5 takeaways from Week 4: Northern Conference continues to roil

Saturday, September 21, 2019 | 8:34 PM

Is there a WPIAL conference more volatile than the Northern?

Even defending WPIAL and PIAA Class 5A champion Penn Hills has felt its share of close calls this season. The Indians remain undefeated in the conference, but they’ve won the past two weeks by 11 points combined.

After rallying to defeat Mars, 14-7, in Week 3, Penn Hills was caught in another low-scoring battle Friday night against Kiski Area. Penn Hills won 7-3 behind a second-quarter touchdown catch by Dontae Pollard, erasing Kiski’s 3-0 lead.

The teams played a scoreless second half, and Penn Hills avoided the upset.

Franklin Regional and Hampton weren’t as lucky, letting Shaler Area and Fox Chapel earn their first conference wins.

Fox Chapel defeated Hampton, 16-13, on Friday. Shaler surprised Franklin Regional, 28-17, on Saturday.

As a result, there’s a tightening in the standings.

Penn Hills and North Hills are 3-0, followed by Hampton (2-2), Mars (1-1), Shaler (1-1), Kiski Area (1-3), Fox Chapel (1-3) and Armstrong (0-2).

The top five automatically qualify for the playoffs. A sixth team could earn a wild-card berth.

2. Bears show their teeth

If there was any question, Clairton answered it Friday. Yes, count the Bears among the WPIAL favorites in Class A.

Limited by injuries and ineligibilities earlier this season, Clairton returned to full strength this week and defeated Laurel, 33-7, in a convincing nonconference win. Laurel arrived at Neil C. Brown Stadium undefeated and unscored-upon, but Clairton erased both zeroes.

Five Clairton players scored, including tailback Dontae Sanders, who returned this week from injury.

The Bears (3-2) have won three in a row after starting with nonconference losses to Aliquippa and McGuffey.

3. Searching for No. 1

Mike Zmijanac won 237 games in 21 seasons at Aliquippa, but he still is searching for his first win someplace else. It almost came Friday for Zmijanac, who’s in his first season as Seton LaSalle’s coach.

Seton LaSalle held a 17-0 halftime lead over New Brighton before losing 28-17.

The Rebels are 0-4, but they might have hope on the horizon. They have a favorable matchup next week at winless Fort Cherry, which owns a 13-game losing streak.

4. Rocco joins 5,000 club

The WPIAL added another career 5,000-yard passer Friday night when North Catholic quarterback Zack Rocco reached the milestone. Washington senior Zack Swartz recently topped 5,000, as well.

The achievement still is remarkable, if not as rare as it once was.

However, with five weeks left in the regular season and a possible playoff run for each, Rocco and Swartz could make a push toward 6,000. Rocco has 848 passing yards in four games this season, and Swartz has 826 in five games.

Pine-Richland coach Eric Kasperowicz was the first in WPIAL history to reach 5,000 in 1993 during his playing days at North Hills. There now are more than two dozen.

5. Unfamiliar territory

West Allegheny isn’t accustomed to losing streaks, but the Indians have lost three in a row for the first time since 2011.

This latest was gut-wrenching. The Indians scored what could’ve been a tying touchdown with 56 seconds left, but their 2-point pass fell incomplete in the 35-33 loss.

In 2011, West A lost its final two regular-season games and its playoff opener.

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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