5 things to watch: WPIAL playoff weekend split between finals, semifinals

Thursday, November 16, 2023 | 11:32 PM

Pine-Richland will eat breakfast together a few hours before kickoff, part of a pregame routine Saturday that differs from most weeks.

That’s because the WPIAL scheduled them with a noon kickoff, which Pine-Richland coach Jon LeDonne admits is a little unusual for his team. But rather than fret about the early wake-up call, LeDonne pointed out that college teams nowadays play anytime, anywhere.

So they should embrace it.

“We tell the guys who want to go on and play in college, ‘You’ve got to be ready to play no matter what time game time is,’” LeDonne said. “We use that as a little motivation for them.”

This is an unusual week for the WPIAL playoffs overall, since the schedule includes both finals and semifinals, depending on the classification.

Class 4A, 3A, 2A and A have semifinal games Friday at various neutral sites. The winners meet Nov. 24 at Acrisure Stadium for the finals.

Yet, the two big-school classifications have their finals Saturday at Norwin.

Pine-Richland (9-3) faces Peters Township (12-0) at noon in Class 5A. North Allegheny (10-1) plays Central Catholic (10-1) at 6 p.m. in the 6A final.

The WPIAL finals for those two classifications must be played a week earlier than the others based on where the winners enter the state playoffs.

Pine-Richland won the WPIAL title a year ago with a noon kickoff.

Rematch in Class A

Can the sequel live up to the original?

One of the season’s best games gets a reboot Friday when Fort Cherry and Bishop Canevin rematch in a Class A semifinal at South Fayette. The teams combined for 13 touchdowns the first time, with Fort Cherry winning, 48-41.

The quarterbacks both had starring roles on Oct. 3, combining for more than 800 total yards. Bishop Canevin’s Kole Olszewski passed for 414 yards and five touchdowns, but was outdone by Fort Cherry’s Matt Sieg, who rushed for four touchdowns and passed for three.

Sieg finished with 437 combined yards rushing and passing. Olszewski had 432.

The only other rematch on this week’s schedule is the Class 6A final. Central Catholic defeated North Allegheny, 50-22, on Sept. 22.

Going back again and again

What’s better than one trip to the WPIAL finals? How about two or three?

Nine of the 12 finalists from a year ago remain alive in this season’s playoffs: Aliquippa, Avonworth, Beaver Falls, Belle Vernon, Bishop Canevin, Central Catholic, North Allegheny, Pine-Richland and Steel Valley.

That list includes five of the six defending champions. So far, the only reigning champion eliminated was Union in Class A.

Two-time defending Class 4A champion Aliquippa is trying to reach the WPIAL finals for the 16th year in a row, a streak that already is a record.

Beaver Falls is trying to reach the finals for the fourth year in a row, while Belle Vernon and Bishop Canevin could extend their finals streaks to three.

Central Catholic will make its fifth straight appearance in the WPIAL finals. The Vikings have now reached the finals in 10 of the past 11 seasons.

Familiar foe for Bulldogs

Very few opponents have good days against Westinghouse’s defense.

With that in mind, the City League champion will face a prolific passer on Friday in the PIAA playoffs. Central Clarion quarterback Jase Ferguson has thrown for 2,455 yards and 43 touchdowns for the District 9 champion this season. The junior has more than 5,000 yards in two seasons combined, but when Westinghouse faced him a year ago, he had less than 100.

Westinghouse (10-0) plays Central Clarion (11-0) at 7 p.m. Friday at Clarion University. The City League champion won last year’s matchup, 44-8.

Ferguson, a 6-foot, 180-pound junior, is a dual threat and leads the team in rushing yards with 774. However, a year ago against Westinghouse, he completed only 9 of 19 passes for 89 yards and touchdown.

Waiting their turn

Mohawk is the only team left in the WPIAL playoffs that never reached the finals. This is the Warriors’ first appearance in the semifinals.

Three other semifinalists have gone more than 20 years since last reaching the championship game. East Allegheny is trying to reach the finals for the first time since 1992. Fort Cherry’s most recent appearance came in 2001, and Mars last made the finals in ’02.

The other 16 WPIAL teams in action this weekend all have reached the finals at least once since 2016.

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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