The 3A, 4A, 5A, and 6A WPIAL Championships took place last Friday at Heinz Field. Beaver Falls claimed their first WPIAL title since 1984 by running out to an early lead against Aliquippa then holding on against a furious comeback in the final minutes. West Allegheny and McKeesport battled into overtime in 5A with West A scoring on a two-point conversion in overtime to win Coach Bob Palko’s 8th title. In 4A, Thomas Jefferson rolled over New Castle en route to their second straight Championship. Central Catholic also defended their WPIAL title by storming past Seneca Valley. Today, the WPIAL Championships in Class 1A and 2A will be held for the first time ever at Joe Walton Stadium at Robert Morris University. Unfortunately, the six-classification alignment of the PIAA has given the small schools the short end of the stick. Not only do they no longer get to play their Championship Games at Heinz Field, but the two title games will not even be televised. This is severely disappointing. ROOT Sports is showing an Appalachian State-Duke basketball game during the 1A Championship and the Penguins pregame show during the 2A final and is not showing either game on tape-delay. 22 The Point, which has also shown WPIAL games this season, is showing a half hour on Orange Juice Clensing and the movie “12 Dog Days Till Christmas” rather than showing the 1A Championship and showing reruns of Modern Family and The Middle instead of the 2A title game. Luckily, our friends at MSA Sports will not only have radio broadcasts but will also have live video feeds on YouTube.
Also, if you’re not already, follow the @MSAsports twitter account which will post score updates and bookmark the MSA Scoreboard for quick reference. Here is their list of broadcasts for tomorrow’s games. As a reminder, if you’re going to be following along with the WPIAL action and can’t listen in, keep an eye on the following hashtags on Twitter where people post score updates from games: #WPIAL #MSAscores #Skylights (I’ve also listed team, school, and student section Twitter accounts for each school that may post updates as well).
1. Clairton (7-0, 12-0) vs 3. Jeannette (6-1, 12-1)
How They Got Here: Clairton and Jeannette were the top offensive and defensive teams in 1A this season, both averaging over 45 points per game and holding opponents to just a touchdown per game. Clairton ran through their schedule undefeated, including a victory over Aliquippa who reached the 3A Championship Game. During the first 8 weeks of the season, no team got closer than 32. Clairton finished another undefeated regular season with a 32-13 victory over Jeannette to win the Eastern Conference Title. The Bears rolled past Avella and Fort Cherry in the first two rounds of the playoffs but got a challenge from Northgate in the semifinals and emerged with a 34-18 victory, their closest of the season.
Like Clairton, Jeannette was not really challenged for the first 8 weeks of the season. The Jayhawks defense put together one of the most impressive runs in WPIAL history, pitching 6 straight shutouts from Weeks 3 through Week 8 and not allowing a touchdown for 7 straight weeks. The only blemish on Jeannette’s record was their loss to Clairton and they cruised through the first two rounds of the playoffs with a win over Shenango and a victory over conference foe Springdale. Like Clairton, they also got a challenge from a Big Seven Conference team in the semifinals but topped Rochester 30-20 to earn their fifth matchup with Clairton in the last three seasons.
Recent History: Clairton Jeannette, Part V. Since Jeannette moved down to Single-A in 2014, they have yet to defeat Clairton in 4 meetings, including at Heinz Field in the WPIAL Championship last season. Clairton is the two-time defending WPIAL Champions and won 8 of the last 10 Single-A titles. Clairton has not lost in a WPIAL Championship Game since 2004 and has won more titles over the past decade than any other school.
Jeannette reached the postseason for the third straight time since moving down in classification from AA and for the 6th time in the last 7 years. This will be their third Championship Game appearance in that time, but the Jayhawks have not won a WPIAL title since they had Terrelle Pryor at quarterback in 2006 and 2007. Jeannette has played Clairton closer than any other WPIAL team over the last 3 seasons but have never been closer than 19 against the Bears (which came earlier this season).
Championship Pedigree: Clairton has won 12 WPIAL titles. Clairton was awarded the 1929, 1931, and 1954 WPIAL AAA Championship based on Gardner Points (no Championship Game). The Bears won the WPIAL Class A Championship in 1989, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014, and 2015 and won the PIAA Class A Championship in 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012.
Jeannette tied McKeesport and New Castle for the 1932 AAA title on Gardner Points (no Championship game). They won the 1939 and 1956 WPIAL AAA Championship. Jeannette won the WPIAL AA Championship in 1971, 1981, 1983, 2006, and 2007. Won PIAA AA Championship in 2007, defeating Dunmore 49-21.
Dramatis Personae: Both of these teams are absolutely loaded with talented players and this game should be an absolute treat. Clairton has been led by senior Lamont Wade, who is one of the top all-around recruits in the nation. This year, Wade has rushed for 1946 yards and 29 TDs and been the anchor of Clairton’s defense. Lamont Wade is in some elite company, having rushed for 6,657 yards and 95 TDs in his high school career and having scored 117 total TDs. Dual-threat QB Noah Hamlin also has a number of Division I offers and has been a catalyst for Clairton’s offense, throwing for 972 yards and 10 TDs and rushing for 707 yards and 19 TDs. Junior WRs Delvin Clifford (430 yards, 5 TDs) and Tre’Sean Howard (406 receiving yards, 373 rushing yards, 10 total TDs) have been the primary targets on the outside. When Wade missed the playoff opener after having knee surgery, junior Kijafi Fuqua stepped in admirably and he has run for 419 yards and 6 TDs on the season.
Jeannette also features a balanced offensive attack with a dual-threat quarterback. Senior QB GioVonne Sanders has thrown for 1480 yards and 21 TDs and rushed for 526 yards and 12 TDs. Sanders and fellow senior Kareem Hall (who leads the team with 1037 rushing yards and 21 TDs) both have a handful of D-II offers. Junior Robert Kennedy has been an all-around threat this season, rushing for 474 yards and adding 419 receiving yards and scoring 20 TDs. Senior Ryan Swinton leads the Jayhawks in receiving with 461 yards and has added 397 yards on the ground and scored 11 times.
1. Steel Valley (7-0, 12-0) vs 3. Neshannock (7-0, 12-1)
How They Got Here: Steel Valley is the highest scoring team in the entire WPIAL, averaging 55 points per game. The Ironmen have been incredibly stout on defense and did not allow any 2A opponent to score more than once against them in the regular season. The only ream to score more than 8 against the Ironmen was Valley, who missed the 3A playoffs because of tiebreaker points. Steel Valley was true to form in the playoffs, scoring nearly identical victories over Beth-Center and Laurel by 51-14 and 50-14 margins. The Ironmen then shut out Riverside 42-0 in the semifinals. Steel Valley has only been held under 50 points 3 times this season – twice by Riverside and once against Carlynton in horrendous weather conditions. In addition to their dynamic offense, the Ironmen defense has been spectacular, allowing just 7 points per game.
Neshannock has not lost to a 2A team this season. The only blemish on their record came in a 25-20 defeat in Week 2 to Quaker Valley, who plays in 3A. The Lancers rolled through their conference schedule and entered the playoffs with the third-best offense in 2A. They expounded on that by scoring 60 and 71 points in their first two playoff games. After a 27-7 defeat of Washington last week, Neshannock enters the title game averaging over 40 points per game.
Recent History: Steel Valley is making their 9th playoff appearance in the last 11 years. The Ironmen reached the semifinals last year, losing 27-19 to South Fayette. Last year’s trip to the semifinals was Steel Valley’s first trip to the semis since 1991. This is Steel Valley’s first Championship Game appearance since 1989.
Neshannock is making their 5th consecutive playoff appearance and lost in the Single-A Quarterfinals to Jeannette last year after reaching the semifinals each of the prior 3 seasons.
Championship Pedigree: Steel Valley won the 1982 WPIAL AAA Championship, as well as the 1988 and 1989 WPIAL AA Championships. The Ironmen lost 17-7 to Hickory in the 1989 PIAA semifinals.
This is the first Championship Game appearance ever for Neshannock. Neshannock’s semifinal appearances in 2012, 2013 and 2014 are their best playoff runs in school history. They lost to the eventual WPIAL champion in each time (Clairton in 2012 and 2014 and North Catholic in 2013).
Dramatis Personae: Steel Valley has been led by the tandem of DeWayne Murray and Paris Ford. Murray has rushed for 1688 yards and 38 TDs and last week surpassed the 6000-yard mark for his career. Murray has a number of DI offers while Pitt-commit Paris Ford is one of the top defensive back prospects in the state and has been an all-around playmaker for the Ironmen. Ford has scored 6 TDs rushing, 6 receiving, 4 punt returns, 4 pick-sixes and one fumble return. QB Ryan Harper has thrown for 1614 yards and 30 TDs, primarily to Ford, ZaiQuan Henderson (13 TDs) and Trevon Adams (3 TDs).
Neshannock also has a balanced offensive attack that is led by senior QB Frank Antuono, a Robert Morris commit. Antuono has thrown for 2114 yards and 24 TDs and rushed for 853 yards and 16 TDs. He carried the Lancers past Washington last week, throwing for 187 yards and 3 TDs and rushing for 82 yards and another score. Antuono has been aided in the backfield by Sean Doran who has rushed for 1105 yards and 14 TDs. His favorite targets have been 6’1″ senior WR Danny Welker (866 yatds, 21 TDs) and 6’6″ senior TE Ty Sear (364 yards, 4 TDs). Sear has committed to Pitt and Neshannock has the size at wide receiver to test Steel Valley’s play-making defense.