5 things we learned in high school football Week 3: Turnarounds abound this year

Saturday, September 16, 2023 | 9:15 PM

Call this the year of the turnaround.

Twenty-one WPIAL football teams already have matched or surpassed their win totals from a year ago, and this is only the fourth week of the season.

The most dramatic is Waynesburg, which improved to 4-0 on Friday night after a victory over Keystone Oaks. A year ago, Waynesburg went 0-10.

“I’m a teacher, and there is so much buzz around the school that it is phenomenal,” third-year coach Aaron Giorgi said. “It is awesome to see all of the kids excited. Kids that aren’t involved with football, they’re talking football. I live down here, and I hear people in the community say, ‘Hey, you’re off to a great start.’

“Everyone has recognized it.”

The team’s schedule is the same as last year, when Waynesburg was outscored 147-28 in losses to Carmichaels, Jefferson-Morgan, California and Keystone Oaks. This year, Waynesburg outscored those same four opponents, 93-16.

The team’s health this fall was likely the biggest difference.

“We suffered injuries last year,” said Giorgi, who lost his starting quarterback days before camp a season ago.

“Jake Stephenson didn’t play the entire year because of an elbow injury. My running back, Breydon Woods, was on and off the field. … That might sound like excuses to people, but I think this year has proven that those two are difference-makers on the field.”

The turnaround started with a 35-0 victory over Carmichaels in Week Zero. The Raiders since celebrated wins over Jefferson-Morgan, 19-7, California, 27-9, and Keystone Oaks, 12-0. The defense, led by senior linebacker Colby Pauley, has allowed only one touchdown.

“For my seniors, it means more,” Giorgi said. “I think they had won four games up until this point in their entire high school career. So they’ve doubled their win total already. High school football is about making those memories.”

Waynesburg isn’t the only WPIAL team that seems to have turned the page on 2022.

Knoch, Norwin, Seton LaSalle, Derry, Ellwood City, Avella, Carlynton, Springdale and West Greene also have surpassed their win totals from last year.

Knoch is 4-0 after going 1-9 a year ago. The Knights extended their perfect start to the season with a 27-0 win over Southmoreland on Friday.

Eleven other WPIAL teams have tied last year’s wins total: Ambridge, Baldwin, Bentworth, Connellsville, Cornell, Jeannette, Kiski Area, Moon, Shenango, South Allegheny and Valley. Some got there with only one win, but six weeks remain in the regular season.

Fight mars final minute

The WPIAL will look into an on-field fight that marred the final minute of Friday night’s football game between Imani Christian and Steel Valley.

WPIAL executive director Scott Seltzer said the league would request information from the schools’ administrations, including any available video, as well as reports from the game officials.

The Allegheny Conference game was played at Graham Field in Wilkinsburg. With about 39 seconds remaining, a fight started on the Imani Christian sideline after a Steel Valley player ended up in the Saints’ bench. Video posted to social media showed at least one Imani player throwing punches in the skirmish.

Both coaches said no players were seriously injured in the fight.

“All of my kids are extremely embarrassed and apologizing,” said Imani Christian coach LaRoi Johnson, who spoke with his players Saturday. “It’s something that didn’t need to happen. It was a good game on both sides. Both teams played extremely hard. It just didn’t need to end that way.”

Steel Valley coach Ray Braszo said the incident started when one of his defensive backs was roughed up on the Imani sideline. He said there had been no issues with dirty play before the fight.

“More or less, it seems they ran him to the fence,” Braszo said. “The next thing we know, people were punching him. … And then all hell broke loose.”

Moon upsets WPIAL No. 1

Who would’ve predicted that the top-ranked team in WPIAL Class 5A would lose to a winless opponent?

Well, for Moon, it wasn’t a complete surprise.

Yes, Moon was 0-3 before defeating then-No. 1 Penn Hills, 14-13, in a nonconference game Friday. But the Tigers were competitive in their losses, twice losing by only three points.

“I told the kids, ‘If you put a clean game together, you’re going to have a chance,’ ” Moon coach Ryan Linn said. “They played a clean game on Friday.”

Moon entered the fourth quarter trailing 13-7 but won with a 74-yard touchdown run from Josh Bladel. The win came a week after a 20-17 loss to Mt. Lebanon.

The Tigers lost to West Allegheny by the same score in Week Zero.

“You could see it was coming,” Linn said. “The players had to keep trusting each other and trusting what we were doing. They did.”

Undefeated Peters Township (4-0) is ranked first in WPIAL 5A.

Dual threat QB

Trinity quarterback Jonah Williamson pulled off a remarkable feat Friday by rushing and passing for more than 200 yards in the same game.

Williamson completed 12 of 14 passes for 234 yards and three touchdowns and rushed 23 times for 233 yards and three more scores. His last rushing touchdown, a 32-yarder, accounted for the final points in a 41-40 win over Connellsville.

Top rusher hurt

West Greene’s Colin Brady, the WPIAL’s leading rusher, left Friday’s game with an ankle injury.

Brady, who’s nearing 5,000 career yards, rushed for 150 yards on 12 carries before leaving the 47-14 win over Carmichaels. For the season, the senior has 750 yards on 77 carries.

He finished fourth among WPIAL rushers last season with 1,897 yards.

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.

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