Thursday, September 18, 2014

WPIAL Week 4 Games of the Week

The high school football season is a third of the way in the books and there are early-season surprises across the board. Traditional powerhouses like Upper St Clair, North Allegheny, Gateway and Rochester have struggled out of the gate. Teams that have not seen the postseason in years like Norwin, Southmoreland, Shenango and Mapletown are off to quick starts. Only two schools still have goose- eggs on the scoreboard. Clairton has gotten off to a record-breaking start, scoring 230 points in 3 games while not allowing an opponent to score. On the other side of the coin, Brownsville has yet to score a point this season. Last week, Derry got off the schnide with a victory over Charleroi, their first win since August 31, 2012, ending the 5th longest losing streak in the WPIAL at 19 games. Derry's conference losing streak ended at 22 games, the same number where Plum's streak ended after their Week 1 victory over Hempfield. I'll talk more about some of the longer losing streaks in this post, as some of the teams at the top of the list have an opportunity to break their streaks as well.

If you're going to be at home tonight, keep an eye on the following hashtags on Twitter to follow along as people post score updates from games: #WPIAL #MSAscores #Skylights

Also, if you're not already, follow the @MSAsports twitter account which will post score updates and bookmark the MSA Scoreboard for quick reference at the end of the night. They get the final scores up faster than anyone. Also, MSA Sports broadcasts most games over the internet, here is their list of the games they will be broadcasting tonight.

I'll update my WPIAL Standings Page at the end of the night. It's the only one available that includes all playoff tiebreakers (Gardner Points, WPIAL Points Tiebreaker and Head-to-Head wins).

Week 4 is loaded with premier matchups at the top of the slate as well as some games between bad teams that could be very meaningful to the schools involved.

Mt. Lebanon (2-0, 3-0) at Penn Hills (2-0, 2-1)

Mt Lebanon and Penn Hills are currently tied with Woodland Hills at 2-0 atop the Southeastern Conference. Most believe that Woody High is the best team in the conference (and maybe the best team in Quad-A) but the winner of this game will be the clear challenger to the Wolverines in the Conference. This game is loaded with playoff implications because the top 2 teams in each conference are guaranteed home playoff games so the winner will also have an inside track to hosting a playoff game. The game features two dual-threat quarterbacks. The Blue Devils are led by Eddie Jenkins who has 139 rushing yards and 3 TDs and 389 passing yards and 8 TDs this season. Penn Hills QB Billy Kisner has accounted for 138 pass yards and 1 TD and 217 rush yards and 2 TDs while getting help in the backfield from leading rusher Te'Shan Campbell who has 265 yards and 6 TDs.

Honorable Mentions: Upper St Clair at North Allegheny

Upper St Clair plays North Allegheny and the loser will fall to 1-3. That's a sentence I never though I would type. It's hard to imagine either Jim Render or Art Walker having a 1-3 team, but one of them will be. USC-NA will likely draw the most headlines this week because of the schools involved, but it is not my Quad-A game of the week because both teams are 1-2 and it is a non-conference game that does not have immediate playoff implications.

Bad Teams, Big Meaning: Butler at Shaler

Shaler currently holds the longest losing streak in the WPIAL at 25 games. The Titans have lost 16 straight conference games. Outside of their season finale at Seneca Valley (who look totally out of sorts without QB TJ Holl), this home game against Butler is their best opportunity to break their losing streak. Things aren't looking good so far for Shaler as they are one of 3 Quad-A teams to have allowed over 100 points through 3 games and have the lowest-scoring offense in Quad-A with just 14 points.

Central Valley (2-0, 3-0) at Moon (2-0, 2-1)

The Warriors have put together three impressive victories, including a 42-28 demolishing of Penn Hills, one of the better Quad-A teams, last week. In the Parkway Conference, Central Valley and Moon both sit at 2-0, a half game behind West Allegheny for the top spot. In a relatively sparse AAA slate, this is the only matchup between two teams that have not lost a conference game. Central Valley boasts one of the best athletes in the WPIAL in WR/CB Jordan Whitehead who has a number of Division 1 scholarship offers, including Alabama. Whitehead was penalized last week for being too athletic - he hurdled a Penn Hills defender and drew a flag because hurdling is not allowed by the WPIAL because of some arcane rules. Central Valley has the second highest-scoring offense in AAA and Moon (who has allowed 21 more points than they have scored this year) will be hard pressed to defend the Warriors attack.

Honorable Mentions: Ringgold at West Mifflin, Thomas Jefferson at Elizabeth Forward,

The Big Nine Conference has 6 teams that are either 3-0 or 2-1 overall while the other 3 schools are all 0-3. This week features two matchups between teams in the top 6 of the conference. Ringgold rebounded after a shellacking at the hands of TJ in Week 1 while West Mifflin is one of the two unbeaten teams. TJ, once again, looks like one of the best teams in AAA and all 3 of their wins have come against teams in the top 6 of the conference. TJ carries the second longest conference winning streak in the WPIAL at 19 games. Elizabeth Forward has rebounded to a 2-1 start after losing their opener by a point to Laurel Highlands.

Bad Team, Big Meaning: Gateway at Knoch

Knoch is not a bad team. Knoch is currently tied with Hampton atop the Greater Allegheny Conference and already has a win over Franklin Regional. Gateway, however, is a different story. The Gators moved down from Quad-A and were expected to be one of the elite in AAA, particularly with the addition of former Clairton coach Tom Nola. Unfortunately, the Gators have started 0-3 which is as many losses as Nola had in the last 5 years at Clairton. This game has a huge meaning for a proud Gateway program that seems completely out of sorts this season, having the second-lowest scoring offense in AAA.

Apollo-Ridge (3-0, 3-0) at Shady Side Academy (3-0, 3-0)

All four AA conferences have big matchups this week but there are two monster matchups in the Allegheny Conference with Conference Championship implications. The top four teams all face off as Apollo-Ridge takes on Shady Side Academy in a battle of unbeatens and Highlands meets Kittanning. The Vikings boast one of the best athletes in AA in Pitt recruit Tre Tipton. Tipton has donw it all for Apollo-Ridge. Through 3 games he has 360 rushing yards, 113 receiving yards, 128 passing yards and 7 total TDs. Dual-threat QB Duane Brown has thrown for 172 yards and 1 TD and rushed for 364 yards and 8 scores.  If you have a chance to see him play this year, Tipton alone is worth the price of admission. Apollo-Ridge is coming off an overtime victory over Kittanning while Shady Side Academy has not been tested yet this season. The Indians have relied on a dominant rushing attack on the legs of Eric Harris (358 yards, 6 TDs), Lewis Berry (330 yards, 6 TDs) and Jackson Fitzgerald (227 yards, 3 TDs). Their rushing game has been so dominant, quarterback Doc Szlachetka has only thrown 12 passes through 3 games. Both teams are averaging over 38 points per game and this game will matchup the all-around athletic playmaking skill of Tipton and Brown against the three-headed monster in the Indians backfield.

Honorable Mentions: Highlands at Kittanning, Seton-La Salle at Steel Valley, Mt Pleasant at Waynesburg, Beaver at New Brighton

If Kittanning had beaten Apollo-Ridge last week, their game against Highlands would be the highlighted game in AA this week. As it is, the Wildcats now have to take on an undefeated Highlands team that is loaded with talented players of their own. In the Century Conference, two of the three unbeaten teams face off to determine who will be the primary challenger to South Fayette. This game features two explosive offenses in Seton-La Salle's passing game behind QB Tyler Perrone (457 yards, 6 TDs) against Steel Valley's rushing attack on the legs of DeWayne Murray (503 rush yards, 189 receiving yards, 13 TDs) . In the Interstate Conference, Waynesburg lost a heartbreaker in the closing minutes to rival Washington last week but has a chance to assert themselves as one of the top teams in the Interstate against an undefeated Mt Pleasant squad this week. In the Midwestern Conference, Beaver scored a huge victory over Beaver Falls last week and now has to face undefeated New Brighton. The winner will assert themselves as the primary challenger to Aliquippa and have the inside track towards the home playoff game that comes with a top-2 finish.

Bad Teams, Big Meaning: Charleroi at Burgettstown

Burgettstown has the second-longest losing streak in the WPIAL at 24 games. The Blue Devils also have the longest conference losing streak in the WPIAL at 22 games. Entering the season, 3 of the 5 longest losing streaks in the WPIAL were held by Interstate Conference teams (Derry, Brownsville, Burgettstown). Last week, Derry broke their streak with a win over Charleroi. This week, the Cougars draw another team that has not won in over 2 years.

Brentwood at Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic

The Defending State Champions get their first real test of the season with Brentwood's explosive offense. Brentwood QB Connor McWilliams is the WPIAL's 7th leading passer with 589 yards and 6 TDs through 3 games. This will be the best offense the Trojans have faced this season. Last week, the Spartans were shut down by Avonworth to the tune of a 35-7 defeat. The Trojans have been an offensive machine so far this year, with the triple threat of Jerome Turner, PJ Fulmore and Mario Latronica coming out of the backfield. Quarterback Adam Sharlow has been efficient in his return from a knee injury that ended last season early. The Trojans will mix and match offensive weapon PJ Fulmore all over the field and get him the ball on handoffs, reverses, direct snaps or line him up in the slot. On defense, the Trojans have been stingy, giving up only 8.7 points per game. Interestingly, this will be Brentwood's second trip to Lt. J.C. Stone Field in North Park this year - they faced Vincentian there in a non-conference game in Week 1.

Honorable Mentions: Clairton at Springdale, Frazier at Mapletown

Clairton is on a record-setting pace this season while Springdale is off to a slow start including a loss to Leechburg where half of their team got hurt. The reason this game makes the list is due to the history between these two programs - they have met in the playoffs 4 times in the last 10 years. While they Dynamos are only 1-3, they have played the Bears tighter than almost any other WPIAL team during Clairton's decade of dominance. Mapletown is one of the surprise teams of the season, starting 2-1 with their only loss coming to Beth-Center. Mapletown (along with 3-0 Frazier) is one of only 4 teams in the Tri County South Conference to have a winning record after 3 weeks and this could be a key game to determine 2nd place in the conference.

Bad Teams, Big Meaning: Serra at West Greene

Serra Catholic enters the week with the 3rd longest losing streak in the WPIAL at 22 games. While 3 of  their last 4 games are against Riverview, Wilkinsburg and Leechburg, this non-conference game against West Greene might be their best chance to break their losing streak. West Greene has been downright awful - the worst team in the worst conference - so far this year. The Pioneers have scored only 6 points, which presents an interesting dynamic against an Eagles defense that has been one of the worst in the WPIAL for the past 3 seasons. Serra Catholic can score - they are averaging 14 points per game this year, and this is their best chance so far to break their losing streak.

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