Breaking down the 2020 WPIAL football playoffs

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Saturday, October 24, 2020 | 7:59 PM


Here’s a class-by-class breakdown of the WPIAL football playoff brackets:

Class 6A

Favorite: North Allegheny was the only undefeated team in WPIAL Class 6A this season, but the Tigers did miss three conference matchups because of covid-19 shutdowns by opponents. That included a Week 1 matchup with Seneca Valley that never took place. Khalil Dinkins, a Penn State commit, is North Allegheny’s leading rusher and receiver. The 6-foot-4 wide receiver and part-time wildcat quarterback has a team-high seven touchdowns.

Challengers: Could Mt. Lebanon coach Bob Palko win his record ninth WPIAL title? The Blue Devils sure look like contenders behind a strong junior class led by QB Joey Daniels, RB Alex Tecza and WR Eli Heidenreich. They lost 14-11 to NA in Week 4. Central Catholic stumbled in losses to NA (35-21) and Lebo (37-30), but don’t count out the preseason favorites as long as RB Eddy Tillman is healthy. Seneca Valley came within a blocked extra point of beating Mt. Lebanon in overtime in Week 7.

Don’t overlook: There are only four teams in the Class 6A bracket, so nobody’s getting overlooked here. They’re all contenders.

Prediction: Mt. Lebanon over North Allegheny

Class 5A

Favorite: Nobody has come close to beating Pine-Richland since the Rams dropped from 6A this season. Their “closest” win was by 21 points. Cole Spencer, a Penn wrestling commit, ranks third among WPIAL quarterbacks with 1,568 yards and second with 21 TD passes. Division I commits Miguel Jackson (Liberty) and Luke Miller (Kent State) lead the defense. The Rams reached the WPIAL 6A final the past three seasons, winning titles in 2017 and ’18.

Challengers: Gateway is the defending WPIAL Class 5A champion and has star senior RB/DB Derrick Davis. But the Gators missed three games in the middle of their season because of covid-related shutdowns, including matchups with Pine-Richland and Penn-Trafford. Allegheny 6 champion Peters Township could make a title run after losing to Gateway, 21-20, in the 2019 WPIAL championship. Penn-Trafford’s only loss was to Peters by a field goal.

Don’t overlook: South Fayette finished third behind Peters Township and Upper St. Clair in their first season in 4A, but the Lions have a history of winning WPIAL titles.

Prediction: Pine-Richland over Gateway

Class 4A

Favorite: Aliquippa sure made its transition to Class 4A look easy. Remember, the Quips’ enrollment numbers put them in Class A, yet they’re playing three classifications higher. The team has reached the WPIAL final 12 years in a row, the past four in 3A. The PIAA’s competitive-balance rule forced Aliquippa to 4A. RB Vernon Redd leads the offense, but QB Vaughn Morris is dangerous as well.

Contenders: Thomas Jefferson might still be considered the favorite by most, since the Jaguars are defending WPIAL and PIAA champions. But they lost their No. 1 seed when they stumbled Friday against McKeesport, TJ’s first home loss since 2015. Plum and Chartiers Valley both had resurgent seasons since dropping from Class 5A. Undefeated Plum won the Greater Allegheny, and CV was second in the Parkway. Belle Vernon was the 2019 WPIAL runner-up but has lost to TJ three times in two years.

Don’t overlook: McKeesport stunned almost everyone when the Tigers defeated Thomas Jefferson, 20-14, on Friday. The Tigers have won six in a row entering the playoffs.

Prediction: Thomas Jefferson over Aliquippa

Class 3A

Favorite: Central Valley might be the most dominant team in the WPIAL this season, regardless of classification. The Warriors outscored opponents 356-49. They scored 49 points or more in six of their seven wins, including a 65-point night against Keystone Oaks. Top seniors Ameer Dudley, Myles Walker and Stephon Hall returned from a 2019 team that won the WPIAL title and reached the state final.

Contenders: North Catholic ran through the Allegheny Seven undefeated behind dual-threat QB Joey Prentice. The Trojans are trying to reach the WPIAL final for the first time since 2013. Elizabeth Forward used a stingy defense to claim the Interstate crown, winning two of its last three games by eight points combined. EF defensive end Chase Whatton committed to Bowling Green.

Don’t overlook: Keystone Oaks has one of the WPIAL’s best dual-threat quarterbacks in senior Logan Shrubb.

Prediction: Central Valley over North Catholic

Class 2A

Favorite: Beaver Falls dropped a classification this season and ran through the Midwestern Conference undefeated. Coach Nick Nardone’s Tigers are led by Syracuse recruit Josh Hough, a 6-foot-3, 230-pound running back and linebacker. The big back showed his speed again in Week 7 with an 84-yard touchdown run. The Tigers scored 44 points or more six times this season. Beaver Falls seeks its second WPIAL title in five seasons after winning 3A in 2016.

Contenders: Nobody defeated Sto-Rox on the field this season. The Vikings’ only loss was a forfeit in Week 1 caused by a lack of eligible players. Senior RB/LB Diontae Givens is a Duquesne recruit. One point separated McGuffey and Washington in the Century Conference. McGuffey won 7-6 in Week 1. The Allegheny Conference had two undefeated teams in Apollo-Ridge and Serra Catholic, but they didn’t play one another this year.

Don’t overlook: Laurel played Beaver Falls tougher than anyone this season, losing 29-14 to the Tigers in Week 2.

Prediction: Beaver Falls over Sto-Rox

Class A

Favorite: Clairton has been the WPIAL’s Class A favorite for more than a decade. The Bears won 10 of the past 14 WPIAL titles in the smallest classification, including a victory over Sto-Rox in last year’s championship. Dontae Sanders is the team’s workhorse back with nearly 1,200 yards and 19 touchdowns. He ran for more than 200 yards and scored four times Friday, with 6-5, 300-pound Howard recruit Dametrius Weatherspoon anchoring the line.

Contenders: Conference rival Jeannette could be awaiting Clairton in the finals. Jayhawks coaches started a freshman at quarterback this fall, and Brad Birch rewarded them with a WPIAL-best 22 touchdown passes. Their only loss was to Clairton, 34-28, in Week 1. California is another team that benefited from changing classifications. Down from Class 2A, the Trojans went undefeated in the Tri-County South. Rochester and Shenango tied atop the Big Seven, but Rochester won their head-to-head matchup Saturday. Shenango’s Reis Watkins, a 6-3, 220-pound senior, has 1,200 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns.

Don’t overlook: Springdale finished third in the Eastern, but the Dynamos proved they’re not a pushover when they gave Jeannette a game in Week 5 before losing 36-28.

Prediction: Clairton over Jeannette

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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