Last week saw a number of upsets around the WPIAL. Two of those came in 2A where the top two seeds, who both entered the playoffs with unbeaten records, fell in the quarterfinals. Classes 6A, 4A, 3A, and 1A played their semifinals last week and will have their Championship Games on Saturday, November 17 at Heinz Field. A separate preview is forthcoming on those games. In 5A and 2A, the semifinals are this week with the Championship Games coming next weekend. The title game for 5A will be at Norwin High School Stadium while the 2A Championship Game will be at Joe Walton Stadium at Robert Morris University. All of tonight’s games start at 7:30pm and are at neutral sites.
Thanks to the fine folks at Taps n’at in Derry, who are sponsoring all of our WPIAL content this year. At the end of the night, check back for a post with all of the scores and the Championship matchups for next weekend. As a reminder, if you’re going to be following along with the WPIAL action tonight, keep an eye on the #WPIAL hashtag on Twitter where people post score updates from games. I”ll also be posting score updates and commentary from my Twitter account @thesteelersnat.
1. Gateway (12-0) vs 5. West Allegheny (9-2)
at West Mifflin
This is the first ever WPIAL playoff meeting between these two teams and is a matchup between the two most recent 5A champions. Gateway is the defending WPIAL Champions and making their third consecutive semifinals appearance. West Allegheny won the 2016 WPIAL title, the 8th for head coach Bob Palko. This year is Palko’s last ride and the Indians are looking to get back to the title game to give him one last shot at expanding his already record-setting trophy case. Gateway has breezed through their schedule so far, averaging 49 points per game and pitching 6 shutouts. Only one opponent has reached double-digits against the Gators this season. On the other side, West Allegheny has had a number of close calls this season, including a 1-point win over Bethel Park in overtime, a 3-point win over Baldwin, and a pair of 14-13 victories over Woodland Hills (including last week in the quarterfinals).
Gateway is led by dual-threat quarterback Brendan Majocha (2179 pass yards, 33 TDs, 807 rush yards, 9 TDs). He is surrounded by Division 1 talent at the other skill positions with sensational sophomore RB Derrick Davis (1205 rush yards, 293 receiving yards, 22 total TDs) who already has a load of D1 offers. On the outside, WR Courtney Jackson (925 yards, 19 TDs) is a Syracuse-commit and WR/DB Jeremiah Josephs (243 yards, 6 TDs) has committed to Miami-Ohio. Ethan Frenchik (284 yards, 6 TDs) has also been a factor in the passing game. West Allegheny also has a dual-threat QB in Kam Kruze (1067 pass yards, 11 TDs, 280 rush yards, 7 TDs). While Kruze has not compiled the statistics of Majocha, he has been a key part of West Allegheny’s success this season. Joining him in the backfield are the Flati brothers. Dante Flati (842 rush yards, 211 receiving yards, 10 total TDs) leads the way and Nico Flati (323 rush yards, 2 TDs) has played a supporting role. Kruze has spread the ball around this year to Drevon Baldwin (263 yards, 5 TDs), Kyle Guilfoil (255 yards, 2 TDs), and TE Mateo Vandamia (227 yards, 4 TDs) who has some D1 offers as a defensive end.
2. Penn Hills (12-0) vs 3. Peters Twp (10-2)
This is a matchup of teams who both played in 6A last season then won their conference titles after moving down this year. Penn Hills averaged 41 points per game with a dynamic offense while their stifling defense featuring the best secondary in the WPIAL held opponents under 10 points per game. Peters Twp got off to a bit of a slow start offensively but has scored 30+ points in 6 straight games. Penn Hills reached the semifinals in 6A last year and is looking for their first trip to a WPIAL final since 2006. Peters Twp is making their first semifinal appearance since 1976 and has never played in a WPIAL final. Despite playing in AAAA together for a number of years, this is the first ever playoff meeting between the two schools.
Both teams have quality quarterbacks who are among the top passers in 5A. Penn Hills is led by 5A’s leading passer and one of the top QB prospects in the state Hollis Mathis (2225 yards, 32 TDs). Mathis is also the team’s second-leading rusher with 605 yards and 6 TDs). In addition to being part of the best secondary in the WPIAL, Daequan Hardy (610 yards, 17 TDs) and Dante Cephas (520 yards, 10 TDs) are both excellent receivers. Anthony Grimes (394 yards, 5 TDs), Richard Martin (205 yards, 3 TDs), and Cory Thomas (198 yards, 4 TDs) have also been factors in the passing game. On the ground, Tank Smith (1359 yards, 17 TDs) has been an absolute force, averaging over 9 yards per carry. For Peters Twp, QB Logan Pfeuffer (1879 yards, 23 TDs) has led the way, primarily throwing to Josh Casilli (877 yards, 14 TDs), Corban Hondru (262 yards, 2 TDs), and Aidan McCall (162 yards, 7 TDs). Ryan Magiske (1035 yards, 20 TDs) and Adrian Williams (404 yards, 2 TDs) have shared the workload in the backfield this season.
8. South Side Beaver (9-3) vs 4. Charleroi (10-1)
Two upsets happened in the 2A quarterfinals last week. The first came when South Side Beaver knocked off top-seeded Shady Side Academy. Due to an injury to star QB Skyy Moore, Shady Side was forced to try different players under center and South Side Beaver’s ground-and-pound offensive attack was able to control the ball and the game. This is the first semifinal appearance for South Side Beaver since 2004 in Single-A and they are looking to reach the WPIAL title game for the first time since 1999 when they won the State Championship. Charleroi pulled away from Mohawk in the second half to earn their first semifinal appearance since 1981. The Cougars last appeared in a WPIAL Championship Game in 1959 when they defeated Aliquippa 13-12.
Charleroi has a balanced offensive attack led by QB Geno Pellegrini who has thrown for 2087 yards and 30 TDs and run for 745 yards and 12 TDs. Dakota Romantino (892 yards, 15 TDs) and Legend Davis (582 yards, 9 TDs) have been the Cougars leading receivers. In the backfield, Brayden Milhalcin (1022 yards, 15 TDs) has been the bellcow. Hunter Perry has been a dynamic offensive weapon for Charleroi with 550 rushing yards, 521 receiving yards and a team-high 18 TDs. South Side Beaver’s offense is built around their running game. Their top four backs all average over 6 yards per carry, led by Jake Botkin (1447 yards, 20 TDs). Derek Franchek (572 yards, 10 TDs), Jordan Bruce (499 yards, 4 TDs), and Anthony Navarra (380 yards, 2 TDs) have all seen a decent amount of carries this year as well. All of this talent in the backfield has taken the load off of QB Trenton Seik (594 yards, 4 TDs) who has averaged just 7 pass attempts per game because of the Rams quality ground game. When South Side does take to the air, Jake Mcdougal (544 yards, 3 TDs) and Brandon Barber (234 yards, 6 TDs) have been the beneficiaries.
3. Steel Valley (10-1) vs 7. Freedom (11-1)
Steel Valley has been one of the most successful teams of the six-classification era. The Ironmen have only lost one regular season game in the last 3 years (earlier this season against Shady Side Academy) and have reached the WPIAL title game the last two years. Steel Valley won the State title in 2016 and fell to Washington in the WPIAL Championship last year. They got revenge on the Prexies for that loss with a 39-7 victory last week. Freedom narrowly topped undefeated Burgettstown last week in a defensive struggle. The Bulldogs scored a touchdown early then held on to preserve a 7-6 victory to reach the semifinals for the first time since 2003. Freedom has never played in a WPIAL Championship Game. The Bulldogs have been strong defensively all year, holding opponents to just 9 points per game, but will have a tough test against Steel Valley’s offense which averages 45 points per game.
Steel Valley has one of the most dynamic rushing attacks in the WPIAL and had two players top 1000 yards during the regular season. Kam Williams (1749 yards, 21 TDs) and Todd Hill (1503 yards, 28 TDs) have continued to carry the load during the playoffs. Hill was the star of last week’s revenge game against Washington, running for 174 yarsds and 3 TDs. The Ironmen also have a quality quarterback in Ronnell Lawrence (1022 yards, 12 TDs). Eshawn Carter (491 yards, 8 TDs), along with the tandem of Williams (390 yards) and Hill (136 yards) have been Lawrence’s top receivers. Freedom also has a multi-talented running back in Jake Pail who has 983 rushing yards, 388 receiving yards, and has scored 14 times. Pail is complemented in the backfield by Cody Ross (655 yards, 12 TDs) and Max Ujhazy (309 yards, 3 TDs). Zack Rosa has had a good year at quarterback, throwing for 1208 yards and 20 TDs. Noah Yeck is the Bulldogs’ leading receiver with 409 yards and 7 TDs.