As the 2016 football season began, the talk was about the effect of moving from four to six classes and the change did prove interesting. The realignment meant more playoff spots in some classes and fewer in others and that's exactly what happened.
In Class 3A, Beaver finished 7-2 and outscored its opponents by 200 points but didn't make the playoffs while, in Class 2A, Freedom 3-6 in the regular season and was outscored by 40 points but made the playoffs – and won a game.
Even before the season started, there was a tragedy as Aliquippa running back DiMantae Bronaugh passed away from leukemia after battling the disease for a year. He had worked his way back into football shape with the disease in remission but it returned before he ever had a practice in pads.
Eventually, though, 13 of the 21 local teams qualified for the playoffs and seven of them won their first-round games (Aliquippa, Beaver Falls, Fort Cherry, Freedom, Riverside, Rochester, and West Allegheny). Rochester and Riverside both reached the semifinals while Aliquippa, Beaver Falls, and West Allegheny all made it to Heinz Field.
In the championship game, Beaver Falls avenged its season-opening loss to Aliquippa with a 35-22 win and West Allegheny went to overtime to defeat McKeesport, 38-37, on a two-point conversion. Quarterback Nick Ross, known more as a 2,500-yards plus passer, rolled out on the winning conversion and ran it in himself in as exciting a finish as there had been at Heinz Field. West Allegheny's success continued a few more weeks after that but its season ended in the PIAA semifinals, falling to Hershey.
Beaver Falls, though, played even longer. The Tigers came from behind in the first PIAA game to defeat Martinsburg Central, 14-7, and then handled Middletown with relative ease, 30-13, in the PIAA championship, despite playing without one of its top defensive linemen because of a suspension.
That suspension put the spotlight on Beaver Falls coach Ryan Matsook before the game and it stayed there afterwards.
Matsook became the third member of his family to coach a team to a state championship. His dad, Dan, had taken Rochester to the state championship in 1998. Then his uncle, Gene, took the Rams to state championships in 2000 and 2001 with Ryan as the offensive coordinator.
"This wasn't about me," Ryan Matsook said after the game. "This was about our team and our program. This was a special group of kids we had this year."
Matsook continued to make news after the year as he resigned in the offseason to take an administrative position at Western Beaver. He wasn't the only key member of the Tigers that didn't finish the year.
Standout defensive lineman Donovan Jeter left early to begin his career at the University of Michigan and quarterback/defensive back Mailk Shepherd transferred to Aliquippa but has been ruled ineligible.