WPIAL Class 2A football breakdown: Beaver Falls emerges as Avonworth moves on

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Monday, September 7, 2020 | 9:01 PM


Most Class 2A coaches who hope to win a WPIAL championship this season were probably thinking it.

Leave it to irrepressible Seton LaSalle coach Mike Zmijanac to say it out loud.

“Avonworth, thank God, went to Triple-A,” he said.

The Antelopes were a true juggernaut last season, rolling through the Allegheny Conference undefeated and crushing four playoff foes, including also-unbeaten Washington in the championship game, to claim a WPIAL title. Avonworth is a growing district, however, and realignment sent the school to the Class 3A ranks.

Burgettstown, which went undefeated en route to the Three Rivers Conference title last season, also vacated the classification, bumping down to Class A.

Add in the fact that perennial contender Washington, the defending Century Conference champion, lost a tremendously accomplished class to graduation, and the door is open for a number of teams to make a run at a championship.

How many teams could reasonably kick off their opener thinking a trophy might be in their future? A dozen? Maybe more?

All those teams won’t make the playoffs, however. Because of coronavirus-related schedule changes, the 16-team playoff field in Class 2A has been slashed at least in half. If the PIAA elects to conduct a state tournament, the top two teams in each of Class 2A’s four conferences will qualify for the postseason. If there is no state tournament, only the conference champs will advance to the WPIAL playoffs.

“If we end up with only one team from each conference in the playoffs, there are going to be some really good teams sitting out,” South Side coach Luke Travelpiece said. “Even if you get two from each section, you’re going to have good teams sitting out this year.”

While the promotion of Avonworth had a profound effect on the Class 2A playoff picture, a pair of new arrivals might end up making a significant impact.

Beaver Falls joins the Midwestern Athletic Conference after going 8-2 in the regular season in Class 3A last year. The Tigers are led by the backfield tandem of Josh Hough and Shileak Livingston. Both ran for 1,000 yards last season. Both are at least 230 pounds. Would-be Class 2A tacklers might be in for a long season.

Ligonier Valley also is a newcomer to Class 2A, rejoining the WPIAL after a 50-year absence. All the Rams did the past four seasons was go 51-4 with four consecutive trips to the District 6 championship game, winning twice.

The Rams suffered massive losses to graduation — 11 of last year’s seniors are going on to play college ball — but their arrival will give the Allegheny Conference a fresh new look.

“They have a good program up there,” Steel Valley coach Ray Braszo said. “It’s never going to be an easy game.”

Paying too much attention to the shiny new additions to Class 2A might do a disservice to some of the teams that have been perennial contenders, though.

Washington, for example, was just as much of a juggernaut as Avonworth last year before the WPIAL championship game. In the regular season, the Prexies averaged 48.3 points per game, and a handful of dangerous skill players return.

McGuffey, meanwhile, has an experienced team that just might have what it takes to end the Prexies’ run of six straight conference titles.

Beyond Beaver Falls, the MAC looks like it will be a battle royal for limited playoff spots. Six of the conference’s eight teams finished with winning overall records last year, and there’s no reason to think this season will be different.

Neshannock, Freedom, New Brighton and Riverside will fight it out with Laurel, another dangerous newcomer jumping up from Class A.

THE FAVORITE

1. Beaver Falls (8-3)

The Tigers have been an elite Class 3A team over the past few years. In 2016, they won WPIAL and PIAA championships. Last year, their only regular season losses were to Aliquippa and Central Valley, the teams that ended up squaring off in the 3A title game. The backfield duo of Syracuse recruit Josh Hough and Shileak Livingston ran for a combined 2,380 yards and 35 touchdowns last season. It would be tough for a Class 6A defense to stop them, let alone a Class 2A opponent.

Preseason rankings

2. Washington (13-1)

3. McGuffey (9-3)

4. Riverside (8-4)

5. Freedom (8-4)

*2019 records

THE STARS

Dakari Bradford, WR, Western Beaver

A Lincoln Park student who plays for Western Beaver via a co-op, Bradford is a quarterback’s best friend, the prototypical red zone target at 6-5, 185 pounds. With good speed and a long stride, he can also turn a screen or slant into a big play. Bradford is returning after missing last season with a torn ACL.

Diontae Givens, LB, Sto-Rox

Givens is a bit of a throwback, a physical inside linebacker who can stop the run and deliver attitude-adjusting hits to ball carriers. The 6-foot, 225-pounder has a knack for creating turnovers as well. Givens moves up to the Class 2A level after helping Sto-Rox to the WPIAL Class A final last season. He has committed to Duquesne.

NyaSanu Greene II, RB, New Brighton

Greene and Hough are cousins, and the family resemblance isn’t hard to spot. Greene is also a big back, 6-3, 230 pounds, who likes to hit the hole quickly and run downhill. Greene might even be a little more versatile. He lines up in the slot on a regular basis on offense and has played all over the field on defense. His first Division I offer was an intriguing one, from Montana.

Josh Hough, RB, Beaver Falls

Hough is 6-foot-2, 245 pounds and he runs like it, often bowling over would-be tacklers with intense power, but he’s just as likely to hit a hole and speed away for a big play. He even lines up as a slot receiver from time to time. After running for 1,273 yards and 18 touchdowns last season, he committed to Syracuse, choosing from a list of schools offering scholarships that included Pitt and Kentucky.

Mitch Miles, OL/DL, Laurel

Is it possible a guard could have one of the most exciting highlight reels in the WPIAL? The 6-4, 295-pound Miles has put together a 20-minute video that shows off his athleticism and mean streak. It’s filled with him locking onto defenders, shoving them 10 or 15 yards down the field and planting them flat on their backs. The defending WPIAL Class AA heavyweight wrestling champ, Miles’ scholarship offers include Robert Morris and Duquesne.

DON’T MISS

Sept. 11: Ligonier Valley at Apollo-Ridge

The Rams won’t get to ease their way into a WPIAL schedule. Their opener is against all-around playmaker Klay Fitzroy and the Vikings. Apollo-Ridge could easily emerge as the favorite in the Allegheny Conference.

Sept. 11: Washington at McGuffey

Washington simply doesn’t lose conference games, but the Prexies are breaking in several new starters while McGuffey is bringing back an experienced team. This should be a hotly contested rivalry game.

Oct. 23: Neshannock at Beaver Falls

Neshannock is the defending MAC champ. Beaver Falls is the highly touted new kid on the block. By Week 7, both teams should be in playoff form.

THE PREVIEWS

Here are links to TribHSSN’s team-by-team previews for Class 2A.

Allegheny Conference

Apollo-Ridge

Ligonier Valley

Serra Catholic

Shady Side Academy

Steel Valley

Midwestern Athletic Conference

Beaver Falls

Ellwood City

Freedom

Laurel

Mohawk

Neshannock

New Brighton

Riverside

Century Conference

Beth-Center

Chartiers-Houston

Charleroi

Frazier

McGuffey

Washington

Waynesburg

Three Rivers Conference

Brentwood

Carlynton

Seton LaSalle

South Side

Sto-Rox

Western Beaver

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review Assistant Sports Editor. You can contact Jonathan by email at jbombulie@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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