5 things to watch: How many WPIAL teams will reach PIAA football finals?

Friday, December 3, 2021 | 12:34 PM

Could the WPIAL send five or six teams to Hershey?

The brackets say it’s possible, but that’s never happened before. Since football expanded to six classifications in 2016, the WPIAL hasn’t qualified more than four teams for the state championships in one season.

The WPIAL had four qualify in 2020, ‘17 and ‘16.

There are five semifinals at 7 p.m. Friday involving WPIAL teams and one Saturday afternoon. Mt. Lebanon faces State College at Altoona’s Mansion Park Stadium at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Among the Friday games, in Class A, Bishop Canevin faces District 9 champion Redbank Valley at North Hills’ Martorelli Stadium. In 2A, Serra Catholic plays District 10 champion Farrell at Slippery Rock University. In 3A, Central Valley hosts District 6 champion Central (Martinsburg). In 4A, Aliquippa plays District 4 champion Jersey Shore at Central Cambria. In 5A, Penn-Trafford faces District 3 champion Exeter Township in Wingate.

The toughest classification for the WPIAL to crack has been Class 6A. No WPIAL team has reached the 6A finals since Pine-Richland won the title in 2017.

Class 2A has also proven difficult lately. Only once in the past three seasons has the WPIAL Class 2A champion reached Hershey.

Prior to 2016, football had only four classifications.

The WPIAL had three state finalists in 2019, and sent only two teams to Hershey in 2018.

Quips headed to 5A?

Aliquippa faces a win-lose proposition.

If the Quips win Friday night and reach the Class 4A state finals, the PIAA competitive-balance rule likely will force the team to play in 5A for the next two seasons. That’s hard to imagine for a school with a Class A enrollment, but it’s a real possibility.

The issue stems from the Quips voluntarily playing up two classifications to 3A before the rule took effect. The rule targets teams that have postseason success and add three or more transfers over a two-year period. As one of those teams, the rule forced the Quips from 3A to 4A before the 2020 season.

Now, they’re on the verge of a promotion to 5A.

“Whatever they do, they’re going to do,” Aliquippa coach Mike Warfield said of the PIAA. “It’s not going to surprise me. But like I’ve said, it’s totally unfair. I can give you so many different analogies of how it’s unfair.”

Warfield and Aliquippa superintendent Phillip Woods have said the team might consider playing an independent schedule next season if the PIAA took that action.

However, the Quips aren’t a lock to reach the state finals.

Aliquippa on Friday faces undefeated Jersey Shore (14-0), the state runner-up from a season ago. The District 4 champion lost to Thomas Jefferson, 21-14, in the 2020 state finals.

This year’s Jersey Shore squad has a dynamic dual-threat quarterback in junior Brady Jordan. He has passed for 1,886 yards and 17 touchdowns, while rushing for 1,000 yards and 13 scores.

Jordan is joined in the backfield by junior running back Hayden Packer, who has 1,183 rushing yards and 20 TDs.

Jersey Shore is coming off a 30-6 victory over Meadville.

Familiar path for Central Valley

Only three WPIAL football teams have reached the state finals three years in a row, a short list Central Valley could join. The Warriors, who were PIAA champions last year and runners-up in 2019, are one win away from returning to Hershey.

No WPIAL team has accomplished that feat since Clairton competed in five consecutive state finals in 2008-12. Before the Bears’ run, Rochester made three in a row in 2000-02 and West Allegheny reached three straight in 1999-2001.

Standing in Central Valley’s way is undefeated Central (14-0), the District 6 champion. The team likes to throw the football. Junior quarterback Jeff Hoenstine has passed for 3,355 yards and 56 touchdowns this season. The Dragons have five receivers with at least 22 catches and two have more than 900 yards.

Central is coming off a 35-6 win over Grove City.

Home away from home

Altoona no longer plays WPIAL football, but Mansion Park Stadium sure feels a little like home turf for some district teams. Mt. Lebanon is headed there Saturday, a familiar destination for WPIAL teams one win away from the state championships.

In the past decade, WPIAL teams are 15-7 in PIAA playoff games played at Altoona’s stadium.

Mt. Lebanon faces District 6 champion State College at 1 p.m. Saturday. This is the fourth time since 2011 that State College has faced a WPIAL champion at Mansion Park Stadium, and the Little Lions are 0-3 in the previous three.

State College (8-5) reached Saturday’s semifinal by knocking off District 3 champion Harrisburg, 16-13, in the quarterfinals. Harrisburg was 12-1, yet State College pulled the upset with three field goals, including a 34-yarder with 3 seconds left.

Making semifinal history

Penn-Trafford is making its debut appearance in the PIAA playoffs as a first-time WPIAL champion. But reaching the state semifinals isn’t new for the WPIAL’s five other champions.

This will be Aliquippa’s 10th appearance in the state semifinals, where the Quips are 6-3 all-time. They advanced to the finals in 1991, 2000, ’03, ’12, ’15 and ’18, yet their season ended with state semifinal losses in 1996, 2008 and ‘11.

Central Valley is 3-0 in state semifinals (2014, ’19 and ’20), while Bishop Canevin (1990) and Serra Catholic (2007) are both 1-0. Mt. Lebanon lost its only state semifinal appearance in 2000.

The state football playoffs started in 1988.

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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