One of the best parts about high school football are the seemingly endless rivalries, and there are plenty of annual rivalry games to choose from when trying to single out the best of the best. Almost all of them involve nearby schools that compete in the same district, if not in the same conference — well, except for at least one.
In terms of the best inter-district rivalry you’ll find in all of Pennsylvania, look no further than the rubber match that will take place in the PIAA Class 2A quarterfinals at 7 p.m. Friday. That’s when City League champion Westinghouse (11-0) and District 10 champion Farrell (11-1) will meet in the state quarterfinals for the third year in a row, this time at the Steelers’ home stadium after staging the previous two memorable battles at Cupples Stadium on the South Side.
“I think it plays a big factor,” Farrell coach Anthony Pegues said about the change of venue. “Considering you play at Cupples Stadium with that crowd down there, and they’re rowdy and chanting, and I think that team feeds off that energy. They’ll probably travel well up here too, but my team will definitely feed off our home crowd. It definitely is going to make a difference.”
It’s pretty rare to see the same two teams meet in the state playoffs in two consecutive seasons, but three years in a row is almost unheard of. That’s a testament to the remarkable consistency the Bulldogs and Steelers have enjoyed over the past five years, with both programs owning 50-plus wins over the past five seasons. During that span, Farrell is 51-9 overall, while Westinghouse holds a record of 50-7.
“They’ve got a ton of talent,” said Bulldogs coach Donta Green. “Just the tradition of winning they have is very similar to ours. It should be a good clash. And also with our fan bases — both are very passionate about their home school. It should be an instant classic.”
Both Green and Pegues took over as head coach at their alma maters in 2019 and have helped lead two already successful programs to new heights. For Pegues, who served as offensive coordinator for the Steelers from 2011-18, his debut season saw Farrell repeat as PIAA Class 1A champion following a 16-0 season in 2018. The Steelers have yet to return to the state finals since moving up to Class 2A in 2020, but they remain one of the premier small-school programs in the state while continuing to rack up district titles.
“This team definitely reminds me of that 2019 team, when we won [the state title],” Pegues said. “Probably a little bit better, this team here. Definitely gritty. They’ve got a great shot of getting there. They play with a lot of tenacity and this is a really close-knit group. They can definitely get us back there.”
It’s no secret that Farrell’s offense runs through senior quarterback Kabron Smith, a three-year starter who holds virtually every school passing record in the book. This year, Smith has completed 147-of-221 attempts for 2,083 yards and 27 touchdowns and only six interceptions, and he needs 164 yards passing on Friday to become the school’s all-time single-season passing leader. His favorite targets are senior Simeir Wade (37 receptions, 647 yards, 5 TDs), junior Brandon Chambers (40 receptions, 462 yards, 8 TDs) and sophomore Danny Odem (47 receptions, 598 yards, 7 TDs), although Wade is ineligible for the postseason due to the PIAA’s transfer rules. Sophomore running back Jules Johnson is also enjoying a strong season with 1,042 yards rushing and nine scores on 152 carries.
“Kabron is our leader,” Pegues said. “He’s going to guide us. If he’s not going, we’re not going to go anywhere. With his talents and skill set and being the brains of the operation, he’s the main one.”
While the Steelers have made six trips to the PIAA championship game with four state titles to their credit, Westinghouse had never even reached the PIAA quarterfinals until 2021, when the Bulldogs’ season came to an end in a 24-7 defeat against Farrell at Cupples Stadium. After the game, Green delivered a poignant postgame speech imploring his players to be proud of all they had accomplished but not to be satisfied with the result.
Sure enough, one year later, Westinghouse was back in the quarterfinal round for the second year in a row — and this time, the Bulldogs vanquished the Steelers by a score of 34-6 in front of a raucous crowd. Westinghouse would go on to defeat WPIAL champion Steel Valley the following week to earn its first state championship appearance before falling to six-time defending champion Southern Columbia in the PIAA Class 2A title game, 37-22.
Some expected the Bulldogs to suffer a drop-off this season after graduating so many key seniors from last year’s team, but Westinghouse has proven to be no one-year wonder. With junior Khalil Green providing an added dimension at quarterback as a dangerous runner and passer, the Bulldogs haven’t missed a beat after losing record-setting passer Keyshawn Morsillo.
Elsewhere, the emergence of senior Ty Abrams as a physical workhorse in the backfield provides Westinghouse with the tough, hard-nosed identity Green craves on offense, and the defensive unit is as stout as ever with senior defensive end Mike Richardson setting the tone. And don’t forget about coveted sophomore Kyshawn Robinson, a blue-chip recruit who has shined as a shutdown cornerback while also taking on an added role at running back this fall.
“They can spread it around everywhere,” Pegues said. “They’ve got athletes everywhere, a big O-line, very fast, quick and aggressive D-line, and some top-notch defensive backs on the team. And like I keep saying, they’re well-coached. Donta has a really great scheme, and he does some great things to get them in the right places. You really can’t key on one person.”
Now, after an 11-0 start that included a second consecutive City League title, the Bulldogs find themselves in the PIAA quarterfinals facing the same opponent for the third year in a row, with Friday night’s clash representing the rubber match of the hotly contested trilogy. The winner will receive bragging rights for the foreseeable future, along with a trip to the Western Final to take on the winner of Friday’s WPIAL Class 2A championship game between Steel Valley and Beaver Falls.
As if the stakes weren’t high enough already.
“It’s almost hard not to respect a team that is similar in so many different ways,” Green said. “It’s honestly like looking in a mirror, from top to bottom. The struggles that we’ve had are similar to the struggles they’ve had. It’s hard not to respect the daily grind and understand what it takes to get to Friday. Very similar neighborhoods, similar schools, just a ton of similarities.
“Both teams are extremely competitive. There’s going to be some jawing and some hard-hitting and some intensity, but it’s all love at the end of the day.”
After defeating Central Catholic in last year’s WPIAL Class 6A championship game, North Allegheny fell flat the following week in a 28-7 PIAA semifinal defeat against State College. This time around, the Tigers (11-1) appear more well-equipped for a state playoff run with much of their core of key players still intact and eager to add to their growing trophy collection.
Standing in the way of a trip to the PIAA championship game for North Allegheny is District 10 champion McDowell (8-4), a former WPIAL member school perhaps best known for producing former Pitt and Steelers running back James Conner, now with the Arizona Cardinals. The two teams met earlier this season way back on Sept. 9, when the Tigers went into the Trojans’ home stadium and pulled out a convincing 43-22 victory. Much has changed since then, though, so don’t expect a cakewalk for North Allegheny on Friday night — although the Tigers certainly have to like their chances.
For the rematch, the teams will meet at 7 p.m. Friday at North Allegheny, with the winner earning a spot in the PIAA Class 6A semifinals. For McDowell, a win would bring them one step closer to the first state championship appearance in school history, while the Tigers have made three previous trips to the state finals and won all three, raising PIAA championship banners in 1990, 2010 and 2012.
Don’t let the Trojans’ record fool you, though — two of their losses came against a pair of Ohio powerhouses in Walsh Jesuit and Villa Angela-St. Joseph, and another one came against St. Francis (New York). Junior quarterback Blayze Myers is putting up big numbers under center with 2,632 yards and 32 touchdowns to nine interceptions, and five different receivers have caught at least 20 passes for 250-plus yards for McDowell. The Trojans also feature a pair of running backs with 600-plus yards and 10 TDs in senior Dominic Berarducci and junior Stephon Porter, giving North Allegheny a variety of different weapons to prepare for.
With McDowell coming off a 58-20 win against Erie and a 47-20 win against State College in its previous two postseason games, it’s clear the Trojans are playing their best ball at the right time. But the Tigers are also riding high after a 44-41 upset win over high-powered Central Catholic in the WPIAL Class 6A championship game, and the senior trio of Logan Kushner, Tyree Alualu and Khiryn Boyd may prove to be too potent of a combination to stop.
Undefeated WPIAL champion Peters Township finds itself in uncharted territory coming off a dominant 43-17 win over defending champ Pine-Richland to claim its first WPIAL title. The Indians (13-0) will play their first state playoff game at Hagerty Events Center in Erie against District 10 champion Cathedral Prep (7-3) at 7 p.m. Friday, with the winner advancing to the PIAA Class 5A semifinals.
One of the premier programs in all of Pennsylvania, Cathedral Prep is no stranger to this scenario. The Ramblers have played in nine PIAA championship games overall, with a record of 5-4 in the state finals — and they have made five trips to the state title game since 2015. Needless to say, the edge in experience when it comes to state playoff games will lie in Cathedral Prep’s favor, especially on the coaching side of things.
That being said, there’s a strong case to be made for Peters to be the favorite in this matchup against the Ramblers. After all, the Indians have been the most well-rounded team in the WPIAL all year long, regardless of classification. They have outscored their opponents by a combined score of 524-100 on the season, averaging more than 40 points per game while boasting the No. 1 scoring defense in the area (7.6 ppg). Peters has posted five shutouts on the year and allowed 10 points or fewer in 10 out of 13 contests.
For the most part, Cathedral Prep is a run-heavy team, with senior tailback Dejoure Hollingsworth (1,564 yards rushing, 20 total TDs) serving as the focal point of the Ramblers’ offense. Senior Suhtaun Lewis provides a nice change of pace as the team’s No. 2 back, rushing for 703 yards and 11 TDs on 71 carries. Senior quarterback Luke Costello won’t wow you with his numbers, but he knows how to manage a game and has the ability to air it out when he needs to. For the season, Costello has passed for 1,166 yards and 16 TDs with five interceptions.
In order for the Indians to win their first state playoff game and advance to the Western Final, they need sophomore quarterback Nolan DiLucia to keep up his pinpoint passing ways while the defense does its part to slow down Cathedral Prep’s powerful rushing attack. And if DiLucia keeps playing anything like he did in the WPIAL championship win against Pine-Richland last Saturday, this Peters team might just have what it takes to go all the way.