5 things to watch in Week 5 of high school football

Thursday, September 26, 2019 | 7:13 PM

Central Valley traveled 13 miles to play its first conference road game this season and only nine miles for its second, matchups with Beaver County rivals Blackhawk and Beaver Falls.

This week, they’re road Warriors.

A 70-mile drive each way awaits Central Valley on Friday night. The Warriors have reserved comfortable buses for their ride to Waynesburg, a far-flung member of the Tri-County West. The players will eat together after school and leave around 3:15 p.m.

“It’s not the most favorable drive that you’d want,” said coach Mark Lyons, whose undefeated team is ranked second in WPIAL Class 3A.

The road trip is among the longest for a WPIAL conference game this season, but it’s not the only hour-plus ride on the schedule. Uniontown has a 93-mile trip to Beaver Falls on Friday for a nonconference game.

The added travel is a key reason some schools dislike the six classification expansion the PIAA implemented in 2017.

“Districts have such tight budgets right now, and you’ve got to make that trip,” Lyons said. “It just puts a lot of strain on a lot of different groups, starting with our district and our quarterback club.”

The WPIAL will realign conferences this winter for the 2020 season. Among the options the league will consider is creating geographically friendly conferences with teams from different classifications.

“I guess I’d have to look at how that plays out,” Lyons said. “I’m not so sure this (current system) is the best way to do it, to be honest with you. It’s caused a lot of long distances that aren’t necessary.”

Big East narrows gap

Conference tri-champions Derry, Elizabeth Forward and North Catholic stood head-and-shoulders above the rest of the Class 3A Big East last year.

Combined, those three teams outscored the rest of the conference 822-161. They still could finish at the top again this year, but the gap between those teams and everybody else in the Big East seems to have shrunk.

“I absolutely agree,” said Elizabeth Forward coach Mike Collodi, who highlighted a pair of eight-point victories his team celebrated over Deer Lakes and Burrell. “I think they’re definitely narrowing the gap on the competition in the Big East Conference.”

Collodi also noted Mt. Pleasant’s 7-0 loss to Derry in Week 4. He was a guest Tuesday on TribLive HSSN’s This Week in the WPIAL.

Elizabeth Forward could seize control of the conference in the next two weeks. The Warriors (4-0, 3-0) visit North Catholic (3-1, 3-0) on Friday and travel to Derry (3-2, 3-1) in Week 6.

North Catholic defeated Derry, 13-3, last week.

Perfect start for 3 coaches

There were 24 WPIAL teams that started this season with a new football coach. As the schedule reaches the midway point, only three are undefeated: Knoch’s Brandon Mowry, Freedom’s Greg Toney and West Greene’s Brian Hanson.

All three are 5-0.

In contrast, there are eight first-year coaches still winless and four with only one win.

On Friday, Montour (1-4) visits Knoch, Freedom visits Valley (1-4) and West Greene hosts Avella (1-4).

Ticket to Heinz Field?

History says whichever teams wins Friday night — Pine-Richland or Central Catholic — also will win the WPIAL title this season. At least that’s how each of the past six seasons went.

The rivals have won the WPIAL’s largest classification each year since 2013. Pine-Richland won the regular-season matchup in 2018, ’17 and ‘14 before also winning the WPIAL title. Central Catholic did the same in 2016, ’15 and ’13.

Of course, the others in Class 6A will have their say, as well.

Tough start for storied programs

Two of the WPIAL’s traditionally strong football programs meet Friday night when West Allegheny visits Woodland Hills, but this conference matchup doesn’t quite carry the buzz of recent years.

Combined, the teams are an unexpected 1-8.

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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