Stakes raised when game against rival involves playoff chance
As if playing to prevent its 14-year playoff streak from ending wasn't enough, Penn Hills plays its season finale at arch rival Woodland Hills.
The Indians have no shortage of motivation to win in Week 9, where pride and proximity collide in what's traditionally known in the WPIAL as Rivalry Week.
“That actually adds a little bit more to the game, knowing that we have to win the football game for the opportunity to go to the playoffs,” said Penn Hills coach John Peterman, whose Indians (3-5, 3-4) also need Peters Township (4-4, 3-4) to lose at Canon-McMillan (1-7, 1-6).
“It will add extra incentive to the game, knowing that the players want to beat Woodland Hills. It's a must-win, and I believe the kids will be excited.”
Where Penn Hills once considered Gateway its greatest foe, Woodland Hills has become its newest nemesis. They play annually in the final week of the season, which adds to the drama.
“It's the fact that Woodland Hills is a school district that has had a great tradition,” Peterman said. “It's also been the last game of the season with Penn Hills and become a natural rivalry. That's where that aspect comes in, being the last game of the season — whether you're getting ready for the playoffs or not — you have your rivalry game.”
The Penn Hills-Woodland Hills game isn't the only one with a lot at stake.
One finale involves undefeated arch rivals Thomas Jefferson and West Mifflin, with the winner clinching the Big 9 Conference title and, possibly, the No. 1 seed in the Class AAA playoffs.
Another will see No. 8 North Hills (6-2, 4-2) visit two-time defending WPIAL Class AAAA champion North Allegheny (8-0, 6-0), whose 25-game win streak against league opponents followed a Week 9 loss to the Indians in 2010.
The Quad Central championship and likely No. 2 seed in the Quad A playoffs will go to the winner when No. 3 Mt. Lebanon (7-1, 7-0) visits No. 4 Upper St. Clair (7-1, 6-1). This marks the first meeting between USC's Jim Render, the WPIAL career victories leader, and first-year Blue Devils coach Mike Melnyk.
The Mt. Lebanon-Upper St. Clair rivalry has the animosity of a Michigan-Ohio State affair. It has been intensified by the arrival of Michigan Man Melnyk, who played for Bo Schembechler, going against Render, an Ohio native who counts Woody Hayes among his coaching heroes.
“Someone told me that Coach Render had a little bit of an Ohio State link somewhere down the line,” Melnyk said.
“Maybe we'll start our own rivalry, like the Bo and Woody rivalry.”
There's no love lost between Greensburg Central Catholic (6-2, 5-2) and Jeannette (7-1, 6-1), in the Class AA Interstate Conference.
Jayhawks coach Roy Hall said the proximity of the schools, as well as the fact that GCC can pull players from other districts such as Jeannette, has created an atmosphere where many of the players are friends until the first whistle.
“Sometimes, it's for bragging rights all year long,” Hall said, noting that Jeannette junior receiver-linebacker Jonah Younker played for the Centurions last fall. “It never fails that; when Central beats us in football and they beat us in basketball, the students over there will cheer, ‘Just like football.' I want our student body to chant that.”
GCC co-coach Dan Mahoney said that although the Centurions have revived their rivalry with Mt. Pleasant since the Vikings dropped down to Class AA, “there's no rivalry like Jeannette.”
Springdale first-year coach Dave Leasure will get his first taste of the dynamic in the rivalry between his Dynamos and Riverview. The schools are essentially separated by the Hulton Bridge and share a fondness for coach Chuck Wagner, who coached at both.
His first impression of the intensity in the game came after Friday's victory over Northgate. Leasure, worried how his players would respond, asked assistant coach Nick Spehar, what it would take to get the Dynamos ready for Riverview.
“He said, ‘It's Riverview. They'll be ready,' ” said Leasure, who counts Raiders coach Todd Massack as a good friend.
“We're going to have our hands full. The only thing separating us right now is tradition.
“If Riverview has some success early, we could be in for some trouble because those kids are hungry to win.”
Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 412-320-7812.