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WPIAL teams to face off for final playoff berths

| Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Valley News Dispatch
Northgate quarterback Cody Walter throws from the pocket as Springdale's John Nicholson applies the rush during first half action Friday night at Veterans Memorial Field in Springdale October 19, 2012. Bill Shirley | For the Tribune-Review
Valley News Dispatch
Northgate's Alex Marusic gets on the back of Springdale's Sean Dugan in an effort to make the tackle during first half action Friday night at Veterans Memorial Field in Springdale October 19, 2012. Bill Shirley | For the Tribune-Review

Belle Vernon fans will be rooting for Ringgold this weekend, and Freedom would surely welcome a New Brighton victory.

It's Week 9 of the WPIAL football schedule, and a few teams will be asking conference foes for help to reach the playoffs. Others will be counting their Gardner Points.

Not so for Northgate and Avonworth.

The Class A rivals meet Friday night at Northgate's stadium in Bellevue, and the winner earns the fourth and final spot from the Eastern Conference. No Gardner Points needed; the loser stays home come November.

“It doesn't get much better than that,” Northgate coach T.J. Wiley said. “We're playing our bitter arch-rival for all the marbles.”

Both were squarely in the playoff picture a few weeks ago, before Northgate's one-point loss to Apollo-Ridge in Week 7, and Avonworth one-point loss to Wilkinsburg in Week 8.

“What a mess we've made in the Eastern,” Wiley said with a laugh. “We're the wackiest conference in the WPIAL.”

Fifty teams have secured WPIAL playoff spots, leaving 14 still undecided one week before the Oct. 29 pairings meeting. Though finishing order may change, playoff spots in five conferences have been decided: Quad North, Century, Interstate, Black Hills and Big Seven.

In contrast, only Beth-Center has clinched a spot in the Class A Tri-County South, where Jefferson-Morgan (5-2), Carmichaels (5-2), Frazier (5-2) and Avella (4-3) vie for three spots.

In Class AA and A, the top four teams from each conference qualify for the WPIAL playoffs.

Class AAAA and AAA have only three conferences this season, so five teams from each qualify. A sixth-place team from both will be chosen as a wild card to complete the 16-team brackets.

“(The new alignment) has kept it interesting throughout the season,” Hopewell coach Dave Vestal said. “There were a lot of opportunities to stay in (the playoff chase).”

With a victory over the other on Friday, either Hopewell (3-4) or New Castle (3-4) can clinch one of two Class AAA playoff spots undecided in the Parkway Conference. Ambridge (3-4), which plays Blackhawk (2-5), seeks the other. Ambridge would win a head-to-head tiebreaker over New Castle, but not Hopewell.

“Even though people didn't predict us to make the playoffs, our kids were determined to get there,” Vestal said.

In the Quad Central, Peters Township (3-4) would qualify with a win over Canon-McMillan (1-6), or a Penn Hills (3-4) loss to Woodland Hills (5-2). In the Quad East, Kiski Area (3-4), Altoona (3-4) and Connellsville (2-5) are seeking the conference's fifth spot. Connellsville visits Altoona, and Kiski visits Latrobe (1-6).

In the Class AAA Big 9, Trinity (4-3) would qualify with a win at Ringgold (4-3), or a Belle Vernon (3-4) loss at Albert Gallatin (0-7). Hollidaysburg (3-4), Highlands (3-4) and Indiana (2-5) are competing for the fifth spot in the Greater Allegheny. Hollidaysburg, which visits Indiana, holds a tiebreaker over Highlands.

In the Class AA Midwestern, Freedom (2-4), Mohawk (2-4) and New Brighton (2-4) are tied for fourth. Only one will qualify. Mohawk can secure a spot with a victory at New Brighton. Freedom would qualify with a win over Riverside (1-5) and a Mohawk loss.

Chris Harlan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at charlan@tribweb.com or 412-380-5666.

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