2021 Trib 25 Football Team: WPIAL, state champions highlight HSSN all-stars

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Friday, December 31, 2021 | 4:17 PM


This was a historic football season for the WPIAL, which had four teams celebrate state titles in Hershey.

The WPIAL never before had won more than three in a year, but Mt. Lebanon, Penn-Trafford, Aliquippa and Central Valley all made history this fall.

Each team had a unique story.

The state titles were the first in team history for both Mt. Lebanon and Penn-Trafford, who were newcomers to Hershey. Central Valley won Class 3A for the second year in a row, becoming the first WPIAL team to repeat as state champion since Clairton in 2012.

And then there was Aliquippa, a small school with a Class A enrollment playing much bigger opponents in 4A. Yet, the Quips prevailed again.

All four stories were remarkable, and all four are represented here among the Trib 25, which recognizes the top WPIAL and City League football players from the past season.

TRIB 25

Landon Alexander

Central Valley, RB/DB

6-1, 190, senior

Alexander finished the season as the WPIAL rushing leader with 2,397 yards on 238 carries. He average of 160 yards per game and scored 33 touchdowns as the Warriors repeated as WPIAL and PIAA Class 3A champions. The Albany recruit had seven 200-yard games including 231 yards on 35 carries in the state finals, becoming the school’s all-time leading rusher.

Watch Landon Alexander highlights

Brad Birch

Gateway, QB

6-2, 185, sophomore

Birch needed to learn a new offense after transferring from Jeannette, yet he led all WPIAL quarterbacks in passing yards with 2,615 while completing 60% of his throws (161 of 268). He also threw 30 touchdowns — the second-most in the WPIAL — for a Gateway team that reached the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs. Only a sophomore, he recently added a college offer from Akron.

Watch Brad Birch highlights

Ben Bladel

Moon, TE/DE

6-0, 235, senior

Bladel’s position changed often as Moon used him wherever they needed him most. He was an offensive lineman last year but moved to tight end, fullback and even wildcat quarterback. He scored 10 times and also threw for a touchdown. But his play on defense — where he had 15 sacks — largely led Moon to the WPIAL finals for the first time since 1998. He has a preferred walk-on option from Pitt along with Division II offers.

Watch Ben Bladel highlights

Patrick Body

Gateway, WR/DB

6-2, 185, senior

Body, who was a two-way standout for the Gators, has signed to play college football for national title contender Cincinnati. He is the latest in a line of star Gateway defensive backs following recent grads Jaquan Brisker (Penn State) and Derrick Davis (LSU). Offensively, Body had 43 receptions for 884 yards and 13 touchdowns. He topped 100 receiving yards four times including in a 10-catch, 155-yard effort in Week 3.

Watch Patrick Body highlights

Bobbie Boyd

McKeesport, RB/DB

5-7, 170, junior

Boyd ranked among the WPIAL rushing leaders with 1,545 yards on 171 carries. He scored 16 touchdowns for the Tigers, who reached the WPIAL Class 4A semifinals. One of his best games came in a regular-season win over Thomas Jefferson, when he rushed for 227 yards and scored three times. Coaches voted Boyd as the conference defensive player of the year in the Big Eight.

Watch Bobbie Boyd highlights

Nick Bryan

Thomas Jefferson, OL/DL

6-3, 270, senior

Bryan was an anchor up front for the offensive and defensive lines. He was a two-way starter on a team that reached the WPIAL Class 4A semifinals. The Jaguars averaged 213 rushing yards per game with Bryan’s blocks boosting that average. Defensively, they held six opponents to 52 rushing yards or less. Bryan is a Kent State recruit.

Watch Nick Bryan highlights

Nijhay Burt

Steel Valley, RB/LB

6-0, 170, senior

Burt rushed for 2,041 yards on 156 carries and scored WPIAL-best 35 touchdowns for the Ironmen, who reached the WPIAL Class 2A semifinals. He was leading the WPIAL in rushing yards and averaging 13 yards per carry before sustaining a season-ending ankle injury in the quarterfinals. But Burt wasn’t just a one-way player. Coaches voted him both the offensive and defensive player of the year in his conference.

Watch Nijhay Burt highlights

Gannon Carothers

Central Catholic, RB/DB

5-11, 200, senior

Carothers emerged as a two-way impact player for Central Catholic, the WPIAL Class 6A runner-up. At running back, he paced the Vikings offense with 1,006 rushing yards on 186 carries and scored 14 touchdowns while adding another 153 yards on 12 catches. His best week was a five-touchdown game against Pine-Richland, where he totaled more than 300 yards from scrimmage. He celebrated WPIAL titles in 2019 and ‘20.

Watch Gannon Carothers highlights

Joey Daniels

Mt. Lebanon, QB

5-10, 185, senior

Daniels quarterbacked the Blue Devils to WPIAL and PIAA Class 6A titles by passing for 2,128 yards and a WPIAL-best 31 touchdowns. He threw six TDs in the state semifinals. The WPIAL title was the Mt. Lebanon’s first in 21 years, and the state championship was the first in team history.

Watch Joey Daniels highlights

Tyreese Fearbry

Perry, WR/DE

6-5, 230, senior

Fearbry was the latest in a recent line of highly recruited City League stars. The four-star prospect had around 20 FBS Division I offers including Pitt, Penn State, West Virginia, Cincinnati, Michigan State, Auburn, South Carolina and Miami (Fla.). He signed with Kentucky earlier this month.

Watch Tyreese Fearbry highlights

Sean FitzSimmons

Central Valley, OL/DL

6-3, 280, senior

FitzSimmons was as disruptive of a force on defense as anyone in the WPIAL in recent years and was a big reason why Central Valley repeated as WPIAL and PIAA Class 3A champions. The Pitt recruit made a team-high 123 tackles from his defensive line spot including 58 solo stops and 49 tackles for a loss. He had a team-high 21 sacks and forced five fumbles including one in the state finals. FitzSimmons also started on the offensive line, blocking for a 2,300-yard rusher.

Watch Sean FitzSimmons highlights

Trent Fraley

Moon, OL/DL

6-3, 290, senior

Fraley’s father is former Robert Morris and NFL lineman Hank Fraley, but the son made a name for himself this fall. The Marshall recruit was a two-way starter at guard and defensive tackle for a Moon team that went 12-1 and reached the WPIAL Class 5A finals. The Tigers weren’t always flashy, but there were able to lean on their strength advantage up front to win.

Watch Trent Fraley highlights

Rodney Gallagher

Laurel Highlands, QB/DB

5-11, 170, junior

Gallagher is a two-sport star but recently announced that he’ll play football in college. His performance this fall backs up that decision. He topped 1,000 yards both passing and rushing in the regular season, and he led Laurel Highlands to its first playoff win in team history. Gallagher passed for 1,365 yards and 12 touchdowns, rushed for 1,130 yards and scored 20 times. His college options include Pitt, Penn State, Michigan, Notre Dame and others.

Watch Rodney Gallagher highlights

Carter Green

Penn-Trafford, QB/DB

5-10, 170, senior

Green was among the WPIAL’s best dual-threat quarterbacks this season but also was outstanding at safety. His two-way play was one of the big reasons Penn-Trafford won WPIAL and PIAA Class 5A titles — both firsts in team history. He rushed for 1,155 yards and 15 touchdowns, and he completed 84 of 153 passes for 1,265 yards and 12 more scores.

Watch Carter Green highlights

Jeremiah Hasley

Pine-Richland, TE/LB

6-3, 225, senior

Hasley shifted from outside to inside linebacker this season, and was credited with 135 tackles including 80 solo stops. His total included a team-high 17 tackles for a loss and three forced fumbles. He also caught 25 passes and scored twice. The Rams, who won the state title his junior season, reached the WPIAL semifinals this year. Hasley is a Duke recruit.

Watch Jeremiah Hasley highlights

Eli Heidenreich

Mt. Lebanon, WR/DB

6-0, 180, senior

Heidenreich was a versatile piece in the Blue Devils’ championship run. The Navy recruit was the team’s leading receiver with 54 catches and 1,325 yards, but also played safety and some wildcat quarterback. He scored 28 times this season including 13 touchdowns in the team’s five postseason games including a five-score game in the state semifinals.

Watch Eli Heidenreich highlights

Tiqwai Hayes

Aliquippa, RB

5-9, 170, freshman

Only in ninth grade, Hayes emerged this season as maybe the next great from Aliquippa. Behind a talented 300-pound offensive line, Hayes rushed for 1,759 yards on 245 carries and scored 23 touchdowns while leading the Quips to WPIAL and PIAA Class 4A titles. He averaged 125 yards per game. In the state finals, he rushed 32 times for 141 yards and three touchdowns. Pitt and Penn State were quick to offer him scholarships.

Watch Tiqwai Hayes highlights

Donovan Hinish

Central Catholic, OL/DL

6-2, 275, senior

Hinish was a three-year starter for Central Catholic and a dominant force on its defensive line, helping the Vikings reach the WPIAL Class 6A finals for the third season in a row. He committed to Notre Dame, the same school where older brother Kurt was a starting defensive tackle this fall for the Fighting Irish.

Watch Donovan Hinish highlights

Quinton Martin

Belle Vernon, RB/DB

6-3, 195, sophomore

This sophomore star already has Division I options for after high school, including scholarship offers from Pitt, Penn State, West Virginia and others. He missed some time with an injury this fall, but showed why those schools are after him by rushing for 926 yards and 16 touchdowns. He formed a one-two punch with QB Devin Whitlock that led the Leopards to the WPIAL Class 4A finals.

Watch Quinton Martin highlights

Luke McCoy

Laurel, RB/LB

5-9, 180, senior

Laurel went undefeated in the regular season and reached the WPIAL Class 2A quarterfinals thanks in large part to McCoy, who’ll graduate as a 4,000-yard rusher. He ran for 1,805 yards this fall on 160 carries and scored 29 touchdowns. He’s also a leader on defense where he made 60 tackles.

Watch Luke McCoy highlights

Cadin Olsen

Armstrong, QB

6-5, 205, junior

It was already well known that Olsen could throw a football after passing for more than 2,000 yards as a sophomore. But he emerged this fall as a dangerous dual-threat quarterback for an Armstrong team that reached the WPIAL Class 4A quarterfinals. He passed for 2,501 yards and 28 touchdowns this season, but also rushed for 830 yards and 18 scores. Olsen completed 64% of his throws (187 of 292).

Watch Cadin Olsen highlights

Ta’Mere Robinson

Brashear, WR/DB

6-3, 225, junior

Robinson is the next big name in the City League. He was ranked as the top junior prospect in the state before his season ended with surgery for a torn ACL. The hybrid safety/linebacker had 40 tackles in six games. He already has scholarship offers from Pitt, Penn State, West Virginia, Michigan, Cincinnati, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Texas and others.

Watch Ta’Mere Robinson highlights

Alex Tecza

Mt. Lebanon, RB/DB

6-0, 200, senior

Tecza, Heidenreich and Daniels formed a dynamic trio on a championship-winning Blue Devils offense that averaged 38 points per game. Tecza rushed for 2,085 yards and scored 26 touchdowns including three in the state finals to defeat three-time defending champion St. Joseph’s Prep. Tecza earned all-state Player of the Year honors in Class 6A.

Watch Alex Tecza highlights

Devin Whitlock

Belle Vernon, QB/DB

5-8, 175, senior

Whitlock was electric with the ball in his hands. He scored 27 touchdowns, many on long plays, and led the Leopards to the WPIAL Class 4A finals. He rushed for 1,205 yards and also completed 68 of 110 passes for 1,151 yards and nine touchdowns. Among his longest scoring plays were runs of 79 and 75 yards and punt returns of 76 and 70 yards. He also threw a 72-yard touchdown.

Watch Devin Whitlock highlights

Cade Yacamelli

Penn-Trafford, RB/DB

6-0, 205, senior

Yacamelli was the catalyst for Penn-Trafford’s run to the state championship. The Wisconsin recruit rushed for 1,866 yards and 24 touchdowns, and also had a team-high 21 catches for 351 yards and five more scores. He scored twice in the WPIAL finals including on a 92-yard touchdown catch. His work on defense was just as impactful, where he played safety for the Warriors.

Watch Cade Yacamelli highlights

• • •

2021 HSSN Postseason Awards

Trib HSSN Football Player of the Year

Coaches of the Year by Classification

Players of the Year by Classification

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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