5 things to watch in Week 10 of high school football

Friday, November 4, 2022 | 7:30 AM

In WPIAL Class 5A, is eight enough?

Consider, Gateway and Upper St. Clair each lost only once in conference play, yet they’re matched head-to-head in the first round of a brutal WPIAL Class 5A bracket that was reduced this season to eight teams.

“It’s hard to complain wherever you ended up when you see the quality of teams that were left out,” Gateway coach Don Holl said. “It says a lot about the depth of the classification when you have really good teams that aren’t in the bracket.”

Most notably, Penn Hills and Peters Township were left home.

The first-round matchups pair No. 1 Bethel Park (9-1) vs. No. 8 North Hills (3-7); No. 2 Pine-Richland (7-3) vs. No. 7 Penn-Trafford (6-4) and No. 3 Franklin Regional (6-3) vs. No. 6 Woodland Hills (5-5).

The fourth game, which is arguably the most intriguing, sees No. 5 Upper St. Clair (8-2) visit No. 4 Gateway (7-3) at 7 p.m. Friday in Monroeville. Gateway finished tied atop the Big East standings with Franklin Regional. USC’s only conference loss was to No. 1 Bethel Park.

“You want to be upset about it,” Upper St. Clair coach Mike Junko said, “but we have an appreciation for the other teams in this league. We didn’t win our conference, so you’ve kind of got to play the hand you’re dealt.”

The WPIAL Class 5A bracket was limited to eight teams because the tournament can’t last more than three weeks to enter the PIAA playoffs in the state quarterfinal round.

Upper St. Clair averages 180 rushing yards per game behind senior Jamaal Brown, a 1,138-yard rusher with 13 total touchdowns. The Panthers also average 160 yards passing, lately from freshman quarterback Ethan Hellmann.

Hellmann has passed for at least 100 yards in three consecutive games with four touchdowns.

“He’s very efficient, very accurate and mature beyond his years,” Junko said. “He’s done a really nice job of putting the ball on hands and running the offense.”

Gateway has one of the WPIAL’s top quarterbacks in junior Brad Birch, a 1,800-yard passer with 17 touchdowns. Along with their conference schedule, the Gators faced Class 6A contenders Mt. Lebanon and Central Catholic, along with Woodland Hills, North Hills and McKeesport.

“I would hope that we’re battle-tested, and we’re relatively healthy,” Holl said. “That’s the concern when you play a tough schedule that you might get beat up along the way. But we’re healthy enough and I hope we’re prepared to make a run.”

Trying to make history

Can Mapletown add its first playoff win to an already historic regular season?

No. 4 Mapletown hosts No. 13 Leechburg at 7 p.m. Friday.

The Maples are 10-0 this year and celebrated their first undefeated regular season since 1968. Senior running back Landan Stevenson broke the WPIAL regular-season scoring record with 285 points, one more than West Greene’s Ben Jackson scored in 2019.

However, they come from a Class A conference that went 1-9 combined in first-round playoff games over the past four years. The four Tri-County South qualifiers went 0-4 a year ago and were outscored 122-20 in those first-round games.

Climbing all-time list

Armstrong quarterback Cadin Olsen ranks ninth on the WPIAL all-time passer list with 7,305 career yards, but he could claim another spot or two with a big game Friday against Blackhawk.

The senior is only 147 yards behind former South Fayette QB Drew Saxton and 314 yards behind former Pine-Richland QB Ben DiNucci. Olsen has topped 300 yards three times this season, including a career-best 447 in Week 8.

Only 10 quarterbacks in WPIAL history have passed for more than 7,000 career yards.

Seeing immediate results

WPIAL teams hired 34 head coaches this season and 10 qualified for the playoffs.

Two of those newcomers, Highlands’ Matt Bonislawski and Latrobe’s Ron Prady, will see their teams meet in a Class 4A first-round game. The others to qualify were Hampton’s Steve Sciullo, Keystone Oaks’ Steve McCormick, Mars’ Eric Kasperowicz, Jeannette’s Tom Paulone, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart’s Don Militzer, Pine-Richland’s Jon LeDonne, Sto-Rox’s Marvin Mills and Union’s Kim Niedbala.

Bye week for big schools

The WPIAL’s biggest schools will take the week off. The four teams that qualified for the Class 6A playoffs start their playoff runs with quarterfinal games next week.

No. 1 North Allegheny hosts No. 4 Canon McMillan. No. 2 Mt. Lebanon hosts No. 3 Central Catholic.

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.

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