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5 things to watch in the opening round of the WPIAL football playoffs

November 24, 2018

South Fayette could’ve rematched New Castle in the WPIAL football playoffs, and Greensburg Salem could’ve visited conference foe Thomas Jefferson for the second time.

Instead, the WPIAL avoided rematches.

The football steering committee had historically avoided first-round rematches between conference opponents but nixed that unwritten rule three seasons ago when the sport expanded to six classifications.

However, unwritten rules are easily restored.

The committee scheduled no first-round conference rematches in the WPIAL playoffs this season except the inevitable ones in Class 6A, where there’s only one conference. There were three conference rematches last season and five in 2016.

“We stayed away from that,” said football committee chairman Randy Rovesti, athletic director at Gateway.

In fact, Rovesti said the committee carried that approach a step farther at times and separated most conference-title contenders on opposite sides of the bracket.

In Class 4A, for example, Thomas Jefferson and Belle Vernon are split as seeds one and three, while South Fayette and Blackhawk are two and four.

That way, the conference rivals can’t meet until the finals.

In Class 2A, the WPIAL similarly separated Freedom from Mohawk, Charleroi from Washington, Shady Side Academy from Steel Valley and Burgettstown from South Side Beaver.

But the Class 3A bracket is an obvious exception.

The WPIAL placed Tri-County West co-champions Aliquippa and Beaver Falls on one side of the eight-team bracket, with Big East co-champions Derry and North Catholic on the other. They’re the top four seeds, so the WPIAL could have set up conference rematches in the semifinals.

This is an example of the committee’s adapted approach since six classifications, said WPIAL executive director Tim O’Malley.

“In the old days, we probably would have just automatically put Beaver Falls over on the right side away from Aliquippa,” O’Malley said, “and North Catholic away from Derry. But it was the opinion of the group that that’s the order in which they fell.”

Some on the committee thought that North Catholic was the second-best team in Class 3A after a strong finish, Rovesti said, so placing the Trojans on the same side as Aliquippa wouldn’t be right. But North Catholic had lost to Derry, 27-0, so the committee agreed to seed Derry second and North Catholic third.

2. WPIAL request respect, civility

The WPIAL pairings meeting is often time for mundane messages, like reminding teams that their bus drivers need to purchase a ticket.

But after a contentious fall that included racially charged accusations between member schools, O’Malley delivered a much different message to start Monday’s meeting.

His words weren’t scripted, instead O’Malley said he felt compelled to request respect and civility after a moment of silence for the victims of last week’s shooting in Squirrel Hill.

“There’s an incumbent responsibility in each of us in this room tonight as leaders in your school community to make sure that you exhibit acceptable behavior,” O’Malley said. “You’re a model for the kids and the parents who watch these games. How it is that you conduct yourself and what it is that you do is extremely important. Unsportsmanlike comments, behavior, insensitivity has absolutely no place in interscholastic athletics.”

The WPIAL held a hearing in September after the Penn Hills boys soccer team accused Connellsville of using racial slurs.

The two schools temporarily postponed contests against one another, but the conflict later reignited over the use of armed security.

3. Get off the lawn

The grass is always greener when it’s fake.

Almost all of the 38 WPIAL playoff games scheduled Friday will be played on artificial surfaces because a number of teams with grass fields found a temporary home.

Among them, Aliquippa moved its game to Ambridge, Jeannette moved to Hempfield, Clairton moved to Elizabeth Forward and West Greene moved to Waynesburg.

However, despite all the rain, Burgettstown, Derry, Mohawk and South Side Beaver plan to use their grass gridirons.

4. Throw caution to the wind

The WPIAL’s second- and third-leading passers will meet head-to-head Friday when No. 6 Imani Christian faces No. 3 Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.

Combined, Imani’s Israel Reed and OLSH’s Tyler Bradley have thrown for more than 5,000 yards this season. Reed has 2,587 yards and 29 touchdowns. Bradley has 2,571 and 33.

5. Week 1 all over again

There are two first-round rematches in Class 6A: Canon-McMillan visits Mt. Lebanon, and Central Catholic hosts Seneca Valley at Fox Chapel. But both were Aug. 31, so they surely seem like distant memories.

Two months have passed since Week 1.

Mt. Lebanon defeated Canon-McMillan, 43-29. Central Catholic defeated Seneca Valley, 20-14, at the Wolvarena.

Senior quarterback Seth Morgan was Mt. Lebo’s star, passing for 333 yards and four touchdowns. Central Catholic took an early lead on a 38-yard catch by Gavin Thomson, and then held on.

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