The WPIAL season kicked off last weekend with Week 0 action. Teams were able to schedule their own matchups, which included games against teams from outside the WPIAL. The “Western PA vs Everyone” showcase event turned into literally “vs EVERYONE” when Sto-Rox played a team from Ohio that apparently isn’t actually an educational institution. Elsewhere, Northgate snapped their 32-game losing streak (the longest in the WPIAL since Uniontown is playing an independent schedule). We interviewed Flames head coach Michael Fulmore on this week’s edition of the WPIAL Blitz Show. Our Brute Athletic Player of the Week award went to Laurel Highlands’ Rodney Gallagher who had 2 passing touchdowns, 2 rushing touchdowns, and 2 interceptions on defense to lead the Mustangs to their first win over Connellsville in school history.
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.
I will once again be doing a pregame spot on WMBS Radio. You can listen to the show here, starting at 6pm on Friday. This weekend, WMBS will be broadcasting Laurel Highlands taking on Southmoreland on Friday night. Last week, both teams got big victories over opponents who had traditionally dominated them. Laurel Highlands beat Connellsville for the first time in school history. Southmoreland topped McGuffey, a team they had struggled against for years in AA/2A
Be sure to keep tabs on our WPIAL Standings Page throughout the season and follow our WPIAL Twitter account @WPIAL_Blitz. Here’s a look at the top games on the slate this week. Since conference play does not start until Week 3, this week features some historical rivalries.
Thomas Jefferson at Gateway
This is not only the biggest matchup of Week 1, but possibly one of the premier games on the WPIAL schedule this entire season. Thomas Jefferson is the two-time defending WPIAL and PIAA Champions in 4A. They have reached the WPIAL Championship in six straight seasons. Gateway has been the most dominant 5A program over the last five years. The Gators have made the semifinals all five seasons and won WPIAL titles in 2017 and 2019. Gateway is the top-ranked 5A team and Thomas Jefferson is the top-ranked 4A team. Gateway took full advantage of their new offensive assets in the Birch Brothers who transferred from Jeannette. In the season-opener, Brad Birch threw for 273 yards and 3 TDs with his broth Brett on the receiving end for 114 yards and 2 TDs. Brad Birch also ran one in as the Gators threw the ball all over the yard. This will be Thomas Jefferson’s first outing of the year after the scrimmaged with Clairton last week. The Jaguars will be replacing a number of starters from last year’s team, but will have consistency in the trenches with Nick Bryan. Leading rusher Conner Murga (821 yards, 12 TDs) returns from last year’s state championship team to lead TJ’s offensive attack.
Penn Hills at Central Catholic
These teams were former conference foes in Quad-A and in the first few years of 6A before Penn Hills moved down to 5A in 2018. Central Catholic is the two-time defending 6A Champions. The Vikings lost a hard-fought season-opener to Imhotep Charter, the top-ranked 5A school in the state. Imhotep’s defense was loaded with D1 prospects but Central flexed their defensive muscles and played a tight 12-6 game. Central relied heavily on their running game of Gannon Carothers, Amari Shields, and JD Younger against Imhotep but was never able to get it going. Quarterback Paton Wehner will have another good test this week against Penn Hills’ talented secondary. Penn Hills made the playoffs last year with an all-freshman backfield. This will be the Indians first game of the year after scrimmaging Aliquippa last week. A matchup with Central’s defense will be a great test for the Dugger brothers. Julian Dugger took the reigns at quarterback as a freshman last year and threw for 895 yards and 5 TDs. His brother Jaden was on the receiving end for 106 yards and 1 TD. Jaden Dugger anchors the defensive backfield, along with Raion Strader and both players have multiple D1 offers.
Upper St Clair at Mt. Lebanon
The South Hills Showdown is back on the slate this season. These rivals both have high expectations this season and believe they are capable of making deep playoff runs. Both schools got off to strong starts in their season-openers with Mt. Lebanon shutting out Bethel Park and Upper St Clair shutting out GCC. Mt. Lebanon displayed a balanced offensive attack in Week 1. Senior QB Joey Daniels threw for 113 yards and 2 TDs, one to Mike Beiersdorf and the other to Eli Heidenriech (who also had a rushing touchdown). On the ground, Alex Tecza averaged over 8 yards per carry for the Blue Devils. Upper St Clair had five different players find the end zone last week. The Panthers boast an impressive running game led by Ethan Hiester, Jamaal Brown, and Mateo Cepulio.
Pine-Richland at Seneca Valley
This game might have the most storylines of any matchup this week. Pine-Richland and Seneca Valley were conference foes for years in Quad-A and 6A before the Rams moved down to 5A last season. On top of that, after Pine-Richland’s coaching staff was dismissed en masse this spring, a number of assistant coaches took jobs at Seneca Valley. Both of these teams lost their season-opening games and are looking to get back on the winning track. Cole Boyd took over at quarterback for Pine-Richland and had a great performance against Harrisburg. Boyd threw for 239 yards and 3 TDs, two of them going to Andrew Mellis and one to Alex Gochis. Seneca Valley lost to a Moon team that will be a strong contender in 5A this year. The Raiders were led by dual-threat QB Graham Hancox who threw for 97 yards and 1 TD and ran for another 45 yards. Nolan Dworek was the feature back and found the end zone for Seneca Valley.
Peters Twp at Canon-McMillan
Washington County rivals square off once again. For years these two schools were conference foes in Quad-A then again in 6A before Peters Twp moved down to 5A in 2018. The Indians reached the last two WPIAL Championship games in 5A and graduated a number of starters from last season. However, they looked ready to reload in Week 0 as they throttled Fox Chapel 37-0. Ethan Kirch ran for 3 touchdowns and QB Sam Miller added another on the ground. Canon-Mac also got off to a strong start with a win over neighboring Washington County school Trinity. In their 48-0 victory, RB Ryan Angott rumbled for 163 yards and 3 TDs. Michael Evans showed his abilities as a passer, throwing for 175 yards and 2 TDs and ran for another score. Both of these teams should be in the playoff hunt in their respective classifications, but for Friday night all that matters is bragging rights in Washington County between the traditional rivals.
Woodland Hills at McKeesport
Woody High and McKeesport were conference foes for a number of years in Quad-A before the move to 6 classifications. Despite their proximity in the Mon Valley, they were split between different conferences in 5A from 2016-2019 before McKeesport moved down to 4A this past year. They met in WPIAL Championship Games in 1999 (where McKeesport won) and 2005 (where Woodland Hills won). Woodland Hills defeated Wayne Valley (NJ) in the “Western PA vs Everyone” showcase event last week. The Wolverines looked dominant offensively with Deontae Williams throwing for 105 yards and a TD, though nearly all of that came on a 99-yard touchdown pass to Louis Callaway. Williams also had two picks on defense. Eris Seibles ran for 116 yards and a score and Brandon Jones added 90 yards and a touchdown on the ground. McKeesport also got off to a fast start, flexing their muscles in a 48-7 win over Baldwin. Bobby Boyd started the game with an 85-yard touchdown run and would later add explosive scores of 55 and 37 yards. Dennis Jackson scored twice for the Tigers, once on the receiving end of a Caleb Reist pass and once on a punt return. That was McKeesport’s second punt return to the house of the game after Jahmil Perryman housed one in the first quarter.
Belle Vernon at Chartiers Valley
A rematch of last year’s 4A quarterfinal. Chartiers Valley benefitted from moving down in classification and qualified for the playoffs for the first time in the six-classification era last year. In the postseason, they ran into a talented Belle Vernon team that thumped them 49-21. In that game, the Leopards dominated on the ground. Dual-threat QB Devin Whitlock ran for 174 yards and 3 TDs and freshman RB Quinton Martin had 147 yards and 3 TDs. Both Whitlock and Martin now anchor one of the most dangerous backfields in the WPIAL. This will be Belle Vernon’s first outing this season while Chartiers Valley won a 21-14 battle against West Mifflin last week. Char Valley looked to be in control with a 14-0 halftime lead but West Mifflin came back and tied it before Anthony Mackey scored his second rushing touchdown of the night to give the Colts the win. All told, Mackey ran for 117 yards and 2 scores on the night.
Aliquippa at Beaver Falls
Buckle up, folks. The Beaver County rivals are back. While some worried this rivalry might go away after Aliquippa moved up to 4A and Beaver Falls moved down to 2A last year, the WPIAL kept it on the schedule. Aliquippa had a scrimmage against Penn Hills last week while Beaver Falls lost to another 4A team from Beaver County in Blackhawk. Aliquippa has a dominant offensive and defensive line that is stocked with some massive kids. They also have a pair of talented WR/DBs in Tajier Thornton and Cyair Clair who each had over 300 yards and 5 TDs receiving last season. While Beaver Falls was a run-heavy team last year, the Tigers saw two 1000-yard rushers graduate. The onus of the offense has fallen to QB Jaren Brickner who threw for 164 yards and ran for 66 yards and a score in the season-opener. Trey Singleton has stepped into the lead back role, running for 56 yards, adding 60 receiving yards and scoring twice.
Highlands at Valley
The Battle for the Bridge! These teams were rivals in AAA for years in the 1980s and 90s before Valley moved down to AA in the 2000s. Now, Highlands is a 4A program and Valley is a 3A school, neither of whom have made the playoffs in the six-classification era. The Golden Rams defeated University Prep out of the Pittsburgh City League 27-0 in their season opener. Luke Bombalski ran for 133 yards and all four of Highlands’ scores. Dual-threat QB Chandler Thimons threw for 80 yards and ran for 98. Valley, on the other hand, was shut out by Hampton 41-0 in their first game. I love rivalry games, but in particular any game where there are naming rights for a Bridge on the line (in this case, the Tarentum Bridge) ranks highly in my book.
East Allegheny at Serra Catholic
Less than five miles separate these schools in the Mon Valley. East Allegheny was a playoff team in 3A last year and flexed their muscles against nearby Jeannette in Week 0 by a 40-0 margin. Serra Catholic reached the 2A semifinals and is one of the favorites this season. The Eagles beat another Mon Valley team in South Allegheny 24-0 in Week 0. East Allegheny used a run-heavy offense to beat Jeanette. Michael Smith ran for 68 yards and Mekhi Manor ran for 46 to lead the Wildcats. Serra Catholic will need to clean things up after being assessed 24 penalties (including 11 personal fouls) in their season-opener. Statistically, Serra got great performances from QB Max Rocco who threw for 215 yards and 3 TDs. Most of that went to Terrell Booth (128 yards, 2 TDs). On the ground, Machai Brooks-Duetrieulle ran for 132 yards. Serra’s dynamic and explosive offense will certainly test East Allegheny’s defense which is led by talented defensive end Robert Washington.
Keystone Oaks at South Park
Another game that is a rematch of one of last year’s playoff games. The (Keystone Oaks) Eagles beat the (South Park) Eagles in the quarterfinals last year by overcoming a 10-point fourth quarter deficit. Keystone Oaks kicked off their season with a 21-0 victory over Brentwood. The Golden Eagles had to work in new starters at a number of offensive positions and they came through. Nick Buckley threw for 233 yards and 1 TD in his debut. Kevin Drew was the leading rusher with 63 yards and a touchdown. For South Park, Harper Conroy (867 yards, 8 TDs) took the helm at quarterback last year as a sophomore. Leading rusher Adam Johnson (360 yards, 2 TDs) and receiver Brendan Wood return for their senior seasons to give the Eagles offensive consistency as three starters along the line will also return. Both teams should be in the playoff mix in 3A once again this year.
Ligonier Valley at Elizabeth Forward
Ligonier Valley joined the WPIAL last season after reaching the 2A Championship Game in District 6 four straight years. Elizabeth Forward reached the WPIAL 3A Championship Game for the first time in school history last year. Both teams won narrow games last week with Ligonier Valley topping Indiana 20-14 and Elizabeth Forward beating Ringgold 12-0. Ligonier Valley relied on dual-threat QB Haden Sierocky who threw for 107 yards and 1 TD, ran for 43 yards, and returned a fumble for a defensive touchdown. Leading rusher Nick Beitel put up 62 yards and what would be the game-winning touchdown for the Rams. Elizabeth Forward ground out a victory over Ringgold by relying on their running game. Kyle Flournoy ran for 86 yards but it was DaVontay Brownfield who found the end zone twice and finished with 68 yards on the night. This should be a good matchup between teams that are expected to be strong playoff competitors in their respective classifications.
Laurel at Shenango
These Lawrence County rivals are separated by just 6 miles from Laurel to the east of New Castle and Shenango to the south. Both teams have bounced between AA/A and 1A/2A over the years but have often been conference foes. Laurel had a dominant Week 0 performance over the North East Grape Pickers (from near Erie) out of District 10. On the flip side, Shenango was beat handily by another Lawrence County team in Neshannock who plays with Laurel in the 2A Midwestern Conference. Laurel leaned heavily on their ground game to beat the Grape Pickers with Luke McCoy posting the astounding stat line of 155 yards and 3 TDs on just 5 carries. Quarterback Kobe DeRosa did damage on the ground (108 yards, 1 TD) and through the air (82 yards, 2 TDs). Shenango struggled to get things going offensively against Neshannock, but the bright spot was CJ Miller who ran for 79 yards and a touchdown.
New Brighton at Rochester
In a week of close games between traditional rivals, this might be the only game where the schools are within walking distance. Rochester and New Brighton are neighboring communities along the Beaver River and the schools are separated by just 2 miles. The Lions will make the short trip down Virginia Avenue to take on the Rams after topping Western Beaver last week in overtime. Quarterback Gabe Haddox threw for 181 yards and a touchdown, spreading the ball around to Eric Montanez (98 yards, 1 TD), Darrell Rogers, and Kyler Rombold. On the ground, Kevin Williams ran for 39 yards and a touchdown to lead the way for New Brighton who had four different players find the end zone. Rochester did not play last week, but is a traditionally run-heavy team that brings back two of their top three rushers from last season. Denny Robinson ran for 914 yards and 12 TDs and Sal Laure ran for 568 yards and 10 TDs last year for the Rams. Both players averaged over 6 yards per carry and should be a challenge for New Brighton’s defense to stop.
Steel Valley at Clairton
Steel Valley will make the trip down 837 to Clairton in a clash of two of the most successful small-school programs in the last five years. Steel Valley reached the 2A Championship game in three straight years from 2016-2018, winning two WPIAL titles. In 2016 the Ironmen “Mercy Boys” team rolled through the season by defeating every opponent by mercy rule, including Southern Columbia in the State Championship Game. Clairton has reached at least the semifinals in 15 straight seasons and in the last five years has also been to 3 WPIAL title games in 1A and won two of them. The Bears made it to the State Championship Game in 2016 but lost to Bishop Guilfoyle. Neither team played a Week 0 game, so this will be their first outing of the season. Steel Valley will lean on senior RB NiJhay Burt (611 yards, 11 TDs) who has a D1 offer from Buffalo. Clairton has four returning starters on their offensive line that paved the way for Dontae Sanders to be one of the top backs in the WPIAL last year. Sanders has graduated, but look for Greg Lee and Christian Wade to take on the load in the backfield. Capone Jones, who has one of the best names in the WPIAL, will step in at quarterback. Last season Lee and Jones both averaged over 11 yards per carry on the ground. Leading receiver Brooklyn Cannon (560 yards, 12 TDs) returns on the outside for the Bears, giving their offense the ability to strike from anywhere on the field.