Picking Week 4 of the H.S. football season
WEEK 3: 40-2
Week 4 of the high school football season in Western Pennsylvania arrives tonight, with coach Jim Render of No. 4 Upper St. Clair throwing out his welcome mat for No. 8 Central Catholic. That game is a good example of an interesting and positive trend developing among local schools.
After only three weeks, just five of the 25 teams eligible for the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs are undefeated. In Class AAA, it's 5 of 27.
The reason is simple and a credit to the top schools — the best teams are playing each other in nonconference games or making dates with outstanding out-of-state foes. Why• It's all about the playoffs.
A short season, in terms of the number of games, means smart coaches such as Render, Central Catholic's Terry Totten, Woodland Hills' George Novak and North Allegheny's Art Walker Jr. know the only way to prepare for the best is to play the best in September and October — even if it makes a negative impact on the won-loss record.
There is a good collection of games this weekend, and they occur on three separate days — a football lover's dream.
CENTRAL CATHOLIC (2-1) at UPPER ST. CLAIR (3-0): Was Totten's team looking ahead to playing Upper St. Clair when it allowed Mt. Lebanon to score 36 points in a stunning road upset of Central• That is the not the Central way, but kids will be kids. Something says Central will bounce back in a hurry, but Upper St. Clair is just too tough at home.
Upper St. Clair, 28-27
NEW CASTLE (3-0, 1-0) at HOPEWELL (3-0, 1-0): There still are good games involving undefeated teams, and this Parkway Contest encounter may be the best in Class AAA, if not the entire weekend. New Castle's young, gifted athletes get to test Hopewell sophomore running back Rushel Shell. Expect a big game from Shell and a big victory for his Vikings.
SOUTH FAYETTE (3-0, 3-0) at STO-ROX (3-0, 3-0): In Class AA's Century Conference, South Fayette does nothing but win games and set itself up for a prime playoff spot. Meanwhile, Sto-Rox is 1-0 with quarterback Paul Jones, 2-0 without him. When in doubt, go with the home team.
BETHEL PARK (3-0) at WOODLAND HILLS (2-1): The ease of Woodland Hills' 37-7 victory over Canon-McMillan was surprising — and scary for its next six opponents. Meanwhile, Bethel Park has no intention of backing down just because it lost several top players from a WPIAL championship team. This is the second of four consecutive games for Woodland Hills at the Wolvarena. Being on good terms with your athletic director is a wonderful thing. Isn't it, George?
Woodland Hills, 18-14
FORT CHERRY (3-0, 1-0) AT SERRA CATHOLIC (3-0, 1-0): The Class A Black Hills Conference looked to be the uncontested domain of Clairton before it lost to Laurel. It still may be Clairton's conference to lose, but these two teams will have a lot to say about the outcome.
Serra Catholic, 21-20
ERIE McDOWELL (3-0, 1-0) at McKEESPORT (3-0, 1-0): There are lot of coaches in Class AAAA thrilled that McDowell, a District 10 team playing a District 7 schedule, isn't eligible for the WPIAL playoffs. McDowell almost upset Gateway last year and will come close against McKeesport. But the long bus ride — and McKeesport's talent — ultimately will wear on McDowell's athletes.
MT. PLEASANT (3-0, 3-0) at No. 10 GREENSBURG CENTRAL CATHOLIC (2-1, 2-1): This is a key first-place battle in the WPIAL Class AA Interstate Conference. Mt.Pleasant opened the season by defeating McGuffey at home before taking the show on the road for victories at Washington and Waynesburg. Mt. Pleasant has used a strong ground game and a trio of backs in its Wing-T offense. Greensburg Central Catholic lost to McGuffey in Week 2, but bounced back with an impressive victory against Washington. This should be a good one. GCC gets the nod at home.
Greensburg Central Catholic, 20-17
HEMPFIELD (1-2, 0-1) at NORWIN (2-1, 0-1): Hempfield tries to snap a two-game losing streak with its first road game of the season. The Spartans, however, are beat-up, with a couple injuries to key players. They still have enough offense to give Norwin problems. Norwin kicked off the season with road wins against Butler County teams Seneca Valley and Butler. But its first home game, against Erie McDowell, started poorly when it allowed a touchdown on the opening kickoff. This is a big game for both teams with playoff implications in the Quad South.
MARION CENTER (3-0, 3-0) at LIGONIER VALLEY (2-1, 2-1): The preseason picks had these teams, along with United, battling for the Heritage Conference title. Well, that's what occurred. Marion Center has looked sharp, behind a senior-dominated team. Ligonier Valley had a slip-up at United, but the Mounties still have a potent running game led by Jackson Corcoran. This seems to be the Stingers year.
Marion Center, 27-20
DERRY (0-3, 0-1) at YOUGH (0-3, 0-1): Derry spotted Uniontown an early lead, but bounced back and had a chance to win the game. A blocked punt at Laurel Highlands in the final minutes cost Yough a shot at a victory. Will new coach Jim Ward get his first win at Yough• No, Derry gets into the win column.
MT. LEBANON (2-1) at SHALER (3-0): No breathers appear on Mt. Lebanon's schedule, but the Blue Devils look to be a team no one will want to play in six weeks. By the way, Shaler loves to play Saturday afternoons, but its first three games (Baldwin, Hempfield and Hampton) did not adequately prepare the Titans for the best Class AAAA teams.
Mt. Lebanon, 27-23
Picks also likes:
Belle Vernon 23, Greensburg Salem 20; Beth-Center 20, Jefferson-Morgan 14; Blairsville 25, Northern Cambria 14; California 27, Geibel 20; Carmichaels 32, Mapletown 14; Charleroi 34, South Allegheny 7; Clairton 50, Bentworth 7; Ford City 20, Summit Academy 13; Franklin Regional 34, Plum 14; Frazier 26, Avella 14; Freeport 20, Burrell 14; Gateway 35, Penn-Trafford 14; Homer-Center 27, Purchase Line 12; Jeannette 40, Waynesburg 13; Latrobe 20, Connellsville 14; Laurel Highlands 22, Southmoreland 14; Laurel Valley 22, Saltsburg 7; McGuffey 27, Brownsville 7; McKeesport 28, Erie McDowell 14; Monessen 44, West Greene 14; Penns Manor 21, United 20; Serra 27, Fort Cherry 13; Shady Side Academy 28, Apollo-Ridge 13; Thomas Jefferson 34, Ringgold 14; Uniontown 27, Albert Gallatin 7; Valley 20, Deer Lakes 14; Washington 27, East Allegheny 14.