5 things to watch in WPIAL Week 3: Preseason contenders cope with 0-3 starts

Friday, September 15, 2023 | 6:30 AM

West Mifflin started the season ranked second in WPIAL Class 3A, but the Titans are still winless after three weeks.

So, now what?

That 0-3 record might cause panic inside some locker rooms, but coach Rod Steele said he hasn’t seen any from his players. In fact, they’ve held onto a sense of optimism, he said, because they’d battled with three tough opponents in McKeesport, Elizabeth Forward and Thomas Jefferson.

Keeping the season in perspective is key, he said.

“Playing a schedule like that early on, there are pros and cons,” Steele said. “You’re playing up in classification. You’re playing against top-rated teams. It gets you battled-tested for when you do go to conference play. It’s not like we were losing to teams we were heavy favorites against.”

West Mifflin is among a group of WPIAL teams hoping to celebrate their first wins this weekend. In all, there are 21 winless teams.

Some are more surprising than others. Gateway (0-3) and Serra Catholic (0-3) both appeared in the TribLive HSSN preseason rankings, yet have stumbled early in their schedules.

Hampton (0-3) also is winless despite reaching the playoffs last season. But like West Mifflin, most haven’t played a conference game yet, so there’s plenty of time for a turnaround.

“From a mentality standpoint, we had a great week of practice,” Steele said. “The kids very easily could’ve come in with their heads down, not wanting to participate, not wanting to get after it. Instead, it was the other way around. They came in with their heads high. That’s when you know.”

Hampton hosts Kiski Area (1-2) on Friday in the Greater Allegheny Conference, Gateway hosts Franklin Regional (2-1) in the Big East, and Serra Catholic visits Burrell (1-2) in the Allegheny.

West Mifflin has one more nonconference game this week. The Titans host Ringgold (0-3) on Friday before opening their Western Hills schedule next week at Beaver.

Adding to their woes, the Titans were short-handed at times in their first three games and were missing their starting quarterback for one of the losses. Steele said they’re back to full strength.

“I don’t care what level of football you’re in,” he said. “Without your quarterback in the game, it’s hard to win.”

Traveling the Interstate

Which is the toughest conference in the WPIAL?

Through three weeks, that honor belongs to the Class 3A Interstate Conference.

Combined, the teams in that conference have gone 12-5 this season against nonconference opponents. The conference includes Elizabeth Forward (3-0), Southmoreland (3-0), Belle Vernon (2-0), Mt. Pleasant (2-1), Greensburg Salem (1-2) and South Allegheny (1-2).

Its strength will be tested Friday when Southmoreland visits Knoch (3-0) in a matchup of unbeaten teams.

The conference with the worst combined record is the Class 2A Allegheny at 8-15. The Midwestern isn’t much better at 9-14.

One-sided series

When Aliquippa and Montour play one another Friday night, it’ll be their seventh game in six years.

But can this be called a rivalry?

Aliquippa has won all six games against Montour since 2018. The combined score from those six wins was 251-35. They played twice last season with the Quips winning 33-0 in the regular season and 41-7 in the playoffs.

Montour is 3-0 and Aliquippa is 2-0 entering Friday’s Parkway Conference opener. The game is at Aliquippa’s Heinz Field.

Scoreboard watching

If you’re looking for the highest-scoring game in Week 2, consider Peters Township at South Fayette. Combined, they’re averaging almost 80 points per game.

Peters Township leads all WPIAL Class 5A offenses with 117 points (39 ppg) in three games. South Fayette ranks third with 108 points (36 ppg). They combined for 10 touchdowns a year ago when Peters Township won 42-28.

They’ll rematch Friday at South Fayette.

Only three WPIAL teams in Class 5A are averaging more than 30 points per game. The other is Shaler (36.3 ppg).

Narrowing the gap?

Steel Valley (1-1) and Imani Christian (2-1) are both ranked in WPIAL Class 2A entering Friday’s Allegheny Conference opener. The Ironmen are second and the Saints are third, but how much has the skill gap between them narrowed?

A year ago, Steel Valley won 56-6, and later celebrated a WPIAL title.

That 50-point defeat was Imani’s worst loss of the season. However, the Saints entered this fall with a larger roster, a second year under coach LaRoi Johnson and two of the WPIAL’s top college prospects in junior linebacker Dayshaun Burnett and sophomore running back/defensive back David Davis.

Imani is coming off a 41-14 win over South Allegheny. Steel Valley lost 23-20 to Seton LaSalle in double overtime.

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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