WPIAL Class 5A football breakdown: South Fayette, Pine-Richland face new challenges
Sunday, September 6, 2020 | 9:01 PM
How long has it been since South Fayette wasn’t a clear conference favorite?
That was probably nine years ago, back when the Lions’ senior quarterback would’ve been in third grade. They’ve gone undefeated in the conference every season since, running off a streak of 64 consecutive wins.
This year, there are no guarantees.
Not after South Fayette moved up to Class 5A, joining a classification suddenly crowded with recent WPIAL and PIAA champions.
“Last year, in a lot of games we were taken out at halftime,” said South Fayette senior quarterback Naman Alemada, the team’s returning 3,000-yard passer. “That probably won’t be the case this year, so it’s going to be fun to play a full four quarters.”
South Fayette won the WPIAL Class 4A title in 2018, but the Lions aren’t the only recent WPIAL champion joining 5A this fall. Also moving into the classification is Pine-Richland, which won WPIAL Class 6A titles in 2017 and ’18.
Those two WPIAL powers join a jam-packed classification that already includes defending champion Gateway and 2018 state champion Penn Hills.
“Class 6A was fun, but you played the same teams in the (regular season) that you’d end up seeing the in the championship,” Pine-Richland coach Eric Kasperowicz said. “From that perspective, it’s kind of neat to go out and play some new teams. Play your South Fayettes and Upper St. Clairs and Penn-Traffords and Gateways.
“It’s a great league and a lot of great coaches, so we’re excited to be a part of it.”
There are 18 teams in WPIAL Class 5A divided into three, six-team conferences. Either eight or four teams will qualify for the WPIAL playoffs, depending on which slimmed-down bracket is chosen for this fall. PIAA decisions about its state playoffs will ultimately decide the WPIAL playoff format.
Pine-Richland joins the Northeast, which includes Penn Hills, a two-time defending conference champion. The Indians haven’t lost a conference game since joining Class 5A in 2018.
The Big East has title contenders Gateway and Penn-Trafford among its five holdovers, and adds Woodland Hills.
South Fayette joins the Allegheny Six, a South Hills conference that appears unpredictable. A year ago, Peters Township and Moon tied for the conference title.
“In this conference here, you may be hard-pressed to find a team that’s undefeated,” South Fayette coach Joe Rossi said. “I think it’s going to be teams beating each other week by week and survival at the end.”
Thirteen of the 16 playoff teams from a year ago are back in Class 5A this season. Baldwin moved to Class 6A, and Mars and McKeesport dropped to 4A.
The idea of competitive games is enticing to many, including South Fayette’s quarterback. A year ago, the Lions outscored their conference foes 281-96.
“Peters, Upper St. Clair and Moon are definitely the top three (opponents) in our conference, and West A and Bethel and really good as well,” Alemada said. “With Pine moving down, you have Gateway, Pine, Penn Hills, Penn-Trafford. Class 5A is loaded, for sure.”
Looking at 5A now reminds Rossi of South Fayette’s schedules in 2009 and ’10.
“Every game was meaningful, and even so much more now,” Rossi said. “There aren’t a lot of teams in the league. Only having six league teams and the five league games, there’s not much room for error.”
1. Pine-Richland (10-2)
Last year’s WPIAL Class 6A runner-up has moved down to 5A with much of the 2019 lineup still intact. The Rams have a 30-person senior class that includes quarterback Cole Spencer and receiver Eli Jochem (71 receptions, 1,065 yards). The defense has Division I commits Miguel Jackson and Luke Miller.
2. Gateway (12-3)
3. Peters Township (12-2)
4. Upper St. Clair (7-5)
5. South Fayette (10-2)
*Records from 2019
Naman Alemada — South Fayette, sr., QB
The 6-foot-4 passer ranked second among all WPIAL quarterbacks last season with 3,004 yards. He threw 32 touchdowns. He’ll once again lead a potent South Fayette passing attack that has three receivers with Division I offers: Charley Rossi, Joey Audia and Ryan McGuire.
Derrick Davis — Gateway, sr., RB/DB
Davis had more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage and scored 28 touchdowns for the WPIAL Class 5A champion. His big-play ability led to eight TDs longer than 50 yards. Davis is the WPIAL’s top uncommitted recruit for 2021. He announced a Top 7 with Pitt, Penn State, Clemson, Georgia, LSU, Ohio State and USC.
Donovan McMillon — Peters Township, sr., WR/DB
McMillon committed to Florida over offers from Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas A&M and Virginia Tech. He was a defensive standout last season at safety but is expected to be a big-time contributor on both sides of the football this fall.
David Pantelis — Upper St. Clair, sr., WR/DB
Pantelis led all WPIAL receivers with 76 receptions last season and averaged better than 15 yards per catch. He finished with 1,154 receiving yards and scored nine touchdowns. He and teammate Ethan Dahlem form one of the best QB-WR combos in the WPIAL.
Cole Spencer — Pine-Richland, sr., QB
Spencer threw 36 TDs last season — tied for most in the WPIAL — and nearly reached 3,000 passing yards. He finished six yards short. The two-sport standout also won a WPIAL wrestling title last winter and is committed to wrestle at Penn.
9.11 South Fayette at Peters Township
South Fayette doesn’t get to ease into its Allegheny Six schedule. The Lions open against the defending WPIAL runner-up. The conference looks unpredictable with Bethel Park, Moon, Upper St. Clair and West Allegheny included.
9.25 Gateway at Pine-Richland
The two top-ranked teams in WPIAL Class 5A meet in a nonconference clash. Combined, they’ve won four WPIAL titles in the past three seasons. Gateway won Class 5A in 2019 and ’17. Pine-Richland won 6A in 2018 and ’17.
10.2 Pine-Richland at Penn Hills
Don’t forget about Penn Hills. The Indians haven’t lost a conference game since joining Class 5A in 2018. They’re 14-0 in two seasons, but now Pine-Richland joins them. The conference title could be decided here.
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .
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