5 things to watch in Week 5 of high school football: 16 teams unbeaten at midway point

Thursday, September 27, 2018 | 9:39 PM

Sixteen teams remain undefeated as the WPIAL football regular season reaches the midway point.

Some perfect starts aren’t terribly surprising, such as Gateway’s, Aliquippa’s and Thomas Jefferson’s. It also wasn’t a stretch to envision Clairton, Jeannette, Derry, Penn Hills and some others with a zero in the loss column at this point either.

With a few key early-season tests, North Allegheny, Franklin Regional, Shady Side Academy, McGuffey, Charleroi, Burgettstown, Elizabeth Forward and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart also reached Week 5 without a loss.

For many, it’s five down, five to go.

Among the biggest turnarounds is Blackhawk’s, which finds itself 5-0 under first-year coach Zack Hayward with a matchup Friday against South Fayette.

The team went 2-7 last season, but Hayward seemingly has his alma mater headed back in the right direction.

“It’s exciting for the entire school,” said Hayward, a 2009 graduate who played for coach Joe Hamilton. “I know there’s a buzz going through the hallways. Everybody is excited for this game here on Friday.”

No. 5 Blackhawk (5-0, 4-0) visits No. 2 South Fayette (4-1, 2-0) at 7 p.m. Friday. The winner will hold first place in the Class 4A Northwest Eight standings.

Blackhawk cruised through the first five weeks with victories over Central Valley, 21-7; Knoch, 48-12; Highlands, 34-14; Ambridge, 48-6; and Montour, 28-0.

Hayward was an all-conference quarterback for Blackhawk, and he led the team to the WPIAL finals in 2006 and 2008. As he has tried to lift the program, Hayward has taught his players about the team’s championship past.

“It’s really about tradition,” Hayward said. “I pointed them into the gym where we have banners hanging up with all the section titles and WPIAL championships. I pointed to those banners and said: ‘What are you going to do to get your number up there on that banner?’ As you can see, there hasn’t been a number hung in 10 years. What changes will you make? What will you sacrifice?”

2. Consecutive conference clashes

The Big East race is taking shape in a hurry.

The WPIAL Class 3A conference features an undefeated first-place clash for the second time in two weeks. A week ago, Derry defeated previously unbeaten North Catholic, setting up this week’s perfect matchup between Derry (5-0, 3-0) and undefeated Elizabeth Forward (4-0, 3-0).

And next Friday, EF hosts North Catholic (4-1, 2-1).

3. Big shoes to fill

Central Catholic (4-1, 2-1) visits Pine-Richland (4-1, 3-0) Friday night in a rematch of last season’s WPIAL Class 6A championship, but three-year starting quarterbacks Phil Jurkovec and Troy Fisher are now college freshman.

Central replaced Fisher with junior Dom Pieto, who’s back after missing a couple of games to injury. Pine-Richland has sophomore Cole Spencer playing where Jurkovec had starred for the Rams.

For both Spencer and Pieto, replacing a successful star could be a lot of pressure for a first-year starter.

“We talked about it at the beginning of the year, all the time, almost daily,” Pine-Richland coach Eric Kasperowicz said. “It starts with: You don’t really replace Phil Jurkovec. You don’t replace a guy like that. Just go out and be yourself, be Cole Spencer.”

4. WPIAL’s stingiest defense

All eyes were on Aliquippa’s defense at this time last year, focused on a group that went the first seven weeks without allowing an offensive touchdown. This year’s defense has already surrendered a touchdown, but otherwise looks just as dominant.

Combined, the Quips have allowed six points in their first five games — a 1.2-point per game average that ranks best in the WPIAL.

They’re one of eight WPIAL teams that are allowing a touchdown or less to opponents. The other stingiest defenses are Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (4.0 ppg), Clairton (4.0), Burgettstown (6.8), Gateway (6.8), West Greene (6.8), McGuffey (7.0) and Thomas Jefferson (7.0).

Aliquippa, ranked first in WPIAL Class 3A, will seek its fifth shutout in six games Friday when Hopewell visits Aschman Stadium. Quaker Valley was the only team to score on the Quips so far this season. The Quakers scored a touchdown in their 59-6 loss to Aliquippa in Week 2.

5. No place like home

For some football teams, homecoming isn’t a Friday night affair.

As a result, there’s a slightly busier slate of Saturday games starting this week as schools welcome back alumni with weekend kickoffs. Beaver and Shaler have Saturday games this week for homecoming. Shaler hosts Mars at 1 p.m., and Beaver welcomes Ringgold at 7:30 p.m.

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.

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