WPIAL Class 3A football breakdown: Belle Vernon leads new-look field of contenders

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Saturday, August 20, 2022 | 12:01 AM


A changing of the guard in WPIAL Class 3A football will occur in 2022 and Belle Vernon, a Class 4A finalist last year, is favored to be the top team to replace three-time WPIAL champion Central Valley.

That’s because Central Valley is moving up to Class 4A after dominating Class 3A.

With the new enrollment figures for the 2022-2023 seasons, major changes in classifications have occurred.

Moving out of Class 3A along with Central Valley are North Catholic and Ambridge to Class 4A and Burrell, Yough, Keystone Oaks and Derry to Class 2A. Brownsville will now compete as an independent.

Moving down to Class 3A along with Belle Vernon are Greensburg Salem, West Mifflin, Knoch and Beaver, while moving up from Class 2A are Shady Side Academy and Seton LaSalle.

Led by junior running back Quinton Martin, the Leopards return seven starters on offense and six on defense and appear to be the team to beat.

Other two-way starters back for Belle Vernon include lineman Steve Macheska, wide receiver/linebacker Chase Ruokonen, running back/linebacker Jake Gedekoh and wide receiver/defensive back Evan Pohlot. Other returning starters are lineman Dane Levi, wide receiver Tanner Steeber and linebacker Tanner Moody.

Challenging Belle Vernon in the Interstate Conference will be Class 3A semifinalist Elizabeth Forward, which returns numerous starters including quarterback Zion White, tight end John DiNapoli and running Zach Boyd.

Avonworth, which also lost in the Class 3A semifinals, returns quarterback Nate Harper and tight end Peyton Faulkner. The Antelopes are favored to win the Western Hills Conference.

Beaver, which returns five offensive starters and six defensive starters, should challenge Avonworth in the conference.

Freeport, with star quarterback Ben Lane back, looks to be the best team in the Allegheny Six Conference. Shady Side Academy and newcomer Knoch could make noise.

Greensburg Salem returns wide-receiver-turned-quarterback Cody Rubrecht and three starting offensive lineman.

The Interstate Conference, with Mt. Pleasant, Southmoreland and South Allegheny, looks to be very competitive.

THE FAVORITE

1. Belle Vernon (10-1)

The Leopards reached the WPIAL Class 4A finals in 2021 and have been a perennial power. Now, because of a decline in enrollment, the Leopards find themselves the team to beat in Class 3A since two-time PIAA champion Central Valley moved up. The Leopards return numerous starters including one of the top players in the state, running back Quinton Martin.

Preseason rankings

2. Avonworth (9-3)

3. Elizabeth Forward (9-3)

4. Beaver (7-3)

5. Freeport (6-5)

*2021 records

THE STARS

Quinton Martin

Belle Vernon, Jr., RB/DB

The Leopards junior will be counted on to lead the offense. The 6-foot-3 athlete has numerous NCAA Division I offers. He rushed for 428 yards and six touchdowns and had six catches for 119 yards and two scores as a sophomore.

Cody Rubrecht

Greensburg Salem, Sr., QB/S

One of the top wide receivers in the WPIAL will be moving to quarterback his senior season. Rubrecht caught 48 passes for 1,010 yards and 13 touchdowns as a junior. He ran the Wildcat a few times last season and rushed for 85 yards.

Dashawn Carter

South Allegheny, Sr., DE

The Gladiators’ top defender was an all-Interstate Conference first team defensive end. He followed a good sophomore season by garnering 14 quarterback sacks and 17 tackles for losses as a junior. He committed to play at Youngstown State.

Peyton Faulkner

Avonworth, Sr., TE/DE

The senior is ranked the third-best tight end the state after catching 32 passes for 356 yards and five touchdowns as a junior. He will be the main target of quarterback Nate Harper. He’s also an outstanding defensive end.

Ben Lane

Freeport, Sr., QB/DB

Lane had another banner season for the Yellowjackets. He completed 46 of 101 passes for 464 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for a team-high 556 yards and scored nine touchdowns.

DON’T MISS

Sept. 23: Belle Vernon at Thomas Jefferson

This may be a nonconference game, but the rivalry continues as they prep for conference play the following week. Belle Vernon and Thomas Jefferson played twice in 2021 and the Leopards won both meetings, including a 21-7 decision in the WPIAL Class 4A semifinals.

Oct. 7: Beaver at Avonworth

The Western Hills Conference title could be on the line when these teams collide in early October. Both teams are coming off good seasons. Beaver is dropping to Class 4A following a 7-3 campaign. The Antelopes return quarterback Nate Harper and tight end Peyton Faulkner.

Oct. 14: Knoch at Freeport

These teams first played in 1966. They were neighborhood rivals for a few years before Knoch’s enrollment forced it up to a larger classification. The last time they played, Knoch won a 2005 playoff game, 14-7.

Oct. 28: Belle Vernon at Elizabeth Forward

The Interstate Conference title could be up for grabs when these former Big 10 rivals meet in the final regular season game. Both teams have numerous starters returning. They have participated in scrimmage each other in the preseason the past few seasons, so there is familiarity.

Paul Schofield is a TribLive reporter covering high school and college sports and local golf. He joined the Trib in 1995 after spending 15 years at the Daily Courier in Connellsville, where he served as sports editor for 14 years. He can be reached at pschofield@triblive.com.

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