Freeport, Kiski area face uphill climb vs. No. 1 seeds in football playoffs
Freeport and Kiski Area share one commonality as they prepare to begin the WPIAL football playoffs Friday: Both come in as significant underdogs.
The brackets revealed Monday night at the WPIAL’s annual playoff parings meeting in Green Tree listed both Alle-Kiski Valley postseason qualifiers as the lowest-seeded teams in their respective classifications. Freeport, the fourth-place team from the Class 3A Big East, received the No. 8 seed and a first-round matchup with No. 1 Aliquippa on Friday night at Ambridge. Kiski Area, Class 5A’s wild-card entrant after placing sixth in the Northern Conference, was slotted No. 16 in the bracket and will play at No. 1 Gateway.
Both games will begin at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
“To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best,” Freeport coach John Gaillot said after the bracket was revealed. “That’s how we feel. Every game means something to our coaches, our players and our program. So it’s going to be a big test, but I’m looking forward to playing them.”
Kiski Area coach Sam Albert didn’t attend the pairings meeting, instead holding his traditional pizza party for his team, but he expected a matchup against top-seeded Gateway, beginning to watch film on the Gators before the brackets even were revealed.
“It’s a great opportunity for our kids,” Albert said. “There are a lot of teams sitting home right now, collecting equipment, so we’re happy about that. The kids get to experience the playoffs, and we’re going to give everything we have.”
For both teams, the seeding didn’t come as much of a surprise. Freeport began the season with three consecutive losses in conference play, putting its playoff chances on the brink, but won its next five games to clinch its second postseason berth in a row. The Yellowjackets (5-4) closed the regular season last week with a nonconference loss to Knoch.
“It’s what we expected,” Gaillot said. “I’m just happy for our kids to be in the tournament. Aliquippa’s extremely well-coached and a great football team. It’s a big challenge for us, but we’ll get our kids ready to go.”
Kiski Area started the season 3-1 but lost its final six games of the regular season, including a 24-21 setback to Armstrong in Week 9. While the losing streak hampered the Cavaliers’ playoff chances, their early wins lifted them into the postseason as the wild-card team based on the WPIAL’s Gardner Points tiebreaker.
Albert, who looked up to legendary Kiski Area coach Dick Dilts in his younger days, now has led five schools to the WPIAL playoffs. Kiski Area last appeared in the playoffs in 2015 and is seeking its first win there since 1990.
“It’s just great for the program because the younger kids, your freshmen and sophomores, get to feel what it’s like to go that extra week,” Albert said. “We have a pairings meeting pizza party, and they get to experience that. That’s just great for your program. It’s a program builder. And they’ll experience what it’s like to play in the playoffs, and you hope to build off that.”
Playing the top seed comes as an enormous challenge, and the case is no different this season.
Aliquippa, which beat Freeport in the 2015 WPIAL semifinals, boasts one of the most talented teams in the WPIAL with three players already committed to Division I programs and two others with offers. The Quips (9-1) are coming off a Week 9 loss to Central Valley but outscored their opponents 504-47 this season. They have appeared in the WPIAL championship game for 10 consecutive seasons.
“We’ve just got to prepare our kids the best we possibly can,” Gaillot said. “I know they’ll bring everything they have. It doesn’t matter what the score is, win or loss, it’s how you compete. I expect us to be the class act that we always have been and put forth our best effort.”
Gateway (10-0) followed last season’s WPIAL championship with a dominant regular season, outscoring opponents by a 495-43 margin en route to a Big East Conference championship. The Gators’ closest margin of victory was 20 points.
It will be an uphill challenge for Freeport and Kiski Area, but neither is backing down.
“Anything can happen,” Albert said. “That’s why we play the game. We’re just happy for the opportunity.”