5 things to watch in Week 4: Pine-Richland heads to Bethel Park for battle of unbeatens

Thursday, September 21, 2017 | 5:51 PM

Battle of the unbeatens

Bethel Park has linemen with some size, an offense that controls the football and a defense that has allowed just four touchdowns. Could that combination slow top-ranked Pine-Richland?

So far, nobody has held the Rams and quarterback Phil Jurkovec under 40 points.

But Pine-Richland (4-0) visits No. 3-ranked Bethel Park (3-0) on Friday for a Class 6A nonconference matchup that likely matches the best team from the north vs. the best in the south. It's quite possible this Week 4 matchup is a sneak preview of a WPIAL semifinal or a Heinz Field rematch.

Bethel Park presents a combination that Wayne (Ohio), Mt. Lebanon, Seneca Valley and Penn Hills could not. Pine-Richland dominated those four and rolled to 41, 52, 42 and 43 points. But Bethel Park won't want a shootout, so they will try to control the clock with an all-senior offensive line that features tackles Connor Wholey (6-7, 250) and James Gmiter (6-4, 315), a WVU recruit.

The Black Hawks have allowed just 29 points combined in three games, in part because the offense keeps their defense off the field.

Highlands, Mars bring 2 styles to field

There's more than one way to win football games in the WPIAL. Consider Highlands and Mars, who bring vastly different offensive styles into a Class 4A Northwest Nine contest Friday in Mars.

The two teams are tied for second at 2-1.

Mars won 14-8 last season behind power running and a wing-T offense that coach Scott Heinauer has used to build a winning program. But Highlands has a new look under first-year coach Dan Girardi, whose team has taken to the air.

Mars averages 185 rushing yards per game and has 10 rushing touchdowns. A week ago, when top rusher Garrett Reinke left at halftime with an ankle injury, Heinauer inserted freshman Teddy Ruffner at fullback and the offense rumbled on to defeat Montour.

In four games combined, Mars has completed 19 passes.

Highlands quarterback Seth Cohen could come close to that total in one game. Remarkably, Cohen completed 14 of 32 throws for 412 yards and seven touchdowns in Week 2, when the Rams lost in two overtimes to New Castle, 48-47. In Week 3, he completed 15 throws for 260 yards and three touchdowns.

Which style will win?

Central Valley QB out for season?

Two talented dual-threat quarterbacks would have shared the field Friday when No. 2 Central Valley (3-1) and No. 4 Quaker Valley (4-0) meet in Center, but one reportedly won't be available.

Central Valley's Nico Battisti was injured last week and reports say he could miss the rest of the season. Warriors coach Mark Lyons wouldn't comment. Battisti, a first-team all-conference pick as a junior, had thrown for more than 600 yards this year and was the team's second-leading rusher.

This is a key game in the Class 3A Beaver Valley Conference. Both teams are tied at 1-0 in a conference that qualifies only two teams automatically into the WPIAL playoffs.

Quaker Valley missed the playoffs last season but has emerged as a contender this year behind quarterback Ricky Guss. The senior rushed for four touchdowns and threw another in a 45-21 victory over Beaver last week.

Without Battisti, Central Valley will lean on a running game that averages 204 yards.

A must-win in Week 4?

The hierarchy in the crowded Southeastern Conference should become a little clearer this weekend.

Bethel Park and Mt. Lebanon are tied at 2-0. But just behind those conference leaders are Canon-McMillan (1-1) and Norwin (1-1), who face one another Friday in North Huntingdon. Elsewhere, Hempfield (0-2) visits Peters Township (1-1).

Only the top four teams in each Class 6A conference reach the playoffs, so two of those six will be left home. It's only Week 4, but whoever loses Friday already could be in peril.

For comparison, Mt. Lebanon beat Canon-McMillan, 24-17, and Hempfield, 31-0. Bethel Park defeated Norwin, 27-7, and Peters Township, 28-7.

Who's the next favorite to fall?

After WPIAL football expanded to six classifications last season, there were complaints that the talent had become too spread out and most outcomes had become too predictable.

That was last year.

If Week 3 was any indication, there could be more surprises ahead this year. The two biggest upsets last week were when Plum defeated Franklin Regional, 33-7, and Albert Gallatin's 28-27 victory over West Mifflin.

Their reward? Plum faces McKeesport this week while Albert Gallatin draws Thomas Jefferson.

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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