The stretch run of the 2019 WPIAL season is here. In the final three weeks, teams will make or break their playoff hopes. So far, 18 teams have clinched spots in the 2019 playoffs, including Southmoreland who qualified for the postseason for the first time since 1979. Last week West Greene scored their first win over California since 2003 and became the first team in the WPIAL to clinch a conference title. Last week also featured two of the biggest upsets of the season with Moon topping Peters Twp (who was the only unbeaten team in 5A) and Greensburg Salem beating West Mifflin. This week, 24 more schools have the opportunity to secure their playoff spots. Earlier this week I detailed all of the potential playoff clinching scenarios.
I’m happy to once again be doing a guest spot on the WMBS pregame show. They’ll be broadcasting the Brownsville-Frazier game tonight where Brownsville still has an outside shot to make the playoffs but needs to win out and needs Charleroi to lose out. We previewed that game and other big matchups this week during my guest appearance on the WMBS Pregame Show, you can listen to the show, starting at 6pm on Friday night.
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. At the end of the night, I’ll be updating my WPIAL Standings Page with all of the results of tonight’s games. Another new feature this week is the addition of the 5A and 1A Wild Card Standings Page, where I am tracking the additional games that matter in those classifications.
6A Game of the Week
Pine-Richland (4-1, 6-1) at Mt. Lebanon (4-1, 5-2)
The top four teams in 6A have separated themselves from the rest of the pack. North Allegheny sits atop the conference at 6-0 with Central Catholic, Pine-Richland, and Mt. Lebanon all 4-1 close behind. There will be a number of massive games between the top four teams to determine which two get first round byes and which get home playoff games. North Allegheny has wins over Mt. Lebanon and Central Catholic while Central has a win over Pine-Richland. The winner of this game will stay in contention for a first round bye while the loser will likely have to settle for a home playoff game. These are two of the top three offenses in 6A, with Pine-Richland averaging 40 points per game and Mt. Lebanon averaging 33 per game.
Pine-Richland enters Week 7 with 6A’s leading passer in Cole Spencer (1456 yards, 18 TDs). While the Rams will run the ball with an RPO-based offense, they have done most of their damage through the air. Leading receivers Eli Jochem (502 yards, 7 TDs), D’avy Johnson (297 yards, 4 TDs), and Luke Miller (282 yards, 4 TDs) all average about 16 yards per catch. Leading rusher Luke Meckler (291 yards) is also one of the top targets in the passing game (233 yards) and has scored 10 times. Mt. Lebanon has a balanced offensive attack that has moved playmakers around to get them the ball in different situations. Evan Jones has played all over the field, accounting for 339 receiving yards, 274 rushing yards, leading the team with 10 TDs and even throwing for 167 yards and another score. Mason Ventrone is second on the team in rushing (312 yards) and receiving (290 yards) and has also scored 9 TDs. Joey Daniels was the only first-time starter at QB in 6A this season, and has performed admirably, throwing for 973 yards and 13 TDs. Visawn Pennix leads the Blue Devils in rushing (313 yards, 2 TDs) and Drew Vaughn has added 289 yards and 4 scores. Sam Lasota has been a big-play threat at receiver with 279 yards and 3 TDs.
Honorable Mention: Norwin at Canon-McMillian
This game could decide the 6th and final playoff spot in 6A. Both teams are 1-4 in conference play. Canon-Mac defeated Hempfield while Hempfield defeated Norwin. Canon-Mac and Hempfield still has a game left against winless Butler. A Big Macs victory would likely send them back to the playoffs for the second straight season. On the other hand, a Norwin victory would likely create a 3-way tie scenario.
5A Games of the Week
Upper St Clair (3-1, 5-2) at Moon (3-1, 5-2)
Moon is coming off a massive upset over conference favorite Peters Twp. The Tigers put forth a valiant defensive effort in a 21-13 win. The only blemish on their record is an overtime loss to Bethel Park, which keeps Moon in the running for the conference title. Upper St Clair’s only loss is to Peters Twp and has a game remaining against Bethel Park, which also keeps their conference championship hopes alive. The Panthers have the highest-scoring offense in the conference at 31 points per game and 5A’s leading passer and receiver.
Ethan Dahlem leads the classification with 1726 passing yards and 15 TDs and also leads the team in rushing with 480 yards and 9 TDs. David Pantelis leads the entire WPIAL in receiving with 946 yards and 8 TDs, but was held to just 18 yards on 3 catches last week against rival Mt. Lebanon. Other than Pantelis, Mateo Cepullio (298 yards, 5 TDs), Brandon Shearer (153 yards, 2 TDs), and Joe Lackner (143 yards, 1 TD) have also been factors in the passing game. Ethan Hiester (203 yards) and Jaden Keating (189 yards, 2 TDs) have shared the workload of the running game. Moon also has a dual-threat quarterback in Dante Clay who has thrown for 595 yards and 5 TDs and run for 438 yards and 6 TDs. Clay missed last week’s upset over Peters Twp but Tyler McGowan was able to step in and threw for 116 yards and 2 TDs. Jamal Littlejohn (348 yards, 6 TDs) has been the focal point of the running game while Dawson Snyder (553 yards, 5 TDs) is the top target on the outside.
Plum (1-4, 3-4) at Latrobe (1-4, 2-5)
It is not often that we get a “win and you’re in / lose and you’re out” Casket Match this early in the season. However, with Albert Gallatin playing an independent schedule, this is the final conference game for both Plum and Latrobe. Assuming Connellsville loses to Franklin Regional, the winner of this game will get the 5th and final playoff spot in the Big East Conference. It is unlikely the loser could earn the 5A Wild Card (it would take Plum losing this game but beating 6A Hempfield, along with some other favorable results in other conferences). For all intents and purposes, this is a Casket Match. Plum’s offense is led by dual-threat QB Jake Miller (746 passing yards, 7 TDs, 308 rughing yards, 1 TD). Miller and Billy Guzzi (487 yards, 4 TDs) have shared the load of the running game. Reed Martin has been an all-around playmaker with 198 rushing yards, 178 receiving yards, and 7 total TDs. Latrobe’s offense is based around their running game. The Wildcats deploy a trio of backs in Logan Gustafson (397 yards, 3 TDs), Bobby Fetter (253 yards, 4 TDs), and AJ Rock (140 yards). Kam Stevens has been one of their best offensive threats with 221 yards of total offense and a team-high 6 TDs. The quarterback role has been split between Branden Crosby (211 yards, 3 TDs) and the aforementioned Bobby Fetter (145 yards).
Honorable Mention: Bethel Park at Baldwin
With Peters Twp losing to Moon last week, Bethel Park is now in sole possession of first place in the Allegheny Eight Conference. They still have games left against Peters Twp and Upper St. Clair, so their path to the conference title is not an easy one. For Baldwin, a win over their rivals would give the Highlanders their first playoff berth since 2013.
4A Games of the Week
West Mifflin (3-1, 4-3) at Belle Vernon (4-1, 5-1)
This game lost a little luster after West Mifflin fell to Greensburg Salem last week. However, this game does carry some weight as it will decide which team has the inside track on a home playoff game. Belle Vernon already has a win over Greensburg Salem, so West Mifflin needs a victory in order to stay in the race for a home game. Belle Vernon has the second-highest scoring offense in 4A at 46.7 points per game and the second best defense, holding opponents to just under 11 points per game. West Mifflin relies on dual-threat QB Jacob Davis who has thrown for 495 yards and 7 TDs and run for 700 yards and 6 TDs. The Titans leading receiver is Keith Demery (482 yards, 3 TDs) while Laronday Wilder has been a jack-of-all-trades with 337 rushing yards, 154 receiving yards, and a team-high 7 TDs. Belle Vernon has a balanced offensive attack that incorporates a number of different players, but starts with QB Jared Hartman (866 yards, 15 TDs). Larry Calloway leads the way out of the backfield with 554 yards and 13 TDs. On the outside, Hartman’s favorite receivers have been Nolan Labuda (194 yards, 4 TDs) and big-play hitter Andrew Pacak (178 yards, 3 TDs). Devin Whitlock, who starred for Monessen last year, has run for 259 yards, added 176 receiving yards, and scored 4 times.
New Castle (2-2, 4-3) at Knoch (4-2, 5-2)
Two weeks ago, Knoch was off to a 5-0 start and needed just 1 victory to clinch their first playoff berth since 2014. An overtime loss to Montour and a blowout by South Fayette later, and the Knights are fighting for their playoff lives against New Castle. The race in the Northwest Eight Conference is razor thin, as Knoch, Blackhawk, New Castle, and Montour all enter Week 7 with just 2 conference losses. For Knoch, this is their final conference game so a loss could put their playoff hopes in a precarious position. New Castle has a win over Montour but is coming off a loss to Blackhawk. Last year, Knoch, New Castle, and Montour finished in a 3-way tie for the final playoff spot and those three teams are vying for the last two spots again this year. This is a matchup with two of the top three rushers in 4A squaring off. Knoch’s Matt Goodlin leads the classification in rushing with 938 yards and 11 TDs. QB Kam Grassi has more rushing yards (259 yards, 3 TDs) than passing yards (157 yards, 2 TDs). New Castle’s offense is a bit more balanced. On the ground, Demetris McKnight is 4A’s third-leading rusher with 737 rushing yards, 221 receiving yards, and 12 total TDs. However, the Red Hurricanes also have a capable passing attack led by QB Michael Wells (879 yards, 7 TDs). Wells has also added 210 yards and 4 TDs on the ground. He has been able to spread the ball around to Donny Cade (296 yards, 1 TD), Jason Williams (232 yards, 3 TDs), and the aforementioned McKnight.
3A Games of the Week
Freeport (3-3, 3-3) at Burrell (3-3, 4-3)
An AK Valley rivalry game with playoff implications. Buckle up. Much like last season, Freeport started 0-3 but has bounced back with wins over Uniontown, Yough, and Deer Lakes to climb into a tie with Burrell for the final playoff spot. Given Burrell’s loss to Mt. Pleasant last week, this game will not completely decide the final playoff spot, but the winner will certainly have the inside track. This rivalry game will have an aerial component as it features two of the top four passers in 3A. Burrell’s Alex Arledge is second in 3A in passing with 1517 yards and 15 TDs. Arledge’s favorite target has been Seth Fischbach (698 yards, 9 TDs) but he also has capable complements Zach Miller (366 yards, 6 TDs) and Logan Phillips (281 yards, 2 TDs). The Bucs also have a solid running game led by Mike Scherer (679 yards, 4 TDs). On the other side, Freeport’s dual-threat QB Garrett Schaffhauser has thrown for 995 yards and 10 TDs and added 374 yards and 7 TDs on the ground. Complementing Schaffhauser in the backfield is Ricky Hunter who has run for 376 yards, added 209 receiving yards, and scored 6 TDs. On the outside, Brodey Woods (343 yards, 6 TDs) is the Yellow Jackets leading receiver.
South Park (3-1, 3-3) at Aliquippa (4-0, 7-0)
After an 0-2 start, South Park’s Week 3 victory over Keystone Oaks might be enough to get the Eagles into the playoffs. Their next two games will decide where they are seeded, with matchups against Aliquippa and Central Valley who are both unbeaten in conference play. Aliquippa is off to an Aliquippa-esque start, dominating on both sides of the ball. The Quips lead 3A in both offense (47.3 points per game) and defense (6.6 points against per game). Aliquippa is the defending 3A State Champions and appear to be on a collision course for a Week 9 matchup with Central Valley, the only team that beat them last year, to decide the conference title. South Park has a run-first offense, led by the tandem of Rudy Mihoces (659 yards, 6 TDs) and Nathan May (395 yards, 6 TDs). Stephen Kmonk has thrown for 463 yards and 5 TDs. Seth Jones (156 yards, 2 TDs) and Mason Kasprack (119 yards, 1 TD) have been the Eagles top receivers. Aliquippa’s lineup is once again stacked with talented players. Vaughn Morris has taken over the reigns of the “Air Warfield” offense and thrown for 763 yards and 14 TDs. Leading receiver Chuinua Soloman (432 yards, 9 TDs) has some D1 offers while Isaiah Towler (142 yards, 5 TDs) has been a solid target. Aliquippa still has a strong ground game, led by the tandem of Antonio Quinn (692 yards, 8 TDs) and Vernon Redd (369 yards, 8 TDs) who both average over 9 yards per carry. The Quips dominant defense is anchored by DE Zuriah Fisher, a Penn State-commit.
Honorable Mention: Mt Pleasant at Elizabeth Forward
Mt. Pleasant snapped a 3-game losing streak with a win over Burrell last week, which kept the Vikings playoff hopes alive. Elizabeth Forward has dropped two straight games (to Derry and North Catholic). Mt. Pleasant’s playoff hopes rest on the slim chances of topping Elizabeth Forward this week and/or Freeport next week. Elizabeth Forward’s playoff hopes should be fairly secure with a win this week.
2A Games of the Week
Avonworth (4-0, 7-0) at East Allegheny (2-1, 5-2)
Avonworth has already clinched a playoff spot in the Allegheny Conference. East Allegheny is in strong playoff position with a big win over Steel Valley in Week 1. With Apollo-Ridge and Shady Side Academy both only having 1 loss in conference play, the race for the conference title is still wide open. These teams have two of the top quarterbacks in the classification, which should make for an aerial showdown. Avonworth’s Park Penrod has thrown for 1081 yards and 19 TDs this season while East Allegheny’s Johnny DiNapoli has thrown for 1111 yards and 12 TDs. On the outside, Avonworth’s receiving corps has been led by Kyros Thorpe (396 yards, 11 total TDs), Theo Newhouse (158 yards, 6 TDs), and Jordan Rapp (116 yards, 1 TD). The Lopes rushing attack is anchored by Jax Miller (718 yards, 8 TDs) with Ian Syam (278 yards, 1 TD) playing a complementary role. For the Wildcats, their offense is built nearly entirely around their passing game and they have 4 receivers with over 200 yards. Tyler Padezan (479 yards, 10 TDs) leads the way, followed by Mikey Smith (342 yards, 3 TDs). Keion Delts (255 yards, 4 TDs) and Kalondre Strokes (223 yards, 2 TDs) have both been factors in the passing game as well.
Charleroi (4-1, 5-1) at McGuffey (5-0, 7-0)
The race for the Interstate Conference title likely goes through Washington, but both of these teams are still in the hunt. This is also an important game for determining which team will get a home playoff game. Charleroi lost their season-opener to Washington and has flown a bit under the radar since then, but came away with a solid victory over Southmoreland last week. McGuffey dealt Southmoreland their first loss of the season two weeks ago, and have looked the part of a contender for the conference crown. This is a matchup of strength on strength as McGuffey has the second-best offense in 2A (48 points per game) while Charleroi has the 4th best defense (11.7 points against per game). Last year Charleroi’s offense was built around their passing game. This season’s team still has a quality quarterback in Alex Conrad (599 passing yards, 8 TDs) but is much more run-oriented. The Cougars have leaned on the tandem of Brayden Milhalcin (706 yards, 9 TDs) and Conrad (296 rushing yards, 5 TDs) to carry the load. Additionally, Nikko Pellegrini has been a change-of-pace back, running for 259 yards and 2 TDs while averaging 8 yards per carry. Legend Davis has proven to be an all around threat, leading the team in receiving and accounting for 322 yards of total offense and 7 total TDs. McGuffey’s triple-option rushing attack has wrecked havoc on opponents defenses this season. The Highlander rushing attack has featured McKinley Whipkey (416 yards, 7 TDs), Jared Johnson (296 yards, 10 TDs), and QB Marshall Whipkey (292 yards, 9 TDs). Through the air, Marshall Whipkey has thrown for 809 yards and 15 TDs. Leading receiver CJ Cole has 328 yards and 7 TDs while Nate Yagle has been an all around weapon with 299 rushing yards, 269 receiving yards, and 8 total TDs.
Freedom (5-0, 7-0) at Neshannock (3-1, 5-2)
Freedom eeked out a 3-point victory over New Brighton last week to put themselves alone atop the Midwestern Conference. Neshannock fell to New Brighton in Week 5, but remain in the hunt for the conference title with a win this week. Freedom has one of the top defenses in 2A, allowing just 11 points per game, while Neshannock has the best offense in the conference (35.1 points per game). Freedom is built around running the ball and playing strong defense. Their top two backs, Brett Boyd (560 yards, 7 TDs) and Josh Pail (336 yards, 5 TDs), both average over 5 yards per carry. Max Ujhazy (287 yards, 3 TDs) has been a change-of-pace back for the Bulldogs. Their running game has been so good that QB Cole Beck has averaged just 10 pass attempts per game but has thrown for 713 yards and 9 TDs, primarily to Reiker Welling (302 yards, 5 TDs). Neshannock’s offense is also built around their ground game, led by the tandem of Braden Gennock (893 yards, 12 TDs) and DJ Deblasio (441 yards, 4 TDs) who both average over 8 yards per carry. The Lancers have not thrown much and have split quarterback duties between Jason Nativio (321 yards, 2 TDs) and Ethan Weatherby (236 yards, 4 TDs). The pair have also contributed in the rushing attack with Weatherby running for 182 yards and 2 TDs and Nativio running for 95 yards and 4 scores. On the outside, Cameron Owens leads the receivers with 142 yards and 2 TDs. This game will be won in the trenches by the team that can run the ball and stop the run.
Honorable Mentions: South Allegheny at Serra Catholic
In the Three Rivers Conference, Burgettstown and Brentwood have essentially secured the top two spots with South Side Beaver likely in third. The final playoff spot will be settled between South Allegheny (2-2), Serra Catholic (1-3), Carlynton (1-3), and Seton LaSalle (1-3). Serra is the only one of those four to not face winless Fort Cherry yet. South Allegheny has a win over Seton while Serra beat Carlynton. Any matchup between these four teams down the stretch will be important in the race for the final playoff spot.
1A Games of the Week
Laurel (3-1, 5-2) at Cornell (4-1, 5-1)
Laurel was one of the hottest teams in the WPIAL over the first month of the season. The Spartans did not allow a point until Week 4, but dropped two straight before righting the ship last week against Union. Cornell is one of the great under-the-radar stories this season. The Raiders team ceased in 2012 and spent 4 years in a cooperative agreement with Quaker Valley. The school re-started their team in 2016 and battled through some tough years but are now right in the thick of the playoff race. Cornell’s only loss this season was by 3 points to conference leader Sto-Rox while Laurel lost a penalty-plagued game to OLSH. Laurel still has to play Sto-Rox while Cornell has to play OLSH. This game plus those two will decide which two or three teams from the Big Seven make the playoffs.
Cornell comes into the game led by Zaier Harrison, 1A’s second-leading passer with 1391 yards and 17 TDs. Harrison also leads the Raiders in rushing with 421 yards and 10 TDs. He has spread the ball around to Kaden DiVito (301 yards, 4 TDs), Blaine Sams (280 yards, 6 TDs), Isaiah Langston (228 yards, 2 TDs), and Raequan Troutman (204 yards, 2 TDs). RB Savon Wilson has accounted for 216 yards on the ground and 276 yards through the air and scored 8 times. On the other side, Laurel’s team is built around their running game. While Cornell has 5 players with at least 200 receiving yards, Laurel has 4 players with at least 150 rushing yards. The Spartans rushing attack is led by the tandem of Dom Wade (528 yards, 6 TDs) and Daniel Blank (523 yards, 8 TDs). Additionally, Luke McCoy (159 yards, 4 TDs) and Cameron Smith (153 yards, 1 TD) have both averaged over 6 yards per carry. The passing game has started to open up a little more in recent weeks as Will Shaffer has settled into the QB role, throwing for 476 yards and 6 TDs, primarily to Dylan Aquaro (345 yards, 5 TDs).
Jeannette (3-0, 7-0) at Greensburg Central Catholic (4-1, 6-1)
Jeannette is one of three remaining unbeaten teams in 1A and is coming off a strong non-conference victory over OLSH. This Westmoreland County rivalry game has playoff implications in the Eastern Conference. This is GCC’s last conference game and a loss would put the Centurions in 3rd place and leave their playoff hopes up to the Wild Card formula. Jeannette has the third-best offense in 1A (43.4 points per game) along with the top defense (4.4 against points per game). A Jeannette win would set up a showdown with Clairton in Week 9 for the Conference Title. J
Jeannette’s balanced offensive attack starts with QB Jimmy Sanders who has thrown for 1094 yards and 15 TDs this season. He has been able to spread the ball around to numerous receivers this season, including Toby Cline (268 yards, 7 TDs), Jackson Pruitt (255 yards, 5 TDs), Bayley Molter (239 yards, 4 TDs), and Brett Birch (178 yards, 3 TDs). Out of the backfield, Imani Sanders has led the way with 622 yards and 11 TDs. GCC also has a balanced offensive attack, averaging 33 points per game and led by QB David Altimore (619 yards, 9 TDs). His leading receivers have been Ben LaCarte (246 yards, 5 TDs), Brandon Brown (229 yards, 3 TDs), and Luke Mazowiecki (179 yards, 3 TDs). The leading rushers for the Centurions are Zach Kuvinka (276 yards, 5 TDs) and change-of-pace back Danny Dlugos (159 yards, 3 TDs) who is averaging over 10 yards per carry.
West Greene (6-0, 7-0) at Clairton (4-0, 5-2)
This is a non-conference game with major playoff seeding implications. West Greene has cliched the Tri-County South title and is coming off their first victory over California since 2003. The Pioneers are the highest-scoring team in the entire WPIAL (53.4 points per game) and have the WPIAL’s leading rusher in Ben Jackson (1857 yards, 31 TDs). Clairton has not lost to a 1A team this season and has a dominant victory over a very good Laurel squad. A Clairton win would almost certainly secure a home playoff game for the Bears, assuming they win one of their final two games. If both teams wind up on the top half of the 1A bracket, this game will likely have significant seeding implications.
While Jackson is the focal point of West Greene’s rushing attack, he has been complemented by Kolin Walker (559 yards, 7 TDs) who also averages over 10 yards per carry behind the Pioneers’ solid offensive line. While West Greene barely throws the ball, Clairton has a senior dual-threat QB in Brendan Parsons who has thrown for 1020 yards and 11 TDs and run for a team-leading 510 yards and 8 TDs. Out of the backfield, Parsons has been complemented by Isaiah Berry (449 yards, 5 TDs) and Dontae Sanders (234 yards, 5 TDs). Through the air, his favorite targets have been Kenlein Ogletree (461 yards, 8 TDs), Jonte Sanders (226 yards, 5 TDs), and Wayne Wade (170 yards, 1 TD).