We have reached the halfway point in the WPIAL football season. The calendar is flipping to October and with it comes the stretch run to the playoffs. All of the teams across the WPIAL will be playing conference games this week, some teams playing their first conference opponents. The biggest result last week was Belle Vernon slaying the white whale of the Big Eight Conference and toppling two-time defending State Champions Thomas Jefferson. That elevated Belle Vernon’s record at “The Beach” to 30-2 and was just Thomas Jefferson’s 5th conference loss since 2015. The Leopards prevailed on an incredible walk-off touchdown from Devin Whitlock on a 4th and long as time was running out.
DEVIN WHITLOCK RACES 40 YARDS FOR A TOUCHDOWN WITH 4 SECONDS LEFT TO GIVE BELLE VERNON A 28-21 WIN AGAINST THOMAS JEFFERSON!!! 🔥 pic.twitter.com/MXLLn0krBu
— Westmoreland Sports Network (@WestmorelandSN) September 25, 2021
Following Belle Vernon’s epic win, we interviewed head coach Matt Humbert on this week’s edition of the WPIAL Blitz Show. Our Brute Athletic Player of the Week award went to Leechburg QB Tommy Burke who threw for over 300 yards and had 5 total TDs (3 passing, 2 rushing) in the Blue Devils win over Springdale. Leechburg is looking to break a 32-year playoff drought and this win is a big step in that direction.
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 Belle Vernon. Check out the full game preview below as one of the 4A Games of the Week.
Be sure to keep tabs on our WPIAL Standings Page throughout the season and follow our WPIAL Twitter account @WPIAL_Blitz. Sixteen teams enter this week undefeated and this week features numerous matchups with the top spot in the conference on the line.
6A Game of the Week
North Allegheny (1-1, 3-2) at Mt. Lebanon (2-0, 5-0)
The Blue Devils are the only remaining undefeated team in 6A but get their biggest test to date. North Allegheny is coming off a loss to Central Catholic in which their offense was stifled by the Vikings defense, save for a 60-yard touchdown run by Kolin Dinkins. The Tigers are a run-heavy team and have used the aforementioned Dinkins along with JR Burton and Tanner Potts who have both run for two scores. Logan Kushner has averaged just 8 pass attempts per game but has thrown for 314 yards and 2 TDs. Mt. Lebanon has a balanced offensive attack led by an outstanding group of seniors. Joey Daniels has thrown for 750 yards and 11 TDs and added 158 yards and 3 scores on the ground. On the outside, Eli Heidenreich (468 yards, 8 TDs) leads the WPIAL in yards per reception and Mike Beiersdorf (109 yards, 3 TDs) has been a solid contributor. The dynamic Alex Tecza (540 yards, 6 TDs) leads the Blue Devils backfield. In addition to being the only unbeaten team in 6A, Mt. Lebanon is the highest-scoring team (36 points per game) and the stingiest defense, allowing just 7 points per game.
Honorable Mention: Seneca Valley at Central Catholic
Seneca Valley and Central Catholic both defeated Pine-Richland in non-conference play and are off to 2-0 starts against 6A opposition. Central Catholic defeated North Allegheny last week and while Seneca Valley is coming off a forfeit win over Norwin.
5A Games of the Week
South Fayette (4-1) at Moon (5-0)
After five games of non-conference play, only two undefeated teams remain in 5A. The Allegheny Six conference was the most successful conference overall, going a combined 20-9. South Fayette had to replace a number of starters from a team that went to the playoffs last year, and Joe Rossi’s squad just keeps on chugging. The Lions are now led by QB Landon Lutz who has thrown for 576 yards and 6 TDs. He has spread the ball around to Logan Yater (182 yards, 2 TDs), Connor Harcarik (162 yards, 3 TDs), and Ryan Kovatch (110 yards, 2 TDs). South Fayette’s balanced offensive attack relies on Nate Deanes (343 yards, 4 TDs) to carry the load in the backfield. Moon has been more of a run-heavy squad but has a talented quarterback in Tyler McGowan who has thrown for 549 yards and 4 TDs and run for 102 yards and another score. In addition to McGowan, four other Tigers have toted the rock at least 25 times this season. Dylan Sleva (316 yards, 4 TDs) and Ian Foster (149 yards, 4 TDs) have gotten most of the work. Jeremiah Dean (154 yards, 3 TDs) has been a change-of-pace back, averaging 7 yards per carry. Moon’s defense has been stifling this season, holding opponents to just 8.4 points per game.
Penn Hills (2-2) at Pine-Richland (2-3)
These teams finished in the top two spots in the conference last year and both made the playoffs. While they both took losses out of the gate, Pine-Richland’s three defeats were all against 6A opponents. Penn Hills similarly fell to Central Catholic and lost a playoff rematch with Gateway. Both teams have defeated Upper St Clair over the last few weeks and Pine-Richland also topped Gateway. The early reports of the Rams demise were greatly exaggerated and they have proven they are still contenders for the 5A title. Pine-Richland’s passing attack has continued to be a point of emphasis with Cole Boyd (780 yards, 9 TDs) taking the helm at quarterback. Alex Gochis (270 yards, 2 TDs) and Andrew Mellis (118 yards, 2 TDs) have been Boyd’s top receivers. Ryan Palmieri (239 yards, 4 TDs) and Brooks Eastburn (162 yards, 1 TD) have split the workload in the backfield. Both squads feature talented defensive players. Pine-Richland has one of the best linebackers in the WPIAL in Duke-commit Jeremiah Hasley. Penn Hills has a secondary where multiple players with D1 offers including Jaden Dugger and Raion Strader. The Dugger brothers have been the catalysts of the Indians offensive attack with Jaden leading the receiving corps (206 yards, 3 TDs) and his younger brother Julian playing quarterback (405 yards, 4 TDs). Amir Key (219 yards, 1 TD) leads Penn Hills ground game.
Honorable Mentions: Peters Twp at Upper St Clair, Penn-Trafford at Woodland Hills, Kiski at North Hills
Other than Moon, Kiski is the other 5A team to enter conference play undefeated after topping West Allegheny last week. The Cavaliers kick off their conference schedule against a talented North Hills team that features dynamic playmaker Robert Dickerson. Peters Twp and South Hills neighbor Upper St Clair square off in the Allegheny Six Conference. After Big East teams went 5-1 in Week 0, the conference has been a combined 5-19 over the last four weeks.
4A Games of the Week
Laurel Highlands (2-0, 5-0) at Belle Vernon (2-0, 4-0)
This might be the Game of the Week around the entire WPIAL and possibly the biggest regular season game in Laurel Highlands’ history. The Mustangs are off to their first 5-0 start ever and travel to The Beach where Belle Vernon just knocked off two-time defending State Champs Thomas Jefferson last week. We have interviewed both Laurel Highlands’ Rich Kolesar and Belle Vernon’s Matt Humbert on the WPIAL Blitz Show this season, with Humbert just coming on the show last week. On paper, these teams are very similar with electrifying dual-threat quarterbacks and leading rushers that are questionable due to injury. They are the highest-scoring teams in the conference with Laurel Highlands averaging 39 points per game and Belle Vernon averaging 38 per game. The quaterbacks are two of the best multi-sport athletes in the entire WPIAL and on the football field are two of the most exciting players to watch with the ball in their hands. Laurel Highlands’ Rodney Gallagher has thrown for 570 yards and 9 TDs and run for 471 yards and scored 9 more TDs between rushing and returns. Gallagher has D1 offers in both football and basketball. Belle Vernon’s Devin Whitlock has thrown for 444 yards and 3 TDs and run for 532 yards and 9 TDs, including the 40-yard walk-off winner last week. Whitlock is also a talented basketball player who was named Westmoreland County’s Player of the Year last year. At running back, Laurel Highlands’ Eric Allen (326 yards, 3 TDs) missed last week’s game with an injury and is questionable this week. On the other side, Belle Vernon’s Quinton Martin (350 yards, 7 TDs) left last week’s game with a leg injury and is also questionable. This game will likely be decided in the trenches and with which team is able to control the line of scrimmage to create space for their talented quarterbacks to operate.
Greensburg Salem (2-0, 4-1) at Hampton (2-0, 5-0)
The surprising battle at the top of the Greater Allegheny Conference. Hampton finished third in the conference last year while Greensburg Salem won just one game. Now, the winner will have the inside track towards the conference title. Hampton has not won a conference title since 2014 and Greensburg Salem’s last one came in 2009. These are teams with distinctly different offensive styles. Greensburg Salem’s Hayden Teska leads the WPIAL in passing with 1176 yards and 11 TDs. His top target Cody Rubrecht (503 yards, 6 TDs) leads the WPIAL in receiving yards. Donavin Waller (257 yards, 2 TDs) and Jayden Stevens (100 yards, 3 TDs) are both averaging around 17 yards per catch. On the ground, Rashad Canady Jr has run for 270 yards and 7 TDs. On the other side, Hampton is a ground and pound team and have four players with over 200 rushing yards. Christian Liberto (561 yards, 8 TDs) and Brock Borgo (443 yards, 7 TDs) are a solid tandem leading the way. Joey Mayer started the year at quarterback, throwing for 191 yards and 3 TDs but has also run for 225 yards and a score. Last week, Matt DeMatteo took the helm at quarterback and threw a touchdown pass. DeMatteo has done a bit of everything for the Talbots and is the team’s leading receiver with 102 yards, has run for 229 yards, has scored 3 times and as the team’s kicker booted a 42-yard field goal last week.
Honorable Mentions: Beaver at Aliquippa
Conference play kicks off this week in the Parkway Conference. After non-conference play, Aliquippa and Beaver have the best records (both 3-1) in the conference. The other four teams were all within a game of .500 so it should make for an exciting October in the conference.
3A Game of the Week
Keystone Oaks (2-3) at Avonworth (4-1)
Last season, Keystone Oaks edged Avonworth by 7 points in what wound up being a deciding game in the 3A playoff race. Avonworth was not selected for the postseason by the WPIAL selection committee while Keystone Oaks got the second spot from the Northwest Six Conference. Now, the Eagles and Lopes kick off conference play with a head-to-head matchup. Keystone Oaks has been explosive through the air this season. Quinn Kenny leads the WPIAL in receptions (34, for 353 yards and 1 TD). Quarterback Nick Buckley (1067 yards, 6 TDs) is among the WPIAL’s leaders in passing. In addition to Kenny, Owen Minford (252 yards, 3 TDs) has been a significant factor in the Golden Eagles passing attack. Kevin Drew has been an all-around force with 419 rushing yards, 173 receiving yards and 9 total TDs. On the other side, Avonworth has been balanced offensively and boasted a stout defense so far this year. Ian Syam has run for 556 yards and 8 TDs to pace the backfield. Nate Harper has thrown for 566 yards and 4 TDs with Peyton Faulkner (181 yards, 2 TDs) leading the receiving corps. Defensively, Avonworth is holding opponents to just 9 points per game, the second-best mark in 3A.
Honorable Mentions: Deer Lakes at East Allegheny, South Park at Elizabeth Forward
Two games with playoff implications in the Allegheny Seven and Interstate Conferences. Deer Lakes is one of the best storylines of the season, rebounding from a winless 2020 to win their first two conference games and put themselves in position to challenge for a playoff spot. South Park has bounced back from losing their first two games to get back to .500 before a meeting with last year’s 3A runner up Elizabeth Forward.
2A Game of the Week
Ligonier Valley (5-0) at Steel Valley (4-0)
Both of these teams have bounced back from uncharacteristic seasons last year to get off to an unbeaten start in 2021. Ligonier Valley had very successful run of two undefeated regular seasons in D6 before coming to the WPIAL. Steel Valley won two WPIAL titles in the first three years of the six classification era and reached the final in the third season. The Rams have endured an injury to starting QB Haden Sierocky who has not played since Week 2. Broderick Schreyer has stepped in and thrown for 224 yards and 4 TDs. Nick Beitel has stepped up to be the catalyst of the offense, leading the way with 478 rushing yards and adding 126 receiving yards. Beitel leads the team with 6 TDs, 3 of which came last week. Matthew Marinchak (164 yards, 4 TDs) leads the receiving corps and Grant Dowden has racked up over 260 yards of total offense between rushing and receiving and scored 4 times. Steel Valley’s offense is built nearly entirely around their running game. The Ironmen have a talented back in Nijhay Burt who has run for 779 yards and 13 TDs, averaging an incredible 13 yards per carry. Steel Valley has been so good on the ground this season that Cruce Brookins has twice as many rushing attempts as he does passing attempts. Brookins has run for 348 yards and 2 TDs and thrown for 105 yards and 2 TDs. Both of these teams are averaging over 30 points per game and holding their opponents under 10 per game, so this should be a good matchup of strength on strength as the Rams and Ironmen kick off conference play.
Honorable Mentions: Shady Side Academy at Serra Catholic, Beaver Falls at New Brighton, Sto-Rox at South Side Beaver
Conference play kicks off in the Allegheny and Three Rivers Conferences. In the Midwestern Conference, Beaver Falls takes on rival New Brighton in a battle of teams in the middle of the pack.
1A Games of the Week
Bishop Canevin (2-0, 5-0) at Clairton (2-0, 2-2)
This is a battle for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Bishop Canevin has rebounded from some down years and is off to their best start in a decade. Now they get their biggest test against conference powerhouse Clairton. The Bears dropped two games against quality 2A opponents in Steel Valley and Washington to start the season but have won both of their conference games convincingly. Canevin’s defense has been outstanding this year, holding opponents to just 6 points per game. The Crusaders have play-makers all over the field and have spread the ball around this season. Jason Cross has thrown for 529 yards and 7 TDs with Lasae Lacks (307 yards, 3 TDs) and Xavier Nelson (228 receiving yards, 157 rushing yards, 5 total TDs) leading the receiving corps. On the ground, Keshawn Harris (174 yards, 1 TD) and Marquis Carter (142 yards, 1 TD) have shared the workload. Clairton has relied on dual-threat QB Capone Jones who has thrown for 284 yards and 3 TDs and run for 251 yards and 3 more scores. Lawrence Short (121 yards, 3 TDs) and Brooklyn Cannon (121 yards, 4 TDs) have been explosive threats on the outside. In addition to Jones, Cameron Lewis (197 yards, 6 TDs) has been the Bears lead back. The winner of this game not only has the inside track on the conference title, but also potentially on the top seed in 1A which comes with a first round bye.
Carmichaels (2-0, 4-1) at West Greene (2-0, 3-2)
The top spot in the Tri-County South is on the line between Carmichaels and West Greene. Both missed the playoffs last season but with West Greene’s win over California, the Pioneers made an early statement that they are contenders for the TCS title. Carmichaels has looked the part of a conference title contender with an offense averaging 40 points per game. Dual-threat QB Trenton Carter is on pace to join the elite 1000/1000 club. To date Carter has posted 633 passing yards and 10 TDs and run for 507 yards and 11 TDs. Peyton Schooley (374 yards, 2 TDs) has made for a formidable tandem with Carter in the backfield. On the outside, Michael Stewart leads the receiving corps with 321 receiving yards, 117 rushing yards, and 9 total TDs. West Greene has traditionally been a run-heavy team that has produced some of the biggest statistical seasons in the WPIAL. Colin Brady (556 yards, 6 TDs) and Corey Wise (412 yards, 6 TDs) have shared the workload in the backfield and are both averaging over 7.5 yards per carry. However, the Pioneers have also shown off a bit of a passing attack this season with Wes Whipkey (504 yards, 7 TDs) throwing the ball. Nathan Orndoff (284 yards, 4 TDs) has been the top target on the outside. This game has all the makings of a shootout as both teams are capable of putting up big numbers offensively.
Rochester (1-1, 3-1) at OLSH (2-0, 4-0)
After battles for the top spots in the Eastern Conference and Tri-County South on Friday night, OLSH and Rochester collide with implications for the top of the Big Seven Conference on Saturday afternoon. Rochester was surprisingly upset by Union in their first conference game then won by forfeit over Burgettstown last week. OLSH beat Burgettstown to open conference play and handled Fort Cherry last week. Sal Laure has led the Rams run-oriented offense with 340 yards and 4 TDs. Connor Martin has also seen some work, running for 125 yards and a score. JD Azulay hasn’t had to throw much, averaging just 7 attempts per game, but has thrown for 164 yards and 4 TDs. Jerome Mullins has been Rochester’s top receiver, hauling in 162 yards and finding the end zone 4 times. OLSH on the other hand has a balanced offensive attack led by QB Neimiah Azeem who has thrown for 643 yards and 4 TDs. He has spread the ball around between Ziggy McIntosh (275 yards, 2 TDs), Dorrien Tate (151 yards, 2 TDs), and Dereon Greer (127 yards, 1 TD). Stephen Greer has been a solid lead back, running for 340 yards and 4 TDs to lead the Chargers in scoring. If OLSH wins, they will have a clear path ahead to the conference title while Rochester needs the win to stay in the title race.