California among top seeds for WPIAL football playoffs
By: Chris Harlan
Monday, October 30, 2017 | 11:24 PM
The WPIAL football committee wasn't always kind to the Tri-County South Conference. So, California coach Darrin Dillow wasn't sure his undefeated Trojans would be a No. 1 seed until he saw it Monday night.
“I told the (assistant) coaches, don't be surprised if we're six,” Dillow said with a laugh.
There were times in recent years when the Tri-County champion was seeded behind second-place teams from other, stronger, Class A conferences. But when the WPIAL playoff brackets were revealed at the DoubleTree in Green Tree, California was indeed seeded first.
“It was nice to see,” Dillow said. “The kids worked so hard getting to where they need to be.”
Expectations are high, but Dillow wasn't ready to put the entire weight of the conference on their shoulders. Combined, Tri-County teams have gone 2-18 in the first round of the WPIAL Class A playoffs since 2012.
“We're worried about us,” he said. “We keep it pretty simple. As far as representing the conference, yeah, that's great and everything. But we want to represent California.”
The other No. 1 seeds went to Pine-Richland in 6A, Penn-Trafford in 5A, South Fayette in 4A, Aliquippa in 3A and Steel Valley in 2A.
The WPIAL football committee needed about three hours Monday morning to arrange the six brackets — the quickest in years, said chairman Randy Rovesti, Gateway's athletic director. With the top four classifications reduced to eight-team brackets, there just aren't as many options anymore.
“It wasn't as challenging,” Rovesti said. “We used to spend (many) hours before. Now it's just hours. … When they were all 16-team brackets, it took a lot longer.”
Still there were decisions to debate.
Among them, who should get the No. 1 seed in Class 4A: South Fayette or Belle Vernon? Both are undefeated. South Fayette, which has a 57-game regular-season winning streak, has reached Heinz Field four times since 2010. Belle Vernon hasn't reached the WPIAL finals since 1999, but did defeat Thomas Jefferson to win the Big 9 title.
“You beat TJ, that's pretty good,” Rovesti said. “Belle Vernon could have been No. 1. But South Fayette has been undefeated in the regular season for how many seasons now? That came into play, too. You could flip a coin on some of those. We'll find out on championship day.”
The finals for Class 6A, 5A, 4A and 3A are Nov. 18 at Heinz Field. Finalists from the two smallest classifications, 2A and A, will compete Nov. 25 at Robert Morris University's Joe Walton Stadium.
The bracket toughest to seed was Class 5A, Rovesti said. The committee put Penn-Trafford first and Gateway second but then faced a dilemma. Defending champion West Allegheny is officially the third seed as the home team, but sixth-seeded opponent McKeesport was a team the committee considered maybe third best.
But because McKeesport finished third in the Big East Conference, it couldn't be seeded in the top four. By pairing the Tigers with West Allegheny, the committee created a rematch from last year's 5A final.
“There are a lot of good teams,” Rovesti said, “but this one beat this one who beat that one, back and forth. That's the (bracket) that was the toughest. …When you really look at it realistically, seven teams have a chance to win. It's about who gets a bounce.”
There are a few first-round rematches between conference opponents, a situation the committee strictly avoided before last year's expansion to six classifications. This year, New Castle plays Montour, Thomas Jefferson plays Trinity and Freeport plays Seton LaSalle.
Along with 5A, Class A also provided a challenge, Rovesti said. Jeannette was in line for the No. 1 seed until it lost Friday to Clairton, creating a three-way tie atop the Eastern Conference. After some debate, the committee seeded Clairton second, Jeannette third and Imani fourth, behind California.
“When Clairton beat Jeannette, that threw things out of whack a little bit,” Rovesti said. “But the discussion was, California is a pretty good football team.”
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .