5 things to watch in WPIAL football Week 4: Covid cancellations not always ‘no-contest’

Thursday, September 23, 2021 | 7:34 PM

The WPIAL’s message is clear: Not every covid-related cancellation will be excused as no-contest.

Many, if not most, will be forfeits.

So far, only four football games met the threshold for a “no-contest” designation this fall, said WPIAL executive director Amy Scheuneman, while at least seven others will go down as forfeits for the teams that decided to cancel. This week alone, Carlynton, Norwin and Woodland Hills will forfeit games.

However, Derry vs. Freeport is a no-contest.

The key distinction the WPIAL looks for is whether covid issues left a team without enough players to compete, or were other factors involved?

“Here’s where a lot of schools are running into a problem,” Scheuneman said. “If you have a roster of 25 players, you might have five that are injured and five that are either covid-positive or a close contact. So you have 15 left. Maybe you’re lacking in certain positions and you feel it’s not a safe decision to play, then that’s a forfeit.

“You still had enough to play, but you’re choosing not to.”

That was the situation facing Norwin this week for its game with Seneca Valley. The Knights could’ve fielded a team but only without the majority of its varsity offensive linemen because of contact tracing.

“We can’t in good conscience stick a 120-pound freshman against a 300-pound lineman from Seneca,” Norwin athletic director Mike Burrell said. “That’s putting our kids in danger.”

Yet, as a member of the WPIAL football committee, Burrell said he understands the league’s efforts to scrutinize cancellations carefully. A year ago, almost any cancellation a school called covid-related was excused by the WPIAL as a no-contest.

“You never want any of your teams to forfeit, but it is understandable why it is in place,” Burrell said.

Teams left without a game are permitted to schedule another opponent, even it they accept a win by forfeit as well, Scheuneman said.

That means a team can technically earn multiple wins in the same week, one on the field and one by forfeit. Having that extra win by forfeit won’t violate the PIAA limit on the maximum number of games in a season.

“It’s actually the maximum amount of games played,” said Scheuneman, with an added emphasis on played. “At the end of the season, they may have 10 games ‘played,’ but 11 on their record.”

The PIAA board met last week and approved guidance for its 12 district committees including the WPIAL that declares canceled games forfeits unless covid-19 cases made those cancellations unavoidable. The PIAA was worried teams would use covid issues as a way to avoid an unfavorable opponent.

PIAA regulations already said that the failure of any team to compete in a scheduled game counts as an automatic forfeit, but district committees had relaxed that rule during the pandemic.

“I do think it helps with transparency and sportsmanship,” North Hills athletic director Pat Weber said. “You hate to say it, but last year you could cover up with it. … You’re hoping teams weren’t playing out of bounds with that, but there now are checks and balances across the state and within the district.”

The games designated as no-contest were Derry vs. Freeport on Friday; Beaver vs. Central Valley on Sept. 3; Riverview vs. Chartiers-Houston on Sept. 3; and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart vs. Beaver Falls on Sept. 10.

New boss in the Big Eight?

Whether the conference was called the Big Eight, Big Nine or Big 10, Thomas Jefferson has dominated the section over the past decade. Combined, the Jaguars are 66-4 in conference games since 2012.

However, one team has beaten them twice in that span: Belle Vernon. The Leopards won 31-24 in 2015 and 21-17 in 2017. The only other conference teams to defeat TJ since 2012 were Ringgold in Week 1 of 2015 and McKeesport last season.

Can the Leopard make it three times?

Second-ranked Belle Vernon (3-0) hosts No. 1 Thomas Jefferson (3-0) at 7 p.m. Friday.

Better late than never

With good reason, Pine-Richland vs. Gateway was likely the most-hyped nonconference matchup on the WPIAL schedule last fall. One team was the reigning Class 5A state champion and the other had won the WPIAL title in 2019.

Yet, like many others during the pandemic, the game was canceled. A positive covid test by a Gateway player hours before kickoff forced the Gators to call off the contest.

Now a year later, they’ll finally meet at 7 p.m. Friday at Antimarino Stadium. Both teams have much different rosters than last season and Pine-Richland has a new coach. But in terms of talent, this still could be one of the better nonconference matchups this season.

Gateway quarterback Brad Birch ranks second among all WPIAL passers with 898 yards. Among WPIAL Class 5A quarterbacks, Pine-Richland’s Cole Boyd ranks second only to Birch with 686 yards.

Quips show no mercy

It’s fair to say Aliquippa hasn’t forgotten about its 2017 WPIAL championship loss.

The Quips were stunned that year by Quaker Valley, 2-0, in the Class 3A final. In the three years since, they’ve certainly taken out any lingering frustration on the Quakers. The teams met three times since and Aliquippa won all three by a combined 187-6. That includes a 73-0 win last year.

The teams meet Friday night for a nonconference game in Leetsdale. Aliquippa is 2-1 and ranked third in WPIAL Class 4A. Quaker Valley is 1-3.

Three weeks to decide?

The next three weeks will go a long way toward deciding the regular-season champion in WPIAL Class 6A as the top three teams in the rankings square off.

It starts Friday when No. 1 Central Catholic visits No. 3 North Allegheny at 7:30 p.m. In Week 5, North Allegheny visits No. 2 Mt. Lebanon. In Week 6, Mt. Lebanon hosts Central Catholic.

Of course, Seneca Valley or someone else could pull a surprise.

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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