5 things to watch in WPIAL Week 9: Head-to-head matchups to decide 9 conference titles

Friday, October 27, 2023 | 7:00 AM

The wait is over.

Belle Vernon and Elizabeth Forward ran through their Interstate Conference schedules without any mistakes. Mohawk and Neshannock did the same in the Midwestern, reaching Week 9 with perfect records.

As a result, the titles in those conferences will be decided on the field Friday night with head-to-head matchups in the regular-season finales. In all, there are nine such matchups on this week’s WPIAL schedule where each team could claim at least a share of the conference title.

The Interstate and Midwestern are the only conferences where either team could win the title outright. Belle Vernon and Elizabeth Forward are each 4-0 in the conference. Mohawk and Neshannock are 6-0.

Among the others:

Aliquippa (6-0) visits Central Valley (5-1) with the Parkway title on the line. If the Quips were to lose, Montour (5-1) could join a three-way tie atop the standings.

Peters Township (4-0) hosts Bethel Park (3-1) for the top spot in the Allegheny Six.

Woodland Hills (3-1) visits Penn Hills (4-0) hoping to claim a share of the Northeast title.

McKeesport (5-0) travels to Thomas Jefferson (4-1) to settle the Big Seven title.

Mars (5-0) hopes to hold off North Catholic (4-1) in the Greater Allegheny.

McGuffey (5-0) will host Washington (4-1) for first place in the Century.

Clairton (5-0) hopes to wrap up the Eastern title against Jeannette (4-1).

In the Allegheny Conference, Steel Valley (6-0) and Serra Catholic (4-1) have an unusual situation.

The two teams could tie in the loss column but Serra Catholic played one fewer game after its Week 4 contest against Imani Christian was called a no contest by the WPIAL. Serra canceled classes and extra-curricular activities that week after the death of a student.

Save the best for last

Give kudos to the WPIAL schedule makers, who traditionally try to make the Week 9 slate compelling.

This year, they surely succeeded.

In seven conferences, the top four teams in the standings will play one other this week. Those quality matchups are seen in the Northeast, Greater Allegheny, Parkway, Interstate, Century, Midwestern and Eastern conferences.

The Greater Allegheny actually takes that competitive finish a step farther. The top six teams square off there, with Mars (5-0) at North Catholic (4-1); Hampton (3-2) at Highlands (2-3); and Armstrong (2-3) at Kiski Area (2-3).

The Wright way at Mars

Has any WPIAL running back proven more consistent than Mars’ Evan Wright?

The senior leads the WPIAL with 29 touchdowns and has scored at least twice every week. He also has topped 100 yards in all nine games so far this season.

Wright is coming off a five-touchdown effort against Hampton, which included a 70-yard touchdown run. He also scored twice this season on 80-yard runs. He enters Friday’s game against North Catholic with 1,356 yards, which ranks second among WPIAL rushers.

Nearing the top five

Gateway quarterback Brad Birch continues his climb in the WPIAL record book and soon will join the top five passers of all time.

The senior surpassed the 8,000-yard milestone last week and moved within 50 yards of Pine-Richland’s Phil Jurkovec. Jurkovec ranks fifth in WPIAL history with 8,202 career passing yards.

Gateway finishes its regular season at home with a Week 9 nonconference game against Central Catholic.

Third or fourth?

The final two spots in the WPIAL Class 6A playoffs will be decided when Mt. Lebanon (5-4, 1-2) visits Canon-McMillan (5-4, 1-2) on Friday. The winner is third and opens the playoffs at No. 2 North Allegheny. The loser is fourth and draws No. 1 Central Catholic.

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.

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