What to watch in Week 8: Small-school Aliquippa enters 4A playoffs as top seed

Friday, October 30, 2020 | 3:01 PM

The No. 1 seed in WPIAL Class 4A football is one of the smallest schools in the WPIAL.

“I don’t want people to forget that,” Aliquippa coach Mike Warfield said. “Just because we won some games, it’s still not right. It’s still not fair. We’re a Single-A school.”

Aliquippa hosts Hampton in a WPIAL quarterfinal at 7 p.m. Friday.

The Quips voluntarily played the past four seasons in Class 3A, but the PIAA competitive-balance ruled forced them up another classification. They made the transition look easy by outscoring teams 341-82 and finishing 7-0 overall, 5-0 in the Parkway.

“I don’t want us being the No. 1 seed to give them an excuse to say we should be in 4A,” Warfield said.

The competitive-balance rule targets teams that added transfers and experienced state playoff success.

The PIAA counts boys in grades 9-11 to determine a football team’s classification. Aliquippa had 117, well below the 129-person cutoff for Class A.

Class 4A includes teams with 275 to 398 boys. Hampton has 350.

The Quips don’t have many substitutes, Warfield said. An injury or two at the wrong position could doom their season.

“We’ve played teams that have doubled our enrollment and even tripled our enrollment,” Warfield said. “I don’t think there’s a school in the country that’s been forced to play up three classes. They’re always preaching about mental and physical welfare of kids — but not ours.”

Yet, the Quips won’t use that as an excuse, he said. The team has reached the WPIAL finals 12 years in a row.

“We try to show up every Friday at 7 and play the best we can,” Warfield said. “The kids are committed to playing football. They love playing football. I’m proud of them. They didn’t complain about it, even though we all know it’s wrong.”

Back to Beaver Falls

When Western Beaver coach Ryan Matsook looks across the field Friday night, it might feel for a moment like he’s on the wrong sideline.

His Golden Beavers drew a matchup with top-seeded Beaver Falls in the WPIAL Class 2A quarterfinals at Geneva College’s Reeves Field.

Matsook coached Beaver Falls for 11 seasons and many of the current Tigers coaches were assistants on his staff there. That includes Beaver Falls head coach Nick Nardone.

The two head coaches talked early this week.

“I told him, don’t make your week about me and I won’t make my week about you,” Matsook said. “It’s really about the kids on the field.”

No. 8 seed Western Beaver went 6-1 this year in Matsook’s first and only season as coach. He recently accepted an administrator job at Moon, so he’ll return to coaching retirement.

This matchup against old friends is difficult, he said.

“If you win, you’ll have a heavy heart for them and I would think vice versa,” Matsook said. “We spent a lot of time together and won a lot of games.”

Matsook resigned at Beaver Falls after winning WPIAL and PIAA titles in 2016, leaving with a career record of 101-26 and three WPIAL championship appearances.

Is this football weather?

It’s late October and the weather forecast has turned cold.

WPIAL football teams enjoyed a string of warm Friday nights during the regular season including a couple of 70 degree temperatures at kickoff. Not this week. Weather forecasts predict a high near 40 when the WPIAL playoff games kick off at 7 p.m. with temperatures falling into the 30s.

One game was relocated because of Thursday’s rain. Clairton’s home game against Our Lady of the Sacred Heart was moved to Norwin.

Undefeated underdogs

Serra Catholic enters the playoffs with a four-game winning streak, but it’s hard to say the Eagles have much momentum.

The team last played Oct. 9.

Coronavirus shutdowns made this a start-and-stop season for many WPIAL teams, an experience Serra Catholic understands all too well. The No. 7 seed Eagles visit No. 2 McGuffey Friday in the Class 2A quarterfinals.

Serra Catholic (4-0) missed its Week 1 game against Steel Valley over covid-19 concerns, and then was forced to cancel Week 8 against Apollo-Ridge as well. Its would-be Week 9 opponent, Summit Academy, opted out of its schedule before the season, so Jose Regus’ team hasn’t played a game for 20 days.

That leaves the talented Eagles as one of the biggest question marks entering the tournament.

Gateway in Class 5A is the only other team to make the WPIAL playoffs after playing only four games.

New names in Class 4A

Aliquippa isn’t the only newcomer in the Class 4A playoffs. Remarkably, six teams in the eight-team playoff bracket played in a different classification last season.

Chartiers Valley, Hampton, Mars, McKeesport and Plum were Class 5A teams a year ago. All five moved down in the newest PIAA realignment. The move arguably benefited Chartiers Valley, Hampton and Plum the most. Those three teams went 7-23 combined last season in 5A.

McKeesport went 9-4 last season and Mars was 6-5.

Thomas Jefferson and Belle Vernon, the WPIAL Class 4A finalists from last year, are the only holdovers in the 4A playoff field. TJ is the defending WPIAL and PIAA champion.

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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