VALLEY NEWS DISPATCH • SUNDAY, AUGUST 21, 2022 • 5
Gateway’s Brad Birch threw for a WPIAL-best 2,623 yards last season.
NO ROOM FOR ERROR
Earning a WPIAL playoff spot
in Class 5A was never easy, but
the task becomes a little harder
That’s because the WPIAL
has shrunk the bracket from 12
teams to eight, meaning a team
with as few as two losses might
miss the playoffs. Only the top
two finishers in each conference
are assured playoff spots with
two third-place teams earning
So, there’s less room for error.
“It makes a difficult scenario
even more difficult,” said
Penn-Trafford coach John Ruane,
whose Warriors are defending
WPIAL and PIAA champions.
“You better come in first or
second to be guaranteed to get
in, and that’s no easy thing to
accomplish in any of the three
sections. They’re all stacked
with talented teams.”
Each team plays five conference
games. Woodland Hills
could have dropped to Class 3A
but voluntarily stayed in 5A.
A year ago, the third-place
teams from the Big East and
Allegheny Six conferences had
3-2 records. The Northeast had
a three-way tie for first place at
4-1. If that happened again this
year, tie-breaker formulas could
decide the qualifiers.
“It makes the regular season
games count a whole lot more
than they have,” Ruane said.
“You can definitely say there’s
some merit to that, but there’s
now a lot weighing on every
WPIAL Class 5A has 18 teams
and 44% of them will qualify for
the playoffs. That’s the lowest
percentage in any of the six classifications.
The five other classes
range from 55% in Class A to 80%
in Class 6A.
“I think 5A is loaded with a
tremendous amount of talent,”
South Fayette coach Joe Rossi
said. “There are going to be some
really good football teams sitting
at home come that first week in
November. You can’t have any
hiccups throughout the year.”
The WPIAL wanted to have a
12-team bracket like last season.
The updated state playoff brackets
are to blame for the change.
The WPIAL 5A champion enters
the state playoffs one round earlier
than last year, meaning the
WPIAL playoffs are limited to
three rounds and eight teams.
One other effect of the smaller
bracket is that the 5A championship
won’t be played at Acrisure
Instead, the WPIAL 5A and
6A finals will be held at a high
school stadium a week before the
4A, 3A, 2A and A finals.
“At the end of the day, I think
eight is enough,” Gateway coach
Don Holl said. “But it would be
cool if we played the next week
just to go to the stadium.”
In the Big East, Penn-Trafford
and Gateway are again likely
contenders, but they must face a
couple of newcomers from 6A in
Hempfield and Norwin.
A number of Allegheny Six
contenders were hit hard by
graduation including WPIAL
runner-up Moon, which had a
standout senior class last year.
Two of the top teams in the
Northeast have new coaches.
Pine-Richland hired Jon LeDonne
away from Penn Hills, which
replaced LeDonne with Charles
The classification is arguably
the WPIAL’s most competitive.
Five schools have won a WPIAL
5A title since 2016.
by CHRIS HARLAN
1. Gateway (7-4)
The Gators have won two
WPIAL titles in the past five
seasons and could contend for
another. They won in 2019 and
‘17. This year’s team is led by
junior quarterback Brad Birch,
who was the WPIAL’s top passer
a season ago. However, the
Gators also started last year as
preseason favorites before rival
Penn-Trafford upstaged them.
2. Penn-Trafford (13-2)
3. Penn Hills (8-4)
4. Pine-Richland (7-5)
5. Upper St. Clair (6-5)
* RECORDS FROM 2021
Upper St. Clair, Sr., WR/DB
Besselman caught 30 passes
and scored six touchdowns last
season, earning all-conference
honors at wide receiver. The
6-foot-2, 190-pounder has close
to 20 Division I offers, including
much of the Ivy League.
Gateway, Jr., QB
Birch (6-2, 180) led all quarterbacks
last season with a
WPIAL-best 2,623 passing yards
and threw 27 TDs. The all-conference
QB already has more
than 4,000 career passing yards
and a couple of D1 offers.
Pine-Richland, Jr., OL/DL
The 6-foot-4, 280-pound
lineman already lists 10 college
offers with Pitt, West Virginia,
Cincinnati and Kentucky among
them. He earned second-team
all-conference honors as a sophomore.
Penn Hills, Jr., QB
The dual-threat quarterback
passed for 1,306 yards and 20
touchdowns last season. Dugger
(6-3, 195) also rushed for
651 yards and 11 scores, earning
all-conference honors. Pitt is
among his D1 offers.
Penn-Trafford, Sr., OL/DL
The Central Michigan commit led
an offensive line that produced
two 1,000-yard rushers and
won a state title. The 6-foot-3,
290-pounder was all-conference
at center but also is a force on
the defensive line.
9.9 Pine-Richland at Penn Hills
New Rams coach Jon LeDonne
makes an early-season return to
his former school Penn Hills.
10.7 P-T at Gateway
These two teams combined have
won every Big East Conference
title since 2017.
10.21 Upper St. Clair at Moon
USC wants to dethrone the
reigning Allegheny Six champion.