WPIAL quarterfinals a prime time to see regular-season rematches
Plum coach Matt Morgan and his Mustangs walked off their home field after a 20-3 loss to McKeesport in Week 7 cognizant of how close they came to a win despite a paltry offensive performance.
They’re just as aware of the rare opportunity that stands before them: a rematch with McKeesport on Friday in the WPIAL Class AAAA quarterfinals.
“I made a point this week to tell our guys we were winning 3-0 at halftime, even as bad as we played offensively,” Morgan said. “McKeesport will want to come out and tee off on us this time, but we’re ready for it.”
While most teams must wait a year to avenge regular-season losses, a fortunate few — or unfortunate, depending on perception — receive the chance in the playoffs. WPIAL officials generally avoid rematches of regular-season games when they piece together first-round pairings, but they’re unable to prevent repeat matchups in the quarterfinals and beyond.
There are three such instances Friday: No. 13 Plum (6-4) and No. 5 McKeesport (9-1) square off as Quad East cohorts; Century Conference foes South Fayette (10-0) and South Park (8-2) meet as the Nos. 1 and 9 seeds, respectively, in Class AA; and No. 2 Aliquippa (10-0) and No. 7 Mt. Pleasant (8-2) play just three weeks after their nonconference clash.
Teams tend to view the playoffs as opportunities to test themselves against new opponents, but some get just one postseason game before they run into familiar foes. Each of the past five seasons, at least three quarterfinal games were rematches — six occurred in 2009. Only three times since 2009 has the regular-season loser won the quarterfinal.
As chairman of the WPIAL football steering committee, Gateway athletic director Randy Rovesti masterminded the brackets’ assembly and gave considerable thought to when and how rematches might occur. The WPIAL strives to get what it considers the four best teams in each class to the semifinals, Rovesti said, so it’s more tolerant of rematches at that stage. The balanced nature of Nos. 8-9, 7-10 and 6-11 first-round games makes quarterfinal matchups the most difficult for WPIAL officials to anticipate.
“The top two or three teams are easy to place, and the bottom two or three teams are easy to place, but in the middle, it’s very competitive games,” Rovesti said.
A season ago, McKeesport fell to conference foe Penn-Trafford in the quarterfinals after beating the Warriors by 20 in Week 4.
The Tigers will try to avoid back-to-back years of result reversals.
“Plum’s defense was strong the first time,” McKeesport coach George Smith said. “We had to beat them with some special plays. We had two passing touchdowns, and that is unusual for us.”
South Fayette understands the dynamics of same-season rematches in the quarterfinals even better, as the Lions are in one for the third time in four years. In 2013, they defeated Seton-La Salle, 31-7, in the quarterfinals after winning 45-3 in Week 5. And in 2011, they lost to the Rebels in both Week 8 and the quarterfinals.
In each of the Seton-La Salle rematches, the team that lost the first time put up a considerably tougher fight in the playoffs, coach Joe Rossi noted. The Lions, for example, led the Rebels, 42-3, at halftime in their 2013 regular-season game but were tied 7-7 through two quarters in the quarterfinal-round contest.
Rossi considers a similar storyline possible for Friday’s game against South Park, which lost to the Lions, 59-20, in Week 3 and trailed 40-0 after the first quarter.
“Anytime you face an opponent, especially one with a good coach like (former Seton coach Greg Perry) and (South Park coach Tom Loughran), they’re going to make adjustments, as we are, so it’s always hard,” Rossi said. “The WPIAL tries to stay away from rematches, but (South Park) upset Beaver. Our staff thought they’d win the game, so we were prepared.”
Loughran kept his message simple when he addressed the rematch with his players: Don’t commit six turnovers this time.
“This is an opportunity where we can prove ourselves as long as we take care of turnovers and penalties and things that put you in a bad position,” Loughran said. “We knew sooner or later we’d have to play them if we could win (in the first round).”
Mt. Pleasant coach Bo Ruffner similarly framed his team’s rematch with Aliquippa. The Quips thumped the Vikings, 63-14, in Week 8, but led 6-0 after the first quarter and 34-14 at halftime.
“With video, you get a little bit of an idea about what the other team is like, but in this case, they got to see us, and we got to see them, so there probably aren’t any secrets left,” said Ruffner, whose Vikings committed five turnovers in that loss. “We just have to still be ourselves and do things better this time. … It’s Week 11 of the season, so we’ve already established our identity. We’re not going to try to reinvent ourselves at this point.”