Playoffs! W-Zone predicts WPIAL first round games
The W-Zone predictions are back! The first round of games are nearly upon us as the 2018 WPIAL High School Football Playoffs begin. We will have all the coverage from all the games across all classifications. Check in during Friday night for score updates and finals from across Western PA. Check out the W-Zone’s predictions for each game below.
6A classification this year is at its thinnest in a long time for the WPIAL, only having 9 total teams. With that in mind, the WPIAL committee agreed on only taking the top 6 teams with the first place and second place team getting first round byes. This year almost followed similar to last year’s regular season, except for one game - Pine-Richland @ North Allegheny. Pine-Richland had the first score on the night, NA shut out the Rams to get a 27-7 win in Week 9, but also clinched the first place seeding. It’s a little weird from the 3rd seed to the 5th seed (Mt. Lebanon, Central Catholic, and Seneca Valley) as Seneca Valley beat Mt. Lebanon, but lost to Central Catholic while Mt. Lebanon beat Central Catholic, so the three teams will battle for a possible chance at the higher seeds in the second round.
Safe Pick: North Allegheny - Expect there to be competition, setting up for another North Allegheny vs. Pine-Richland game. The score may be different, but the safe pick on this one is to choose North Allegheny to go all the way and win the title.
On the Rise: Seneca Valley - has been playing very well lately, losing only three games on the season (North Allegheny, Pine-Richland, and Central Catholic). The Raiders rely a lot on their defense as they should, giving up a conference low 9 points per game.
 North Allegheny (10-0) - Bye
 Pine-Richland (8-2) - Bye
 Canon-McMillan (4-5) @  Mt. Lebanon (5-5)
Prediction: Mt. Lebanon
 Seneca Valley (7-3) @  Central Catholic (7-3)
Prediction: Seneca Valley
5A classification has two teams that separate themselves from the rest - Gateway and Penn Hills. Both teams are undefeated and rely on powerful offenses. At the same time, the Gators defense kept teams to under 10 points per game except once (gave up 19) and shut out five teams. No doubt that most fans are pulling for a Gateway - Penn Hills final, but there are some teams out there that can play spoilers.
Safe Pick: Gateway - Everything on paper says that 5A will finish with the #1 seed and #2 seed in the finals. Both teams are undefeated. Both teams put up points. Both teams have skill players all over the place and have dominated their opponents all season long. The X factor in this one has to be the Gators defense - allowing only 43 points on the year or just over 4 points per game. Shutting out five opponents on the season, it’s an easy pick to not only choose Gateway to go to the finals, but also to win it all…and in a dominating way.
On the Rise: Penn-Trafford - Penn-Trafford started the season 0-2 with a loss to Norwin 44-36 followed by a loss to #1 seed Gateway 27-7. Since then, the Warriors have destroyed their opponents, only giving up more than 10 points once since the two losses (14 points given up vs. Franklin Regional). The Warriors also average almost 38 points per game, so expect Penn-Trafford to be a sleeper pick given the #6 seed.
 Kiski Area (3-7) @  Gateway (10-0)
 Franklin Regional (6-3) @  Bethel Park (6-3)
Prediction: Bethel Park
 Woodland Hills (4-6) @  Mars (9-1)
 Shaler (4-6) @  West Allegheny (7-2)
Prediction: West Allegheny
 Latrobe (4-6) @  Penn Hills (10-0)
Prediction: Penn Hills
 Upper St. Clair (8-2) @  McKeesport (8-2)
 Armstrong (5-5) @  Peters Township (8-2)
Prediction: Peters Township
 North Hills (6-4) @  Penn-Trafford (8-2)
4A Classification sends out only 8 teams into the playing field as only 2 conferences of 8 teams a piece make up 4A. Once again, the front leader is Thomas Jefferson, a team that went undefeated during the regular season while averaging over 50 points per game, the most by far in 4A. South Fayette continues their success in the WPIAL finishing the season 9-1 and earning the #2 seed. Belle Vernon emerged as power in the 4A class but more importantly went 8-1 in the Big Eight Conference that spots the #1 seed Gateway.
Safe Pick: Thomas Jefferson - The fact that TJ has averaged over 50 points per game at the 4A class level is insane. The Jaguars have weapons all over the offensive side while giving their defense much rest during the season. The Jaguars are also ranked fairly high in the state rankings, so expect several fans to choose TJ to go beyond just a WPIAL championship this season.
On the Rise: Belle Vernon - Belle Vernon finished the season 8-1 with the only blemish being to the #1 seed Jaguars 36-14 all the way back in Week 2. Belle Vernon has reeled off 7 straight wins since the loss to the Jaguars, while also blowing out teams. Belle-Vernon’s defense only gives up 9 points per game, just behind TJ. The only thing stopping Belle-Vernon is a quarterfinal date against Beaver. Beaver has been a sleeper all season long, losing three games with one of those coming at the hand of Blackhawk during the last week 14-13. This first round matchup is definitely one to key on during this Friday night.
 New Castle (5-5) @  Thomas Jefferson (9-0)
Prediction: Thomas Jefferson
 West Mifflin (5-5) @  Blackhawk (9-1)
 Greensburg Salem (4-6) @  South Fayette (9-1)
Prediction: South Fayette
 Beaver (7-3) @  Belle Vernon (8-1)
3A Classification may be the most “up-in-air” classification in the playoffs as each team (maybe other than Freeport) is peaking at the right moment. Aliquippa took one of the biggest upsets this past week to Central Valley, who have won 5 of the last 6 games. Aliquippa is still the favorite as most people think they will take the regular season loss to heart during the playoffs. Derry has become tough team the past three years, but have not gotten to the championship game in 3A. North Catholic has been winning games via defense the past couple weeks while only having one loss. And you cannot forget Elizabeth Forward who finished 8-1 on the season with the only loss a shutout to North Catholic 27-0. So expect some craziness during these quarterfinal matchups all night long.
Safe Pick: Aliquippa - Yeah no option here other than #1. Let’s be real…this team is built to win during the season no matter the situation. The fact that the team lost to Central Valley 14-6 with starters playing (some injuries did impact the game) is kinda worrying to some people. But no worry here…I think…the Quips will have an easy ride to the championship. Their toughest game may actually be another date with Beaver Falls (or EF) in the semifinals.
On the Rise: Tri-County West Teams - Let’s be real again…Ellwood City saw the impact of the likes of the Quips, Tigers, Warriors, and Quakers for two years. They all are no push-overs. So expect games to be very close during the night, and possibly could end on the last play of the game. However, the W-Zone will split between the two conferences and will lean on the Quips or Tigers to represent in the semifinal, the final, and the overall champion. But don’t be alarm if Central Valley pulls another huge upset along with Quaker Valley beating the Trojans.
 Freeport (5-4) @  Aliquippa (9-1)
 Elizabeth Forward (8-1) @  Beaver Falls (8-2)
Prediction: Beaver Falls
 Central Valley (5-5) @  Derry (9-1)
 Quaker Valley (5-4) @  North Catholic (9-1)
Prediction: North Catholic
2A Classification has possibly the best mystery of all the classifications. Will Shady Side Academy prevail as the #1 seed? Will the story book season of the Blue Devils from Burgettstown continue on? Will upset specialist Charleroi pull through in the end? Will Washington get back on track while taking the tough route through the playoffs? Will the Ironmen of Steel Valley show they are superior to all 2A teams? or will newcomers to the top playoff seeds Mohawk and Freedom spark some interesting games later on in the playoffs? So many questions…and so many more will remain unanswered until tomorrow’s games. The 2A classification has been all around with some teams trending upwards one week, and then falter the following.
Safe Pick: Steel Valley - Yes, Steel Valley is the safe pick here as the Ironmen have played for the championship game two years in a row…and could be three. The Ironmen have put up monster numbers on offense and some crazy stats on defense. Steel Valley has a bunch of skill players and are 100% athletic. The only loss on the season though…56-26 to #1 seed Shady Side. So with all that being said, it sounds like Shady Side has the one up on the Ironmen. But that was week three in the season and now we are in Week 10 of the WPIAL football season and it’s playoff season…so who knows what will happen, right???
On the Rise: Washington - The W-Zone wanted to go all out on #2 seed Burgettstown and what they have done all season long, but the problem with the Blue Devils was their schedule - it’s easy to say that the Blue Devils toughest game all year long was an out of conference game against Mohawk which they won 14-3, so hopefully the playoffs will prove the Blue Devils worthy of that #2 seed. But, the team on the rise has to be Washington. After that blowout game where they were upset by Charleroi in week 1 (64-33), the Prexies have rolled off 8 straight wins to finish the season 9-1 and record an underrated #6 seed. Their first round matchup will be a test too as they take on New Brighton - so if the Prexies win big early in the first few rounds I believe they are back on track. Only downfall? The Prexies have given up 36, 35, and 36 in the past three games. The upside? The Prexies have scored 70, 58, and 42 in those games.
 Serra Catholic (6-4) @  Shady Side Academy (9-0)
Prediction: Shady Side Academy
 McGuffey (8-2) @  South Side Beaver (7-3)
 Riverside (6-3) @  Charleroi (8-1)
 Seton LaSalle (5-5) @  Mohawk (8-2)
 East Allegheny (6-4) @  Burgettstown (9-0)
 Avonworth (7-3) @  Freedom (9-1)
 Beth-Center (7-3) @  Steel Valley (8-1)
Prediction: Steel Valley
 New Brighton (5-5) @  Washington (9-1)
A Classification, the last classification on our list, but definitely not our weakest on the list. A classification that has three conferences and takes the top 8, all the teams in the playoffs have a winning record. Jeannette is the clear favorite with only giving up 6 points per game on the season and finishing off yet another undefeated regular season. Clairton and OLSH will be heavy hitters down the road and will be favorited to meet each other before the title game. Most fans complain about the small teams and the discrepancy from the highs and lows, but the W-Zone feels different…class A is where usually the small, unknown stories all begin.
Safe Pick: Jeannette - Not even close on how safe this pick is at the class A level. Jeannette has only given up more than 10 points in four games and have not given up more than 14 on the season. Oh yeah…and they have wins against the #2 seed already, the #3 seed, and #6 seed - all teams that they could see again in the title. With that being said, take the Jayhawks…their experience, their talent, and their wins against the higher seeds (and dominate for that matter) will help this team prepare for each game during the playoffs.
On the Rise: Rochester - The W-Zone likes seeing even more local teams with success and quietly each year the Rams seem like a local team that is always there in the playoffs. Rochester comes into the playoffs 9-1, with the only blemish being to OLSH, and unfortunately it was not close. But, since that loss, the Rams have reeled off 6 straight commanding wins and will look to carry that success into the playoffs. Up first, West Greene. A good test for the Rams will be West Green. But if Rochester can get by, they will have a quick and tough test in the next round against Jeannette. Maybe, just maybe the Rams could possibly catch the Jayhawks sleeping.
 Monessen (7-2) @  Jeannette (10-0)
 Rochester (9-1) @  West Green (7-3)
 California (6-4) @  Clairton (8-1)
 Imani Christian (7-3) @  OLSH (9-1)