WPIAL Class 6A football breakdown: NA, Central Catholic cream of shrinking crop

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Sunday, September 6, 2020 | 9:01 PM


The expansion to six classifications four years ago has been a bonanza for many of the WPIAL classes. Close regular season battles for playoff berths have led to some nail-biting moments in the postseason.

That has not been the case for the WPIAL’s largest classification.

While the number of teams in Class 6A continues to shrink, the margin of victory in both the regular season and district playoffs is on the rise.

“The way I see it, 6A is not going anywhere because of the amount of 6A teams on the other side of the state,” North Allegheny coach Art Walker said. “So it is not a choice we can make.”

Here are some of the numbers to back up the shrinking class and the growing competitive imbalance.

In 2016 and 2017, Class 6A had 14 teams broken down into two seven-team conferences. The last two years, it was one nine-team conference. This year, there are only eight Class 6A teams, again battling in one conference.

Penn Hills, Peters Township, Bethel Park and Shaler dropped to 5A in the 2018 realignment, and Altoona returned to playing a District 6 schedule.

In the most recent alignment earlier this year, Pine-Richland fell to 5A, Butler school officials decided to play an independent schedule outside of the WPIAL and Baldwin is moving up from Class 5A.

But as the teams shrink, the competitive nature of games in Class 6A also is dwindling.

In 2016, there were 42 regular season conference games in Class 6A. The average margin of victory in those games was 21.1 points per game.

The winning margin was even greater in the 6A playoffs that season. In seven postseason games, the average margin of victory was 22.4 points, including a 42-7 win by Central Catholic over Seneca Valley in the first WPIAL 6A title game.

The regular-season numbers rose, but the playoff numbers went down in 2017 and 2018.

In 2017, the average margin of victory in the regular season was 24.7 but fell to 19.4 in the district playoffs.

In 2018, the average margin in the 36 regular season games was 23.9, while in the five WPIAL postseason games it shrunk to 16.4.

Last fall saw the highest numbers in average margin of victory in Class 6A in both the regular and postseason.

The regular season average was 29.1 points per game and the playoff margin of victory was 23.4. Only four out of 36 regular season games were decided by single digits. This despite the most competitive and by far the closest 6A district championship game in which Central Catholic edged Pine-Richland, 10-7, at Heinz Field.

“I wish we would go back to four classifications,” Mt. Lebanon coach Bob Palko said. “Six-A is not even close to the old Quad-A. (I’m) not a fan of six classifications.”

Once again this season, there appear to be gaps between the elite and the good teams and then the teams that might struggle.

With Pine-Richland now in Class 5A, Central Catholic and North Allegheny continue to be the class of the classification. Of the eight teams currently in 6A, the last time a team other than the Vikings or Tigers won a WPIAL football championship in the highest class was when Mt. Lebanon won district gold 20 years ago in 2000.

“As long as NA and Central are in 6A, Western Pennsylvania has a chance in the states,” said Palko, who is beginning his second year at Mt. Lebanon.

The Blue Devils and Seneca Valley are ready to battle to remain in the top half of the class.

The new kid on the block, coaching-wise, comes from the new team in the class this year in Baldwin.

The Highlanders got a taste of the postseason last year as they finished 5-6 overall. New coach Tim Sweeney knows it won’t be easy in moving up to 6A, but he only has one thing on his mind heading into this fall.

“Our focus is and needs to remain on Baldwin football and what we are trying to do,” he said.

Canon-McMillan is riding a two-year playoff streak after a nearly decade-long postseason drought. The Big Macs, Hempfield and Norwin have all had a taste of the WPIAL 6A playoffs within the last four years.

“I have a ton of respect for the programs we face in this league,” Canon-McMillan coach Michael Evans said. “We have to beat people to get respect. Anything else I say here doesn’t matter.”

THE FAVORITE

1. Central Catholic (12-2)

The Vikings return several key players from a WPIAL championship team a year ago that battled, but just came up short, in the state semifinals against one of the top teams in the country in St. Joseph’s Prep.

Preseason rankings

2. North Allegheny (10-2)

3. Seneca Valley (4-7)

4. Mt. Lebanon (7-5)

5. Baldwin (5-6)

THE STARS

Khalil Dinkins — North Allegheny, sr., WR/OLB

Khalil is the son of former City League standout Darnell Dinkins, who starred at Schenley in the mid 1990s before playing at Pitt and for five teams in an eight-year NFL career, including a year with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Khalil had nearly 400 yards in receptions for NA last year and averaged nearly 25 yards per catch.

Dorien Ford — Baldwin, sr., OT/DT

The last time a Baldwin player was as highly recruited as Ford was in 2006 when Jason Pinkston played at Pitt before a three-year NFL career in Cleveland. Rivals has Ford as the No. 25 defensive tackle in the country and the No. 10 senior in the state. Pitt, Penn State and West Virginia are among the many schools that have offered the lineman a scholarship.

Nate Hoke — North Allegheny, sr., LB/TE

The 6-foot-3, 225-pound inside linebacker committed this summer to BYU. He’s the son of former Steelers defensive lineman Chris Hoke, who also played for BYU. Hoke was a leader last season on a North Allegheny defense that allowed only 11.4 points per game. He made 69 tackles including 17 tackles for a loss.

Eddy Tillman — Central Catholic, sr., RB

Some schools have a history of great linebackers. Others are known for their quarterbacks. Central Catholic is the place for explosive, diminutive running backs. Following in the footsteps of Eugene Jarvis, Damion Jones-Moore and J.J. Younger, Tillman is only 5-foot-8, 165 pounds but can run like the wind. He rushed for 2,047 yards and scored 26 touchdowns in the Vikings’ run to WPIAL gold in 2019.

Ethan West — Seneca Valley, sr., RB/OLB

West was a dominant force on both sides of the ball for Seneca Valley in his junior year. He was an all-conference linebacker and led the team in both rushing and receiving. He averaged nearly seven yards per carry in gaining 516 yards on 75 carries last year and a whopping average of 15 yards per reception for 256 yards and five touchdowns.

DON’T MISS

Sept. 25: North Allegheny at Central Catholic

This game slated for Carnegie Mellon University might decide the Class 6A regular season champion. North Allegheny has won the last two meetings between the district powers, including a thrilling 11-10 victory last September.

Sept. 25: Canon-McMillan at Baldwin

If Central Catholic, North Allegheny, Mt. Lebanon and Seneca Valley do not lose their grip on the top half of 6A, this game could turn out to be huge to determine the “best of the rest.”

Oct. 23: Mt. Lebanon at Seneca Valley

The Blue Devils and Raiders met twice last year. Mt. Lebanon edged visiting Seneca Valley, 26-20, in Week 3, then the host Blue Devils won again in the 6A quarterfinals, 35-14.

THE PREVIEWS

Here are links to TribHSSN’s team-by-team previews for Class 6A.

Baldwin

Canon-McMillan

Central Catholic

Hempfield

Mt. Lebanon

North Allegheny

Norwin

Seneca Valley

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