5 things to watch in Week 9 of high school football

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Friday, October 28, 2022 | 6:00 AM


Almost everyone has an off year once in a while, yet Mars coach Eric Kasperowicz and North Catholic’s Pat O’Shea have never had a team miss the playoffs in their head coaching careers.

That might change after this week.

Kasperowicz’s teams reached the playoffs eight consecutive years at Pine-Richland from 2013-20, and O’Shea’s Trojans have qualified five seasons in a row starting in 2017.

However, when Mars (5-4, 2-3) hosts North Catholic (5-4, 3-2) in an important Week 9 finale Friday night, the teams do so with their playoff hopes in limbo. There are two playoff spots available in the Class 4A Greater Allegheny, with Hampton (5-4, 3-2) also in contention for one.

Hampton hosts Highlands (8-1, 4-1) on Friday.

If North Catholic wins, it’s in. If Hampton wins, it’s in. If Mars and Hampton win, North Catholic is out. If Highlands and Mars win, get out the calculators.

They might not be the only teams adding up Gardner Points or calculating the WPIAL’s margin-of-victory formula this week. Fifty-five teams have clinched a playoff spot entering Week 9, leaving a dozen up for grabs.

This season was Kasperowicz’s first at Mars, where he’s trying to repeat his success at Pine-Richland and build the Planets into WPIAL contenders. A playoff berth in Year 1 would go a long way in those efforts.

Yet, North Catholic will be motivated to extend O’Shea’s tenure a little longer, since he announced before the season that this would be his last as coach. His career record is 53-13 in six years.

If there were a three-way tie for third place, Hampton enters Week 9 with a slim edge in the margin-of-victory formula at plus-11. North Catholic is plus-six and Mars is minus-7. A team can gain or lose a maximum of 10 points in a game.

WPIAL brackets on Saturday

The WPIAL, which scrapped the traditional in-person pairings meeting three years ago, will again reveal the playoff brackets online via TribLive HSSN at 2 p.m. Saturday.

Prior to 2020, playoff-bound coaches had to wait until Monday night to learn their first-round opponents. They’ll now have an extra two days to prepare.

Will OLSH have QB?

Our Lady of the Sacred Heart has one of the WPIAL’s top passers, but will Nehemiah Azeem be on the field Friday night for a playoff-clinching game against Cornell?

Azeem ranks third among WPIAL passers with 1,963 yards, but the senior hurt his knee in pregame warmups a week ago and missed the team’s 40-0 loss to Bishop Canevin. OLSH coach Donnie Militzer said earlier this week that Azeem’s availability could be a game-day decision.

Bishop Canevin, Burgettstown and Fort Cherry already have clinched playoff spots in the Class A Black Hills Conference. That leaves OLSH (7-2, 4-2) and Cornell (4-4, 3-3) vying for the final spot.

OLSH hosts Cornell at 7 p.m. Friday at Moon.

Maples seek perfection

Mapletown has played football for almost 100 years, yet the team has finished the regular season undefeated only once. The Maples went 8-0 in 1968. This year’s team is 9-0 and can finish off a second perfect regular-season schedule with a win Friday at West Greene (2-7, 2-4).

Remarkably, Mapletown missed the playoffs in 1968. There were four unbeaten teams that year in WPIAL Class B and only two advanced directly to the championship. The Maples didn’t have enough Gardner Points to qualify, so Oakmont and Chartiers-Houston met in the WPIAL finals instead.

15-year anniversary

Fifteen years ago, Central Catholic and Gateway combined for one of the best championship games in WPIAL history, but the two teams have rarely seen one another in recent years. Friday’s nonconference game at Dormont Stadium is their first matchup in nearly a decade.

The Vikings and Gators last met in the 2013 playoffs.

Still, their most memorable matchup came in that WPIAL Class 4A final in 2007 at Heinz Field, when Central Catholic won on a missed extra-point kick in overtime. Gateway had forced OT by erasing a 15-point deficit in the final 62 seconds of regulation, including a last-second hook-and-lateral touchdown by the Gators’ Cam Saddler.

They’re back together this week, but a Week 9 nonconference game might have trouble matching that drama.

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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