WPIAL football committee’s choices leave ‘sour taste’ for some coaches

Sunday, October 25, 2020 | 12:54 AM

After Avonworth’s regular-season finale was canceled because of coronavirus concerns, football coach Duke Johncour told his players to start preparing for any number of playoff scenarios.

“This was obviously worst case,” Johncour said Saturday night, when the WPIAL released its playoff pairings and the Antelopes weren’t included in the Class 3A bracket.

“It’s frustrating. I think we’re better than three of the teams that are in.”

The coronavirus pandemic made this year’s selection process different than in years past because canceled games made traditional tie-breaker formulas ineffective.

As a result, in some cases, the WPIAL football committee was responsible for deciding which teams qualified and which didn’t — a subjective system sure to draw scrutiny.

Johncour was surprised when the WPIAL excluded Avonworth (4-2, 3-1) from the playoffs and included Mt. Pleasant (4-3, 4-2) and South Park (4-3, 4-2), who tied for second in the Interstate Conference. Avonworth, the WPIAL Class 2A champion last season, tied for second in the Northwestern Six.

“There’s a sour taste in my mouth for sure,” Johncour said. “I know there are a lot of teams who’ve had complaints and gripes over the years. It’s just unfortunate we’re on that side of it this year.”

His Antelopes weren’t alone. Count Montour, New Brighton and Carmichaels among teams whose seasons ended when the committee skipped them.

Yet, among the six brackets, Class 3A likely drew the most pushback. WPIAL executive director Amy Scheuneman said the committee’s decisions in Class 3A were based on “the body of work” by each team.

Mt. Pleasant was 4-1 before consecutive losses to Elizabeth Forward, 16-14, and South Park, 30-19, in Weeks 6 and 7.

The Vikings “put up good fights in a lot of tough contests,” Scheuneman said. “The committee felt that they deserved that chance (to compete in the playoffs).”

There was no real disagreement about the top four seeds, which were awarded to Central Valley, North Catholic, Elizabeth Forward and Keystone Oaks.

But the bottom four seeds left some coaches unhappy after the committee seeded South Park fifth, Freeport sixth, Mt. Pleasant seventh and East Allegheny eighth.

That included East Allegheny coach Dom Pecora, whose one-loss team was matched with defending champion Central Valley.

“If I was that bad at making pizza, I would have been out of business,” said Pecora, who owns a restaurant in Trafford. “There is nothing you could possibly say to put multiple three-loss teams ahead of us.”

Scheuneman said the committee avoided first-round conference rematches, so neither East Allegheny nor Freeport could be seeded seventh opposite North Catholic.

“I don’t know if the committee felt they were high enough to be five,” she said. “You have to separate them somehow.”

East Allegheny (5-1, 3-1) and Freeport (3-2, 3-1) tied for second in the Allegheny Seven. Their head-to-head matchup in Week 5 was canceled when Freeport shut down for covid-19 cases, leaving the WPIAL committee to decide second and third in the conference.

The committee seeded Freeport sixth, which Pecora accepted. But he didn’t quietly accept a spot behind Mt. Pleasant and South Park.

“Everybody wants to say the right thing all the time, the politically correct thing. I don’t,” Pecora said. “That’s not me. … They lost not one, not two, but three games — and some of their losses are to teams that didn’t make the playoffs.”

East Allegheny’s loss was to North Catholic, 35-14, in Week 3.

“We’ll go play the Steelers tomorrow if you ask me to,” Pecora said. “I don’t care. It’s not about us being scared. It’s just about being really bad at your job.”

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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