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WPIAL Class 5A breakdown: Competition strong top to bottom

September 3, 2018

When Quad-A football was introduced in the 1980s, the WPIAL decided to go with the 16 largest schools in Division I and the next 16 in Division II.

The two Quad-A Division I conferences had some outstanding teams, and many coaches felt they had the toughest conferences in the state.

Coaches in WPIAL Class 5A are making that same argument.

“Is there any division better top to bottom than ours? I don’t think so,” West Allegheny coach Bob Palko said. “With Penn Hills, Peters Township, Shaler and Bethel Park dropping from Class 6A, and Mars and Albert Gallatin coming up from 4A, our three conferences are unbelievably strong.”

Franklin Regional coach Greg Botta added: “It’s crazy the amount of good teams in Class 5A. It’s going to be a lot of fun watching things unfold week-to-week. There won’t be many easy games. I’m glad the WPIAL expanded the playoffs to 16 teams.”

The tradeoff for the expansion is losing the title game at Heinz Field.

Because of scheduling, the WPIAL Class 5A title game will be played at Norwin.

Gateway, which won the 2017 WPIAL Class 5A title by defeating Penn-Trafford, advanced to the PIAA championship game in Hershey before falling to Archbishop Wood.

The Gators return numerous players from that squad, including wide receiver Courtney Jackson and running back Derrick Davis.

Gateway’s biggest loss to graduation was quarterback Brady Walker, who completed 299 of 470 passes for 4,657 yards and 45 touchdowns. Jackson caught 96 passes for 1,916 yards and 27 touchdowns, and Jeremiah Josephs caught 53 passes for 582 yards and six touchdowns. Davis rushed for 439 yards, caught 35 passes for 480 yards and scored 11 touchdowns.

Penn Hills, which lost in the Class 6A semifinals, is expected to be a top challenger with five Division I recruits on the team -- quarterback Hollis Mathis, receiver Daequan Hardy, running back Tank Smith, receiver Dante Cephas and defensive back Corey Thomas.

“We have a nice nucleus returning,” Penn Hills coach Jon LeDonne said. “But this is a new year, and you have to go out and play. There are a lot of tradition-rich programs in Class 5A. Every conference has good teams.”

Peters Township qualified for the Class 6A playoffs in 2017, led by junior running back Adrian Williams, who rushed for 486 yards and three touchdowns as a sophomore, and junior wide receiver Josh Casilli, who caught a team-high 29 passes for 485 yards and five touchdowns.

“It’s unbelievable how good teams are getting in 5A,” Botta said. “There will be a lot of darn good football played every week. The key is staying healthy.”

Franklin Regional graduated a lot of players from last season’s team, but Botta said because of injuries a lot of young players got valuable playing time.

Botta and P-T coach John Ruane said some teams that haven’t had good seasons recently are going to be better.

“I expect Connellsville and Latrobe to be much improved in our conference,” Botta said. “I’m looking forward to the battles.”

THE FAVORITE

1. Gateway (14-2)

The Gators won the WPIAL Class 5A title in 2017 and made it to the PIAA championship game but fell to Archbishop Wood. Gateway returns highly-recruited wide receiver Courtney Jackson, who caught 96 passes for 1,916 yards and 27 touchdowns, but the Gators must find a new quarterback after the graduation of Brady Walker. Sophomore running back Derrick Davis will get a lot of touches in the Gateway offense.

Preseason rankings

2. Penn Hills (8-4)

3. Peters Township (7-4)

4. McKeesport (8-3)

5. Upper St. Clair (8-4)

THE STARS

Dimitri George

Penn-Trafford, sr., WR/DB

The 5-foot-10, 175-pound senior led the Warriors in receiving with 30 catches for 406 yards and three touchdowns. He’s also and talented defensive back and solid tackler.

Trent Holler

Latrobe, sr., C/DE

The 6-3, 290-pound center/defensive end has picked up numerous offers this summer, including ones from Pitt and West Virginia. Holler has turned himself into a tough and physical force in the trenches.

Courtney Jackson

Gateway, sr., WR/DB

The 5-11 Syracuse commit had 96 catches for 1,916 yards and 27 touchdowns in 2017. He’s looking for a repeat performance in 2018.

Hollis Mathis

Penn Hills, sr., QB

The 6-1, 180-pound senior has committed to Howard. He completed 149 of 255 passes for 2,435 yards and 27 touchdowns in 2017 and concentrated on getting stronger in 2018.

Mateo Vandemia

West Allegheny, sr., TE/DE

The 6-1, 230-pound senior, who mainly has been used as a pass-catching tight end the past two seasons, will see time at running back, quarterback and H-back this season. He also plays defensive end. He caught 30 passes for 418 yards in 2017 and had 34 grabs for 565 yards in ’16. He has 11 career touchdowns.

DON’T MISS GAMES

8.31 Peters Township at Upper St. Clair

The Indians made the Class 6A playoffs in 2017, and they will get a test right away in 5A against the always-talented Panthers, coached by Jim Render.

9.14 Penn-Trafford at McKeesport

Two unique offenses meet in this conference battle. The Tigers run a triple-threat offense that is 95 percent run, while the Warriors will show a little of everything with balance.

9.28 Woodland Hills at West Allegheny

The Indians have dominated this rivalry the past few seasons, winning four of five games. West A won 7-0 last season, but the Wolverines have something to prove under second-year coach Tim Bostard.

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