There is no streak in all of WPIAL sports more impressive than the one Aliquippa will put on the line on Friday night.

For 15 consecutive years, the Quips — a Class 1A-sized school based on enrollment — have successfully advanced to the WPIAL championship game, all while competing in Class 2A, Class 3A, and now, for the past four years, in Class 4A. Many likely expected the WPIAL-record streak to come to an end once the PIAA’s competitive-balance rule forced Aliquippa to move up to Class 4A prior to the 2020 season, after the Quips had already been voluntarily competing up in Class 3A. But on the contrary, Aliquippa has only achieved greater success in three-plus years since moving to Class 4A, and the streak lives on.

Now, the top-seeded and two-time defending WPIAL champion Quips (10-0) get set to face one of their toughest challenges of the season against No. 4 Mars (10-2) at North Allegheny High School at 7 p.m. Friday — and with a win, Aliquippa will make its 16th consecutive WPIAL championship appearance, including four in a row in Class 4A. The significance of that is not lost on Quips coach Mike Warfield, now in his sixth year at the helm at his alma mater — but as he always says, they don’t give out rings for winning WPIAL championships at Aliquippa, and they certainly don’t give them out just for getting there.

“At this point, we’re just trying to win,” Warfield said. “All we did last week was give us an opportunity to have seven more days. We’ve got to use these days to our advantage.”

Aliquippa’s Tiqwai Hayes (23) and Arison Walker celebrate their team’s 34-7 victory against Central Valley in the WPIAL Class 4A championship on Friday, Nov. 25, 2022, at Acrisure Stadium on the North Shore. Hayes, a junior, recently surpassed 5,000 yards rushing for his career. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Above all else, a state title remains the ultimate prize for the Quips, who took home the 2021 PIAA Class 4A crown before relinquishing the throne in a rematch against Bishop McDevitt in last year’s state final. But in order to get there, they need to win the WPIAL first. And in order to win the WPIAL, they need to go through Mars — and few teams in the area can say they are playing better football than the Planets right now.

After a season-opening 37-28 loss to Montour in a back-and-forth game between two WPIAL Class 4A semifinalists, Mars quickly turned things around with three consecutive blowout wins against New Castle, Blackhawk and Indiana. A 26-23 defeat at Class 5A semifinalist Moon would follow, but the Planets haven’t lost since, winning seven games in a row while scoring 38 points or more in five of those contests.

While Mars has been winning in lopsided fashion most times out, the Planets have also proven they know how to win close in recent weeks. First, they pulled out a 17-14 win in the season finale Oct. 27 at North Catholic to clinch the Greater Allegheny Conference title outright, then Mars defeated Central Valley in last Friday’s quarterfinal round, 24-14, to end the Warriors’ streak of four consecutive trips to the WPIAL championship game.

For coach Eric Kasperowicz, year two has represented major strides from his first season at Mars, which saw the Planets improve on a 1-9 record in 2021 to a 6-5 finish last year. Following his highly publicized firing from Pine-Richland after the 2020 season, it hasn’t taken long for Kasperowicz to turn Mars into a legitimate title contender. He guided the Rams to four WPIAL titles and two state titles in eight years at the helm, and he’s now two wins away from acquiring “one for the thumb.”

“We didn’t go in there to lose,” Kasperowicz said. “Sometimes it happens slower than others; sometimes it’s faster than others. We made some pretty good strides in year one. One win to six wins, made the playoffs and lost to a pretty good McKeesport team. We only got in there in May, so we really only had three or four months. This year, we had a full offseason, and kids knew what to do and how to practice and how to carry themselves.

“We kind of got it rolling a little bit, and that’s all it’s about. Getting everybody going in the same direction and caring about each other, and going out and laying it all on the line. I didn’t expect anything less.”

On the other side, Warfield has coached in five WPIAL championship games in five seasons at his alma mater, winning three of them while losing the other two in overtime. He also has guided Aliquippa to three PIAA championship appearances and a pair of state titles. Simply put, you won’t find two better coaches anywhere in the WPIAL than the two who will match wits on the sideline at North Allegheny on Friday.

“It’s pretty darn cool,” Kasperowicz said. “Last week with [Central Valley coach Mark] Lyons — he’s got a couple state titles himself. … When you get out there and it’s just a well-coached game, it makes it really fulfilling. You’re battling with the best.”

Aliquippa is led by record-setting senior quarterback Quentin “Cheese” Goode, the all-time leader in passing yards and passing touchdowns in school history who owns a career record of 36-2 overall, including 10-1 in postseason play. A three-year starter, Goode has passed for 1,404 yards and 18 touchdowns with four interceptions on the season, and he has had no shortage of clutch moments when the game is on the line — none bigger than his game-winning 35-yard touchdown pass in the final seconds of a 29-22 win against West Allegheny on Sept. 22.

Lining up alongside Goode for the Quips is Penn State recruit Tiqwai “Tikey” Hayes, a junior running back who already has rushed for more than 5,000 yards in his stellar career. So far this season, Hayes has tallied 1,438 yards and 16 touchdowns on 174 carries, and he was up to his usual tricks in an exciting 37-29 quarterfinal win against Latrobe last Friday. With the Wildcats attempting to mount a furious comeback, Hayes broke free for a 75-yard TD scamper in the fourth quarter, finishing the game with 253 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the ground.

“He wants to be great,” Warfield said about Hayes. “That’s not just talk. He puts the work in. He’s not just talking about it or on social media bragging about it.

“I’ve never seen him lose a sprint. He’s a good listener. He wants to be great all around.”

Mars also features a record-setting quarterback in junior Luke Goodworth, who broke the school record for single-season passing yardage all the way back in Week 7 in a 38-0 win against Armstrong. Goodworth hasn’t looked back since, racking up 2,052 yards and 20 touchdowns through the air to go with just five interceptions. And on top of all that, he wasn’t even supposed to be the starting quarterback going into the season.

Mars quarterback Luke Goodworth looks to throw the ball to wide receiver Adam Rohrbaugh in a 2022 Class 4A first-round playoff game on Friday, Nov. 4, 2022, at McKeesport. In his first year as a starter, Goodworth has passed for a school-record 2,052 yards and 20 touchdowns through 12 games. (Emmalee Reed/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Eric Kasperowicz Jr. is a sophomore who was hailed as one of the top young quarterbacks in the area going into the season, but a shoulder injury prevented him from playing QB this season as he prepared to undergo offseason surgery. In the meantime, he moved to safety for the first time since his youth football days and became the leading tackler for the Planets, but Kasperowicz Jr. went down with a season-ending foot injury in the fourth quarter of the regular-season finale against North Catholic.

“It’s tremendously hard. It’s horrible. It would be the last thing I want in life to happen,” Kasperowicz said about his son’s injury. “That’s what the great game of football teaches you. It teaches you about adversity and getting knocked down and getting back up. … That’s what you’ve got to love about football. It’s the next-man-up mentality.”

Like Aliquippa, Mars also has a star tailback capable of breaking the game open at any time in senior Evan Wright, who ranks third in the WPIAL with 1,799 yards rushing and second with 33 touchdowns. The Planets lost their leading receiver, sophomore Gabe Hein, to an injury in Week 6, and they have since turned to his older brother, junior Liam Hein, to help fill the void alongside senior Aiden Alessio (28 receptions, 456 yards, 4 TDs).

Both teams have plenty of firepower and are capable of lighting up the scoreboard, but at this time of year, games are typically decided in the trenches. Aliquippa doesn’t have quite the same massive offensive and defensive line it employed in years past, but the Quips are still strong up front — and Pitt recruit Cameron “Cam Bam” Lindsey might just be the hardest-hitting linebacker in the WPIAL. And with a spot in the WPIAL title game and Aliquippa’s historic streak hanging in the balance, Mars will need to match the Quips’ ruthless physicality for four quarters to have any chance of pulling off the upset.

“Typically, in [Class] 1A, [Class] 2A, or sometimes in [Class] 3A, you can win based on your talent on the outside,” Warfield said. “When you get to [Class] 4A, [Class] 5A and [Class] 6A, if you don’t have it up front, you don’t have it at all. It’s going to come down to blocking, tackling and hitting.

“We’re going to be ready. We’ll see where we end up.”

The other Class 4A semifinal showdown features a unique contrast of styles as No. 2 McKeesport (10-1) pits its trademark triple-option offense against the high-flying aerial attack of No. 3 Montour (10-1) at West Mifflin High School. Both teams come into Friday’s matchup at 7 p.m. riding a wave of momentum, with the Spartans having won seven in a row and the Tigers having won eight in a row.

McKeesport’s only loss came at defending WPIAL Class 3A champion Belle Vernon in overtime, and Montour’s only defeat came at two-time defending WPIAL Class 4A champion Aliquippa. Both teams also have several quality wins on their resumes, with the Tigers owning victories against Trinity (twice), Gateway, Latrobe, Penn-Trafford, Thomas Jefferson and West Mifflin, and the Spartans laying claim to wins against Central Valley, Mars, Moon, South Fayette, Thomas Jefferson and West Allegheny.

After graduating the star backfield tandem of Bobbie Boyd Jr. and Jahmil Perryman, the “next man up” mentality has once again worked wonders for McKeesport. Boyd’s younger brother, junior Anthony Boyd, has stepped seamlessly into the role of primary ball carrier for the Tigers, rushing for 1,213 yards and 13 TDs on 154 carries so far this season. He certainly doesn’t mind sharing the load, though, as brothers Keith and Kemon Spell have also proven to be efficient and dynamic running backs next to Boyd.

McKeesport’s Kemon Spell tries to get past Thomas Jefferson’s Jason Salman on Friday, Oct. 27, 2023, at Thomas Jefferson. Spell is only the second freshman to start at McKeesport in 40 years and one of the most dynamic young players in the WPIAL. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Keith Spell (6-2, 245) is a bruising senior who has rushed for 469 yards and seven TDs on 65 carries, including a career-best 202 yards in a 38-28 win against Gateway on Oct. 13. His younger brother, Kemon Spell (5-9, 170), is a blazing-fast freshman with several Divison I offers, and he now has 358 yards rushing and 10 TDs on only 25 carries (14.3 ypc). Only the second freshman to start at McKeesport in the past 40 years, his 100-yard TD return of a missed field goal helped propel the Tigers to a 28-14 win against Trinity in last Friday’s WPIAL quarterfinals.

For Montour, senior quarterback Jake Wolfe spearheads an explosive pass-happy offense with a stable of skilled receivers at his disposal in A.J. Alston, Keino Fitzpatrick and Daniel Batch. For the season, Wolfe has passed for 2,458 yards and 30 touchdowns to only five interceptions, and he also leads the team with 778 yards rushing and 14 TDs on the ground, giving him 3,236 total yards and 44 total TDs through 11 games.

Montour’s A.J. Alston hauls in one of his five touchdown receptions in the end zone during a WPIAL Class 4A quarterfinal against Thomas Jefferson, Friday, Nov. 10, 2023, at Montour High School in Robinson. Montour won, 51-21, to reach the WPIAL semifinals. (Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Coming off a massive 237-yard, five-TD performance in a 51-21 blowout over Thomas Jefferson in the quarterfinal round last Friday, Alston leads the team with 37 receptions for 801 yards and 12 touchdowns on the year. Fitzpatrick is right behind him with 36 catches for 762 yards and 10 TDs, and Batch is also having a solid year with 28 grabs for 463 yards and nine scores.

In order for the Spartans to get past McKeesport and set up a rematch with either Aliquippa or Mars in the WPIAL finals, their defense has to find a way to slow down the Tigers’ vaunted rushing attack. It’s no secret McKeesport wants to control the clock and neutralize Montour’s high-octane offense, while the Spartans hope to get out to an early lead to force the Tigers to pass the ball. The opening quarter will be crucial to see which team is able to assert its will early on. Whichever team does so will likely come out on top and punch its ticket to the championship game.

Class 3A

Just like in Class 4A, the top four seeds all advanced to the semifinal round in Class 3A, setting up a pair of intriguing matchups on Friday for a spot in the WPIAL title game. Top seed and defending champion Belle Vernon (9-1) will host No. 4 East Allegheny (9-2) at 7 p.m. at Norwin High School, and one of the evening’s most anticipated clashes will take place between No. 2 Avonworth (11-0) and No. 3 Elizabeth Forward (10-1) at 7 p.m. at Gateway High School.

All season long, the Leopards have been the prohibitive favorites to make it back to Acrisure Stadium and defend their WPIAL title. After all, they possess arguably the most dynamic player in the district in senior Quinton Martin (6-3, 205), the 2022 PUP co-Player of the Year and a five-star recruit heading to Penn State next fall. For the second year in a row, Martin leads Belle Vernon in both rushing and receiving, tallying 37 catches for 590 yards along with 77 carries for 764 yards with 23 total touchdowns so far this season.

Belle Vernon’s Braden Laux, left, and Quinton Martin celebrate after Martin scores a touchdown to take the lead against Avonworth in the WPIAL Class 3A championship game Nov. 25, 2022, at Acrisure Stadium. Belle Vernon won, 24-7, to capture its first WPIAL title since 1995. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

The Leopards are much more than just a one-man show, of course. With senior Jake Gedekoh and junior Kole Doppelheuer combining with Martin to form a three-headed monster in the backfield alongside senior quarterback Braden Laux, Belle Vernon boasts one of the area’s most potent and balanced offensive attacks. Up front, seniors Dane Levi and Luke Bryer command a ton of respect with their physicality on the offensive line, and this is a team loaded with depth, talent and championship experience.

Meanwhile, East Allegheny is one of the hottest teams in the area, riding an eight-game winning streak into the semifinals after a rocky 1-2 start in non-conference play. The Wildcats avenged a season-opening 22-16 loss at South Park in last Friday’s quarterfinal round, taking down the Eagles by a score of 28-21. East Allegheny has proven it knows how to win close games, having won each of its past four games by a touchdown or less, with all four matchups coming against quality opponents. Still, the Wildcats will be a sizable underdog going against the defending WPIAL and state champs on Friday night, and it will take a gargantuan effort to pull off what would go down as one of the year’s most shocking upsets.

On the other side of the bracket, Avonworth will put its undefeated record on the line against Elizabeth Forward in what appears to be an even matchup on paper. The Antelopes are looking to get back to the WPIAL title game for the second year in a row, while the Warriors are seeking their first WPIAL championship appearance since 2020.

For Avonworth, Andrew Kuban is the man who makes things go. The senior wideout-defensive back has 51 receptions for 833 yards to go with 44 carries for 450 yards and 17 total touchdowns, and he’s also a notorious ballhawk on defense. He took on an expanded role as a running back-receiver hybrid after an injury to Bucknell recruit Brandon Biagiarelli in Week 2, and he’ll need to continue his stellar play to carry the Antelopes back to the WPIAL finals.

Elizabeth Forward’s Charlie Nigut (1) celebrates after one of his four touchdowns in a 31-24 win against Southmoreland, Friday, Sept. 29, 2023 at Elizabeth Forward High School in Elizabeth. Nigut has 1,197 yards from scrimmage and 23 total TDs going into the WPIAL semifinals. (Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

As for Elizabeth Forward, two Charlies are in charge of leading the Warriors to the promised land — senior lineman Charlie Meehleib and junior all-purpose weapon Charlie Nigut. Both players had phenomenal performances in last Friday’s 42-21 WPIAL quarterfinal win over West Mifflin, as Meehleib registered a pair of defensive touchdowns — one on a fumble recovery and one on an interception return — and Nigut rushed for 170 yards and a pair of scores. For the season, Nigut leads the team with 859 yards rushing and 23 total TDs to go along with 22 receptions for 338 yards.

Sophomore quarterbacks Carson Bellinger (Avonworth) and Ryan Messina (Elizabeth Forward) have displayed poise beyond their years all season, with Bellinger passing for 1,458 yards and 21 TDs and Messina throwing for 1,649 yards and 14 TDs. Neither one has been asked to do too much, and both have taken care of the ball while consistently moving the offense down the field. In a matchup between two evenly matched foes on Friday, the end result could come down to which young QB does a better job of keeping turnovers to a minimum.

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