The Tri-County South Conference is the most overlooked and underappreciated conference in the WPIAL, but California is out to change that in 2023.

Oftentimes, most pundits pick the Tri-County South champion to lose in the opening round of the WPIAL tournament, and you’ll hardly ever see a team from the conference playing for a WPIAL title. But this year could be different if the No. 6 Trojans (10-1) have anything to say about it.

Hosting one of the WPIAL’s premier programs in No. 11 Jeannette (7-4) in a Class 1A first-round matchup on Friday night, California stormed out to an early lead and never looked back — picking up right where it left off as the WPIAL’s highest-scoring team in the regular season (47.3 ppg) with a commanding 44-6 victory. Senior running back Spencer Petrucci rushed for 201 yards and four touchdowns for the Trojans, and senior quarterback Jake Layhue finished with 146 yards rushing and a pair of TDs.

“We were worried going into that game,” said fifth-year coach Ed Woods, who picked up his first playoff win as head coach at California. “We knew what they had on both sides of the football. It was a great win. It was a good win for the Tri-County South, also — not just for California but for our conference.”

Petrucci and Layhue have emerged as one of the most dynamic duos in the area, and they have now combined for 50 rushing touchdowns in 2023 (26 for Petrucci, 24 for Layhue) after each finished with 22 in the regular season. Layhue also has two touchdown passes, giving both 26 total TDs on the year.

“If we can run the ball, we’re going to continue to run the ball,” Woods said. “We’re not going to throw it. I think [we threw] one [pass] tonight. Maybe a 2-point conversion.”

Of course, while Woods is pleased with the offensive production, he’s more concerned with the defensive side of the ball — especially at this time of the year. And right now, the Trojans are playing equally efficient on both sides of the ball, finishing the regular season as one of only six WPIAL teams to allow less than 10 ppg before lowering their scoring average to 9.5 ppg on Friday.

Now, California’s biggest test awaits in the WPIAL quarterfinals in the form of No. 3 Bishop Canevin, a certified powerhouse loaded with talent and championship experience. The Crusaders have made it to the WPIAL championship game two years in a row, winning the title in 2021 and losing to Union last season. Woods knows his team will be a massive underdog next week, but that’s just the way the Trojans like it.

“It feels great to win the first one. To me, that’s the tough one. Anything can happen after the first one,” Woods said. “We’ve just got to keep practicing and working on the little things that can help us get better. That’s all. Whatever happens, happens.”

Serra Catholic’s Jesere Young holds onto the ball as he gets tackled by Western Beaver’s Mikey Crawford, left, and Tyson Florence during the first round of WPIAL Class 2A playoffs on Friday, Nov. 3, 2023, at Norwin High School. Western Beaver won, 38-21, to advance to the quarterfinal round. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)


• In a battle between two of the WPIAL’s most prolific passers, record-setting freshman Jaivin Peel propelled No. 9 Western Beaver (7-4) to its first playoff victory since 2008 with a 38-21 win against Quadir Stribling and No. 8 Serra Catholic (4-6) at Norwin High School. After shattering the WPIAL record for passing yardage by a freshman and finishing third in the area in the regular season with 2,434 yards, Peel passed for a pair of TDs against the Eagles to lead the Golden Beavers to the WPIAL quarterfinals.

• Ruben Gordon had a monster day for No. 3 Washington (10-1) in a 48-6 rout at home against No. 14 Ellwood City (5-6), catching four passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns while also tacking on four carries for 94 yards and another TD on the ground. Eddie Lewis led the Little Prexies in rushing on the night with 102 yards and a pair of scores on 11 carries, and Zxavian Willis contributed 65 yards rushing and a TD on seven carries.

• Senior quarterback Jay Wrona kept up his aerial assault for No. 5 Mohawk (9-2) in a 42-0 home win against No. 12 Burrell (4-7), completing 6-of-9 passes for 147 yards and three touchdowns while reclaiming the top spot on the WPIAL touchdown passes leader board with 33 on the season. Justin Boston added 11 carries for 149 yards and a pair of TDs, while Bobby Fadden notched three receptions for 47 yards and two TDs and Daunte Retort caught two passes for 83 yards and a score.

• Da’Talian Beauford ran for a pair of touchdowns to help spur No. 10 Beaver Falls (6-5) to a 20-7 triumph at No. 7 Keystone Oaks (6-5), setting up a Midwestern Conference rematch in the quarterfinal round against No. 2 Neshannock. The Lancers defeated the Tigers in a hotly contested overtime matchup on Sept. 22, 27-26.

• No. 6 McGuffey (8-3) used its triple-option offense and stifling defense to grind out a 25-13 home win against No. 11 Derry (5-6), setting up what should be a highly anticipated rematch against archrival Washington next week for a spot in the WPIAL semifinals.

• No. 4 Imani Christian (8-2) put its offensive talent on full display coming out of halftime against No. 13 Waynesburg (7-4), scoring 30 points in the third quarter en route to a lopsided 52-14 win at UPMC Graham Field in Wilkinsburg.


• Defending champ Union (9-2) received all it could handle from No. 12 Burgettstown (5-5), but the No. 5 Scotties prevailed in a back-and-forth shootout at New Castle High School, 51-37. Union trailed at halftime, 23-17, before erupting for 34 points in the second half. Fresh off becoming only the 15th WPIAL quarterback to pass and rush for 1,000 yards in the regular season, Scotties senior Braylon Thomas completed 19-of-25 passes for 280 yards and three TDs while rushing for 116 yards and four additional scores on 17 carries.

• Michael Wright had a near-flawless performance for No. 4 Clairton (9-2) in a 44-7 home win against No. 13 Laurel (4-7), completing 12-of-16 passes for 169 yards and three touchdowns in the Bears’ blowout win. Wright also added 29 yards rushing on three carries, while Donte Wright ran for 101 yards and a touchdown on five carries and Drahcir Jones tallied 71 yards and a score on nine totes. Zae-Mear Correll led the team with six catches for 78 yards and a pair of receiving TDs, helping red-hot Clairton extend its winning streak to nine games in a row.

• In one of the most exciting games of the night, No. 10 Rochester (6-4) pulled out a memorable overtime victory against the No. 7 Cornell (8-3), 20-19. After the Rams made a tackle at the 5-yard line with two seconds left in regulation, the Raiders were unable to spike the ball in time to line up for a game-winning field-goal attempt. Cornell then scored on the opening possession of OT but could not convert the extra point, allowing Rochester to score on the ensuing possession before kicking the game-winning PAT.

• No. 2 Fort Cherry (11-0) kept its perfect record intact with a 50-16 home win against No. 15 Jefferson-Morgan (6-5), and star sophomore Matt Sieg was once again at the center of the Rangers’ offensive onslaught. After leading the WPIAL in scoring during the regular season while notching his second consecutive 1,000/1,000 season in both passing and rushing, Sieg completed 5-of-7 attempts for 119 yards and two TDs while adding eight carries for 71 yards and another score on the ground. Ethan Faletto ran for 84 yards and a pair of TDs on eight carries, and Nate Heirendt finished with 53 yards rushing and two TDs on five carries.

• Kole Olszewski completed 6-of-8 attempts for 170 yards and four scores, leading No. 3 Bishop Canevin (9-1) to a resounding 49-6 win over No. 14 Leechburg (6-5) at North Allegheny High School. Marquis Carter ran for 154 yards and two TDs, and Jason Cross caught three passes for 72 yards and two scores of his own to send the Crusaders to the WPIAL quarterfinals.

• Another day, another dominant victory for No. 1 South Side (11-0), which remained unbeaten by shutting out No. 16 Monessen (4-7) at home, 39-0. The Rams have won all 11 games this season by 25 points or more and have yet to allow more than 15 points in a game.

• No. 8 Greensburg Central Catholic (8-3) cruised into the WPIAL quarterfinals with a 41-22 win against No. 9 West Greene (8-3) at Plum High School. The victory marked the Centurions’ first playoff win since 2011.

Western Beaver’s Dontay Green reacts after intercepting a pass against Serra Catholic during the first round of WPIAL Class 2A playoffs on Friday, Nov. 3, 2023, at Norwin High School. Western Beaver won, 38-21, to advance to the quarterfinal round. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)



First Round

Beaver Falls 20, Keystone Oaks 7

Imani Christian 52, Waynesburg 14

McGuffey 25, Derry 13

Mohawk 42, Burrell 0

Washington 48, Ellwood City 6

Western Beaver 38, Serra Catholic 21


First Round

Bishop Canevin 49, Leechburg 6

California 44, Jeannette 6

Clairton 44, Laurel 7

Fort Cherry 50, Jefferson-Morgan 16

Greensburg C.C. 41, West Greene 22

Rochester 20, Cornell 19 (OT)

South Side 39, Monessen 0

Union 51, Burgettstown 37

Steve is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at

Steve Rotstein

Steve is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at