To the victors goes the spoils.
It should come as no surprise that Mt. Lebanon dominates The Almanac 2021 football all-star team.
The Blue Devils posted a 15-0 record complete with their first state championship. Lebo also captured its first WPIAL banner in 21 years.
While it took a total team effort, eight players excelled enough to garner all-conference acclaim as well as The Almanac honors.
Mt. Lebanon’s Eli Heidenreich led the list as Most Valuable Player. Blue Devils standouts Joey Daniels, Alex Tecza, Jack Smith, Tom Boehner, Owen Halter, William Harvey and Kade Capristo joined Heidenreich on the first team.
A three-year starter at quarterback, Daniels completed 112 of 189 passes for 31 touchdowns and 2,118 yards. He also added four rushing scores and one touchdown reception.
“Joey was as productive a quarterback as I ever coached,” said Palko. “His completion percentage (59.26) and yards passing are amazing but what people don’t see is all the effort he put into preparing to play the position. He put the time in to build his body and master the craft. He was doing the work when no one was watching. That is why we were in the position we were.”
Tecza dominated the ground attack. A three-year starter, Tecza rolled up 2,079 yards rushing on 259 carries. He scored 25 touchdowns and did not fumble once. He also caught 27 passes for 209 yards and four more scores.
A defensive back, Tecza managed 32 tackles — 18 solo and 14 assisted. He had two interceptions.
“Alex has an extremely high football IQ and he’s extremely talented. His production and blend of power and vision enabled him to be successful on offense,” Palko said. “Not too many guys carry as many times for as many yards as he did and not fumble the ball. He also had the ability to catch the ball. He also had the ability to allow us to handle multiple defenses and do other things.
“Every leader can’t be a ‘rah, rah, let’s go’ kind of guy but Alex had a real quiet confidence about him. Alex was a master at his style of leadership. He never yelled. He was one of the best that I have seen at leading by example. It was cool to watch him lead in his own style.”
A quarterback at the start of his career, Smith found his niche at linebacker and tight end for the Blue Devils. He compiled 43 tackles — 32 solo, 11 assisted — and recorded four sacks. He and Boehner each finished with 11 tackles for a loss. Smith also forced two fumbles and recovered one in the state final.
On offense, Smith had five receptions for 142 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw for one score.
“We always knew how good Jack could be,” Palko said. “We had nothing to prove it but all of a sudden he just blew up from a talent point. It was like a light bulb coming on. It was simply remarkable to see what progress he made, how good he became and what he did for this team.”
Boehner brought the sizzle to the Lebo defense. He ranked second on the squad, behind Heidenreich, in tackles with 46 — 28 solo and 18 assisted. An outside linebacker, he led the Blue Devils with five sacks. He also had an interception.
“Tommy played out of position,” said Palko, who projects Boehner will play in the secondary at the next level, “but we needed what he had.
He brought the energy we needed,” the coach added. “We had an expression ‘BLT’ because we wanted everyone on the team to be like Tommy. He played with reckless abandon. He was always ready.”
Halter was prepared on both sides of the line and played every down. He ranked first with 13 tackles for a loss, and third in tackles with 45, while recording 4 sacks. He forced a fumble and recovered another.
“He was the model of consistency,” Palko said of Halter. “His toughness and relentless work ethic were unbelievable.”
Harvey was another two-way player for the Blue Devils. He managed 22 tackles and seven more for a loss. He added two sacks and forced a fumble.
“I truly believe William is the best two-way player in Pennsylvania,” Palko said. “His body of work is incredible. He turned himself into an unbelievable student athlete. He’s real talented.”
Capristo excelled particularly on an offensive line that enabled Lebo to average 277 yards rushing and 164.87 yards passing per game. The Blue Devils scored 41 rushing and 36 passing touchdowns this season and averaged 6.45 yards per run.
“Obviously from a size standpoint, Kade is a large human being,” Palko said of the 6-3, 275-pound junior. “His intensity and the way in which he has improved has been remarkable. He’s really studied the game and it showed in how he played. Kade has gone from someone being a really good player to somebody who is going to have his school paid for. His game increased that much.”
PT lands 6 stars
Injuries hindered Peters Township’s efforts in duplicating past successes.
The Indians captured three consecutive conference championships and competed in back-to-back WPIAL finals before posting a 7-5 slate in 2021.
Once recovered completely from a shoulder injury, Sam Miller submitted strong numbers. His efforts landed him No. 2 all-time for single-season yardage in school history and on the Allegheny Six All-Conference team.
A 6-0, 185-pound senior, Miller completed 156 of 271 passes for 2,123 yards and 18 touchdowns. He also rushed for five more scores.
Miller also started at cornerback and handled the punting for the Indians, averaging 30.35 yards per kick. He will continue athletic career but not in football. A standout pitcher and shortstop, Miller will play baseball at Columbia University.
Jacob Macosko, a 6-1, 180-pound senior, was Miller’s top target. He hauled in 53 passes for 836 yards and nine scores.
Macosko earned first-team all-conference honors at wide receiver. He ranked third with 39 solo and 39 assisted tackles. He forced a fumble, intercepted a pass and had two tackles for a loss.
Nico Pate, Mason Mehl, Max Short and Pat McDonnell each earned first-team all-conference laurels on defense.
A 6-0, 165-pound senior, Mehl led the Indians with 55 solo and 55 assisted tackles. He also recorded 13 tackles for a loss and recovered two fumbles. He had one sack and one forced fumble.
A 6-1, 225-pound senior linebacker, Pate led the Indians with 14 tackles for a loss to go along with five sacks and two interceptions. He forced and recovered a fumble and racked up 42 total tackles, 21 of them solo.
A 5-11, 215-pound senior, Short anchored the defensive line at tackle. His play helped the Indians limit opponents to 18.3 points per game. Short also excelled on the offensive line.
McDonnell also contributed on both sides of the ball. A 6-2, 200-pound senior, he recorded 48 tackles, 24 of them solo. He had a sack and two tackles for a loss.
McDonnell also pulled in one touchdown pass on offense.
CV’s dynamic duo
Chartiers Valley High School has seen a revival in football recently and Anthony Mackey and Abraham Ibrahim have provided the one-two punch.
A three-year starter, Mackey ranked among the WPIAL passing leaders for the past two seasons. He threw for 2,490 career yards and 25 touchdowns, while rushing for 1,296 career yards and 15 more scores.
This autumn, Mackey averaged 250 yards of offense per game prior to suffering a season-ending injuring in a Week 8 loss to Beaver.
Mackey completed 81 of 128 passes for 1,019 yards and 12 touchdowns. He gained 564 yards rushing on 78 carries while reaching the end zone seven additional times.
On defense, Mackey managed 33 tackles. He also had two tackles for a loss, three deflections and two interceptions. He averaged 35.5 yards per punt and racked up 257 yards on kickoff returns.
“Anthony is a gifted, intelligent athlete that did special things for us,” CV head coach Dan Knause said. “He was elite on both sides of the ball.”
A 6-0, 171-pound senior, Mackey earned first-team all-conference honors for the Colts, who finished 4-6 overall.
Ibrahim garnered first-team all-conference laurels at wide receiver and honorable mention acclaim on defense.
A 6-3, 203-pound senior, Ibrahim ranked first in the Parkway Conference and second in the WPIAL with 49 receptions and 892 yards this season. He scored nine touchdowns.
A three-year letter winner, he finished with 1,243 career yards and 15 scores.
Ibrahim also recorded 80 tackles — 33 solo, 47 assisted — with three sacks and two tackles for a loss.
“Abraham had a special season,” Knause said. “He is a role model. He does all the right things on the field, in the classroom and as a person. He, too, is a gifted athlete. Fluid and explosive with great ball skills.”
South Fayette missed the playoffs and experienced a rare 4-6 season this fall but the Lions were not without exceptional play from veterans such as Keon Johnson.
A four-year letter winner, he led the Lions in tackles with 78 and sacks with six. Johnson also picked up seven tackles for a loss.
A 5-9, 255-pound two-way linemen, Johnson earned all-conference first-team acclaim at defensive end.
“Keon is thick and explosive and has playmaking abilities,” SF coach Joe Rossi said. “He comes up with the tackle or sack when you need him.”
Trio led USC
Upper St. Clair may have compiled a lackluster 6-5 record but the 2021 football season was anything but dull for the Panthers.
Mateo Cepullio and Ethan Hiester engineered the excitement on the field for the Panthers. Both seniors were three-year starters that earned first-team all-conference honors on defense but left their mark on offense.
Cepullio ranked among the WPIAL leaders in receiving before shifting late in the season to quarterback. He led USC with 34 receptions for 390 yards and eight touchdowns then completed 27 passes for 315 yards and three scores.
“Mateo was the heart and soul of our aerial attack for my entire team as head coach,” said USC head coach Mike Junko. “On defense, he was a shutdown corner that was matched against the best teams had to offer.”
A standout centerfielder, Cepullio will play baseball in college. He signed with Akron in November.
Hiester accepted a preferred walk-on offer from West Virginia University.
A standout punter, Hiester blocked two field goals that led to the wins over BP and SF. In addition to being one of the team’s leading tacklers on defense, Hiester led USC in rushing with 638 yards on 143 carries for a 4.5-yard average. He scored eight touchdowns and had a two-point conversion.
“Ethan’s a punishing running back and a defensive stopper,” Junko said. “A tireless worker and fine young man with a bright future playing college football.”
Mark Banbury joins Hiester and Cepullio on the all-star list. A junior, he anchored the defensive and offensive lines for the Panthers. He claimed first-team all-conference honors.
“Mark was a difference maker on both sides of the ball,” Junko said.
Four fuel BP
After going winless in 2020, Bethel Park won a handful of games, finished third in the Allegheny Six Conference and qualified for the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs.
While several dozens players contributed to BP’s revival, four distinguished themselves as first-team all-conference performers. Troy Volpatti, Braedon Del Duca, Gavin Moul and Austin Caye also gained The Almanac recognition.
Volpatti, who has been named an all-star by The Almanac twice, led the Black Hawks in rushing with 1,068 yards on 207 carries. He also caught 23 passes for 252 yards. Volpatti racked up 17 touchdowns.
“Troy was a threat to score any time he touched the ball,” said BP coach Brian DeLallo.
BP had both a 1,000-yard rusher in Volpatti and a 1,000-yard passer in Max Blanc because of Braedon Del Duca. A senior guard, he anchored the offensive line.
“Braedon was our most consistent O-lineman,” said DeLallo. “He could play any position along the line.”
Moul and Caye gained notoriety for their defensive efforts.
A middle linebacker, Moul recorded 81 tackles — 69 unassisted. He had eight sacks and 23 tackles for loss.
“Gavin makes us go, defensively,” said DeLallo. “He is a physical presence in the middle.”
A strong safety, Caye managed 36 tackles and four more for losses. He broke up two passes and intercepted two others.
“Austin can play the pass like a D-back and the run like a linebacker,” DeLallo said. “His versatility was very important to our defense.”
Ryan Petras completes BP’s list of all-stars. A freshman, he has been named The Almanac’s Rookie of the Year.
A wide receiver, he had 12 catches for 171 yards for a 14.3 average. He rushed for 161 yards on 21 carries for a 7.3 average. On special teams, he returned 12 kicks for 310 yards and seven punts for 39 more. He totaled five touchdowns.
“As a freshman, he never was nervous or out-of-place,” DeLallo said. “Ryan has a chance to be great.”
The Almanac football all-stars were selected with input from the area coaches and consideration for achievements during game competition.