We have entered the second half of the WPIAL season. Every conference is now in conference play, and the first full week of conference games started with a bang. Last weekend saw a number of streaks fall, not just in the WPIAL but statewide. The most notable came from the eastern half of the state where Wyomissing ended Southern Columbia’s 65-game winning streak which also preserved the “Bout Dat” Clairton Bears winning streak of 66 games as the longest in state history. Locally, four of the eight teams with the longest conference losing streaks all won, including Ambridge who ended a 28-game overall losing streak (dating to 2018) and a 34-game conference losing streak (dating to 2015). That was Ambridge’s first conference victory in the six classification era, which began in 2016. Waynesburg ended the second-longest conference losing streak (24 games) with a victory over Frazier. Riverview and Knoch also got their first conference wins since 2019.
There are two great causes we are helping to promote this week. The WPIAL is partnering with the Greater Pittsburgh Area Food Bank for a food drive. The full details of the announcement can be found here and the donation page is here. In sad news, Shenango RB CJ Miller lost his father last week. CJ incredibly ran for 103 yards and 3 TDs last Friday night, just a few days after his father’s passing. Here is the link for the GoFundMe to support the Miller family if anyone is feeling generous.
On this week’s edition of the WPIAL Blitz Show we interviewed Moon Head Coach Ryan Linn, looked at the big performances from Week 5 and the standings heading into the second half of the season. Coincidentally, after interviewing Belle Vernon head coach Matt Humbert on last week’s edition of the WPIAL Blitz Show. Our Brute Athletic Player of the Week award went to Belle Vernon RB Jake Gedekoh who ran for over 200 yards and 5 TDs in the Leopards win over Laurel Highlands. I took my family to The Beach at Belle Vernon last week as part of our Tour of the WPIAL.
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 Thomas Jefferson as both teams look to bounce back from losses to Belle Vernon.
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
Central Catholic (3-0, 5-1) at Mt. Lebanon (3-0, 6-0)
The top two teams in 6A square off with the top spot in the conference on the line. While the top three teams finish with a first round bye, the top team gets to face the winner of the 4-5 matchup in the semifinals. Both of these teams defeated North Allegheny in the last two weeks, though they did it in different ways. Central Catholic beat North A with defense and Mt. Lebanon bombarded the Tigers with an aerial assault. These two teams enter Week 6 with as both the highest-scoring teams (Mt. Lebanon averaging 38 points per game and Central Catholic averaging 35 per game) and with the stingiest defenses (Mt. Lebanon holding opponents to just 9 points per game and Central to 10 per game). Central Catholic is a traditionally run-heavy squad and has relied on Gannon Carothers (660 yards, 8 TDs) to shoulder the load in the backfield. But this year’s Vikings team can also attack through the air with Payton Wehner who has thrown for 736 yards and 7 TDs, mostly to the speedy Brandon Jackson (226 yards, 1 TD). On defense, Central Catholic is once again loaded with talent in Notre Dame-commit Donovan Hinish on the line and sophomore linebacker Anthony Speca who is already considered one of the best in the WPIAL. Mt. Lebanon’s offense has been a balanced attack with the talented Joey Daniels at the helm. Daniels has thrown for 935 yards and 14 TDs and run for another 198 yards and 4 scores. Alex Tecza has been a force with 718 rushing yards, 50 receiving yards, and 10 total TDs. Navy-commit Eli Heidenreich leads the WPIAL in yards per reception and has racked up 573 receiving yards, 72 rushing yards, and found the end zone 10 times. This could very well be a preview of the 6A Championship Game and the winner will have a clear path to the top seed in the classification.
Honorable Mention: Canon-McMillan at Seneca Valley
Canon-Mac and Seneca Valley are both 2-1 in conference play but have yet to face North Allegheny. The third spot in the conference comes with a first round bye in the playoffs while the 4th and 5th place teams have to play on the first weekend. The winner here will stay in contention for that first round bye.
5A Game of the Week
Gateway (1-0, 4-2) at Penn-Trafford (1-0, 4-2)
First place in the Big East Conference is on the line as these rivals battle for the Victory Bell. Gateway and Penn-Trafford have gone back-and-forth winning conference titles during the six classification era. Interestingly, the years when Penn-Trafford won the conference title, Gateway won the WPIAL title. Last year their head-to-head game was cancelled so they shared the conference crown and both fell in the semifinals. Both have spent time as the top-ranked 5A team this season but also both lost to 4A opponents (Gateway lost to Thomas Jefferson and Penn-Trafford lost to Belle Vernon). Gateway’s offense is built around their passing attack. Sophomore QB Brad Birch has thrown for a WPIAL-leading 1440 yards and 15 TDs. He has spread the ball around to Cincinnati-commit Patrick Body (540 yards, 3 TDs) and his older brother Brett Birch (256 yards, 2 TDs). Jaquon Reynolds has run for 340 yards and added 264 receiving yards and scored 4 times. While Gateway has attacked through the air, Penn-Trafford’s offense has relied on their ground game. Wisconsin-commit Cade Yacamelli has run for 708 yards and 10 TDs. Dual-threat QB Carter Green has run for 613 yards and 8 TDs and has more rushing attempts than pass attempts (though he has thrown for 442 yards and 2 TDs). Both Yacamelli and Green are averaging over 9 yards per carry and are a formidable tandem for any defense to stop.
Honorable Mentions: Moon at Peters Twp, North Hills at Penn Hills
Moon is the only undefeated team remaining in 5A and gets a Peters Twp team coming off a loss to Upper St. Clair last week. With Pine-Richland as the presumed favorites in the Northeast Conference, the game between Penn Hills and North Hills could potentially decide second place (and result in favorable playoff seeding).
4A Games of the Week
Aliquippa (1-0, 4-1) at Chartiers Valley (1-0, 4-2)
Last season these were the top two teams in the Parkway Conference. Both are off to strong starts and won their conference openers. Aliquippa’s offensive attack has flourished behind a massive offensive line and is averaging 40 points per game, the second-highest mark in 4A. Freshman Tiqwai Hayes has run for 481 yards and 6 TDs, including 208 yards and 2 TDs last week in the win over Beaver. Aliquippa has also found the next leader of the Air Warfield offense in Quentin Goode who has thrown for 774 yards and 5 TDs. The Quips have a trio of talented receivers in Cyair Clark (230 yards, 3 TDs), Tajier Thornton (179 yards, 2 TDs), and Jamar Jeter (146 yards, 1 TD). Chartiers Valley has their own set of talented players, led by dual-threat QB Anthony Mackey. On the season, Mackey has thrown for 776 yards and 9 TDs and run for 533 yards and 7 TDs. Abraham Ibrahim leads the Colts in receiving with 494 yards and 6 TDs and Penn State-commit Lamont Payne has put up 228 yards and 5 TDs, including 3 scores on 4 catches last week. The best story from this game is that Chartiers Valley is raising money for Aliquippa senior Sunny Anderson who was tragically injured in a shooting over the summer.
No donation is too small! Help us raise funds for Aliquippa’s Sunny Anderson this Friday night!
CV….Let’s pull together to show our support of a fellow athlete to get him on the road to recovery. @ASDquips @CVColtsAD @DKnause5 @CVstrength @cvatr @KNUCKFEST pic.twitter.com/qIFGDcGoJf
— CharValleyFootball (@CVColtsFootball) October 5, 2021
Hampton (3-0, 6-0) at Plum (2-1, 2-4)
Hampton ran all over Greensburg Salem last week to put themselves alone atop the Greater Allegheny Conference. Defending conference champions Plum, after an 0-4 start, has bounced back to win their last two and can put themselves back into the conference title race with a win. Plum topped Highlands 23-21 last week with a game-winning field goal half way through the fourth quarter. Hampton has relied heavily on their ground game this season and has six players averaging over 6 yards per carry. Christian Liberto (630 yards, 8 TDs) and Brock Borgo (570 yards, 10 TDs) have led the way for the Talbots. Joey Mayer and Matt DeMatteo have split time at quarterback and found success on the ground, both averaging 8 yards per carry. Mayer has thrown for 205 yards and 3 TDs and run for 256 yards and scored twice. DeMatteo has thrown for 122 yards and 1 TD, run for 261 yards, hauled in 102 receiving yards to lead the team and scored 3 times. He is also the Talbots kicker and booted a 42-yarder a few weeks ago against Highlands. Plum has also leaned on their ground game with the tandem of Eryck Moore (370 yards, 5 TDs) and Nicholas Odom (283 yards, 3 TDs). Sean Franzi (445 yards, 2 TDs) and Santino Saccone (193 yards, 2 TDs) have split time at quarterback this year for the Mustangs. With two run-heavy teams colliding, this game will come down to which line can establish themselves in the trenches.
Honorable Mentions: Thomas Jefferson at Laurel Highlands, Greensburg Salem at Armstrong,
3A Game of the Week
Central Valley (1-0, 6-0) at Keystone Oaks (0-1, 2-4)
This is a rematch of the semifinal game last season in which Central Valley won handily en route to the State Championship. Keystone Oaks is coming off a blowout loss to Avonworth and have lost 4 straight games after starting the season 2-0. Central Valley, on the other hand, has mercy ruled their last three opponents and is averaging 50 points per game, the highest mark in the WPIAL. The big news for Central Valley is that QB/LB Matt Merritt has returned after suffering an injury earlier this season. Merritt threw for 167 yards and 3 TDs, but in his absence junior Antwon Johnson lit it up with a blistering 454 yards and 9 TDs. On the ground, Landon Alexander has been one of the best backs in the WPIAL, running for 999 yards and 16 TDs. Alexander and Brett FitzSimmons (239 yards, 6 TDs) are both averaging around 12 yards per carry. Jayvin Thompson (296 yards, 5 TDs) has emerged as the top target on the outside with TE/LB Jack Bible turning into a TD machine with 3 TDs on 4 catches. Defensively, the Warriors are ironclad with Merritt returning at linebacker and The Terror of the Trenches, Pitt-commit Sean FitzSimmons anchoring the line. Keystone Oaks has found success in both offensive phases this season. Quarterback Nick Buckley has thrown for 1171 yards and 6 TDs. Quinn Kenny leads the WPIAL in receptions with 39 and has accounted for 395 yards and 1 TD. The big play hitters in the passing game have been Owen Minford (256 yards, 3 TDs) and Alex Samarin (124 yards, 1 TD). Running back Kevin Drew has averaged over 6 yards per carry and accumulated 549 yards rushing, 218 receiving yards, and scored 9 times.
Honorable Mentions: East Allegheny at Freeport, Avonworth at Ambridge
2A Game of the Week
Mohawk (3-0, 4-2) at Beaver Falls (2-1, 2-3)
Mohawk has been one of the surprises of 2021. After a 1-6 record last season, the Warriors are off to a 3-0 start in conference play. They have been one of the most exciting teams in the WPIAL with three of their wins coming in one-score games. Beaver Falls, after winning the 2A title last season, dropped early games to 4A opponents Blackhawk and Aliquippa then fell to Laurel in their conference opener. But the Tigers have bounced back the last two weeks and look like a formidable contender once again. Mohawk has been led by dual-threat QB John Voss who has thrown for 899 yards and 7 TDs and run for 227 yards and 3 scores. Their primary playmaker has been Marc Conti who has accounted for 389 receiving yards, 104 rushing yards, and 7 total TDs. AJ Carnuche leads the backfield with 244 rushing yards but hasn’t found the end zone yet. Beaver Falls also has a talented dual-threat QB and good things have happened with the ball in Jaren Brickner’s hands. Brickner has thrown for 927 yards and 7 TDs and run for 258 yards and 6 scores. Brickner and leading rusher Isaiah Aeschbacher (258 yards, 4 TDs) are both averaging over 6 yards per carry. On the outside, the Tigers have two talented receivers in Trey Singleton (330 receiving yards, 117 rushing yards, 7 total TDs) and Quadir Thomas (244 yards, 3 TDs) who present matchup nightmares. This will be a measuring stick game for both teams to see who is still in the hunt for the conference title and which team will be battling for their playoff lives in the middle of the Midwestern Conference pack.
Honorable Mentions: Apollo-Ridge at Shady Side Academy
1A Game of the Week
Fort Cherry (2-1, 4-2) at Rochester (2-1, 4-1)
Just a year ago, Fort Cherry snapped a 21-game losing streak with a victory over Northgate. A week later the Rangers upset Rochester 21-19 and we interviewed head coach Tanner Garry on the WPIAL Blitz Show. Fort Cherry won 3 of their last 4 to end 2020 and have started strong this season. Rochester lost their conference opener to Union but bounced back with a win over OLSH last week. Both the Rangers and Rams are chasing Cornell who sits atop the conference but both have dates with the Raiders left on the schedule so the race for the Big Seven crown is wide open. Fort Cherry’s offense has been led by dual-threat QB Maddox Truschel who has thrown for 530 yards and 8 TDs and run for 805 yards and 7 TDs. Truschel put together an incredible performance last week in Fort Cherry’s come from behind win over Northgate where he had over 300 yards of total offense and produced 3 total TDs. On the outside, Dylan Rogers (269 yards, 6 TDs) and Anthony D’Alessandro (216 yards, 2 TDs) have been his top targets. Rochester once again has a ground-and-pound offensive attack with Sal Laure (423 yards, 8 TDs) leading the way in the Rams backfield. Connor Martin (138 yards, 1 TD) has also been a factor. JD Azulay has averaged just 6 pass attempts per game but has thrown for 209 yards and 5 TDs, primarily to Jerome Mullins (162 yards, 4 TDs).
Bishop Canevin (2-1, 5-1) at Leechburg (2-1, 5-1)
This game matches up two teams that have taken big steps forward in recent seasons and are both coming off recent losses to Clairton. While the Bears have established themselves as the team to beat in the Eastern Conference, the second place team will still be in the running for a home playoff game. Leechburg has not made the playoffs since 1988 and is looking to end the longest postseason drought in the WPIAL at 32 years. Bishop Canevin made the playoffs in 2017 but has bounced back from consecutive seasons of winning just one conference game. The Crusaders have developed a team team of play-makers and have spread the wealth around this season. Jason Cross has thrown for 552 yards and 8 TDs while running for 115 yards and 3 scores. He has split time at quarterback with Kole Olszewski (226 yards, 2 TDs). Leading receiver Lasae Lacks (339 yards, 3 TDs) has been a beast after the catch this season. Xavier Nelson is an all-around star with 297 receiving yards, 157 rushing yards and a team-leading 7 total touchdowns. Keshawn Harris (183 yards, 1 TD) and Marquis Carter (163 yards, 1 TD) lead Canevin’s rushing attack. Leechburg is also a team with talent all over the field. The Blue Devils have players in the top eight in the WPIAL in passing and rushing, along with two receivers in the top 8 in yardage. Tommy Burke has thrown for 1379 yards and 13 TDs and is second in the WPIAL in passing. He had an incredible five touchdown performance against Springdale that earned him WPIAL Blitz Show Player of the Week honors. Braylan Lovelace has run for 770 yards and 14 TDs, averaging nearly 10 yards per carry. On the outside, Leechburg has a trio of receivers in Tyler Foley (443 yards, 3 TDs), Logan Kline (413 yards, 7 TDs) and Eli Rich who has been used all over the offense (359 receiving yards, 140 rushing yards, 8 total TDs).
Honorable Mentions: Monessen at Carmichaels
West Greene has asserted themselves as the team to beat in the Tri-County South and has a one-game lead on the rest of the pack after Monessen lost to Mapletown last week. The winner of this game will put themselves in position to battle California for second place in the TCS and potentially earn a home playoff game.