By Matt Popchock
The leaves are falling and the temperature is lowering, which not only marks the true beginning of fall in western Pennsylvania, but in this instance, the midpoint of the high school football regular season…not to mention the start of cold and flu season. Mr. High School Sports has been a little under the weather this week, so he’ll commence with an abbreviated preview of five big games from around the WPIAL in honor of Week 5, as several teams try not to “fall” victim to letdowns after posting big wins last week.
We’ll start, as always, with our “UPMC Centers for Rehab Services Game of the Week,” which features two South Hills foes trying to get off on the right foot in conference play:
GAME OF THE WEEK:
BALDWIN HIGHLANDERS (0-0, 3-1) AT UPPER ST. CLAIR PANTHERS (0-0, 3-1)
(CLASS AAAA, GREAT SOUTHERN CONFERENCE)
PANTHER STADIUM, UPPER ST. CLAIR HIGH SCHOOL
Pre-game coverage with MSA Sports’ Don Rebel begins at 6:00 on 93.7 The Fan; kickoff at 7:30 with Lanny Frattare on play-by-play, Bob Orkwis on color commentary
The Highlanders are coming off what would be considered a nonchalant non-conference victory if it had come against any other team, but beating Class AAA power and neighborhood rival Thomas Jefferson has to give that team some added swagger entering Friday’s contest, and surely it makes the Panthers give pause and take extra care not to take this typically downtrodden opponent lightly. Baldwin is an improved bunch under head coach Jim Wehner, and it would get a lot of us talking about a new kid on the Great Southern Conference block if it were to somehow knock off the title favorites. Much of Baldwin’s success comes from the power running of tailback Dorian Brown, who led all WPIAL players in Week 4 with 278 yards on 34 carries to go with a pair of touchdowns, including a game-winning 80-yard scamper in the fourth quarter against TJ. Brown comes in eighth in the WPIAL and third in Quad-A with 651 rushing yards, and has scored seven TD’s. It should be an interesting test for USC’s line, which is big and experienced, anchored by Northwestern recruits Ian Park and Jack Schwaba. Upper St. Clair needs to start fast and plant that seed of doubt in the minds of Baldwin, something the Panthers haven’t done the past couple weeks. It’ll happen this time if that line can clear a path for Pitt recruit and dual-threat quarterback Dakota Conwell, who has racked up 792 all-purpose yards in 2011, including 335 on the ground to complement eight touchdowns.
Be sure to check back with the “Mr. High School Sports” blog Friday evening on 937thefan.com for our in-game blog live from Panther Stadium, including some pre-game remarks from Baldwin’s Dorian Brown!
OTHER GAMES TO WATCH:
NORTHERN SEVEN CONFERENCE:
North Allegheny (2-0, 4-0) at Seneca Valley (0-1, 3-1) (7:30) – Speaking of teams out to prove something, the Raiders have an opportunity at home against one of the top teams in the state to prove that last week’s butt-whipping of McKeesport in non-conference action was no accident. They, like N.A., boast one of the top three offensive attacks in Quad-A, averaging over 40 points per game. Seneca Valley is fueled by fleet-footed quarterback Jordan Brown, the top passer in the WPIAL, who has connected on 56% of his passes for 847 yards and eight touchdowns, and Brown has a real battle of wits on his hands with Oklahoma transfer Mack Leftwich, who has been key to the Tigers’ early success and ranks fifth in the WPIAL with 767 pass yards and seven TD’s, having completed 60% of his attempts. The big key will be in N.A. can contain playmaker Forrest Barnes, who has run for 486 yards, averages 17.5 yards per reception, and enters Week 5 with eight TD’s. If that is the case, and if the Tigers can make plays on the ground with their committee of tailbacks, led by Vinnie Congendo, they can survive. North Allegheny is ranked third overall in the PIAA and 41st nationally by MaxPreps.
BIG EIGHT CONFERENCE:
Belle Vernon (2-0, 2-2) at Chartiers Valley (2-0, 3-1) (7:00) – Timing is everything in football at all levels, and quarterback Wayne Capers seems to be coming to life just in time for this important playoff positioning battle, which can be seen on ROOT Sports starting at 6:30. Capers has completed 50% of his passes for 406 yards and four touchdowns, he scored two touchdowns against Bethel Park last Friday, including the game-winner, and he’s about to face a team he embarrassed last year, scoring five times in a decisive victory. Normally, it is he and the Colts who are bitten by the injury bug–and they have been–but this time, the cleat is on the other foot. Belle Vernon has had to move Ian Dobbins from quarterback to tailback due to a right hand fracture suffered in Week 1 from which Dobbins has yet to fully recover. Dobbins needs to run effectively for the Leopards to stay in this game, though it’s also important Char’ Valley’s secondary keeps an eye on elusive receiver Jake Burritt, who comes into this game with 279 yards, averaging over 21 per grab.
Washington (1-1, 2-2) at Keystone Oaks (2-0, 3-1) (7:00) – The competitive landscape of the Century Conference may be shifting a bit thus far, but the waters are still as muddy as ever, as both these teams try to trudge along and separate themselves with six teams within one game of each other. The Prexies will count on Josh Wise, one of the best athletes in the conference, to have a big game both running and passing the ball, and Wise will likely turn to team scoring leader Shai McKenzie, who has registered six touchdowns in 2011, to keep pace with the Golden Eagles’ high-flying offense. You’re not going to completely contain a potent team like K.O., but Washington needs to at least make its opponent one-dimensional to avoid getting run out of Dormont Stadium. That defense showed me something by slamming the door in South Fayette’s face last week, but now they face Matt Buckley, who has thrown for 720 yards, ranking sixth in the WPIAL and tops in Class AA, and nine TD’s, completing 57% of his passes. If tailback Dale Klobichur, one of the top ten backs in the WPIAL with 648 yards and eight TD’s, can get going, Keystone Oaks, once again, will be very tough to keep off the board.
TRI-COUNTY SOUTH CONFERENCE:
Beth-Center (4-0, 4-0) at California (2-1, 3-1) (7:30) – The Trojans, once again, appear to be the “Not Ready for Primetime Players” of the TCS, having giving perennial conference power Monessen a tough test but coming up short in Week 4, so the daunting task of facing an explosive team like the Bulldogs at home is not one they will take lightly if they wish to stay in the hunt for the Tri-County South title. Here in western Pennsylvania, we’re all about smash-mouth football, but this potential statement game for Cal will boil down to quarterback play. T.D. Conway, a California (PA) recruit and one of the most prolific scorers in program history, will lead the Trojans, who need to win in order to avoid the possibility of temporarily falling out of the playoff picture, but he has his work cut out against the Beth-Center defense. That unit is allowing just 8.3 points per game, putting it among the most efficient in Class A. For the Bulldogs, victory rests on the arm of Sal Faieta, who can stretch out any defense. Faieta has thrown for 422 yards and eight scores, completing 56% of his passes, though a possible x-factor in this game is Beth-Center’s Cody Durant, one of the top scorers in the classification with nine touchdowns.
Once again, be sure to check out the “Mr. High School Sports” blog on 937thefan.com for more Week 4 coverage, and tune into “The UPMC Centers for Rehab Services High School Football Show,” brought to you by ROOT Sports and hosted by John Phillips, Saturday at 7:00 A.M. on SportsRadio 93.7 The Fan for a complete recap of Friday’s action!
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)