5 things to watch in Week 7 of high school football

Friday, October 14, 2022 | 5:00 AM

Football coaches will always say Week 7 isn’t the time for nonconference games, since the playoffs are less than a month away and nobody wants to get hurt now in a “meaningless” game.

That aside, this week’s schedule has a few attractive matchups that might be meaningless in the standings, but could turn into good battles — if the teams decide to approach them that way.

Leading the list is Gateway at McKeesport, which for years was a tough conference rivalry before the Tigers dropped to Class 4A. As recently as 2016, they combined for an unforgettable Class 5A semifinal that came down to the final play.

McKeesport won 41-38 on a pass from midfield with no time left. The Tigers’ Layton Jordan caught the ball around the 5-yard line and was swarmed by Gateway defenders.

While fighting off tacklers, Jordan handed the ball to teammate J.J. Harper, who ran for a winning touchdown. Gateway insisted the whistle should have blown but the touchdown stood.

Might Friday’s game produce another classic?

McKeesport (7-0) is ranked second in Class 4A. Gateway (6-1) is second in 5A.

The Gators have won five in a row in the series since that heart-stopping semifinal six years ago.

Small schools, big matchup

Of course, there’s also a full slate of games that do matter in the standings.

Among the best is a first-place matchup in the Class A Big Seven between South Side (7-0, 3-0) and Laurel (5-1, 3-0). Both were playoff teams a year ago in separate Class 2A conferences, but dropped to Class A and ended up together.

Laurel has won seven in a row in the series.

South Side is trying to start 8-0 for the first time since 1999, when the Rams won WPIAL and PIAA Class A titles with a 15-0 record. Their perfect record was tested a week ago when they used rushing touchdowns by Ryan Navarra and Parker Statler to escape an upset bid by Shenango, 15-13.

Laurel is coming off a 58-14 win over Northgate. Landon Smith led the Lancers with four touchdowns, raising his season total to 18.

Clairton, Rochester reunite

Before Clairton controlled Class A for almost two decades, the WPIAL’s small-school classification belonged to Rochester. The Rams won seven WPIAL titles between 1991 and 2004.

Clairton’s success over the next 20 years made it easy to forget Rochester’s dominance. Why is this relevant this week? Well, Clairton (3-4) hosts Rochester (3-3) at 7 p.m. Friday in a nostalgic nonconference game.

They used to run into one another frequently, but this is the first time they’ve met in 11 years. From 2004-11, they played eight years in a row, including three times in the WPIAL finals.

Clairton has won six straight in the series, including championship matchups in 2006, ’09 and ’10. They haven’t met in a regular-season contest since 2005 at Rochester, which the host Rams won 20-7.

Wait for next week?

The conference title race in the Greater Allegheny might be decided in Week 8 when Armstrong (3-0) hosts Highlands (3-0), but Mars (2-1) will try to crash their party with a win this week.

The Planets, who lost to Highlands two weeks ago, visit Armstrong on Friday hoping to stay in the conference race.

Armstrong features one of the WPIAL’s top passers in senior Cadin Olsen, who pushed his career passing total to 6,305 yards last week with a 235-yard, three-touchdown effort against Indiana. Olsen, a Penn commit, is averaging 242 yards per game and has 1,696 on the season.

Mars quarterback Eric Kasperowicz is coming off his best game of the year. The sophomore passed for 221 yards and four touchdowns last week in a win over Kiski Area.

Armstrong is 1-4 against Mars, earning its first win last season, 37-0.

Building suspense in 6A

The Class 6A playoff race isn’t quite a sprint to the finish but maybe a jog. There are no Class 6A conference games on the Week 7 schedule.

North Allegheny (3-0) leads the conference standings ahead of Seneca Valley (1-1), Canon-McMillan (1-2), Central Catholic (1-2) and Mt. Lebanon (1-2). All five are playing nonconference opponents Friday.

Next week, Central Catholic visits Seneca Valley. In Week 9, Mt. Lebanon hosts Canon-McMillan and Seneca Valley visits North Allegheny.

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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