In most years, a matchup between the City League football champion and a WPIAL champion would be viewed as a “David vs. Goliath”-type of matchup, with the city champ in the role of David and the WPIAL champ as Goliath.
Not this time.
Riding high off a dramatic 36-20 comeback victory at District 10 champion Farrell in a heated rubber match in last Friday’s PIAA Class 2A quarterfinals, City League champion Westinghouse (12-0) carries an unbeaten record into the Class 2A Western region final for the second year in a row. On the other hand, Beaver Falls (9-5) is the one wearing the proverbial glass slipper heading into the state semifinals after a shocking run to the WPIAL Class 2A crown as a No. 10 seed.
It might be a bit unfair to label a team that has played in four consecutive WPIAL championship games and won a pair of WPIAL titles during that span as a “Cinderella” story — especially a program with a pedigree of consistent success like Beaver Falls. But Tigers coach Nick Nardone has no misconceptions about where his team stands heading into the historic clash of WPIAL and City League champions at 7 p.m. Friday at West Allegheny High School.
“With the players they have, and the season they’ve had, you’d be crazy to not pick them to win the game,” Nardone said. “They are no doubt the best team we’ve played all season long. They are one of the most complete teams I’ve seen on film. They can run the ball, they can throw the ball, they play great defense — they can do everything.
“It’s by far our most difficult opponent. But if we can play a perfect game and not make mistakes, we feel like we have a chance to be in the game.”
This time last season, Westinghouse defeated Steel Valley, 26-7, in the first meeting of WPIAL and City League champions in the state playoffs in 19 years and only the fifth matchup ever of its kind. Some likely wondered if it would take another two decades before witnessing another WPIAL-City League showdown in the Western region final, but here we are again one year later.
It won’t carry quite the same historic feel to it as last year’s matchup, when both Westinghouse and Steel Valley entered the game with undefeated records and star senior quarterbacks at the helm. Still, there’s no doubt that history will be made one way or another Friday night, as the Bulldogs seek to become the first City League team to make two consecutive trips to the state title game — and the Tigers hope to derail their unbeaten season while becoming one of only a handful of teams to reach the state finals with five losses on their record.
“When you lose three games at the beginning of the season by a combined eight points — we were in every single one of those games,” Nardone said. “We went back and watched them, and there were five or six plays where if one or two things don’t happen, we win. There were other things that happened, just injuries and other things. You never want to make excuses, but we were definitely not at full strength for the majority of the season.
“It’s one of those things where if you get kids healthy and playing the right way at the right time, rankings don’t mean anything. We came into those playoffs knowing we had an opportunity to beat anybody on that schedule in the playoffs, and we were able to do it.”
In order to pull off another massive upset on Friday night, Beaver Falls will likely rely on another heavy dose of senior running back Da’Talian Beauford. The hard-nosed runner carried the ball 29 times for 105 yards and punched in the game-tying touchdown and game-winning 2-point conversion in the final minute of the Tigers’ stunning 14-12 win against top-seeded Steel Valley in last week’s WPIAL Class 2A final at Acrisure Stadium.
“He’s been special the last few weeks,” Nardone said. “He’s really taken his game to another level, and it’s helped propel us. But the way these guys up front and the fullbacks are blocking for him, you’d be crazy not to give them credit.
“[Steel Valley] really did a nice job in the first half of being able to shut our run game down, but in that second half, he was running through some gaping holes.”
For the season, Beauford has 1,436 yards rushing on 192 carries to go with 10 receptions for 109 yards and 19 total TDs. He’s joined in the Beaver Falls backfield by fellow seniors Brixx Rawl, who has 765 yards and eight TDs on 122 carries, and Da’Sean Anderson, who Nardone calls the team’s “Swiss Army knife.”
Anderson started the season as the Tigers quarterback and still spends some time under center, but he’s also one of the team’s top rushers and most dangerous receiving threats. For the season, Anderson has 463 yards rushing on 85 carries, 789 yards passing, 11 receptions for 89 yards and 15 total touchdowns — none bigger than his highlight-reel TD grab on fourth-and-goal against Steel Valley last week.
“With the skill set he has, you could be very frustrated to only get a couple opportunities to catch a ball a game, but he doesn’t say a word,” Nardone said. “He blocks when he needs to block, catches when he needs to catch, plays quarterback when he needs to play quarterback. The fact he had four first-down catches on fourth downs in the WPIAL championship game — if he doesn’t make every single one of those, we lose.”
As for the most integral contributor to Beaver Falls’ magical run to the state semifinals, look no further than special teams ace Mike Blackshear. An elite sprinter who took home a silver medal in the 200 meters at last year’s WPIAL Class 2A championships, Blackshear raced around the edge untouched and blocked both of Steel Valley’s extra-point attempts in the WPIAL title game — proving to be the difference in the Tigers’ 14-12 win. He also recovered a blocked punt in the end zone for the game-winning touchdown with less than two minutes remaining in Beaver Falls’ 14-13 win against Neshannock in the WPIAL quarterfinals on Nov. 10.
“He’s one of the most unselfish kids on the team,” Nardone said. “Just comes out and plays and wants to win. Doesn’t matter about any accolades or recognition. He just plays football. You can’t ask for anything more out of a football player than what Mike gives us.”
For Nardone and his staff, there is no shortage of weapons to game plan for against Westinghouse, starting with dual-threat quarterback Khalil Green. The junior passed for 233 yards and three TDs and added 50 yards on the ground and another score against Farrell last week, and he brings an added element of danger with his legs that not many offenses possess. His favorite targets are senior Taymir O’Neal and junior Lloyd Penn, and both have taken turns making game-changing plays on both offense and defense this season.
The Bulldogs also feature a bruising tailback of their own in senior Ty Abram, along with speedy sophomore Kyshawn Robinson as a change-of-pace back. Robinson also doubles as a shutdown cornerback on defense and is one of the most coveted prospects in the area in the 2026 class. Fellow sophomore Josiah Collins is a certified game-wrecker on Westinghouse’s defensive line, as is senior defensive end Mike Richardson, a fiery competitor who embodies the Bulldogs’ intense nature and unbreakable spirit.
Needless to say, the Tigers will have their hands full on Friday night trying to slow this high-powered Westinghouse team down. But if they can keep things close until late in the fourth quarter, they have to like their chances given their recent run of late-game magic.
“We’re super excited for the opportunity,” Nardone said. “If you would have asked me five or six weeks ago, I don’t know if I would have even believed we would be where we are right now. We’ve gone on a tremendous run, and we feel like we can keep it going.”
After falling flat in a 28-7 defeat in last year’s PIAA quarterfinals against State College, North Allegheny showed no signs of a WPIAL championship hangover this time around. The Tigers (12-1) blew the doors off visiting McDowell in a 41-7 beatdown on Friday to advance to the state semifinals for the first time since 2012, when they won the last of their three PIAA championships.
Standing in the way of a fourth state championship appearance for North Allegheny is District 3 champion Harrisburg (12-1), which outlasted Manheim Township for a 34-28 overtime win in the district finals last week. Saturday’s game at 1 p.m. at Mansion Park Stadium in Altoona will feature two of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the state in Tigers senior Logan Kushner and Harrisburg junior Shawn Lee. Lee has completed 131-of-193 passes for 2,046 yards and 24 touchdowns to only four interceptions, and he also leads the team with 1,405 yards rushing and 19 additional TDs on the ground. Junior tailback Nehemiah Ewell (1,194 yards rushing, 16 TDs) gives Harrisburg a pair of 1,000-yard rushers for North Allegheny to contend with.
The Tigers likely have the deeper, more experienced team, with a dominant line led by seniors Cameron Chmura and Jack Yatchenko and hard-hitting senior linebacker Tyree Alualu setting the tone with his physical play on defense. Senior wide receiver Khiryn Boyd (25 receptions, 639 yards, 13 TDs) is a big play waiting to happen, and Alualu is also a talented running back with 861 yards and 15 TDs on 99 carries. But the centerpiece of North Allegheny’s playoff push has been Kushner, who has taken his game to a new level in the postseason. He now has 1,415 yards passing, 1,120 yards rushing and 38 total touchdowns on the season, and he’ll need to keep up his prolific play in order to lead the Tigers to the state finals.
Peters Township picked up its first state playoff win in school history against Cathedral Prep last week, and the Indians now find themselves in the state semifinals for the first time. Awaiting Peters Township at Mansion Park Stadium in Altoona at 7 p.m. Friday will be District 3 champion Cocalico (12-1), which defeated Ephrata in last week’s district finals, 23-9.
Don’t expect to see Cocalico airing it out much on Friday. The team boasts four players with over 700 yards rushing and 10-plus TDs, compared to only 335 yards passing as a unit. Senior Aaryn Longenecker leads the way with 1,314 yards on 99 carries, and fellow senior Sam Steffey has 132 carries for 821 yards while sharing the team lead with Longenecker with 16 TDs apiece. Junior Josh Myer has rushed for 739 yards and 11 TDs on 130 carries, and sophomore Dane Horning is right behind him with 738 yards and 11 scores on 133 attempts.
The Indians will look to sophomore quarterback Nolan DiLucia to keep up his excellent postseason play, with DiLucia coming off a career-high 301 yards passing in the 33-14 win against Cathedral Prep last week. For the season, DiLucia is up to 2,540 yards passing with 26 touchdowns and eight interceptions, along with 420 yards rushing and eight TDs on the ground. One of the most balanced offenses you’ll find, Peters Township has five players with 20-plus receptions for 300-plus yards, along with a pair of reliable running backs in Vinny Sarcone (648 yards, 21 TDs) and Preston Blair (614 yards, 10 TDs).
After defeating McKeesport to secure its third consecutive WPIAL title and No. 20 overall, Aliquippa now has its sights set on a third consecutive trip to the PIAA Class 4A championship game. The Quips won the 2021 state title against Bishop McDevitt before falling to the Crusaders in last year’s state championship rematch. McDevitt carries a 26-game winning streak into its Eastern region final against Dallas, and many are already clamoring for a rubber match between the two powerhouse programs. But first, Aliquippa (12-0) has a Western region final against District 4 champion Selinsgrove (13-0-1) to take care of at Central Cambria High School at 7 p.m. Friday.
Senior running back Tucker Teats is the driving force behind Selinsgrove’s offensive attack, and with 2,237 yards rushing and 32 touchdowns on 200 carries, he will undoubtedly be one of the best backs the Quips have faced all year. But Aliquippa’s ferocious defense has feasted on other standout tailbacks already this postseason, and if Teats can’t find any room to run, it’s going to be a long night for Selinsgrove. Senior quarterback Mason Pastore has passed for 1,629 yards and 21 TDs with five interceptions, and junior Gavin Bastian is the team’s leading receiver with 49 catches for 768 yards and nine TDs.
For the Quips, record-setting senior quarterback Quentin “Cheese” Goode is now 38-2 overall in three years as a starter, and he’s determined to add a second state title to his trio of WPIAL championships. Goode is playing lights-out under center, and the three-headed monster of Tiqwai Hayes, John Tracy and Cameron Lindsey is wreaking havoc in the backfield. As long as Aliquippa doesn’t overlook its semifinal opponent, the Quips should have a “Goode” chance of advancing to the state finals for the third year in a row.
After shutting out previously unbeaten Avonworth to win its second consecutive WPIAL title, Belle Vernon is now one win away from a return trip to the state finals to defend its PIAA Class 3A championship. The Leopards (11-1) look like a team on a mission, but they will have a tall order in front of them against District 10 champion Hickory (11-2) at North Allegheny High School at 7 p.m. Friday.
Hickory is coming off a 26-13 win against District 6 champion Central, having won eight games in a row following a bit of a slow start to the season. Junior quarterback Zander Telesz has passed for 1,334 yards and 16 touchdowns with six interceptions, and he also has 526 yards rushing and nine TDs on the ground. Telesz is one of three Hickory players with over 500 yards rushing, with freshman Kelvin Morrison leading the team with 783 yards and nine TDs on 91 carries and senior Sean Kennedy tallying 529 yards and eight scores on 87 attempts.
Penn State recruit Quinton Martin (6-3, 205) had an uncharacteristically quiet game in the WPIAL championship, but expect a monster performance from the 2022 PUP co-Player of the Year on Friday with a trip to the state finals on the line. For the season, Martin leads the team in both rushing (99 carries for 958 yards) and receiving (44 catches for 659 yards) with 25 total TDs.
Fort Cherry’s dream season added another memorable chapter with a 42-28 win over top-seeded South Side in a battle of undefeated teams in the WPIAL Class 1A championship game, but the Rangers (14-0) aren’t finished yet. Fresh off capturing their first WPIAL title, they are now one win away from their first state championship appearance — and with super sophomore Matt Sieg leading the way, it’s hard not to like their chances.
A stiff challenge awaits Fort Cherry in the form of District 9 champion Redbank Valley (12-1) at Farrell High School at 7 p.m. Friday. The Bulldogs feature their own stellar sophomore quarterback in Braylon Wagner, who leads a high-powered offensive attack with 2,744 yards passing and 43 touchdowns to only five interceptions. Wagner also has 300 yards rushing and eight TDs on the ground, giving him 3,044 total yards and 51 total TDs on the year.
As for Sieg, the Rangers’ dual-threat star has accounted for a WPIAL-leading 58 total TDs in 2023, with 1,504 yards passing and 20 touchdowns to just three interceptions along with 1,963 yards rushing and 38 TDs on the ground. He racked up 344 total yards and four scores in the WPIAL championship win against South Side, and he always seems to play even better as the moment gets bigger and the lights get brighter. It’s almost expected of him at this point, but it goes without saying that Sieg will need another spectacular performance to lead Fort Cherry to its first state final on Friday.