PIAA football semifinal previews for Dec. 1-2, 2023

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Thursday, November 30, 2023 | 6:40 PM


Final Four weekend is set in all six classifications in the PIAA football playoff — the final stop on the March to Mechanicsburg.

For four WPIAL champions, Friday is the first step in the state playoffs as Aliquippa in 4A, Belle Vernon in 3A, Beaver Falls in 2A and Fort Cherry in A are freshly minted champions while North Allegheny in 6A and Peters Township in 5A entered the PIAA postseason in the quarterfinals round last week.

This marks the third time since expansion in 2016 that the WPIAL has all six champions playing in the PIAA semifinals.

The other two seasons were 2019 and 2021. District 7 teams were 3-3 in ’19 and 4-3 in ’21.

Here is a preview of the six semifinals in the “western” side of the brackets Friday and Saturday.

PIAA 6A semifinals

North Allegheny (12-1) vs. Harrisburg (12-1)

1 p.m. Saturday, Mansion Park in Altoona

Coaches: Art Walker, North Allegheny; Calvin Everett, Harrisburg

2023 district playoffs: North Allegheny defeated Canon-McMillan in the semifinals and Central Catholic in the WPIAL championship game; Harrisburg defeated Cedar Crest in the quarterfinals, Central York in the semifinals and Manheim Township in the District 3 championship game

Last week: North Allegheny 41, McDowell 7; Harrisburg 34, Manheim Township 28 in overtime

Up next: The winner advances to the PIAA 6A championship game next Saturday at Cumberland Valley to battle the winner of St. Joe’s Prep against Central Bucks South

Players to watch: Logan Kushner, North Allegheny (Sr., 6-1, 200, QB); Nehemiah Ewell, Harrisburg (Jr., 6-0, 190, RB/DE)

Team notes

North Allegheny: The WPIAL champion Tigers lost in the state quarterfinals a year ago but were big winners last week over District 10 champion McDowell. North Allegheny senior quarterback Logan Kushner had 263 yards of total offense, threw three touchdowns passes and had a scoring run, while Khiryn Boyd and Evan Lyon each scored a pair of touchdowns for NA.

Harrisburg: The Cougars captured their sixth District 3 championship with a thrilling come-from-behind overtime victory over Manheim Township. Junior running back Nehemiah Ewell, who has rushed for over 1,000 this season, scored on a 2-yard run in overtime for the game-winning score. Harrisburg trailed 28-7 before rallying in the second half.

Historic factoids

• This is the first meeting between North Allegheny and Harrisburg.

• North Allegheny is 3-1 in PIAA semifinals. The Tigers three wins were in 1990 over Cathedral Prep, 35-17, 2010 over Cumberland Valley, 35-17, and 2012 over West Lawn Wilson, 45-10. NA’s lone state semifinals loss was in 2011 to Central Dauphin, 23-20.

• Harrisburg is also 3-1 in PIAA semifinals games. The Cougars three wins were in 2016 over West Allegheny, 42-10, 2018 over Coatesville, 27-24, and 2022 over State College, 27-7. Harrisburg High’s lone state semifinals loss was in 2007 to Central Catholic, 14-6.

• The Tigers are 10-2 all-time in PIAA playoff games with three state championship while the Cougars are 3-5 with no state titles

PIAA 5A semifinals

Peters Township (14-0) vs. Cocalico (12-1)

7 p.m. Friday, Mansion Park in Altoona

Coaches: T.J. Plack, Peters Township; Bryan Strohl, Cocalico

2023 district playoffs: Peters Township defeated Franklin Regional in the quarterfinals, Moon in the semifinals and Pine-Richland in the WPIAL championship game; Cocalico defeated Conestoga Valley in the quarterfinals, Cedar Cliff in the semifinals and Ephrata in the District 3 championship game

Last week: Peters Township 33, Cathedral Prep 14; Cocalico 23, Ephrata 9

Up next: The winner advances to the PIAA 5A championship game next Friday at Cumberland Valley to battle the winner of Imhotep Charter against Strath Haven

Players to watch: Nolan DiLucia, Peters Township (Soph., 6-2, 190, QB/SS); Aaryn Longenecker, Cocalico (Sr., 5-11, 175, RB/CB)

Team notes

Peters Township: There was no WPIAL hangover for the first-time District 7 champions as the Indians traveled to Erie last week and beat perennial power Cathedral Prep by 19 points. Peters Township sophomore quarterback Nolan DiLucia continued his brilliant season with 301 yards passing and two touchdown tosses, plus kicker Carter Shanafelt booted four field goals in the program’s first state playoff victory.

Cocalico: The Eagles captured their second straight District 3 5A crown with a win over rival Ephrata on a big night from running back Aaryn Longenecker. The senior rushed for 113 yards and scored on touchdown runs of 8 and 24 yards, caught three passes for 46 yards and a score and picked off a pass that set up another Cocalico touchdown.

Historic factoids

• This is the first meeting between Peters Township and Cocalico.

• Last week was the Indians’ first PIAA football playoff game, so they are 1-0 in the state postseason coming into Friday’s matchup. This will be Peters’ first state semifinal.

• The Eagles are 1-3 in the PIAA postseason. Their lone victory came nearly 30 years ago when they beat Central Columbia in the 1994 Class 2A quarterfinals, 14-10. They lost the next week in the semifinals to Mount Carmel, 35-14. Cocalico is 0-2 in the 5A playoffs, losing to Cheltenham in a wild 2019 semifinal, 56-49. The Eagles lost to Pine-Richland last season, 34-12.

• In that loss to the Rams a year ago, Aaryn Longenecker had 192 all-purpose yards on offense with a touchdown for the Eagles.

PIAA 4A semifinals

Aliquippa (12-0) vs. Selinsgrove (13-0-1)

7 p.m. Friday, Central Cambria HS Stadium

Coaches: Mike Warfield, Aliquippa; Derek Hicks, Selinsgrove

2023 district playoffs: Aliquippa defeated Latrobe in the quarterfinals, Mars in the semifinals and McKeesport in the WPIAL championship game; Selinsgrove defeated Shikellamy in the semifinals and Jersey Shore in the District 4 championship game

Last week: Aliquippa 35, McKeesport 21; Selinsgrove 44, Juniata 14

Up next: The winner advances to the PIAA 4A championship game next Thursday at Cumberland Valley to battle the winner of Bishop McDevitt against Dallas

Players to watch: Quentin Goode, Aliquippa (Sr., 5-10, 180, QB); Tucker Teats, Selinsgrove (Sr., 5-10, 190, RB/OLB)

Team notes

Aliquippa: The Quips earned a third straight Class 4A district championship with a two-touchdown victory at Acrisure Stadium over McKeesport. Aliquippa senior quarterback Quentin Goode connected on 8 of 14 passes for 157 yards and two touchdown tosses while junior running back Tikey Hayes rushed for 113 yards in securing the Quips’ 20th WPIAL title.

Selinsgrove: The Seals advanced to the PIAA semifinals with a victory last week over District 6 champion Juniata by 30 points. Selinsgrove senior running back Tucker Teats enjoyed a big game as the senior scored on a 5-yard run, caught a 33-yard touchdown pass from Seals quarterback Mark Pastore and returned a kickoff 75 yards for another score.

Historic factoids

• This is the first meeting between Aliquippa and Selinsgrove.

• The Quips are 17-8 in the PIAA playoffs. They are 9-3 in state semifinals with victories in 1988, 1991, 2000, 2003, 2012, 2015, 2018, 2021 and 2022 when they defeated Allentown Central Catholic, 31-10.

• The Seals are 13-11 all-time in PIAA postseason games. They are 1-1 in state semifinals, beating Archbishop Wood in 2009 after losing to Archbishop Wood in 2008.

• Aliquippa is 1-2 against District 4 teams with a win over Jersey Shore in 2021 and losses to Southern Columbia in 2015 and Mount Carmel in 2000. Selinsgrove is 0-4 against WPIAL teams with three losses to Thomas Jefferson in 2004, 2006 and 2007 and to Franklin Regional in 2005.

PIAA 3A semifinals

Belle Vernon (11-1) vs. Hickory (12-2)

7 p.m. Friday, Newman Stadium at North Allegheny

Coaches: Matt Humbert, Belle Vernon; Bill Dungee, Hickory

2023 district playoffs: Belle Vernon defeated East Allegheny in the quarterfinals, Freeport in the semifinals and Avonworth in the WPIAL championship game; Hickory defeated General McLane in the quarterfinals, Grove City in the semifinals and Sharon in the District 10 championship game

Last week: Belle Vernon 26, Avonworth 0; Hickory 26, Martinsburg Central 13

Up next: The winner advances to the PIAA 3A championship game next Saturday at Cumberland Valley to battle the winner of Wyomissing Area against Northwestern Lehigh

Players to watch: Braden Laux, Belle Vernon (Sr., 6-4, 215, QB/DE); Zander Telesz, Hickory (Jr., 6-3, 165, QB/SS)

Team notes

Belle Vernon: The Leopards made it back-to-back WPIAL 3A championships last week with both title game wins coming at the expense of Avonworth. In the 26-point shutout victory at Acrisure Stadium, Belle Vernon senior quarterback Braden Laux had 216 yards total offense with two scoring runs and a touchdown toss to wide receiver Jake Gedekoh.

Hickory: The Hornets defense has been a big part of their success, allowing a total of 19 points in the last two weeks. Freshman Jadon Philipps has four interceptions in the last two weeks, including a 3-yard pick-six. Junior quarterback Zander Telesz ran for 101 yards and a score in a two-touchdown victory last week over previously unbeaten Martinsburg Central.

Historic factoids

• This is the first meeting between Belle Vernon and Hickory.

• The Leopards are 2-1 In the PIAA playoffs with both wins coming last year, a victory over Martinsburg Central in the semifinals, 21-17, and a victory in the 3A state championship game over Neumann-Goretti, 9-8. The lone loss was in the 1995 semifinals to Sharon, 22-16, in overtime.

• The Hornets are 5-7 all-time in the state football postseason. They are 1-2 in PIAA semifinals games with a victory over Steel Valley in 1989 and losses to South Fayette in 2013, 23-20, and in 2014, 44-14.

• Belle Vernon is 1-1 against District 10 teams, having lost to Sharon in the 1995 state playoffs and defeating McDowell in 1974, 16-0. Hickory is 23-20 all-time against WPIAL teams with most of those games played against Union. They are 11-6 against the Scotties.

PIAA 2A semifinals

Beaver Falls (9-5) vs. Westinghouse (12-0)

7 p.m. Friday, Joe P. DeMichela Stadium at West Allegheny

Coaches: Nick Nardone, Beaver Falls; Donta Greene, Westinghouse

2023 district playoffs: Beaver Falls defeated Keystone Oaks in the first round, Neshannock in the quarterfinals, Washington in the semifinals and Steel Valley in the 2A championship game; Westinghouse defeated Allderdice in the semifinals and University Prep in the City League championship game

Last week: Beaver Falls 14, Steel Valley 12; Westinghouse 36, Farrell 20

Up next: The winner advances to the PIAA 2A championship game next Friday at Cumberland Valley to battle the winner of Southern Columbia against Dunmore

Players to watch: Da’talian Beauford, Beaver Falls (Sr., 6-0, 180, RB/MLB); Khalil Green, Westinghouse (Jr., 5-9, 175, QB)

Team notes

Beaver Falls: While not many people gave the Tigers a chance to win their third WPIAL football championship since 2016 after they lost in Week 9 to Western Beaver to fall to fourth place in the MAC, Beaver Falls won gold with a third straight low-scoring playoff victory by a total of five points. Senior running back Da’talian Beauford rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown and scored the game winning 2-point conversion late in the fourth quarter.

Westinghouse: The Bulldogs are 3-0 in state playoff games this season following a road win against District 10 champion Farrell. Westinghouse junior quarterback Khalil Green connected on 11 of 17 passes for 239 yards and three touchdowns, two of them from 60-plus yards, and he scored on a 3-yard run as the Bulldogs scored 24 of their 36 points in the fourth quarter.

Historic factoids

• This is the second meeting between Beaver Falls and Westinghouse. The teams met 108 years ago and played to a 7-7 tie in 1915.

• The Tigers are 2-1 all-time in the PIAA postseason. In 2016, they beat Martinsburg Central in the semifinals, 14-7, and then defeated Middletown in the PIAA 2A championship game, 30-13. Beaver Falls lost to Wilmington in the 2020 semifinals, 20-18.

• The Bulldogs are 5-4 in the state football playoffs, with seven of the nine games coming in the last three years. Westinghouse had three wins last year over Central Clarion, Farrell and Steel Valley and two more this season against Central Clarion and Farrell. The four losses were to Sharon in 1995, Greenville in 1996, Farrell in 2021 and Southern Columbia in the 2022 PIAA 2A championship game.

• Beaver Falls is 15-0-1 against Pittsburgh City League teams with five of those victories coming against Schenley. Westinghouse is 62-54-14 against WPIAL teams, including a record of 8-7-4 against teams from Beaver County.

PIAA A semifinals

Fort Cherry (14-0) vs. Redbank Valley (12-1)

7 p.m. Friday, Paulekas Stadium at Farrell

Coaches: Tanner Garry, Fort Cherry; Blane Gold, Redbank Valley

2023 district playoffs: Fort Cherry defeated Jefferson-Morgan in the first round, Rochester in the quarterfinals, Bishop Canevin in the semifinals and South Side in the WPIAL championship game; Redbank Valley defeated Coudersport in the semifinals and Port Allegany in the District 9 championship game

Last week: Fort Cherry 42, South Side 28; Redbank Valley 44, Cambridge Springs 0

Up next: The winner advances to the PIAA A championship game next Thursday at Cumberland Valley to battle the winner of Steelton-Highspire against South Williamsport

Players to watch: Matt Sieg, Fort Cherry (Soph., 6-1, 170, QB); Braylon Wagner, Redbank Valley (Soph., 6-0, 160, QB/FS)

Team notes

Fort Cherry: The Rangers were in full celebration mode last weekend as they remained perfect in capturing the school’s first WPIAL football championship. Sophomore quarterback Matt Sieg once again led the way with his arm and legs. He was 9 of 16 passing for 166 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 179 yards on 32 carries for two more scores in the 14-point win over South Side.

Redbank Valley: The Bulldogs defense has only allowed 20 points in three postseason wins, including a shutout of District 10 champion Cambridge Springs in the state quarterfinals last week. Sophomore quarterback Braylon Wagner missed the District 9 championship game win over Port Allegany due to injury but came back in a big way last week with 202 yards passing and four touchdowns.

Historic factoids

• This is the first meeting between Fort Cherry and Redbank Valley.

• This is the Rangers’ first PIAA football playoff game.

• The Bulldogs are 4-3 all-time in state postseason games. The wins have come in 2020 against Northern Bedford in the first round, 28-15, in 2021 against Northern Bedford in the quarterfinals, 21-14, followed by a victory over Bishop Canevin in the semifinals, 23-14, and over Cambridge Spring last week. The losses were to Wilmington in the 1996 first round, to Reynolds in the 2020 quarterfinals and to Bishop Guilfoyle in the 2021 Class A championship game, 21-14.

• Fort Cherry is 1-0 against District 9 teams all-time, beating Brockway in 2013, 59-34. Redbank Valley is 14-29-4 all-time against WPIAL teams, including a 2-10 record against Kittanning.

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