5 things we learned in Week 4 of H.S. football: 16 teams remain unbeaten at midway point

Sunday, September 26, 2021 | 12:09 AM

Laurel football coach Brian Cooper has the Spartans off to a 5-0 start, likely for the first time since 1977, but the Spartans aren’t slowing down to celebrate.

“We’re really just trying to keep them focused on the next task at hand,” said Cooper, who’s in his eighth season. “That’s really all we can control right now. … We’re trying to keep them grounded but obviously there’s a lot of excitement too.”

The WPIAL regular season has reached the midway point with 16 teams holding onto undefeated records.

Laurel’s start isn’t too unexpected. The team started 4-0 in 2019 before losing to Clairton. The Spartans reached 5-0 this season with a 48-0 win Friday over Riverside.

“We’ve had a lot of good teams the last three or four years,” Cooper said. “We’ve been very close to having this type of season. It just seems like things are clicking right now, and I hope we keep it that way.”

In 1977, Laurel began the season 12-0 before a loss in the WPIAL championship. It’s believed that was the team’s most-recent 5-0 start.

This season, they’ve outscored their first five opponents 199-46. That included a 39-21 win over reigning WPIAL Class 2A champion Beaver Falls on Sept. 17.

The Spartans are ranked fourth in WPIAL Class 2A.

Their star is running back Luke McCoy, who ranks among the best WPIAL rushers. The 5-foot-9, 180-pound senior ranks second in rushing yards (653) and is tied for second in touchdowns (11).

“He has all the attributes you want in a running back: speed, power and quick feet,” Cooper said, “He can punish people and at the same time break away and leave you wondering what just happened.”

Central Valley is off to a 5-0 start for the third year in a row, and Washington is unbeaten after five games for the second time in three seasons. But others have waited at least a little while for their perfect starts.

Among them, Hampton and Mt. Lebanon are 5-0 for the first time since 2015. Bishop Canevin hadn’t won its first five games since 2011. Others have waited way longer: Kiski Area is 5-0 for the first time since 1986.

And then there is Laurel Highlands.

The Mustangs are 5-0 for the first time in team history after defeating West Mifflin, 27-7. Never before had the team started better than 3-0, said coach Rich Kolesar.

Laurel Highlands’ reward is a Week 5 matchup with undefeated Belle Vernon (4-0, 2-0), the top-ranked team in WPIAL 4A. The Leopards are seeking their first 5-0 start since 2017.

Quinton Martin ‘100% OK’

One of the WPIAL’s top sophomores left Friday night’s game hurt but appears to have avoided serious injury.

Belle Vernon’s Quinton Martin was helped off the field by trainers after a collision in the Leopards’ huge win over then-No. 1 Thomas Jefferson. Martin was sidelined with an apparent leg injury but tweeted Saturday he’s OK.

“The injury that I suffered in last night’s game was not as severe as I initially thought,” he wrote on Twitter. “I just wanted to let everyone know that I am 100% OK and I appreciate all the love and support.”

The 6-foot-3, 180-pound running back/wide receiver/defensive back already has college offers from Pitt, Penn State, West Virginia, Maryland, Rutgers and Virginia Tech. Rivals rates Martin as a four-star prospect.

He scored twice Friday on a 50-yard run and an 87-yard kickoff return.

Pine-Richland bouncing back

Don’t look now but Pine-Richland might be a WPIAL contender again. After a tumultuous summer, the Rams stumbled to the team’s first 0-3 start since 2012. But after nonconference wins over Upper St. Clair in Week 3 and now Gateway on Friday, Pine-Richland appears headed in the right direction again.

Gelly Bradford scored on a 74-yard pass from Cole Boyd and Ryan Palmeiri added two short touchdown runs in the 21-7 win at Gateway.

The Northeast Conference doesn’t start conference play until next week, so the Rams are maybe taking shape at just the right time. In fairness, none of the team’s three defeats was necessarily a “bad” loss. The Rams lost to Harrisburg, 26-21; Seneca Valley, 24-20; and Central Catholic, 49-35.

Pine-Richland (2-3) hosts Penn Hills (2-2) in the conference opener next week.

One game at a time?

Serra Catholic became the first WPIAL team to reach six wins after earning two on Friday night.

No, the Eagles didn’t play a doubleheader. They received a win by forfeit when Carlynton canceled their scheduled game, and they defeated replacement opponent Freeport, 14-3.

The PIAA has a limit on the maximum number of regular-season games a team can play, but the WPIAL said Thursday teams can count both wins and not violate that limit.

Sto-Rox shows QB depth

Sto-Rox’s Josh Jenkins ranked among the WPIAL’s top passers a year ago with more than 1,400 yards, but he has played mostly wide receiver this fall.

The 6-foot-2, 170-pound junior was back behind center Friday and threw for five touchdowns in a 65-12 win over Shady Side Academy. Jenkins completed 9 of 20 attempts for 204 yards with one interception.

Sto-Rox also has a good senior quarterback in Austin Jones, so coach LaRoi Johnson has used both this season. The Vikings are 5-0 and ranked first in WPIAL Class 2A.

The 5-foot-11, 175-pound Jones has a college offer from Wheeling Jesuit, an NCAA Division II school. Jones has passed for 680 yards and seven touchdowns before playing wide receiver against Shady Side.

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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