Trib HSSN 2023 Head of the Class: Football coaches of the year in all 6 classes

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Sunday, December 17, 2023 | 8:45 PM


The 2023 WPIAL football season stood out for many reasons, including so many quick turnaround seasons by several district programs.

A tip of the coaching cap to:

• Ryan Linn of Moon, as the Tigers went from 1-9 last season to 6-6 and a semifinals berth this year.

• Sam Albert of Kiski Area, as the Cavaliers finished 1-9 last season and 5-6 with a playoff berth this fall.

• Tim Burchett of Knoch, as the Knights improved from 1-9 a year ago to 8-3 this year and a second-place finish in the Class 3A Allegheny Conference.

• Tim Burk of Deer Lakes, as the Lancers improved from 4-7 to 8-4 this fall and earned their first playoff victory.

• Tim Storino of Seton LaSalle, who led the Rebels from a 0-10 finish last year to 5-5 this season.

• LaRoi Johnson of Imani Christian, as the Saints came marching in from 4-6 last year to 8-3 with one game postponed and a spot in the 2A quarterfinals.

• Mike Arone of Derry, as the Trojans went from winless in 2022 to 5-6 this season with a trip to the district playoffs.

• Aaron Giorgi of Waynesburg Central, as the Raiders went from 0-10 a year ago to 7-4 and a playoff berth this season.

• Beau Jackson of West Greene, as the Pioneers went from 2-8 in 2022 to 8-3 with a postseason berth in 2023 in the coach’s first season.

Speaking of the rookies, there was success earned by some of the first-year coaches this season, including Ryan Lehmeier of 6A regular-season champion Central Catholic, Chris Rizzo of Greater Allegheny runner-up North Catholic and John DeMarco of Interstate Conference runner-up Elizabeth Forward.

However, when it comes to the 2023 head of the class, it has been reserved for the golden boys.

The seven area champion coaches, six of whom took their teams to the state championship game as well, have earned Trib HSSN Coach of the Year honors in their classification with more gold coming their way in the form of a gold star on their foreheads.

Class 6A

Coach of the Year: Art Walker, North Allegheny

At the start of the 2023 season, WPIAL Class 6A looked like it would be a two-team race for the district crown between the two finalists from 2022 — defending champion North Allegheny and Central Catholic. Following a one-sided Week 4 loss by the Tigers to the Vikings, 50-22, it appeared as if the chase for gold would be a runaway for Central Catholic. As expected, it came down to the two rivals in the final again, but it was North Allegheny raising gold for a second straight year as coach Art Walker’s squad won in a thriller, 44-41. NA would win twice in the PIAA postseason to advance to the title game, but ran into a machine named St. Joseph’s Prep, that ended the Tigers’ season and their nine-game win streak.

Class 5A

Coach of the Year: T.J. Plack, Peters Township

Known more for their success on the pitch rather than the football field, the Peters Township program started changing that narrative by becoming legit football contenders between 2018-21. The Indians took a little step back in 2022, finishing 6-4 and missing the 5A postseason. That all changed big time this fall when coach T.J. Plack rolled the dice and went from a seasoned quarterback to an unproven sophomore signal-caller. It paid off for both quarterback Nolan DiLucia and the Indians as they enjoyed their best season at 15-1, which included their first WPIAL championship when they rolled past defending winner Pine-Richland in the district finals, then finished with PIAA silver.

Class 4A

Coach of the Year: Mike Warfield, Aliquippa

There were many questions prior to the 2020 season after the new PIAA competitive balance rule forced Aliquippa to play three classifications higher than where enrollment dictated. The Quips had Class A numbers but were forced to play in Class 4A. Could the Quips continue to compete week after week against rosters twice their size? Four years later, the little black and red engine that could is now draped with gold. Coach Mike Warfield kept his team sharp and focused and since moving to 4A, all they have done is play in four straight WPIAL title games (16 in a row overall) and win three in a row in ’21, ’22 and this fall. Plus, they have appeared in three straight PIAA championship games and have won two, including capping off the program’s first undefeated state championship season with a 46-point victory in the PIAA final.

Class 3A

Coach of the Year: Matt Humbert, Belle Vernon

History books are littered with teams that were expected to win, but for whatever reason — bad play, bad luck or bad injuries — they did not win it all. So there is something to be said for a team with high expectations and a bulls-eye square in the middle of their chest that go out and take care of business. Coming off a sweep of district and state gold last season, Belle Vernon was expected to win in 3A this season and pulled off the double title run again. While coach Matt Humbert’s offense gets a lot of love and acknowledgement and, rightly so, it was the BVA defense that was dynamite throughout the two title runs, allowing 130 points for an average of 9.2 points per game and limiting the opposition to 37 total points in five playoff victories.

Class 2A

Coach of the Year: Nick Nardone, Beaver Falls

Beaver Falls has been a dominant force in the WPIAL Class 2A football landscape this decade. The Tigers won the district championship in 2020 and lost in the finals the last two seasons, to Serra Catholic in 2021 and to Steel Valley in 2022. However, when the Tigers lost to Western Beaver in the final game of the regular season this fall, falling to fourth place in the Midwestern Athletic Conference, few gave coach Nick Nardone’s squad a chance to make it back to the finals for a fourth straight season. Playing as the No. 10 seed, Beaver Falls won close games over Keystone Oaks, Neshannock, Washington and finally Steel Valley to win the program’s sixth and most unexpected WPIAL championship. The Tigers’ season ended in the state semifinals with a loss to City League champion Westinghouse.

Class A

Coach of the Year: Tanner Garry, Fort Cherry

Thanks to a fabulous freshman quarterback named Matt Sieg, Fort Cherry enjoyed a good season in 2022 when it finished 8-4 and won a playoff game before losing to Rochester in the quarterfinals. So there was a sense the Rangers would be a contender this season, but they cranked up the volume and took the program to a level it had never reached. Fort Cherry finished the regular season undefeated and won four straight district playoff games, including a victory over South Side in the WPIAL finals to capture the school’s first district football championship. Another first was playing in and winning a PIAA playoff game and appearing in the state title game. That is when the winning ended and coach Tanner Garry’s team lost to Steelton-Highspire to settle for state silver and a 15-1 record.

City League

Coach of the Year: Donta Green, Westinghouse

Westinghouse coach Danta Green proved this fall that the Bulldogs’ breakout 2022 season was no fluke. Last year, Westinghouse became the first District 8 school to have success in the PIAA postseason and reach the state championship game in 25 years since Perry lost to Berwick in the 1997 Class 3A final. The Bulldogs came up short in the 2022 Class 2A title game, falling to state power Southern Columbia. This season, the ‘House won another City League championship, won four PIAA playoff games, including a victory over the WPIAL 2A champ for a second straight year (beating Beaver Falls, 28-8) before losing in heartbreaking fashion to the defending champion Tigers again, 21-20.

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