Belle Vernon, West Mifflin chase home playoff game in Big Eight clash
By: Chris Harlan
Thursday, October 11, 2018 | 12:03 AM
Belle Vernon’s football team could spend the first weekend of November on the beach, the unofficial nickname given to their sand-colored home turf.
With a win this week, the Leopards can start making plans for their beach party in the playoffs but West Mifflin may spoil their fun. The Big Eight contenders meet Friday night at West Mifflin with a first-round home game almost guaranteed to whichever team wins.
Kickoff is 7:30 p.m.
“If you win out, you’re sitting pretty,” Belle Vernon coach Matt Humbert said.
No. 5 West Mifflin (4-3, 4-0) is tied with top-ranked Thomas Jefferson (6-0, 4-0) for first place in the conference. No. 3 Belle Vernon (5-1, 4-1) trails both by a half-game in the standings.
Belle Vernon’s only loss was to Thomas Jefferson, 36-14, in Week 2. West Mifflin hosts TJ in Week 9.
There’s a chance the conference title could end in a two- or three-way tie, but so far nobody has tarnished TJ’s undefeated record. West Mifflin will try in two weeks, but the Titans aren’t looking that far ahead.
Not with Belle Vernon in front of them.
“We’ve put ourselves in a good situation so far,” West Mifflin coach Ray Braszo said. “We know the top of our conference — both Belle Vernon and TJ — are very good.”
Belle Vernon won 35-7 at West Mifflin last season when quarterback Jared Hartman rushed for a touchdown and passed for another.
The line could decide Friday’s matchup. Belle Vernon’s linemen hold a size advantage, but West Mifflin’s offense relies more on quickness and misdirection to counter that edge.
“We have to be able to win a little on the line of scrimmage both offense and defense,” Braszo said. “That’s a big strength for them. Size-wise, we’re not a big team. We’ve got to be able to stay in it up front in order to move the ball and get the ball.”
Four of West Mifflin’s five linemen are listed at 5-foot-11 or smaller with three weigh less than 200 pounds. The biggest is 6-2, 250-pound Josh Brown.
“They’re good, tough kids, they’re just not big,” Braszo said. “A lot of these top teams in our conference and our classification are a little bigger than us. If you can’t move the ball, you’re in trouble.”
Led by running back Mason Pascoe and quarterback Jared Hartman, Belle Vernon has scored 49, 49, 48 and 54 points in its past four games since that Week 2 loss to Thomas Jefferson.
Pascoe has 1,074 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. Hartman showed his versatility last week with three touchdowns rushing and another passing.
West Mifflin’s offense is led by senior Parrish Parker, a Howard recruit who has 1,065 rushing yards on 134 carries. Parker rushed for 201 yards in last week’s 42-28 victory over Greensburg Salem.
“They love to run counter, they love to run sweep and they love to throw the ball deep,” Humbert said. “I’m hoping we can duplicate our performance defensively from last year because we were dominant defensively. … But they’re a team that’s able to sting you if you’re undisciplined.”
West Mifflin started last week’s win with a 57-yard touchdown pass.
Two of West Mifflin’s three losses were to Class 5A opponents Mars, 7-6, and Franklin Regional, 28-6. The third was a storm-shortened 14-0 loss to New Castle.
Belle Vernon faces nonconference opponent Plum in Week 8 and Ringgold (0-7, 0-4) in Week 9. West Mifflin finishes with Ringgold in Week 8 and then Thomas Jefferson.
“We’re kind of tunnel vision and locked in,” Humbert said. “We want to get an advantageous seeding in the playoffs. We’ve been on a roll over the last few games and we’re just hoping that that momentum sticks.”
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.