Conference play kicked off in the WPIAL last weekend. As the WPIAL has set the criteria for this season, only conference games count towards playoff qualification. Ten of the 17 conferences in the WPIAL will continue conference play this weekend, while the other seven start next week. Conference play kicked off with a surprise, the Union Scotties upsetting defending conference champions Rochester. We interviewed Union legend Stacy Robinson on the WPIAL Blitz Show this week. In addition to being the current head football coach and athletic director, Stacy was the star of Union’s 1979 team that reached the WPIAL semifinals. He was also inducted into the Lawrence County Hall of Fame in 2013. Speaking of Lawrence County, we took the Tour of the WPIAL to visit Laurel this week and saw the Spartans get a big Midwestern Conference win over defending WPIAL 2A Champions Beaver Falls. Our Brute Athletic Player of the Week award went to Steel Valley RB NiJhay Burt who ran for 285 yards and 5 TDs in a non-conference win over Keystone Oaks.
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 West Mifflin. Laurel Highlands is off to their first 4-0 start in school history and are looking for a win over West Mifflin before they get into the murderer’s row of the Big Eight schedule. After this week the Mustangs take on Belle Vernon, Thomas Jefferson, and McKeesport the next three games. Laurel Highlands is just 1-8 against the Titans since moving from the Keystone Conference to the Big Eight in 2012.
Be sure to keep tabs on our WPIAL Standings Page throughout the season and follow our WPIAL Twitter account @WPIAL_Blitz. Twenty teams enter this week undefeated and this week features numerous matchups of unbeatens.
6A Game of the Week
Central Catholic (1-0, 3-1) at North Allegheny (1-0, 3-1)
This is a rematch of last year’s WPIAL Championship Game. North Allegheny won the regular season meeting of these teams last year and proceeded to win the 6A regular season title. In the postseason, Central flipped the script and staged a second-half comeback to beat the Tigers and claim their second straight WPIAL title. Central Catholic is traditionally a run-oriented offense and have relied on Gannon Carothers (390 yards, 6 TDs). This year, the Vikings also have a highly capable quarterback to add another element to their offense. Payton Wehner has thrown for 451 yards and 5 TDs. Central has been incredibly stout on defense with Notre Dame-commit Donovan Hinish anchoring the trenches and sophomore linebacker Anthony Speca who might be one of the best in the WPIAL. North Allegheny was just named the top high school in the state for athletes, and has reloaded once again this season. Their ground game features three backs that have all run for at least 100 yards so far in JR Burton, Tanner Potts, and Andrew Hart. Through the air, Logan Kushner has thrown for 235 yards and 4 TDs. Kyrell Hutcherson has been on the receiving end for 165 yards and 3 TDs. Defensively, watch out for defensive end Jacob Porter who has his father’s tenacity coming off the edge.
5A Games of the Week
Pine-Richland (1-3) at Gateway (3-1)
The defending 5A State Champs Pine-Richland take on Gateway, who was the top-ranked WPIAL 5A team heading into this season. While conference play in 5A does not start until next week, this will be a measuring stick game for both teams. Pine-Richland dropped three games against 6A opponents but dominated Upper St Clair last week. Gateway’s only loss this season came in a defensive struggle against Thomas Jefferson. Pine-Richland has been able to replace a number of key offensive starters with the talented Cole Boyd stepping in at quarterback. Boyd has thrown for 686 yards and 6 TDs and run for another 126 yards and 2 TDs. On the outside, Alex Gochis (263 yards, 2 TDs) has been his primary receiver. The Rams have spread the backfield work around this year between Boyd and RBs Brooks Eastburn (162 yards, 1 TD) and Ryan Palmieri (146 yards, 2 TDs). Defensively, Jeremiah Hasley is one of the top linebackers in the WPIAL and has committed to Duke. Gateway also has a talented quarterback in sophomore Brad Birch (898 yards, 11 TDs) who picked up an offer from Oregon after his freshman campaign at Jeannette. Brad’s older brother Brett also transferred from Gateway and has been on the receiving end for 169 yards and 2 TDs. Cincinnati-commit Patrick Body leads the receiving corps with 333 yards and 3 TDs. Jaquon Reynolds has proven to be a multi-faceted threat for the Gators, with 312 rushing yards, 182 receiving yards, and 4 total TDs.
West Allegheny (3-0) at Kiski (4-0)
Heading into Week 4, only three teams in 5A are undefeated. Two of them square off with West Allegheny from the Allegheny Six Conference taking on Kiski from the Northeast Conference. Both schools missed the playoffs last year and have gotten off to a strong start in non-conference play. West Allegheny QB Gavin Miller (509 yards, 4 TDs) burst onto the scene last year and has put together a solid season so far. Nodin Tracy has run for 306 yards and added 133 receiving yards and scored 6 times. Jashon Spencer has been an impact player in all three phases of the game with 177 receiving yards, producing multiple turnovers and making an impact on special teams. Spencer has found the end zone 5 times this season. Kiski has boasted a balanced offensive attack led by dual-threat QB Logan Johnson (413 passing yards, 3 TDs; 106 rushing yards, 1 TD). Johnson has been aided in the ground game by the tandem of Chad Hepler (394 yards) and Brock Wilkins (142 yards, 2 TDs). On the outside, Mathew Hilty (164 yards, 1 TD) and Calvin Heinle (116 yards) have been Johnson’s top targets.
4A Games of the Week
Thomas Jefferson (1-0, 3-0) at Belle Vernon (1-0, 3-0)
The Battle at the Beach. Two of the top contenders in 4A square off in what could be a preview of the 4A Championship Game (though Aliquippa may have something to say about that). Since installing the gold turf at James Weir Stadium in 2015, Belle Vernon is 29-2 at home (including the playoffs). Thomas Jefferson has split their prior two trips to the Beach. Belle Vernon has accounted for 2 of Thomas Jefferson’s 4 conference losses since 2015. Thomas Jefferson is once again loaded up front with dominant linemen Nick Bryan and Jordan Mayer. Joe Leske has stepped into the quarterback role for the Jaguars and thrown for 304 yards and 4 TDs and run for 205 yards and 4 TDs. Connor Murga, one of the few returning starters from last year’s State Championship team, has led the ground game with 295 yards and 3 TDs. Belle Vernon has one of the most exciting backfield tandems in the entire WPIAL in dual-threat QB Devin Whitlock and Quinton Martin. Whitlock has thrown for 400 yards and 3 TDs and run for 369 yards and 7 scores. Martin, who is only a sophomore but already has a number of D1 offers, has 296 yards and 5 TDs. Both of them are game-breaking talents capable of scoring any time they touch the ball. TJ’s talented line will have their hands full with DE Cole Weightman who also plays some tight end and is the Leopards leading receiver.
Hampton (1-0, 4-0) at Highlands (1-0, 4-0)
Another battle of unbeatens as Hampton and Highlands square off at the top of the Greater Allegheny Conference. Just four weeks into the season and the league has already lived up to the “GACrazy” moniker with defending conference champions Plum and perennial contender Mars both sitting with 0-4 records. That means the race for the five playoff spots are wide open. Hampton edged Highlands 28-21 last year and earned a playoff spot on the heels of that victory. This game features a showdown of two of the Top 10 rushers in the WPIAL in Hampton’s Christian Liberto (519 yards, 7 TDs) and Highlands’ Luke Bombalski (507 yards, 7 TDs). Hampton has been a run-heavy team this season and have five players averaging over 6 yards per carry. In addition to Liberto, Brock Borgo (327 yards, 7 TDs) has been the other feature back and QB Jody Mayer (191 passing yards, 3 TDs; 151 rushing yards) has more carries than pass attempts. For Highlands, while Bombalski has done work on the ground, Chandler Thimons has been equally important through the air. Thimons has thrown for 496 yards and 9 TDs and added 202 yards and 1 TD on the ground. The Golden Rams have a pair of receivers that have split Thimons’ targets in Landan Signorella (256 yards, 5 TDs) and Jrake Burford (236 yards, 3 TDs).
3A Games of the Week
East Allegheny (1-0, 2-2) at North Catholic (1-0, 4-0)
These are the only two teams in the Allegheny Seven conference that do not have losing records. East Allegheny and Freeport finished tied for second behind North Catholic last season and are once again considered the prime challengers. The Trojans have won a WPIAL-leading 20 consecutive conference games. East Allegheny is coming off a 30-21 win over Burrell where QB Mike Smith threw for 291 yards and 4 TDs and added 74 yards on the ground to account for over 300 yards of total offense. His prime target was Prashaun Gainer who hauled in 9 passes for 205 yards and 3 TDs for the Wildcats. East Allegheny also has a fearsome defensive end in Robert Washington. North Catholic has a plethora of playmakers and have been able to persevere after starting QB Joey Prentice had to miss time with an injury. Jason Siket stepped in and has thrown for 299 yards and 6 TDs, including 5 last week in a win over Valley. Kyle Tipinski (272 yards, 5 TDs) and Liam Straub (109 yards, 4 TDs) lead the receiving corps. On the ground both Jack Fennell (149 yards, 3 TDs) and Chase Arrington (127 yards, 2 TDs) have averaged over 7 yards per carry. Fennell also has scored twice on special teams this season.
Southmoreland (1-0, 3-1) at Mt. Pleasant (0-0, 2-2)
With South Park off to a slow start, this Westmoreland County rivalry game could be considered a matchup to determine who the primary challenger to Elizabeth Forward will be for the Interstate Conference title. Anthony Govern has taken the reigns of the Southmoreland offense and performed admirably. The dual-threat QB has thrown for 575 yards and 6 TDs and run for a team-high 273 yards and 9 TDs. Most of the Scotties offense comes out of the backfield. In addition to Govern’s production, Isaac Trout (104 rushing yards, 302 receiving yards, 6 total TDs) and Josh Bass (91 rushing yards, 144 receiving yards, 1 TD) are the other team leaders in both rushing and receiving. Mt Pleasant has been a ground-and-pound team this year and their top three rushers are all averaging over 7 yards per carry. Robbie Labuda (262 yards, 6 TDs) and Aaron Alakson (243 yards, 4 TDs) have led the way and gotten the lion’s share of the work out of the backfield. Quarterback Tyler Reese has more rushing attempts (21 carries for 206 yards and 3 TDs) than passing attempts (9-for-18 for 165 yards and 2 TDs).
2A Game of the Week
Chartiers-Houston (1-0, 3-0) at Washington (1-0, 4-0)
Two undefeated teams battle it out for the top spot in the Century Conference. Both teams have been explosive offensively and stout defensively so far. Chartiers-Houston has relied on the backfield tandem of Jordan Irson (229 yards, 6 TDs) and Lane Camden (116 yards, 4 TDs). The Bucs have been so good on the ground that QB Terry Fetsko has averaged just 8 pass attempts per game, though he has thrown for 251 yards and 2 TDs. Leading receiver Jake Mele has accounted for 101 yards and 2 TDs. For Washington, the Prexies have also returned to their roots with a run-heavy approach. Their backfield trio has averaged over 8 yards per carry and run all over their opposition. Tayshawn Levy leads the way with 431 yards and 6 TDs. Zach Welsh (123 yards, 2 TDs) has also contributed. Davoun Fuse has thrown for 258 yards and 5 TDs and run for 122 yards and a team-high 7 TDs.
1A Games of the Week
Fort Cherry (1-0, 3-1) at OLSH (1-0, 3-0)
With Union’s upset of Rochester last week, the race for the Big Seven Conference title is suddenly wide open. Fort Cherry narrowly lost to Union last year while OLSH made the playoffs and was expected to contend for the conference title once again. Fort Cherry’s offense has revolved around dual-threat quarterback Maddox Truschel who has thrown for 320 yards and 7 TDs and run for 482 yards and 4 TDs. On the outside, Dylan Rogers (201 yards, 6 TDs) and Anthony D’Alessandro (109 yards, 1 TD) have been the top receivers for the Rangers. Shane Cornali, in addition to being the kicker, scored two defensive touchdowns last week. OLSH has had a balanced offensive attack with Neimiah Azeem throwing for 353 yards and 3 TDs. The Chargers also have two quality receivers on the outside in Dorrien Tate (133 yards, 2 TDs) and Ziggy McIntosh (120 yards, 1 TD). In the backfield, Stephen Greer (236 yards, 3 TDs) has shouldered most of the workload. The winner of this game will have a path ahead of them to the conference title, though games with Union and Rochester are still on the horizon for both.
GCC (1-0, 3-1) at Bishop Canevin (1-0, 4-0)
Bishop Canevin is the only remaining undefeated team in the Eastern Conference. However, Clairton’s losses both came in non-conference play and the Bears flexed their muscles last week with a win over Leechburg. Canevin won a tough game against Springdale while GCC got a forfeit victory over Imani Christian. The winner here should view themselves as the top challengers to Clairton in the race for the conference title. Both teams are stacked with athletic talent all over the field. GCC has used two quarterbacks in Nate Dlugos (438 yards, 2 TDs) and Tyree Turner (110 yards, 2 TDs). On the outside amari Mack (128 yards, 1 TD) and Youngstown State-commit Joe Blahovec (127 yards, 1 TD) have been the top targets in the passing game. Jaydin Canady has been an all-around playmaker for the Centurions with 94 rushing yards, 137 receiving yards and a score. Danny Dlugos leads the backfield with 110 rushing yards and 1 TD. Bishop Canevin is also stacked with athletes all over the field. Dual-threat QB Jason Cross has thrown for 399 yards and 5 TDs and run for 185 yards and 3 scores. The multi-talented Xavier Nelson is second on the team in both receiving (204 yards) and rushing (156 yards) and leads the Crusaders in scoring (5 total TDs). Lasae Lacks (247 yards, 3 TDs) is the leading receiver and both Marquis Carter (142 yards, 1 TD) and Keshawn Harris (131 yards) have factored into the running game.