Fort Cherry coach Tanner Garry was just 8 years old the last time the Rangers played for a WPIAL championship.

Garry remembers the 27-19 loss to Rochester in 2001 vividly, as he was on the Fort Cherry sideline serving as a ball boy along with cousin Corey Garry. Their grandfather, Jim Garry, was the Rangers’ coach at the time.

“When you’re a Fort Cherry history buff like I am, you take advantage of revisiting those old days,” Tanner Garry said. “I remember the feeling after the game, getting on the bus. It was a pretty defeated feeling. It’s not a fun place to be and lose, but it was a great experience nonetheless.”

Twenty-two years later, it’s Tanner Garry who will try to guide Fort Cherry to its first WPIAL title. And the Rangers will shoot for history against a team that is seeking its first championship in 24 years. South Side won its most recent title and second overall in 1999. 

Friday’s WPIAL Class 1A championship will have a small-town feel to it, as No. 1 South Side (13-0) meets No. 2 Fort Cherry (13-0) in a battle of unbeaten teams. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. at Acrisure Stadium. This matchup features a pair of schools whose communities have been buzzing during their special seasons, ones they hope will soon include an elusive WPIAL title.

“It’s exciting for a small town, a small community like this,” South Side coach Luke Travelpiece said. “Everybody knows each other. There’s excitement in the air.”

Garry, who is in his fourth season, said he got emotional during the short drive from Fort Cherry to South Fayette for last Friday’s semifinal game against Bishop Canevin. 

“I didn’t have it on the bingo card that I was going to be tearing up on the car ride over here,” Garry said following his team’s 33-21 win. “Looking at the community coming out. The support you guys have had. And you keep answering the bell time and time again.”

There are connections between the current teams and the ones from two-plus decades ago. South Side assistant Glenn McDougal was head coach of the 1999 team, and assistant Jeff Seik was an assistant on that team. Tanner Garry’s uncle, Kevin Garry, was an assistant on the 2001 Fort Cherry team who is currently on Tanner’s staff. And Tanner’s father-in-law, Bill Oliverio, was Fort Cherry’s defensive coordinator then and still is today.

The South Side-Fort Cherry matchup has some big-time star power with Fort Cherry sophomore quarterback Matt Sieg being the headliner. Sieg has accounted for 54 touchdowns this season, 36 rushing and 18 passing. He has rushed for 1,785 yards and passed for 1,338. Pitt, Penn State and West Virginia are among the schools that have already offered scholarships.

“He doesn’t miss any holes,” said Travelpiece, whose team lost to Steel Valley in the Class 2A final five years ago. “He’s got great vision. He’s got great speed. He’s a more powerful runner than I anticipated. He just makes things happen.”

Travelpiece, who is in his eighth season, said that South Side will need to be gap sound in order to slow down Sieg, who ran for five touchdowns in the semifinals. 

“We can’t play hero ball,” said Travelpiece. “That’s when you get out of position. Trust your teammates, play as a unit, and we need everybody to rally to the ball.”

Sieg isn’t Fort Cherry’s only 1,000-yard rusher. Senior running back Ethan Faletto has rushed for 1,020 yards and scored 18 touchdowns. Sieg and Faletto have been running through some big holes that have been created by an offensive line featuring seniors and all-conference picks Lou Ryan (right guard) and Brayden Kirby (right tackle).

Of course, South Side boasts what is likely the best defense Fort Cherry has faced all season. The unit, which is led by defensive coordinator Mike Commesso, gives up only 8.7 points per game (fewest in Class 1A) and has forced 29 turnovers (16 interceptions and 13 fumble recoveries). Senior linebacker Ryan Navarra leads the team with 49 tackles and four sacks, and senior defensive back Ben Bird has a team-best five interceptions.

Navarra also plays a major role offensively as one of the primary ball carriers in South Side’s wing-T offense. Navarra (1,369 yards), sophomore running back A.C. Corfield (1,198 yards) and senior quarterback Brody Almashy (669 yards) have combined to rush for 3,236 yards while averaging 9.8 yards per carry to go along with 56 touchdowns. Navarra leads the way with 27 touchdowns. Almashy has also passed for 1,082 yards and 17 touchdowns. 

“It’s an offense where you have to make sure you’re gap sound and responsible for your area,” Garry said of defending the wing-T. “Selfish play is what gets you in trouble. You just have to understand that sometimes less is more, and that you can’t pry too far upfield.”

Travelpiece said that his team’s veteran offensive line is led by senior guards and three-year starters JD Roy and Chase Knox.

Defensively, senior linebacker Corey Bouchelle, Ryan and Kirby have been Fort Cherry’s most productive tacklers. Bouchelle and Ryan lead the team with 108 tackles apiece and Kirby has 81. Senior defensive back Zach Serafin has four of the team’s 11 interceptions.

For a pair of small schools that haven’t tasted a WPIAL championship win in quite a long time (in Fort Cherry’s case, never), the dream of reaching the summit is nearing reality.

“I talked to the kids about the opportunity to get their own banner in the gym and make them stand out,” Travelpiece said. “It’s something that since they’ve been in our program, especially with Glenn on staff, we always talk about the 1999 team. We always talk about their dedication to one another and their coachability. Those are the things we’ve seen with this group as they have grown and developed this year. It would be great to see them rewarded.”

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

Brad Everett

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