The first WPIAL Championship Game of the season will be in 6A. With the WPIAL champion entering the state bracket in the Quarterfinals, the 6A title game is this weekend while all the rest of the classifications are in the semifinals. You can check out previews of all of the semifinal games here. Over Thanksgiving Weekend, Classes 1A – 5A will play their Championship Games at Heinz Field. Since 6A is taking place this weekend, their title game will be at Norwin High School. On this week’s edition of the WPIAL Blitz Show, we were fortunate enough to interview 8-time WPIAL Champion Bob Palko, head coach of the Mt. Lebanon Blue Devils.
This year, our WPIAL coverage is sponsored by the Sports Stream Premium Network and PA Mortgage Protection and Life Insurance. The Sports Stream Premium Network enables schools to turn their livestreamed events into pay-per-view events where schools receive 100% of the revenue generated.
1. Mt. Lebanon (11-0) vs 2. Central Catholic (9-2)
Saturday, November 20, 7pm
Norwin High School
Stream: TribLive HSSN
Radio: KDKA Pittsburgh 1020AM
How They Got Here
After falling to Central Catholic in the semifinals last season, Mt. Lebanon’s core group of senior leaders (comprised of a number of three-year starters) spent the offseason focused on leaving their legacy on the program. Mt. Lebanon’s non-conference slate was comprised of neighboring South Hills schools that play in 5A. As it would turn out, all three of their early opponents would make the 5A playoffs in the Allegheny Six Conference. After dispatching Bethel Park, rivals Upper St Clair, and Peters Twp, the Blue Devils started Conference play by avenging last year’s loss to Canon-McMillan. Consecutive games at the beginning of October asserted the Blue Devils as title contenders when they used a second-half charge to beat North Allegheny for the first time since 2005 then beat Central Catholic over two days because a storm caused the conclusion to be postponed. That 21-point win over Central was their closest result of the regular season and the Blue Devils claimed their first conference title since 2010. In the playoffs, they met North Allegheny again and scored two defensive touchdowns and a special teams touchdown to make the Championship Game for the first time since 2000. Mt. Lebanon enters the WPIAL finals with the top-ranked offense (37.5 points per game) and defense (9.6 points against per game) in 6A.
Central Catholic won the last two WPIAL titles. Unfortunately, last year their season came to an end in the State Playoffs when they had to cancel their game against Erie McDowell due to COVID. This year, the Vikings took part in the “Western PA vs Everyone” showcase where they lost a tough defensive struggle to Philadelphia powerhouse Imhotep Charter 12-6. After that, Central’s offense exploded to average 48 points per game over the next 3 games in wins over Penn Hills, Pine-Richland and Norwin. The Vikings beat playoff contenders North Allegheny and Seneca Valley to set up a showdown with Mt. Lebanon for first place in the conference. The Vikings bounced back from that loss with convincing victories over Hempfield, Baldwin, and Canon-McMillan to end the season then beat Seneca Valley 42-21 in the semifinals to reach the WPIAL title game for the third straight season. Central Catholic ranks second in 6A in both offense (36.9 points per game) and defense (13.8 points against per game).
This will be the fifth postseason meeting between Central Catholic and Mt. Lebanon and the third consecutive season they have faced off in the playoffs. The Blue Devils won the first meeting, back in 1997, but since then Central has won in 2011, 2019, and 2020. Interestingly, since 6A moved to just one conference in 2018, Mt. Lebanon has had the edge in the regular season meetings. The Blue Devils beat Central in 2018, 2020, and 2021. In the playoffs, Central has had the edge with a 31-14 victory in 2019 and 35-0 victory last year. In their meeting this year, Central returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown but Mt. Lebanon scored the next 21 points before a lightning storm postponed the conclusion until Saturday morning. Mt. Lebanon extended their lead to 35-7 before Central scored a late touchdown to make the final 35-14.
Mt. Lebanon has reached the semifinals in four straight seasons, but this is their first Championship Game appearance since 2000. Before their recent run of semifinals, the only other trip to the semis Mt. Lebanon had made since 2000 came in 2005. This is Central Catholic’s 8th Championship Game appearance in the last 9 years and they have won the title in 5 of their previous 7 appearances. The last WPIAL team to beat Central Catholic in the playoffs was Seneca Valley back in the first round in 2018.
Even though Mt. Lebanon has not been to a WPIAL title game since 2000, historically these two teams have the most WPIAL titles of any current 6A programs. Interestingly, only 3 of the current 6A teams have ever won WPIAL titles – Central Catholic with 8, Mt. Lebanon with 7, and North Allegheny with 4. This will be the 13th Championship Game appearance for both teams. Central Catholic is 8-4 in WPIAL title games while Mt. Lebanon is 7-5. While Mt. Lebanon has not won a title since 2000, their head coach Bob Palko has plenty of experience at this stage, having won 8 WPIAL Championships at West Allegheny. Central Catholic’s Terry Totten has been a part of all 8 of their WPIAL titles, serving as the defensive coordinator in 2003 and 2004 then as head coach for the 2007, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2019, and 2020 squads.
Prior to 1973, the largest of the three WPIAL classes was named “AA” (the smallest was “B” and the mid-tier was “A”). In 1973, AA became AAA, which held in name until 1980 when the state expanded to four classifications (A – AAAA). Mt. Lebanon lost in WPIAL AA (later AAA) Championship Games in 1941 and 1955 before beating Hempfield 18-14 to win the 1966 Championship. That started a run of three title game appearances in five years that would see the Blue Devils fall to New Castle in 1967 then beat Kiski 35-12 in 1970. After the shift to four classes in 1980, Mt. Lebanon was the dominant force in Quad-A, winning titles in 1980, 1981, 1983, and 1984. Since that 1984 Championship, Mt. Lebanon made it back to the title game just twice – falling to North Hills in 1987 and winning the 2000 title, defeating Woodland Hills 14-13 thanks to a missed extra point with 39 seconds left. That Woodland Hills team featured future NFL players Steve Breaston and Ryan Mundy. The 2000 Mt. Lebanon team’s season came to an end in the PIAA semifinals against Cathedral Prep. Interestingly, Mt. Lebanon played in the first WPIAL Championship Game at Three Rivers Stadium (in 1970) and the last (in 2000).
Central Catholic played in the Pittsburgh Catholic League and won titles in 1959, 1964, 1965, 1972, and 1973. The Pittsburgh Catholic League merged with the WPIAL in 1974. Central Catholic’s first WPIAL Championship Game appearance came in 1988 when they lost 7-0 to Upper St Clair. That was the first year of the PIAA Championships and Upper St Clair opted not to participate in the state tournament, so as runners up Central Catholic took their place and won the inaugural PIAA AAAA Championship, despite not winning the WPIAL title that year. The year after Mt. Lebanon’s last title, Central would make it back to the WPIAL Championship and get Woodland Hills’ frustration taken out on them. The Vikings won their first WPIAL title in 2003, defeating Upper St Clair 42-10. That kicked off a run of three titles in five years that included WPIAL and PIAA Championships in 2004 and 2007. Central Catholic reached the final three AAAA Championship Games of the four classification era, beating Woodland Hills in 2013 and Penn-Trafford in 2015 but falling to Pine-Richland in 2014. The Vikings strong run continued into the six classification era, beating Seneca Valley in the 2016 WPIAL finals then losing to Pine-Richland again in 2017. Central Catholic is the two-time defending WPIAL Champions with victories over Pine-Richland in 2019 and North Allegheny in 2020.
Mt. Lebanon is led by a trio of seniors at the skill positions who were all among the best in 6A. Running back Alex Tecza (1552 rushing yards, 96 receiving yards, 18 total TDs) has a rare blend of size, speed, vision, and cut-back ability. Tecza is a big play waiting to happen any time he touches the ball and ran for over 200 yards in the first meeting between these teams. Leading receiver Eli Heidenreich (836 receiving yards, 289 rushing yards, 18 total TDs) has committed to Nave and is an all-around star for the Blue Devils. Last week against North Allegheny he returned an interception and a punt for a touchdown. Dual-threat QB Joey Daniels has thrown for 1322 yards and 19 TDs and run for245 yards and 6 TDs. In addition to Heidenreich on the outside, Mike Beiersdorf (166 yards, 3 TDs) and tight end Grayson Dee (108 yards, 1 TD) have both been factors. Mt. Lebanon has been outstanding in the trenches on both sides of the ball this season.
Central Catholic has opened up their traditionally run-heavy offense with Payton Wehner (1383 yards, 17 TDs) at quarterback this season. The Vikings do have a talented running back in Gannon Carothers (975 rushing yards, 153 receiving yards, 13 total TDs) who has a Pitt offer as a safety. Antonio Pitts (390 yards, 3 TDs) and JD Younger (200 yards, 3 TDs) have also been factors out of the backfield, with Younger finding the end zone twice against Seneca Valley last week. On the outside, the Vikings have used a number of different receivers led by speedster Brandon Jackson (397 yards, 2 TDs). Pete Gonzalez (295 yards, 2 TDs), Vernon Settles (268 yards, 3 TDs), and Josh Altsman (170 yards, 4 TDs) all have over 10 receptions this season. Central Catholic’s defense is led by Notre Dame-commit Donovan Hinish in the trenches and has one of the best linebackers in the WPIAL in sophomore Anthony Speca.