St Clair 20-13. Defeated Lower Dauphin 35-14 to win the 1995 PIAA AAAA Championship. Defeated West Allegheny 28-18 in the 2018 WPIAL 5A Championship and Manheim Central 36-31 in the PIAA 5A Championship

North Hills Indians
Conference Record: 4-1 Overall Record: 7-3
5A #6 seed – Will host #11 seed Peters Twp in the first round.
How they got here: North Hills played a number of dramatic games this season. They edged Kiski 14-10 on a last-minute touchdown. The following week, they lost to Penn Hills on a last-minute touchdown pass then topped Pine-Richland by coming up with a late defensive stand in the end zone. The win over Pine-Richland sent them into a 3-way tie atop the conference with Penn Hills.
Recent History: North Hills has qualified for the playoffs in 8 of the last 10 years. They have not won a playoff game since 2010.
WPIAL Playoff Appearances: 34
All-Time WPIAL Playoff Record: 37-30-1
Best Playoff Result: Won WPIAL Championship in 1982, 1987, and 1993. Tied for the WPIAL title in 1985 (no overtime). Won PIAA title in 1993.

Upper St Clair Panthers
Conference Record: 4-1 Overall Record: 6-4
5A #7 seed – Will host #10 Fox Chapel in the first round
How they got here: The “Cardiac Cats” moniker returned in style the last two weeks. Upper St Clair stormed back from a 28-13 4th quarter deficit to tie South Fayette on an untimed down to force overtime. In overtime, Ethan Hiester blocked a field goal which enabled USC to kick their own game-winner. The next week against Bethel Park, with the game tied and under a minute remaining, Hiester blocked a potential game-winning field goal that the Panthers returned for a touchdown to win the game.
Recent History: Upper St Clair is making their 22nd consecutive playoff appearance. The Panthers reached the semifinals in 2017 but have fallen to Big East teams the last three years. They lost to McKeesport in the first round in 2018 and Penn-Trafford in the quarterfinals the last two seasons.
WPIAL Playoff Appearances: 39
All-Time WPIAL Playoff Record: 46-32-2
Best Playoff Result: Won WPIAL Championship in 1988, 1989, 1992, 1997, and 2006. Tied for the 1974 (AAA) and 1975 (AAA) WPIAL title (no overtime). Won the PIAA Championship in 1989 and 2006.

Bethel Park Black Hawks
Conference Record: 3-2 Overall Record: 5-5
5A #8 seed – Will host #9 Woodland Hills in the first round.
How they got here: After going winless last season, Bethel Park bounced back to win 4 in a row in the middle of the season to set up a game against Moon with the conference title on the line. After falling to Moon in Week 8, they lost on a blocked field goal return to Upper St Clair in Week 9, dropping them to 3rd in the conference.
Recent History: Bethel Park missed the playoffs last year, snapping a 19-year postseason streak. In that stretch they only made it past the quarterfinals twice, one of which was a run to the WPIAL title in 2008.
WPIAL Playoff Appearances: 27
All-Time WPIAL Playoff Record: 20-26
Best Playoff Result: Won WPIAL Championship in 2008. Lost to Liberty in 2008 PIAA Championship Game in overtime.

Woodland Hills Wolverines
Conference Record: 3-2 Overall Record: 4-6
5A #9 seed – Will play at #8 Bethel Park in the first round.
How they got here: After winning a Week 0 game against a team from New Jersey, Woody High dropped 5 straight games. The Wolverines bounced back to win 3 of their last 4, including a Week 8 win over Latrobe to lock up a playoff spot.
Recent History: Woodland Hills missed the playoffs in 2019, breaking a streak of 23 consecutive playoff appearances. Woody High returned to the postseason in 2019, which means they have qualified in 25 of the last 26 years.
WPIAL Playoff Appearances: 31
All-Time WPIAL Playoff Record: 47-25
Best Playoff Result: Won WPIAL Championship in 1996, 1999, 2001, 2002, and 2009. Lost in PIAA Championship Game in 1996, 2001 and 2002

Fox Chapel Foxes
Conference Record: 2-
Overall Record: 4-6
5A #10 seed – Will play at Upper St Clair in the first round
How they got here: Fox Chapel won their first two games of conference play, topping both Shaler and Kiski by 14 points. They lost their last three against the top teams in the conference that finished in a 3-way tie, but their early wins were enough to get them into the playoffs.
Recent History: This is Fox Chapel’s third playoff appearance in the last five seasons. The Foxes have not won a playoff game since 1997.
WPIAL Playoff Appearances: 12
All-Time WPIAL Playoff Record: 5-12
Best Playoff Result: Fox Chapel has reached the WPIAL semifinals four times, most recently in 1997 (in AAAA). The Foxes also reached the AAA semfinals in 1977, the AAAA semifinals in 1983 and the AAA semifinals in 1984. Aspinwall High School (which was later merged into Fox Chapel in 1962) won the WPIAL Class B (later Single-A) Championship in 1943 over Pitcairn and 1944 over East Pittsburgh. Aspinwall lost in the Class B Championship Games in 1936 and 1950.

Peters Twp Indians
Conference Record: 2-3 Overall Record: 6-4
5A #11 seed – Will play at North Hills in the first round.
How they got here: After reaching the WPIAL finals the last two seasons, Peters Twp had to replace nearly all of their starters. They came out strong, winning 4 of 5 in non-conference play. But the Indians stumbled out of the gate in conference play, losing their first three and seeing their playoff hopes on the brink. They came back in the final two weeks, decisively beating West Allegheny and South Fayette to clinch the last playoff spot.
Recent History: Peters Twp is making their fifth consecutive playoff appearance. In 2018 they got their first playoff victory since 2003 with a run to the semifinals. In 2019 they reached the WPIAL final for the first time in school history but lost to Gateway by just 1 point 21-20. Last year they returned to the WPIAL finals, getting revenge on Gateway with a 1-point win in the semis but fell to Pine-Richland in the finals.
WPIAL Playoff Appearances: 16
All-Time WPIAL Playoff Record: 9-16
Best Playoff Result: Peters Township reached the WPIAL final for the first time in school history in 2019, falling to Gateway 21-20. The Indians returned to the WPIAL finals in 2020 but fell to Pine-Richland 35-0. Prior to that, the Indians had reached the semifinals three times – the 5A semis in 2018 and the AA semifinals in 1972 and 1976.

Franklin Regional Panthers
Conference Record: 2-3 Overall Record: 3-7
5A #12 seed – Will play at Penn Hills in the first round.
How they got here: After beating neighboring Plum in Week 0, the Panthers dropped 4 straight, including losses to Kiski and Fox Chapel. In conference play, they staged a thrilling comeback in Week 7 against Latrobe to get the win they needed to get into the playoffs. The Panthers trailed 40-13 and hit a hook-and-lateral before halftime, then stormed back from a 20-point halftime deficit to beat Latrobe.
Recent History: Franklin Regional missed the playoffs last season after making 16th consecutive playoff appearances. They have lost in the quarterfinals each of the last three appearances.
WPIAL Playoff Appearances: 21
All-Time WPIAL Playoff Record: 20-19
Best Playoff Result: Won WPIAL Championship in 2005, beating Thomas Jefferson 31-14. Won PIAA Championship in 2005, beating Pottsville 23-13.

Players to Watch

Brad Birch (QB – Gateway) – Birch transferred from Jeannette prior to the start of his 10th grade season so he will be eligible to play in the postseason for Gateway after leading the WPIAL in passing.

Dylan Sleva (RB – Moon) – The hammer in Moon’s backfield has been grinding down opposing defenses all season.

Cade Yacamelli (RB – Penn-Trafford) – The Wisconsin-commit has been a force out of Penn-Trafford’s backfield and led 5A in rushing.

Carter Green (QB – Penn-Trafford) – Green is one of the top lacrosse players in the region and showed off his athleticism on the football field this year. He threw for over 900 yards and 8 TDs and ran for over 800 yards and 13 more TDs.

Ethan Hiester (RB/LB – Upper St Clair) – Perhaps I should’ve included “kick blocker” in his position description. Hiester has come up with two of the biggest plays of the season in the last two weeks – blocking a South Fayette field goal in overtime then blocking a potential game-winning field goal for Bethel Park that got returned for a touchdown to give the Panthers the victory. Hiester has done it all on the ground, in the receiving game, and on defense this season.

Julian Dugger (QB – Penn Hills) – The sophomore quarterback stepped up in a big way this season, making a formidable connection with his older brother Jaden (a WR/DB).

Robert Dickerson (WR/DB/KR – North Hills) – The Bucknell-commit has done it all for North Hills this season. He has been dynamic with the ball in his hands and made plays on defense to top it off.

Cole Boyd (QB – Pine-Richland) – Boyd missed the last three games with an injury. His availability for the playoffs could completely change the outlook for the Rams. If he is available, Pine-Richland is certainly a contender to defend their title.

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