Here’s a breakdown of Saturday’s WPIAL football championships, including comments on both teams and a prediction from an anonymous opposing coach.
WPIAL CLASS 6A CHAMPIONSHIP
Central Catholic (7-4) vs. North Allegheny (10-1), 6 p.m. Saturday at Norwin
Head coaches: Terry Totten (Central Catholic); Art Walker (North Allegheny).
Leading passers: Payton Wehner (Central Catholic) 152 of 245, 2,171 yards, 14 touchdowns; Logan Kushner (North Allegheny) 105 of 184, 1,263 yards, 13 touchdowns.
Leading rushers: Amari Shields (Central Catholic) 102 carries, 417 yards, 2 touchdowns; Andrew Gavlik (North Allegheny) 158 carries, 806 yards, 4 touchdowns.
Leading receivers: Vernon Settles (Central Catholic) 47 catches, 599 yards; Khiryn Boyd (North Allegheny) 38 catches, 581 yards, 10 touchdowns.
Noteworthy: North Allegheny defeated Central Catholic, 7-3, on Sept. 23.
An opposing coach says …
Size up Central Catholic: They’ve got two D1 receivers, a running back by committee, and a QB that makes it all work. The good thing about the QB is that he’s a dual threat and he can really run. He’s good enough throwing the ball to make it work, and he can throw it to the big D1 guys and a tight end who can play. We dominated the first half against them, but they put it together in the second half. They’re now playing with a lot of confidence. They kind of have their mojo back. Defensively, No. 33 [Ty Yuhas] is really good. They have the best two corners in the league with [Xxavier] Thomas and [Vernon] Settles. Everybody loves to hate them, but they have good players, and [Terry] Totten is a good coach.
Size up North Allegheny: No. 4 [Khiryn Boyd] is really good. Their QB doesn’t get enough credit. He can make some college throws. When we played them, I thought their defense was very good. I thought their front seven was very good. No. 47 [Daniel Sellers] has become a better player. I thought they were good in the secondary. Their tailback [Andrew Gavlik] is getting better week to week. He was kind of the No. 2 behind [Tyree] Alualu. But the Gavlik kid is coming on and No. 4 is just a really good player. He’s a really good corner and receiver, and is really good running the ball. And they’re very well coached.
How do you see this game playing out? My gut tells me Central Catholic is going to win, but my brain says North Allegheny. I have a feeling that Central has found its mojo, but North Allegheny has been very good. North Allegheny has been disciplined all year. Nobody talks about them. Nobody thought they were going to finish at the top. Everyone thought it would be Seneca or Central. They’re disciplined, they do a lot of good stuff, and they’re well coached. Top to bottom, Central probably has more talent, but NA just has something about them.
Prediction: North Allegheny 24-21.
WPIAL CLASS 5A CHAMPIONSHIP
Upper St. Clair (10-2) vs. Pine-Richland (9-3), noon Saturday at Norwin
Head coaches: Mike Junko (Upper St. Clair); Jon LeDonne (Pine-Richland).
Leading passers: Julian Dahlem (Upper St. Clair) 62 of 99, 980 yards, 16 touchdowns; Ryan Palmieri (Pine-Richland) 50 of 70, 558 yards, 3 touchdowns.
Leading rushers: Jamaal Brown (Upper St. Clair) 186 carries, 1,468 yards, 14 touchdowns; Ryan Palmieri (Pine-Richland) 231 carries, 1,503 yards, 19 touchdowns.
Leading receivers: Aidan Besselman (Upper St. Clair) 37 catches, 743 yards, 10 touchdowns; Andrew Mellis (Pine-Richland) 18 catches, 251 yards, 1 touchdown.
An opposing coach says …
Size up Upper St. Clair: I think they were very strong defensively. I like the nose guard a lot, the [Mark] Banbury kid. He certainly was someone who you had to deal with when you wanted to run or even throw the ball. I thought their four linebackers were very good, and I thought their front seven was good. I think their best player was No. 4 [Aidan Besselman]. He was outstanding. I thought he was the best player on the field. They’re solid all around. I thought they had good personnel up and down the line in all spots.
Size up Pine-Richland: Pine, when we played them they were kind of transitioning. They had used No. 26 [Ryan Palmieri] as the tailback in the previous games we had seen them play. But when they got to our game he was exclusively the quarterback. I think that was the turning point for them and their season when they made him their QB. He’s a dual-threat QB, a senior who kind of put the team on his shoulders. They’ve been transitioning from a wide-open throw the ball to more of a power attack. I think [Jon] LeDonne has done a nice job of that in terms of changing their offensive philosophy. They have some kids who can catch the ball. They’re big and strong up front and do a nice job of run blocking. And defensively, they’re very solid.
How do you see this game playing out? I kind of give the edge to St. Clair because I think they’re pretty solid defensively. I liked their tailback [Jamaal Brown] a lot. Here’s the thing: I think Pine has a better QB than St. Clair, but I don’t think Pine has anyone at receiver or at defensive back as good as Besselman. I think there will be a lot of running the ball, kind of like a slug-it-out game. And I give St. Clair the edge in the kicking game.
Prediction: Upper St. Clair 28-21.