2021 WPIAL Class 2A football breakdown: Teams again chasing Beaver Falls

Tuesday, August 24, 2021 | 6:01 AM

The announcement that the WPIAL will bring some of its championship games back to Heinz Field this season after a one-year pandemic-related hiatus was greeted by many as good news.

For a select few football programs, though, it’s more than good news. It’s motivation.

“Absolutely,” Beaver Falls coach Nick Nardone said. “Even last year, a lot of our kids were asking, ‘Do we get to play at Heinz?’ I know the article came out before then, but our kids obviously don’t pick up newspapers or follow the news too much. They were upset when they found out.”

If Beaver Falls players were disappointed that the venue for their 43-30 championship game victory over Sto-Rox was North Hills’ Martorelli Stadium rather than an NFL stadium, it was probably the only disappointment they had to suffer through during the WPIAL portion of their season.

The Tigers mowed down seven Class 2A opponents in the regular season and three more in the playoffs, averaging 45.4 points.

They lost a pair of bruising running backs to graduation — Josh Hough is at Syracuse and Shileak Livingston is at Edinboro — but return a quarterback in Jaren Brickner and talented receivers Quadir Thomas, Trey Singleton and Mekhi Clark.

Neshannock, Laurel, New Brighton and Freedom will be among the teams trying to knock them off in a deep, talented Midwestern Athletic Conference.

“When you hold the belt, you hold the belt. Somebody’s got to beat you,” Western Beaver coach Ron Busby said. “They lost some talented players … but I’m a big believer of culture, and those kids win, want to win, know what it takes to win, and they expect to win. In my mind, they’ll continue to march on.”

Sto-Rox doesn’t hold the belt, but there’s no doubt the Vikings wouldn’t mind a rematch.

Sto-Rox marched through the Three Rivers Conference with a preponderance of underclassmen at the skill positions — quarterbacks Josh Jenkins and Austin Jones, running back Zay Davis and receivers Jaymont Green-Miller and Drevon Miller-Ross to name a few. Stopping the Vikings will be a massive headache for defensive coordinators across the class.

“Most schools at Double A will have one, maybe two guys when they go in those spread sets that you have to know where they are and scheme to deal with that,” Busby said.

“When you play Sto-Rox, you kind of have to play it straight up because every kid is a talented athlete.”

With Beaver Falls and Sto-Rox hogging the spotlight coming off their trips to the WPIAL finals, Washington finds itself in an unusual position this preseason.

After going 5-3 overall and finishing second in the Century Conference, the perennially powerful Prexies might be able to sneak up on some teams.

They won’t surprise McGuffey, though, the team that knocked them from their Century perch last season.

McGuffey has eight starters back from a defense that allowed more than 10 points only three times all year.

Meanwhile, in the Allegheny Conference, defending champ Apollo-Ridge is strong in the trenches, Ligonier Valley looks dangerous in its second year back in the WPIAL and Serra Catholic’s talent takes a backseat to no one.

Between quarterback Max Rocco and receiver Jayvon Campbell-Holt on offense and defensive end Paul Pearson and defensive back Pharoh Fisher on defense, the Eagles have a good chance to take a trip to Heinz Field as well.


1. Beaver Falls (10-1)

When a Class 3A powerhouse dropped down to face smaller schools and thinner rosters in Class 2A last season, it wasn’t hard to predict the Tigers would be a problem. A switch from a power running attack to a spread offense could make things interesting, but picking against Beaver Falls isn’t wise.

Preseason rankings

2. Sto-Rox (8-2)

3. Serra Catholic (5-1)

4. McGuffey (6-2)

5. Washington (5-3)


Pharoh Fisher

Serra Catholic, sr., DB

A 6-foot, 193-pound playmaker who can cover, hit and force turnovers, Fisher has all three service academies and Bowling Green after him. He has a 4.36 GPA.

Jude Grzywinski

Ligonier Valley, sr., C/DL

A four-year starter at center, the 6-2, 300-pound Grzywinski has the athleticism to pull, a mean streak to finish off blocks and a 400-pound bench press.

Liam Halligan

Seton LaSalle, sr., OL/DL

A 6-5, 300-pound lineman who locks onto would-be tacklers on offense and blows up blocks on defense, Halligan is one of the top offensive tackle prospects in Pennsylvania.

Josh Jenkins

Sto-Rox, jr., QB/WR

Keep the 6-3, 175-pounder in the pocket and he’ll unleash a pretty deep ball. Chase him out of the pocket and he’s off to the races. Dangerous at wide out when Austin Jones plays QB.

Luke McCoy

Laurel, sr., RB/LB

McCoy is a two-time 1,000-yard rusher on offense, but watch out for him on defense. The 5-9, 180-pounder can run sideline to sideline with the best of them and hits like a truck.


10.8: Serra Catholic at Ligonier Valley

Limited to five games by covid cancellations last year, it’s hard to say how good Serra Catholic can be. A matchup with a physical Ligonier Valley team will provide clues.

10.22: Beaver Falls at Neshannock

What team has the best chance to knock off Beaver Falls in the Midwestern Conference? Probably Neshannock. The Lancers led the Tigers at halftime last season.

10.29: McGuffey at Washington

One of Class 2A’s best rivalries. McGuffey came away with a 7-6 win in the season opener last year. Both teams pride themselves on defense, so buckle the chinstraps tight.

Jonathan Bombulie is the TribLive assistant sports editor. A Greensburg native, he was a hockey reporter for two decades, covering the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins for 17 seasons before joining the Trib in 2015 and covering the Penguins for four seasons, including Stanley Cup championships in 2016-17. He can be reached at jbombulie@triblive.com.

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