Breaking down the 2019 WPIAL football playoffs

Monday, October 28, 2019 | 8:59 PM

Class 6A

Favorite: It’s hard to say. Central Catholic, Pine-Richland and North Allegheny finished in a three-way tie for the conference title. The WPIAL needed tiebreakers to determine their spots in the playoff bracket. Central Catholic received the No. 1 seed because it ranked first among the three in the WPIAL margin-of-victory formula. Led by an all-Division I line, the Vikings have a strong defense that’s allowing only 8.7 points per game.

Challengers: Pine-Richland, a two-time defending WPIAL champion, has Class 6A’s highest-scoring offense. The Rams are averaging 39.9 points behind junior QB Cole Spencer (2,490 yards, 29 TDs), who’s passed for more than 300 yards in each of his past three games. North Allegheny RB Percise Colon (12 TDs) and WR Luke Colella (12 TDs) are a dangerous tandem for the Tigers offense. Coach Bob Palko, in his first season at Mt. Lebanon, seeks his ninth WPIAL title.

Don’t overlook: Seneca Valley pulled off two upsets last season to reach the WPIAL finals. Could it happen again?

Prediction: Central Catholic over Pine-Richland

Class 5A

Favorite: Penn-Trafford established itself as the favorite way back in Week 1 when the Warriors defeated conference rival Gateway, 28-7. P-T’s only loss this season was to Ohio power Massillon Washington. They outscored WPIAL opponents, 358-78. Quarterback Gabe Dunlap is the team’s leading passer (1,426 yards) and rusher (804).

Challengers: Gateway would surely accept a rematch in the finals. The Gators are led by star junior Derrick Davis, a major-college recruit who’s rushed for 1,100 yards and scored 25 touchdowns. Penn Hills, the defending WPIAL and PIAA champion, has a 1,000-yard rusher in Germar Howard. A year after winning one conference game, Moon rebounded and tied Peters Township for the Allegheny 8 title. Penn recruit Josh Casilli leads Peters with 39 catches.

Don’t overlook: Upper St. Clair won five of its first six before stumbling down the stretch with three losses in four games. If first-year coach Mike Junko can reignite the offense, USC might make a run.

Prediction: Gateway over Penn-Trafford

Class 4A

Favorite: There’s probably no bigger favorite in the WPIAL than Thomas Jefferson. The Jaguars, led by quarterback/safety Shane Stump, have outscored opponents 482-33. They were stunned in the WPIAL finals last season, but this year’s team seems ready to make up for that loss.

Challengers: TJ’s rival is the same as last year: South Fayette. The defending WPIAL champions have another 2,000-yard passer in Naman Alemada. The 6-foot-5 junior is the third passer in three years to reach 2,000 yards for South Fayette. Combined, wideouts Joey Audia and Charley Rossi have nearly 100 catches. Belle Vernon quarterback Jared Hartman is a 1,200-yard passer who’s thrown 21 touchdowns. Blackhawk RB Marques Trent-Watson has a team-high 18 touchdowns.

Don’t overlook: Montour was one of the WPIAL’s hottest teams down the stretch with four wins in five games. The Spartans even stayed close in a 31-24 loss to South Fayette.

Prediction: Thomas Jefferson over South Fayette

Class 3A

Favorite: Central Valley earned the No. 1 seed by defeating both North Catholic, 35-14, and Aliquippa, 45-6, this season. The Warriors dominated the Quips in Week 9, scoring the first 31 points. QB Ameer Dudley is a 1,200-yard passer. RB Jaylen Guy and WR Jawon Hall each have 10 touchdowns. The Warriors won WPIAL titles in 2010 and ‘14.

Challengers: Aliquippa is the defending state champion and seemed destined for the No. 1 seed until last week’s shocking loss at home. Aliquippa RBs Antonio Quinn and Vernon Redd have 25 touchdowns combined. Aliquippa (42.1 ppg) and Central Valley (40) have the top scoring offenses in WPIAL Class 3A. The Quips also have the edge defensively (9.8 to 12.2). North Catholic went undefeated in the Big East behind quarterback senior Zack Rocco, a 1,600-yard passer. The Trojans’ only loss was to Central Valley in Week 3.

Don’t overlook: Derry was the WPIAL runner-up last season and enters the postseason with a five-game winning streak. It played North Catholic close in Week 4, losing 13-3.

Prediction: Central Valley over Aliquippa

Class 2A

Favorite: Nobody has come close to defeating Washington this season. The Prexies’ closest win was by 22 points. The team averaged 48.3 points behind senior quarterback Zack Swartz, a 1,500-yard passer with 22 touchdowns. He’s also the team’s leading rusher with more than 800 yards. Washington seeks its second WPIAL title in three years.

Challengers: Avonworth certainly was tested this season with wins over six Class 2A playoff teams: Apollo-Ridge, East Allegheny, McGuffey, Neshannock, New Brighton and Shady Side Academy. However, senior Kyros Thorpe (12 TDs) is ineligible for the playoffs under PIAA transfer rules. Burgettstown owns the stingiest defense in Class 2A this season allowing just 7.8 points per game. Neshannock edged Freedom for the Midwestern title.

Don’t overlook: McGuffey and Brentwood are second-place teams that certainly could make a run. McGuffey’s offense averages 39.7 points while Brentwood’s defense allows just 9.8.

Prediction: Washington over Avonworth

Class A

Favorite: It’s never a surprise when Clairton is the favorite. The Bears have won the WPIAL title in eight of the past 11 years. The team showed its big-play potential in last week’s 26-7 win over Jeannette with an 84-yard TD run by Brendan Parsons and an 88-yard kick return by Kenlein Ogletree.

Challengers: Tiebreaking formulas determined that Jeannette must start the playoffs on the road, otherwise the Jayhawks might have drawn the No. 2 seed. Jeannette star Imani Sanders has 20 TDs. West Greene averaged a WPIAL-best 50.2 points behind senior RB Ben Jackson, who broke the WPIAL regular-season TD record. Sto-Rox and Cornell tied for the Big Seven Conference title a year after both missed the playoffs. Senior QB Eric Wilson, a 7,000-yard career passer, leads Sto-Rox. Cornell QB Zaier Harrison is a 1,700-yard passer this season.

Don’t overlook: OLSH doesn’t have the same team as last year, but the Chargers are the defending WPIAL champions.

Prediction: Clairton over Jeannette

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at or via Twitter .

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