5 things to watch for in Week 8: Class 6A playoff field still wide open
By: HSSN Staff
Thursday, October 18, 2018 | 7:30 PM
One or two upsets could turn the WPIAL’s largest classification upside down.
For instance, win out and Seneca Valley might earn the No. 2 seed, a first-round bye and a home game in the semifinals.
Lose both? Well, if that happens, then the Raiders could be sitting home when the playoffs start. Their opponents are Pine-Richland in Week 8 and Norwin in Week 9.
Few teams have that drastic of playoff scenarios, but the Class 6A playoff field is far from decided.
This is the first time the WPIAL will use a six-team playoff bracket, an idea the football committee adopted to handle a classification that has only nine teams. At the time, four was considered too small while eight was too many.
Their decision created some late-season suspense.
Consider, only Hempfield (1-7, 0-7) has been eliminated from contention. Even winless Butler (0-8, 0-6) could qualify on tiebreakers with two wins and some help.
North Allegheny (8-0, 7-0), Pine-Richland (7-1, 6-0) and Central Catholic (6-2, 4-2) have clinched playoff spots. Seneca Valley (6-2, 4-2) and Mt. Lebanon (3-5, 3-3) can clinch with a win Friday. Norwin (3-5, 2-4) and Canon-McMillan (3-4, 2-4) remain in contention, as well.
2. Nonconference clash loses luster
North Allegheny coach Art Walker and West Allegheny’s Bob Palko have known each other for decades.
When Palko was hired at West A in 1995, his first offensive coordinator was Walker. So this week, when NA faces West A for the first time ever, the storyline could’ve been about two of the WPIAL’s best coaches facing off.
Instead, the focus became their plan to shorten the nonconference game with a running clock. Neither coach liked the idea of a nonconference game in Week 8. But the two schools quickly backed off the idea once they decided it wasn’t allowed in the rulebook.
Now, the question remains: How will the two coaches approach this game? They’ve said they plan to substitute heavily, so starters might not see much playing time, if any.
North Allegheny has a half-game lead in Class 6A, and West Allegheny leads the Class 5A Allegheny Eight by a half-game.
3. ‘Wild’ race in WPIAL Class A
A year ago, Sto-Rox and Laurel would both be headed to the WPIAL playoffs as the third- and fourth-place teams from the Big Seven Conference.
Not this year. Not after the WPIAL cut the Class A playoff field from 16 teams to eight, meaning only the top two finishers in each conference are guaranteed a playoff berth.
That leaves Sto-Rox (5-3, 4-2) and Laurel (4-4, 3-2) desperate to finish third and potentially claim a wild card. The two teams meet at 7 p.m. Friday at Sto-Rox.
Sixty-one percent of WPIAL playoff berths are already clinched, but that leaves 24 spots up for grabs. Class 5A is the playoff field that’s most complete, with 11 of 16 spots already accounted for. Five of eight are clinched in Classes 4A and 3A. Class 2A has six spots still open, while Class A has four available (including two wild cards).
4. Swan song for Albert Gallatin
Winless Albert Gallatin visits Latrobe on Friday night for one of its last two WPIAL games for a while. The Colonials have two games left, and then the football team will leave the WPIAL, the school board decided Wednesday.
The team won’t fulfill its WPIAL football schedule for next season, said superintendent Christopher Pegg, and will instead play an independent schedule against teams in other PIAA districts or from out of state. It’s unclear when Albert Gallatin might return to the WPIAL.
The Colonials went 9-80 over the past 10 years. They’ve been outscored 414-32 this season after PIAA realignment moved them from Class 4A to 5A, making their situation worse.
5. One away from national record
The weekly count continues as M.J. Devonshire approaches a national record for punt return touchdowns.
The Aliquippa senior has returned eight for scores this season, leaving him one short of tying the National Federation of State High School Associations record. Jack Kline of Brooklyn, Iowa, had nine in 2013.
Aliquippa (8-0, 5-0) hosts Keystone Oaks (5-3, 2-3) on Friday.
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at [email protected] or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.