5 things to watch in WPIAL football Week 3: Coaches like nonconference tune-ups

Thursday, September 16, 2021 | 8:38 PM

The sprint to the WPIAL playoffs starts now.

The nonconference portion of the football schedule is over for many WPIAL teams, meaning every week matters from here on out. But for the first time in years, all teams were able to ease into conference play with a preseason-like experience where coaches had multiple nonconference games to tinker.

That was a foreign feeling for most.

“I think it’s been awesome,” Mt. Lebanon coach Bob Palko said. “You can find out about your team before you start (the conference). I’m a fan.”

In all, 10 of the WPIAL’s 17 conferences open conference play this week.

Nonconference games were sprinkled throughout the schedule in 2019 and in years earlier, a method that sometimes left teams with meaningless games late in the season. The WPIAL addressed those concerns last season by stacking consecutive nonconference games at the start of everyone’s schedule. However, the pandemic caused the 2020 schedule to be shortened and many nonconference games were eliminated entirely.

So, this was a new experience this fall.

Mt. Lebanon and the rest of WPIAL Class 6A now enter a stretch of seven conference games in seven weeks. It starts at 7:30 p.m. Friday when the Blue Devils host Canon-McMillan.

“That’s normally how it happens at the college level too,” said Palko, who can appreciate the WPIAL’s new approach as much as anyone.

In 2018, the WPIAL scheduled his West Allegheny team for a Week 8 nonconference matchup against North Allegheny, a late-season battle neither school really wanted so close to the playoffs.

“It made zero sense,” Palko said.

That’s now largely not a problem anymore, but the WPIAL couldn’t eliminate all late-season nonconference games. In Class 3A, the Allegheny Seven and Interstate conferences each have an uneven number of teams, so there is one nonconference game every week throughout this season.

The seven conferences that don’t start conference play this week will wait until Week 5.

Change of plans

Concerns over safety caused administrators at three WPIAL high schools to change plans for their Friday night football games.

Two of the games, Woodland Hills at Penn Hills and Clairton at Leechburg, won’t allow fans into the stadium Friday night. Penn Hills announced the move Wednesday amid concerns of “unresolved feelings and emotions” after one 15-year-old was killed and another was critically wounded in a shooting at a North Versailles haunted hayride Saturday.

Clairton was scheduled to play at home this week but its game was moved to Leechburg.

“We’re doing it out of an abundance of caution,” Clairton athletic director Ted Ulmer said. “There have been some incidents of community violence throughout the county recently. The safety of our athletes, their parents and families is our top priority.”

Separately, Sto-Rox administrators decided not to host a game against Avonworth because of concerns about postgame crowd control that arose last week, said athletic director/football coach LaRoi Johnson. The game was moved to Avonworth and will start at 6 p.m. Friday.

“It gives us three weeks to figure out a couple of things for our home games,” Johnson said.

Sto-Rox’s next home game is Oct. 8.

New York’s best

McKeesport will host the top-ranked team from New York when Buffalo’s Canisius visits Friday

The Western New York team started the season No. 1 in MaxPrep’s rankings for the Empire State regardless of classification. The Crusaders are 1-0 and coming off a 59-0 victory over Western New York Maritime Charter.

Canisius competes in the Monsignor Martin High School Athletic Association and won that league title last season, which was held in the spring because of covid-19 delays.

McKeesport had an open week in its conference schedule this week because Uniontown decided to leave WPIAL football and pursue an independent schedule this fall.

City League showdown

The two finalists from last year’s City League championship game meet Saturday at Cupples Stadium. Reigning champion Westinghouse (2-0) hosts Allderdice (0-2) at 3:45 p.m. on Pittsburgh’s South Side.

Combined, they’ve won the past four City titles. Westinghouse won back to back in 2019-20, with Allderdice winning consecutively in 2017-18.

Westinghouse swept Allderdice last season, winning 8-0 in the regular season and 36-20 in the finals.

Ready to rally?

For the 32 WPIAL teams that remain winless, their mission is to replace that zero in the win column. Surprisingly, the list includes a few schools that aren’t accustomed to winless starts.

Pine-Richland lost its first three games for the first time since 2011. Mars hadn’t been 0-3 since 2003. Plum is 0-3 after starting last season with eight consecutive wins.

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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