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What to watch in Week 7 of high school football: Top-ranked teams could face challenges

Chris Harlan
| Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017, 7:51 p.m.
Thomas Jefferson's Shane Stump competes against Uniontown on Sept. 1, 2017, at Thomas Jefferson.
Ken Eber | For the Tribune-Review
Thomas Jefferson's Shane Stump competes against Uniontown on Sept. 1, 2017, at Thomas Jefferson.
Thomas Jefferson's Justin Vigna competes against Uniontown on Sept. 1, 2017, at Thomas Jefferson.
Ken Eber | For the Tribune-Review
Thomas Jefferson's Justin Vigna competes against Uniontown on Sept. 1, 2017, at Thomas Jefferson.

Aliquippa, Steel Valley and Thomas Jefferson, three top-ranked teams in the WPIAL, could face a challenge this week.

Emphasis on “could.”

Combined, that trio has outscored opponents 478-58. But this week, all three face a team considered second-best in their conferences. The question Friday will be whether any of those matchups on paper translate to the field.

Aliquippa (7-0, 3-0) visits Quaker Valley (7-0, 4-0), Steel Valley (5-0, 3-0) hosts East Allegheny (5-1, 4-0), and Thomas Jefferson (6-0, 5-0) visits Belle Vernon (6-0, 6-0). One way or another, the conference champions could be all but decided in the Beaver Valley, Three Rivers and Big Nine.

Of the three favorites, only Steel Valley has looked even a little vulnerable. The Ironmen pulled out a close 31-27 win over South Allegheny in Week 4. Thomas Jefferson hasn't had a win closer than 28 points. Aliquippa's closest was 24 points.

This week, Steel Valley faces a talented East Allegheny team that features four-star recruit T.J. Banks, a senior tight end and defensive end. EA quarterback Tamaine Underwood ranks among the WPIAL leaders with 1,385 passing yards and 15 touchdowns.

A year ago, Steel Valley won this Week 7 matchup 66-0, en route to the state title. Graduation altered the look of Steel Valley's lineup, but how much has that talent gap narrowed?

“For two years now, they're pound-for-pound as talented as any team in the WPIAL,” East Allegheny coach Dom Pecora said. “They're an intimidating team because they're so good, but we're going to go take our best shot at it.”

A year ago, Aliquippa defeated Quaker Valley, 34-7, but both teams have improved since. The Quakers are one of the biggest surprises so far this season. Not because the Quakers didn't have talent, but because the team's coach quit just before the season.

Quaker Valley quarterback Ricky Guss has 10 rushing touchdowns and 13 passing. Will he be the first to score an offensive touchdown against Aliquippa?

Belle Vernon defeated Thomas Jefferson just two years ago, a 31-24 victory in 2015 that snapped TJ's home winning streak. But last year, Thomas Jefferson won 55-0.

2 losses may be too many

The Allegheny Conference will have a clear frontrunner after Freeport and Seton LaSalle play Friday. The teams are undefeated in the conference, with Seton LaSalle 5-0 and Freeport 4-0. But whoever loses won't sleep well, even with just one loss.

That's life in WPIAL Class 3A. A year ago, Beaver lost two games and missed the playoffs entirely. That could happen to a team in the Allegheny, where Keystone Oaks (3-1) and Shady Side Academy (4-2) lurk in contention.

Only the top two finishers in each of the Class 3A conferences is guaranteed a playoff spot.

Planting seeds

When the WPIAL football committee awards the top playoff seeds in two weeks, a couple of nonconference matchups Friday could influence those decisions.

In Class 5A, No. 2 Upper St. Clair (6-1) visits No. 4 McKeesport (5-1). Which conference is stronger at the top, USC's Allegheny Nine or McKeesport's Big East?

This matchup with provide a hint.

Upper St. Clair faces a run-first offense for the second week in a row. The Panthers overcame West Allegheny's running attack last week and escaped with a 21-20 overtime win. But McKeesport brings more speed than West A. The Tigers feature three standout rushers in Layton Jordan, Carlinos Acie and Johnny Harper.

If McKeesport was to win out, the Tigers could earn the No. 1 overall seed in the WPIAL bracket. Their final three opponents are Upper St. Clair, No. 5 Gateway and No. 1 Penn-Trafford.

No longer a mismatch?

The Tri-County South has a rough reputation, but a California win would be a boost for the much-maligned Class A conference. No. 5 Rochester (5-1) visits No. 2 California. The Trojans, who are 7-0 for the first time since 1949, already own a 41-26 nonconference victory over No. 3 Imani Christian.

Rochester leads the Big Seven Conference.

Club adds new members

The WPIAL added two 6,000-yard career passers last week, an elite list that Gateway's Brady Walker can join next. The Gators senior has 5,993 yards entering Friday's matchup with Kiski Area.

Only 10 WPIAL passers have thrown for more than 6,000 yards. Joining last week were South Fayette's Drew Saxton, who ranks ninth on the WPIAL all-time passer list with 6,223 yards, and Pine-Richland's Phil Jurkovec, who's 10th with 6,108.

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.

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