TOP FOUR SEEDS: Thomas Jefferson, Hopewell, Chartiers Valley, and West Allegheny.
SLATE: This Friday's first round games, all at 7:30 p.m.
No. 16 Laurel Highlands (3-6) at No. 1 Thomas Jefferson (9-0)
No. 9 Montour (5-4) at No. 8 Franklin Regional (7-2)
No. 13 Knoch (3-6) at No. 4 West Allegheny (7-2)
No. 12 New Castle (7-2) at No. 5 Greensburg Salem (8-1)
No. 15 Derry (3-6) at No. 2 Hopewell (9-0)
No. 10 Trinity (4-5) at No. 7 Mars (6-3)
No. 14 Hampton (5-4) at No. 3 Chartiers Valley (8-1)
No. 11 Belle Vernon (5-4) at No. 6 Uniontown (6-3)
FAVORITE: Thomas Jefferson
The Jaguars' resume gets more impressive with each week. Their winning streak is now up to 44 consecutive WPIAL games. They've won three-straight WPIAL titles, and four out of the last five. Two-straight PIAA titles. And they're undefeated again this year, averaging 37.6 points per game while allowing just 53 points on the entire season. Senior QB Sam Johnston leads the TJ offense having surpassed 1,500 passing yards on the season during last weekend's 42-0 rout over West Mifflin.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Rushel Shell, Hopewell
It's hard not to list the sophomore running back sensation as the top player in the Class AAA postseason, especially after he surpassed 2,000 yards on the season during last weekend's 49-0 blanking of Moon Area. But, at for this Friday's game against Derry, the only place you'll find Shell is on the Hopewell sideline. Mike White of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported on his blog on Wednesday that Shell has been suspended from school due to a violation of the district's tobacco policy. According to White's report, Shell had a can of chewing tobacco in his possession, which is against policy, and Shell has admitted to having it but said it was given to him.
SLEEPER: West Allegheny
While Shell has been stealing the running back headlines in the Parkway Conference and Class AAA in general all season, West Allegheny has a stellar running back of its own in Mike Caputo. Shell is the top rusher this year in all of the WPIAL; Caputo is second, averaging around eight yards per carry. And one of West Allegheny's losses came against Hopewell in a game that saw Caputo put 218 yards on the board, only to be surpassed by Shell's 349. A potential semifinal matchup between these two teams would be stellar, and it would not be surprising at all to see West Allegheny do everything it can to exact revenge against its Parkway Conference rival.
SURPRISE PICK: No. 12 New Castle will knock off No. 5 Greensburg Salem.
New Castle is a very strong 7-2 team, coming out of the tough Parkway Conference. The Red Hurricanes gave Hopewell a game through the first half before succumbing to the talents of Shell in the second half. Sophomore QB Johnny Matarazzo is a true pocket passer and has great poise in the pocket. And Greensburg Salem comes out of the Keystone Conference, which saw five of its seven teams finish with a sub-.500 record this season.
PREDICTION: Thomas Jefferson over Hopewell.
It's the matchup that just about everyone in the WPIAL has been hoping for since the early part of the season - the perennial favorite TJ against the unbelievable talent of Shell and his Hopewell teammates. Shell is a dominant back, assuming he stays out of trouble for the rest of the post-season, but the Vikings are one-year away from staking their claim to the title. TJ will win in a nail-biter at Heinz Field in what will end up being the best game of the day.