5 things to watch in Week 7: North Catholic leads WPIAL defenses chasing zeroes

Friday, October 15, 2021 | 1:07 AM

Zero has become North Catholic’s favorite number.

That’s because the Trojans have shut out five of their first seven opponents, by far the most shutouts by any defense in the WPIAL this season. Take that dominance a step farther and they’ve held offenses scoreless in 25 of their 28 quarters.

Yes, they’re big fans of zeroes.

“It’s something that we consciously talk about, to be honest with you,” coach Patrick O’Shea said. “We talk about it every week at halftime.”

O’Shea said he often reminds his players that shutouts require a team-wide effort since the starters are often on the bench well before the fourth quarter. The Trojans have outscored opponents 298-31.

“When your starting defense is able to hold that zero on the scoreboard (for the first half), it’s a challenge to the younger kids when they get in, that we want to keep it on there,” he said.

North Catholic (7-0, 3-0), which hosts Deer Lakes on Friday at Mars, celebrated a 56-0 win over Burrell and a 41-0 win over South Park in the past two weeks. The team also owns shutouts over Hopewell, 62-0; Ambridge, 41-0; and Valley, 49-0.

The impressive numbers don’t end there.

• The North Catholic defense has scored just as many touchdowns as it has allowed: three. That TD total includes a 70-yard fumble return by linebacker Robbie Kress and interceptions returned by linebacker Kyle Tipinski and safety Tyler Maziarz.

• The team also has four special teams touchdowns including one scored on a blocked punt Lucias Marbella recovered in the end zone.

• The Trojans on average are allowing 4.4 points per game, best in the WPIAL regardless of classification.

• One team in the WPIAL has three shutouts: Elizabeth Forward. Nobody else has more than two.

• Before this year, North Catholic hadn’t posted a shutout since 2018.

O’Shea credits the success to a combination of roster depth, experience, team speed and the work of defensive coordinator Jay Bell, who alternates between three- and four-man fronts. O’Shea likes to say the Trojans have 18 starters on defense because of the large number of players they use.

The defense starts eight seniors including three on the line. Among the others is inside linebacker Kyle Tapinsky (6-2, 215), who lists college offers from Bowling Green and Toledo. Another is Joey Prentice, a two-way starter at safety and quarterback.

“The No. 1 thing that sets you apart a little bit are those things you can’t really coach,” O’Shea said. “One is speed. And two is belief in each other. They have a tremendous about of belief in each other.”

Getting defensive in Week 7

North Catholic isn’t the only dominant defense in the WPIAL. As the schedule enters Week 7, there are a dozen teams allowing fewer than 10 points per game.

That list includes Steel Valley (6.2) and Sto-Rox (6.8), who each are surrendering less than a touchdown on average. Also holding opponents to single digits are Neshannock (7.0), Laurel (7.6), Avonworth (7.7), Elizabeth Forward (7.7), Washington (8.0), Bishop Canevin (9.0), Central Valley (9.1), Rochester (9.2) and Mt. Lebanon (9.7).

Elizabeth Forward has an interesting matchup Friday with a Mt. Pleasant offense that averages 28 points and topped 60 in Week 1.

Two is enough in 5A?

Two conference wins could be just enough to earn a playoff spot in Class 5A. There are three six-team conferences in 5A and the top four teams from each qualify for the playoffs.

A year ago, all three fourth-place teams had two wins.

That gives a little added interest for a couple of matchups in the Big East between teams with 1-1 records. Gateway (4-3, 1-1) hosts Woodland Hills (2-5, 1-1), and Franklin Regional (2-5, 1-1) visits Latrobe (3-4, 1-1).

Small schools, big games

The WPIAL’s smallest classification has a couple of Week 7’s biggest matchups. Four ranked teams in Class A meet head to head on Friday night.

No. 1 Clairton hosts No. 4 Greensburg Central Catholic in the Eastern Conference, and No. 3 Cornell visits No. 5 Rochester in the Big Seven.

Second-ranked Bishop Canevin hosts Jeannette on Saturday.

Looking for a win

Canon-McMillan is 0-5 all-time against North Allegheny but the Big Macs will try to snap that streak at home Friday night. Both teams are in good position to make the playoffs but the winner Friday will remain squarely in the hunt for one of the three byes available in Class 6A.

Five teams in all qualify for the playoffs with seeds Nos. 4 and 5 playing in the first round.

Canon-McMillan, North Allegheny and Baldwin are tied for fourth at 2-2. However, Baldwin already has lost to both.

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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