TOP FOUR SEEDS: Gateway, Woodland Hills, Bethel Park, and North Allegheny.
SLATE: This Friday's first round games, all at 7:30 p.m.
No. 16 Plum (3-6) at No. 1 Gateway (9-0)
No. 9 Penn Hills (4-5) at No. 8 Upper St. Clair (6-3)
No. 13 Greater Latrobe (4-5) at No. 4 North Allegheny (8-1)
No. 12 North Hills (4-5) at No. 5 McKeesport (7-2)
No. 15 Baldwin (2-7) at No. 2 Woodland Hills (8-1)
No. 10 Seneca Valley (5-4) at No. 7 Pittsburgh Central Catholic (7-2)
No. 14 Penn-Trafford (3-6) at No. 3 Bethel Park (8-1)
No. 11 Mt. Lebanon (5-4) at No. 6 Shaler (8-1)
At the beginning of the year, coach Terry Smith described his team as "inexperienced." It's hard to believe that, looking at this team now. Fourth-year starting QB Rob Kalkstein has been nothing short of brilliant in his senior campaign, as he has been willing the team to return to Heinz Field for a final shot at raising the trophy, after being the runner-up the past two seasons. Orne Bey, Dayonne Nunley, and Brendon Felder have combined to create an offensive attack that has averaged 47 points per game.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Dom Timbers, Woodland Hills
The Wolverines' running back and Syracuse recruit has very quietly amassed 989 yards and 18 touchdowns on the season for a team whose only loss came back on Week 1 to the Big Red of Steubenville, Ohio. If Woodland Hills meets No. 3 Bethel Park in the Class AAAA semis as anticipated, it would be a rematch of a Week 4 battle that resulted in a 21-17 Woodland Hills win, capped by a 116-yard night by Timbers.
SLEEPER: Bethel Park
Funny how no one seems to be talking about last year's WPIAL champion and PIAA runner-up, but coach Jeff Metheny has his Black Hawks soaring right back into the playoffs. Bethel Park's only loss of the year came at No. 2 Woodland Hills. Led by senior QB Matt Bliss and RB Bre Ford, Bethel Park has shown resilience this season, winning some close games throughout the regular-season. Expect that experience to come in handy as the post-season continues on.
SURPRISE PICK: The top eight seeds will all win in the first-round.
The Class AAAA bracket seems to be the only WPIAL field this year that, at least on paper, looks extremely predictable. While the top eight teams are all relatively equal, teams eight through 16 are ... well, not so much. The closest battle looks to be Upper St. Clair against Penn Hills, but Penn Hills has underachieved this season and USC should pull away for the win. Every home team will win on Friday night, setting up an intriguing second-round with games that are much more competitive.
PREDICTION: Gateway over Bethel Park.
It's the movie-script-in-the-making finale. The Gators and Black Hawks meet again at Heinz Field for the second consecutive year with a WPIAL title on the line. But this time, Kalkstein gets his trophy, the Gators get their revenge and finally win a title and advance in the state playoffs in a close, hard-fought but high-scoring affair.