Breaking down the 2018 WPIAL football playoffs
Here’s a breakdown of the 2018 WPIAL football playoffs:
Favorite: North Allegheny grabbed the top seed with a 27-7 victory over Pine-Richland in Week 9. NA’s offense starts with its running game, and senior Ben Maenza topped the 1,000-yard mark last week. The Tigers are seeking their first WPIAL title since winning three straight in 2010-12.
Challengers: Pine-Richland is the defending WPIAL and PIAA champion. The Rams don’t throw quite as much as in years past, but running back Luke Meckler (14 TDs) is a big-play threat, and linemen Mike Katic (Indiana) and Andrew Kristofic (Notre Dame) are hard to move. Mt. Lebanon enters the playoff with momentum after a 17-7 win over Central Catholic. Mt. Lebo QB Seth Morgan has 1,839 passing yards, most in WPIAL 6A. Nine years in a row, Pine-Richland, North Allegheny or Central Catholic has won the WPIAL’s largest classification.
Don’t overlook: Seneca Valley played the top seeds tougher than anyone. The Raiders lost 10-6 to North Allegheny in Week 5, and 21-7 to Pine-Richland in Week 8.
Prediction: North Allegheny over Pine-Richland.
Favorite: There’s a clear-cut top two with Gateway and Penn Hills both undefeated, but the Gators earned the No. 1 seed as defending WPIAL champions and state runners-up. They’ve averaged 49.5 points behind quarterback Brendan Majocha, a 1,900-yard passer with 26 TDs. Defensively, only one team scored more than eight points against them.
Challengers: Penn Hills celebrated its first undefeated regular season since 1995. The Indians feature 2,000-yard passer Hollis Mathis and 1,000-yard rusher Terry “Tank” Smith; both are Howard commits. Peters Township and West Allegheny finished as co-champions in the Allegheny Eight but Peters won their head-to-head matchup 42-28 in Week 3. The conference title was Peters’ first since 1975. Sophomore QB Logan Pfeuffer has passed for 1,700 yards and 21 TDs. West A coach Bob Palko, who owns a record eight WPIAL titles, enters his final playoffs. The Indians squeaked out four wins by a TD or less. Penn-Trafford’s lone loss was to Gateway, 27-7, in Week 1. Mars lost to Penn Hills, 36-15, in Week 3. The Planets’ Garrett Reinke is a 1,700-yard rusher.
Don’t overlook: A one-point loss to West A prevented Bethel Park from sharing the Allegheny Eight title. The Black Hawks instead tied for third but still could cause trouble.
Prediction: Gateway over Penn Hills.
Favorite: Three-time defending champion Thomas Jefferson could become the third team in WPIAL history to win four consecutive titles. Braddock won six in 1954-59, and Clairton won five in 2008-12. The Jaguars, who average 50.1 points, have outscored opponents 451-75. Receiver Dan Deabner has 42 catches, 1,040 yards and 15 TDs.
Challengers: South Fayette was seeded first in 2017 and second in 2016, but each time the Lions were tripped up on their journey to Heinz Field. This year, they’re relying on first-year quarterback Jamie Diven, who ranks fourth among WPIAL passers with 2,388 yards and second with 35 TDs. Blackhawk went 2-7 last season but rebounded under first-year coach Zack Hayward to finish second in the Northwest Eight. Mason Pascoe has 1,315 rushing yards for Belle Vernon, whose lone loss was to TJ, 36-14.
Don’t overlook: Beaver, a newcomer to Class 4A this year, came within a point of beating Blackhawk in Week 9.
Prediction: Thomas Jefferson over South Fayette.
Favorite: Aliquippa appeared untouchable, averaging more than 50 points as the top-ranked team in the WPIAL and PIAA. Then came Week 9, and the Quips lost 14-8 to Central Valley, the fourth-place team in the Tri-County West. Still, the Quips are heavy favorites to celebrate at Heinz Field. Eli Kosanovich ranks sixth among WPIAL passers with 2,156 yards, and wideout Will Gipson has more than 1,000 receiving.
Challengers: Derry, North Catholic and Elizabeth Forward shared the Big East Conference title. Tie-breaker points decided which two would host home games. Derry running back Justin Flack is a versatile run/catch threat with 29 touchdowns. North Catholic quarterback Zack Rocco, a 1,400-yard passer, led the Trojans to the WPIAL 2A semifinals last season. Beaver Falls’ Dayln Brickner, a dual-threat QB, has throw 16 TDs and rushed for 13. The Tigers lost to Aliquippa, 39-0, in Week 4.
Don’t overlook: Quaker Valley isn’t the same team as last year, but the Quakers are the defending WPIAL and PIAA champions. QB Ethan Moore is a 1,400-yard passer.
Prediction: Aliquippa over Derry.
Favorite: Shady Side Academy went 0-9 just two years ago and forfeited its final game of the season, but things have improved much since then. The Indians hired coach Chuck DiNardo last season and added talent. Wideout Michael “Dino” Tomlin and quarterback Skyy Moore, both Division I recruits, have formed a dangerous tandem. Moore is a 1,200-yard passer and 1,000-yard rusher. Tomlin has 16 TDs.
Challengers: Three teams in 2A average at least 50 points: Washington (52.3), Charleroi (50.8) and Shady Side (50.3). Charleroi quarterback Geno Pelligrini has more than 6,000 career passing yards. Burgettstown, the Three Rivers champion, allowed 4.8 points per game -- best in the WPIAL. Freedom and Mohawk tied for the Midwestern title. Don’t count out the recent champs. Steel Valley celebrated a title in 2016 and Washington won in 2017. The two teams met in last year’s finals. SV’s Kameron Williams has 1,418 rushing yards. Washington’s Zack Swartz is a 2,000-yard passer.
Don’t overlook: McGuffey starts on the road, but Ed Dalton’s team played both Washington (six-point loss) and Charleroi (13-point loss) close. The team also claimed a 57-42 nonconference win over Avonworth.
Prediction: Shady Side Academy over Steel Valley.
Favorite: A year after winning WPIAL and PIAA titles, Jeannette appears ready for another postseason run. The Jayhawks already have wins over their three chief challengers: Imani Christian, 28-12, OLSH, 28-13, and Clairton, 21-6. Seth Howard has passed for 1,172 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Challengers: Clairton has won the WPIAL Class A title eight out of the past nine seasons. Brendan Parsons is a 1,000-yard passer for the Bears, who own a 33-14 nonconference win over West Greene. OLSH quarterback Tyler Bradley ranks third among WPIAL passers with 2,571 yards and 33 touchdowns. He’s 241 yards from reaching 8,000 for his career, a milestone only four other WPIAL passers have reached. California, Monessen and West Greene shared the Tri-County South title. A coin flip tie-breaker earned West Greene the higher seed and a home game. Rochester RB Noah Whiteleather has 1,487 rushing yards and 19 TDs.
Don’t overlook: Imani Christian needed a wild card to reach the playoffs, but the Saints were WPIAL runners-up last season. With QB Israel Reed (2,682 passing yards) and WR RJ Hart (1,274 yards, 15 TDs), they have the offensive talent to make a return trip.
Prediction: Jeannette over Clairton.