The 2022 WPIAL playoffs are in full swing. The playoffs kicked off last week with first round action, but this week the teams with byes will all take the field and the brackets winnow down towards championship games. In the two largest classifications, the WPIAL Champions will enter the statewide bracket at the quarterfinals. In the other classes, the WPIAL Champions enter at the semifinals, which means the title games will be split across two weekends. The 6A and 5A Championship Games will be held at Norwin on Saturday, November 19.
There were only 5 6A teams in the WPIAL this season and the top four all made the playoffs. Those four all received byes to the semifinals, which take place this weekend. In 5A, the field was restricted by the amount of weeks available before the state playoffs. Last year, the WPIAL had 18 5A teams and was able to take 12 into the playoffs because the 5A Champion entered the PIAA bracket in the semifinals. This year, with the WPIAL champion entering at the PIAA quarterfinals, only 8 teams were able to make the playoffs. The 5A playoffs started last week with WPIAL quarterfinal action, seeing the Big East Conference go 0-3 to set up two conference rematches in the semifinals this week.
Check out this week’s edition of the WPIAL Blitz Show for a breakdown of all the results from last week as well as a preview of this week’s games. Also, be sure to follow our WPIAL Twitter account @WPIAL_Blitz and check out our WPIAL Blitz Facebook Page.
This year, our WPIAL coverage is proudly presented by Sports Solutions Marketing. The Sports Solutions network provides pay per view hosting and broadcasting for high school sporting events. More information is available via EasternPAFootball.com.
6A Semifinal Previews
4. Canon-McMillan at 1. North Allegheny
With just four teams making the playoffs in 6A, the qualifiers automatically made it to the semifinals. For Canon-McMillan, this is their first semifinal game in school history. On the other side, North Alegheny is playing in the semis for the seventh straight season. However, the Tigers have made just one appearance in the WPIAL finals since the Ross Morgan Rager, losing to Central Catholic in 2020. Canon-McMillan has been knocked out by North Allegheny in each of their prior two playoff appearances. In their matchup earlier this season North Allegheny ran away with a 35-21 victory. Canon-McMillan’s explosive offense featured a balanced attack. Jake Kasper (1404 yards, 10 TDs) led 6A in rushing this season. Starting QB Mike Evans (1448 yards, 18 TDs) missed the season finale against Mt. Lebanon and Ben Urso had to step in. Whoever plays quarterback for the Big Macs will have the advantage of throwing to the talented Austyn Winkleblech (811 yards, 14 TDs). North Allegheny also has a dynamic passing attack led by QB Logan Kushner (1244 yards, 13 TDs). On the outside, Khiryn Boyd has been an all-around threat with 575 receiving yards, 217 rushing yards, and 10 total TDs. The Tigers ground game is led by the tandem of Andrew Gavlik (712 yards, 4 TDs) and Tyree Alualu (227 yards, 4 TDs) who is also a standout linebacker.
3. Central Catholic at 2. Mt. Lebanon
This will be the 4th straight playoff meeting between Mt. Lebanon and Central Catholic. The winner of the prior three has gone on to win the WPIAL title. The Blue Devils are the defending WPIAL and PIAA 6A Champions while the Vikings had won the prior two WPIAL titles and have reached the Championship Game in 8 of the last 9 years. Mt. Lebanon is on a 3-game winning streak against Central Catholic, including the WPIAL Championship Game last year and a 17-16 come-from-behind victory earlier this year. Central Catholic is a traditionally run-heavy team but opened up their passing game this year with Payton Wehner, who led 6A with 2171 yards and 14 TDs. He spread the ball around between four talented receivers – Vernon Settles (599 yards, 2 TDs), Peter Gonzalez (599 yards, 4 TDs), Bradley Gompers (256 yards, 1 TD), and Cole Sullivan (210 yards, 1 TD). On the ground, Amari Shields (417 yards, 2 TDs) and Elijah Faulkner (392 yards, 5 TDs) have shared the workload almost evenly. Keep an eye out for dynamic CB/KR Xxavier Thomas who has found the end zone four times this season. Mt. Lebanon rebounded from a slow start to the season to win their final three games thanks to a stout defense. Due to injuries, the Blue Devils have used both David Shields (969 yards, 7 TDs) and Alex Gevaudan (202 yards, 3 TDs) at quarterback this season. They have both found success throwing to the tandem of Garrett Pavlick (451 yards, 2 TDs) and Michael Beiersdorf (328 yards, 7 TDs). Nathan Sala (327 yards, 3 TDs) and Beckham Dee (320 yards, 3 TDs) have anchored the running game.
5A Semifinal Previews
5. Upper St Clair at 1. Bethel Park
Both 5A semifinals are conference rematches between the top two teams. Interestingly, when we interviewed Bethel Park Head Coach Brian DeLallo on the WPIAL Blitz Show after beating Upper St Clair earlier this year, he said they would likely see the Panthers again before the WPIAL finals. Lo and behold, Coach DeLallo proved prophetic and the two will rematch in the semifinals. Bethel Park has not been to a WPIAL final since winning the title in 2008. Upper St Clair’s last finals appearance was in 2011 and their last title came in 2006. Upper St Clair has used two young quarterbacks this year. Julian Dahlem (980 passing yards, 16 TDs, 305 rushing yards, 3 TDs) started the season but was benched in favor of freshman Ethan Hellman (659 yards, 8 TDs) in Week 7. However, in last week’s win over Gateway, Dahlem returned to the lineup and threw the game-winning touchdown pass to star receiver Aidan Besselman (743 yards, 9 TDs). The Panthers have an explosive running back in Jamaal Brown (1336 yards, 14 TDs) who averages over 8 yards per carry. The X-factor for USC is on special teams where they have one of the best kickers in the WPIAL in Bennett Henderson. Bethel Park also has a balanced offensive attack that mostly originates from their backfield. Austin Caye leads the team in rushing (707 yards), is second in receptions (18 for 172 yards) and has scored 6 times. Ryan Petras is behind Caye in rushing yards (578 yards) but leads the Black Hawks in receiving (578 yards) and scoring (17 total TDs). Gavin Moul (577 yards, 8 TDs) has also done his share of work in the ground game. At quarterback, Tanner Pfeuffer has thrown for 1418 yards and 14 TDs and scored 9 times on the ground, though most of his carries have come in short-yardage situations.
6. Woodland Hills at 2. Pine-Richland
After the mergers that created Woodland Hills, the Wolverines were one of the strongest programs in the WPIAL for three decades. But they have not been to a WPIAL final since 2013 and this will be their first semifinal since 2016. Pine-Richland has been one of the dominant programs over the last decade, winning four WPIAL titles and reaching the Championship Game six times. This will be the 9th straight semifinal appearance for the Rams. Woodland Hills used explosive plays and a stout defense to beat Franklin Regional in the first round. Cam Walter (955 yards, 7 TDs) threw two long TD passes to freshman Scoop Smith, who leads the team in receiving (455 yards, 7 TDs). Frank Keyes (517 yards, 9 TDs) and Brandon Jones (509 yards, 5 TDs) have shared the workload in the running game. Pine-Richland made a mid-season quarterback change, moving Ryan Palmieri from running back to quarterback and it paid huge dividends. The Rams are unbeaten since that change with wins over North Allegheny and Central Catholic. Palmieri has thrown for 467 yards and 3 TDs and leads the team with 1014 rushing yards and 17 TDs. With Palmieri moved to quarterback, that opened room for Ethan Pillar at running back, who has run for 747 yards and 10 TDs. The Rams have been so strong on the ground with the duo of Palmieri and Pillar that they haven’t had to throw much, but when they do Andrew Mellis (240 yards, 1 TD) and Bradford Gelly (206 yards, 2 TDs) have been the top targets.