What we learned in Week 1: New WPIAL approach leads to competitive schedule

Saturday, September 3, 2022 | 8:26 PM

This was the most competitive Week 1 in recent WPIAL history, but that probably wasn’t a coincidence.

The WPIAL made a major change in recent years to the way it schedules nonconference games, an adjustment that seemed evident in the final scores Friday night. In all, there were five overtime games, including three that needed a second OT. Seven other WPIAL games were decided by three points or fewer.

And among the 58 WPIAL-scheduled games, only seven ended in shutouts.

The WPIAL’s hope was to create competitive games and cut down on excessive travel, said Norwin athletic director Mike Burrell, co-chairman of the WPIAL football committee.

It’s only Week 1, but so far, so good.

Since 2020, the WPIAL has handpicked nonconference opponents, replacing a grid system that had randomly assigned games. But this year, the WPIAL took that customization a step further.

For the first time, teams were given a say in who they wanted to play. Schools were asked to provide several out-of-conference opponents they’d prefer to see on their schedules, and two they’d like to avoid.

WPIAL administrators and football committee members put that info to use when they met over multiple days to create and finalize the 2022 and ’23 schedules.

“We really made a conscious effort to poll schools on who they wanted to play and who they didn’t want to play,” Burrell said. “Did we meet every request? No. But we did do our due diligence and the best that we could.

“Even though it takes several days and several drafts, it was well worth it in my mind. And from what I’ve heard from coaches, other athletic directors, other schools, they’re just as pleased with it.”

The best in 2A

Might the best Class 2A team in Western Pennsylvania not play in the WPIAL?

City League team Westinghouse could make that argument after celebrating a win Friday over the state’s top-ranked team in Class A. The Bulldogs traveled to the Harrisburg area and defeated Steelton-Highspire, 39-18, on its home turf.

The win comes a week after Westinghouse defeated Clairton, 40-8, in Week Zero.

“It could be (true), but we can’t think like that,” Westinghouse coach Donta Green said. “We’ve got to continue to get better every week.”

Green said he sought out Steelton-Highspire and Clairton in an effort to make Westinghouse’s schedule tougher. The team also has non-league games against Butler and Kennedy Catholic later this season.

“The biggest thing (these wins accomplish) is cancelling out all the noise our kids hear constantly,” Green said. “Talk that City League football isn’t good, that we can’t compete with anybody in the WPIAL, that we play a weak schedule. … A win like this just solidifies the confidence in our guys that we’re willing to compete with whoever.”

There is a new No. 1 team in the WPIAL 2A rankings.

Steel Valley jumped to the top spot after defeating Sto-Rox, 27-24, on Friday. The previous No. 1 team, Beaver Falls, lost to Beaver, 19-16.

Blast from the past

Five months after leaving Chartiers Valley for Trinity, coach Dan Knause faced his former team and won 34-13.

There were some handshakes and hugs with former players after the game, which Knause said he appreciated, but was disappointed the pregame reception was less friendly. Many were surprised when he’d left his alma mater to work as football coach and assistant principal at Trinity.

“Some things happened pregame that I wasn’t thrilled about, but I can’t control that,” said the 1996 Chartiers Valley grad, who coached the Colts for five years. “At the end of the day, I think those kids at Chartiers Valley know I genuinely care about them. But I’m at Trinity now, and these kids know I’m invested in them.”

Chartiers Valley had a breakthrough year under Knause in 2020, when they went 6-2 overall, 4-1 in the Parkway Conference, and reached the WPIAL playoffs. He said this Week 1 matchup wasn’t one he relished or used as added motivation at practice.

“I’m glad it’s over,” he said. “Let’s put it that way.”

Next week, first-year Pine-Richland coach Jon LeDonne returns to Penn Hills, where he coached for five seasons.

Major decision

As a wrestler, Chris Cibrone knows how to grab hold and not let go.

The Peters Township junior entered football camp with a light grip on the starting quarterback job. But after two weeks, almost nobody in the WPIAL has thrown for more yards than him.

The 5-foot-10, 160-pound passer added 323 yards in a 30-27 win over Seneca Valley, pushing his season total to 557. The first-year starter has completed 27 of 52 attempts with seven TDs.

“He did some really good things against Seneca Valley,” coach T.J. Plack said. “He took some big hits and got right up from them. Our team sees that, and the trust factor goes through the roof. Kids want to protect for him a little bit more. They want to catch the ball for him a little bit more. That’s the sign of a leader.”

Cibrone went 30-12 last winter as a wrestler, placed third in his section at 138 pounds and qualified for the WPIAL championships.

Getting defensive

Only 10 teams in the WPIAL allowed more points per game last season than Hempfield. Opponents averaged 38.4 against the Spartans.

This year, nobody has allowed fewer.

The Spartans have given up only three points combined in two games. They’re one of five defenses that already have played twice and allowed a touchdown or less.

Mapletown has allowed eight points, McKeesport and West Allegheny allowed seven and Gateway and South Side allowed six.

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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