5 things we learned in high school football Week 5: Ground game pays off in win column

Saturday, September 30, 2023 | 9:10 PM

One of the WPIAL’s leading rushers shook off an ankle injury and returned to the field Friday night, helping West Greene’s offense run its way to victory.

In his first game back, senior Colin Brady topped all WPIAL rushers in Week 5 with 301 yards. Brady handled 23 carries and scored four times in a 41-32 victory over Monessen.

“In Single-A, that’s usually how it goes,” West Greene coach Beau Jackson said. “The team that runs the ball better is typically the team that’s going to win.”

But using a run-to-win strategy wasn’t limited to small schools, according to the weekly stat leaders. Thirteen of the WPIAL’s top 14 rushers in Week 5 led their teams to victory.

Penn-Trafford had two rushers with close to 200 yards each in a 56-28 win over Norwin. Ben Grabowski rushed for 205 yards, and teammate Tasso Whipple had 194.

Upper St. Clair’s Mason Chambers rushed for 202 yards and four touchdowns in a win over rival Mt. Lebanon. Franklin Regional’s Kyle Dupill had 240 rushing yards in a win over Plum.

Clairton, Connellsville, West Allegheny, Steel Valley, Washington, South Park, Neshannock and Avonworth also rushed their way to win in Week 5. They all had a rusher with more than 170 yards.

Leading passers didn’t fare nearly as well. Among the top 14 passing totals on Friday, only six were in a winning effort.

Certainly, the numbers represent only one week, and a few of the top passers had head-to-head matchups, meaning one had to lose. But the results reinforce the belief that to win in the WPIAL, teams still must be able to run the football when needed.

Brady was the WPIAL’s leading rusher when he sprained an ankle Sept. 14 against Carmichaels and missed last week’s win over Bentworth. He topped 1,000 yards for the season and 5,000 for his career.

“He had a heck of a game for us,” Jackson said. “He ran like he’d never had a sprained ankle. It was nice to see.”

Great night for offenses

Maybe blame it on the nice weather?

Whatever was the reason, this became a good week for the offenses. In 41 of the 56 games on Friday, a team scored at least 35 points — which is five touchdowns.

Some WPIAL teams didn’t stop there. Eleven teams scored 50 points or more Friday, including a weekly best of 59 by Leechburg. Belle Vernon scored 57, Thomas Jefferson, Penn-Trafford, South Side and Beaver had 56 apiece, Seneca Valley had 55, Union had 54, Aliquippa had 53, California had 52 and North Hills had 50.

Woodland Hills scored 56 points Saturday.

This was easily the most 50-point efforts in one week this season. A week ago, there were only five. In Week 2, just two teams reached 50.

In the only City League game Friday, University Prep ran away with a 70-0 win over Perry.

Road warriors

Mohawk’s football team took a 15-mile ride to Ellwood City for Friday’s game, but the Warriors, like every other road team in Class 2A, made themselves at home.

Road teams went 11-0 combined, including a key 38-14 win by Mohawk over Ellwood City in the Midwestern.

“We try to approach it all the same, regardless,” Mohawk coach Tim McCutcheon said. “I don’t like to do things different if we’re on the road. … I try not to even acknowledge that. But don’t get me wrong. Last night I did mention, ‘Great road win.’ ”

It helps that the teams in Mohawk’s conference are closely situated, he said, but there are still logistical challenges.

“The kids get a little bit of time at home after school but then they’ve got to circle back pretty quickly,” McCutcheon said. “And then there’s the travel. If you don’t have a good warm-up and you get a slow start, it could unravel quickly on you.”

Mohawk scored the first two touchdowns Friday.

However, one road game does stick in McCutcheon’s mind. That was a year ago, when the bus Mohawk chartered was a no-show for its first playoff game.

“We showed up 40 minutes late on two school buses,” he said. “I guess once you’ve been through that, nothing else matters.”

A great catch

Central Catholic senior Peter Gonzalez posted one of the week’s best stat lines with seven catches for 268 yards and three touchdowns. The Penn State recruit averaged more than 38 yards per catch, boosted by an 83-yard touchdown.

His yardage total was a school record for Central Catholic, and helped Vikings quarterback Payton Wehner finish with 367 yards passing in Friday’s 49-6 win over Canon-McMillan.

Remarkably, Gonzalez’s big night was still 80 yards short of the WPIAL record. The single-game receiving record belongs to former Riverside receiver Austin Dambach, who had 348 yards on 13 catches in a 2015 game.

Trio of turnarounds

An 0-2 start often spells doom for an NFL team, but that’s far from true in high school football.

A few WPIAL teams are showing that nowadays. Clairton started the season with two consecutive losses, but the Bears on Friday won their fourth in a row since. They defeated Greensburg Central Catholic, 40-28, to improve to 4-2.

Gateway and Moon each started with three straight losses, but both improved to 3-3 with wins Friday. Gateway defeated Hempfield, 63-21. Moon topped South Fayette, 24-3.

All three are undefeated in conference play.

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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