It has been 26 years since anyone has been able to make this statement: South Allegheny is going to the WPIAL football playoffs.
One of the longest playoff droughts in the WPIAL came to an end Friday night when South Allegheny defeated Keystone Oaks, 34-10. No matter what South Allegheny does in its final two games, the Gladiators have clinched a Class AA playoff spot for the first time since 1986.
South Allegheny is 6-1 overall and 5-1 in the Century Conference. The six wins are the most for the Gladiators since 1988.
"We've played some good football the past few years," South Allegheny coach Pat Monroe said. "Our record stunk, but we played some good football. I didn't get any smarter as a coach this year. The reason you are good is because you have players. This year, we have players who have stayed healthy, who are working together and are pretty good.
"We're burning candles and burning sage this year because these guys have stayed healthy. We've been fortunate, unlike the last couple years. We lost some good players to injuries. This year, we don't really have a weak spot we're trying to cover anywhere."
South Allegheny doesn't have a star offensive player with big statistics. But the Gladiators are averaging 29 points a game. The defense has been solid, too. South Allegheny hasn't allowed more than 14 points in any of the six wins.
While South Allegheny's players showed excitement about making the playoffs, Monroe questions whether the players fully understand the significance of the accomplishment.
"If you're a 16- or 17-year-old, you've spent the early part of your life just being a little kid," Monroe said. "The awareness isn't that great for something like this. But the kids feed off other people who have been around the program awhile, and they feed off the enthusiasm of the school and community. There is a tremendous amount of enthusiasm over here."
Monroe is in his fifth season as South Allegheny's coach. He was the coach at Duquesne High School for 15 seasons, winning WPIAL and PIAA titles in 1993.
Besides 1986, the only other times South Allegheny made the playoffs were 1976 and '77. The '77 team won a WPIAL championship. To show you how much the district has changed, the '76 team was in the AAA playoffs, which was the largest classification in the WPIAL at the time. South Allegheny lost in the first round to Gateway and the AAA playoffs that year also included Butler and Mt. Lebanon, among others. Now, Gateway, Butler and Mt. Lebanon are still in the largest classification (AAAA) while South Allegheny is in Class AA.
Monroe, who works as the special programs coordinator at South Allegheny High School, is familiar with those fine South Allegheny teams of the '76 and '77 seasons. Monroe played at Penn State and his roommate there was Dave Opfar, who played on the '76 and '77 South Allegheny teams.
Blackhawk has a 1-6 record, but a few points here and there and the Cougars could easily have a winning record.
Is there a team in the WPIAL with worse luck than Blackhawk? Four of Blackhawk's six losses are by a total of 11 points, and a 40-35 loss Friday to undefeated Montour was another heartbreaker decided late in the game. It was the second time this season Blackhawk lost in the final few seconds as Montour scored the winning touchdown with nine seconds left.
In the season opener, Blackhawk lost to West Allegheny, 31-27, with West Allegheny scoring the winning touchdown with 1.4 seconds left. Blackhawk also lost to Beaver, 41-40, when Beaver returned a blocked punt for a touchdown with 2:09 left. In a 7-6 loss to Hopewell, Blackhawk missed two field goals.
This is the second-to-last week of the regular season and this week's schedule has some games that might decide conference championships. But the WPIAL also has scheduled some very interesting non-conference games.
Bethel Park (5-2) plays at Seneca Valley in a WPIAL Class AAAA non-conference matchup. Two other top non-conference matchups are Washington (7-0) at Freeport (6-1) in Class AA and North Catholic (6-1) at Neshannock (6-1) in Class A.
Maybe, just maybe, Aliquippa will be tested in a game for the first time this season.
Aliquippa is 7-0 and has outscored opponents, 365-22, and no team has come within 36 points of the Quips. They have forced the mercy rule in all seven games.
But Aliquippa plays host to Beaver Falls Thursday night in a big Class AA Midwestern Conference game. The game will be televised by Root Sports. Beaver Falls is 6-1.
Quarterback Matt Bodamer of Port Allegany High School in District 9 set a state record for career touchdown passes in 69-30 victory Saturday against Sheffield. Bodamer threw four touchdown passes to give him 120 for his career, breaking the record of 118 set by Lancaster Catholic's Kyle Smith from 2006-09.
But Bodamer, a 6-foot-1, 180-pound senior, also has a good chance to break the state record for career passing yardage. Bodamer completed 19 of 26 for 294 yards against Sheffield and has 9,188 yards in his career. He is one of only three QBs in Pennsylvania history to throw for 9,000 yards. The state record for career passing is 9,752 yards, set by Derek Buganza, a 2011 Brockway graduate. This season, Bodamer is 125 of 164 for 2,191 yards and 35 touchdowns.
You could see Bodamer in the PIAA Class A playoffs because Port Allegany is 7-0 this season.