Five things to watch in Week 5: Teams jockey for position in Big East Conference

Thursday, September 28, 2017 | 6:39 PM

That will become a little more clear after No. 3-ranked Gateway visits No. 2 Penn-Trafford on Friday night for a first-place matchup of undefeated teams. But one game won't sort out a Class 5A conference that looks like the deepest and most unpredictable in the WPIAL this season.

How unpredictable?

Well, consider, No. 5 McKeesport started the season as the early favorite, a label that lasted just one week. Franklin Regional upset McKeesport in Week 1, Plum defeated Franklin Regional in Week 3 and McKeesport defeated Plum in Week 4.

“It's a tough conference top to bottom,” said McKeesport coach Matt Miller, whose team reached the WPIAL final last season. “You have great coaches, great players. Each school comes to play every week. You'd better come ready to play, or you're on the outside looking in when playoff time comes.”

McKeesport isn't out of the title hunt. The Tigers visit Gateway in Week 8 and host Penn-Trafford in Week 9, so the conference crown could come down to the regular-season finale.

Only four teams qualify for the WPIAL playoffs.

The standings are tight. Penn-Trafford (3-0 in conference) and Gateway (3-0) are tied for first. Franklin Regional (3-1) and McKeesport (3-1) are tied for third with Plum (2-2) fifth.

But the competition doesn't end there. Kiski Area (1-3) has lost three conference games by 12 combined points. Armstrong (0-3) took Franklin Regional to overtime last week. Latrobe (1-2) and Connellsville (0-3) already faced both Penn-Trafford and Gateway, so they have a friendlier schedule ahead.

But, in this conference, it never gets too friendly.

Jurkovec, Fisher renew rivalry

There's one conference opponent Pine-Richland quarterback Phil Jurkovec hasn't defeated: Central Catholic.

The senior is 0-2.

His Rams will try to change that Friday when No. 2-ranked Central Catholic (4-1, 3-0) visits No. 1 Pine-Richland (5-0, 2-0) for a first-place matchup that could decide the Northern Seven title. Jurkovec and Central Catholic quarterback Troy Fisher sparked a rivalry as star sophomores, but so far only Fisher has celebrated.

Central Catholic won 48-35 in Week 5 last season when Jurkovec left with a thumb injury. Central also won the semifinal rematch 63-34 while Jurkovec was sidelined after season-ending surgery.

In 2015, the two quarterbacks combined for seven touchdowns. The seventh was a 16-yard run by Fisher to win 35-28.

But unlike in years past, it's Pine-Richland that enters this matchup as the favorite.

Mapletown's Rush nears another historic feat

The WPIAL's all-time rushers list could have a new name join the Top 10 soon.

Mapletown's Dylan Rush needs only 97 yards against Carmichaels to pass former North Catholic/Montour running back Julian Durden, who finished with 5,537 in 2011. Rush has 5,441 yards.

That total jumped significantly in Week 3 when Rush set a WPIAL single-game record with 524 yards. The senior has 1,143 yards in five games, his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard season. He had 1,016 yards as a freshman, 1,430 as a sophomore and 1,852 as a junior.

Just ahead of Durden on the all-time list are McGuffey's Jason Barr at 5,749 and Clairton's Tyler Boyd at 5,763. West Greene's Rodney Wilson ranks seventh with 6,304.

Can Imani match the preseason hype?

Imani Christian has more college football recruits than many Class 6A schools, which led to predictions the Saints could challenge Clairton for the WPIAL Class A title.

There's no question Imani has talent, but can it covert that into wins? That remains unclear.

The Saints limp into an Eastern Conference matchup that was hyped in the summer as a postseason preview. They have lost two in a row and won't have five players who were ejected from last week's 54-36 loss to Jeannette.

A week earlier, Imani lost 41-26 to California.

In contrast, Clairton is undefeated after outscoring its first four opponents 154-29. Also, the Bears welcome back coach Wayne Wade, who was suspended by the PIAA for the team's first four games.

Don't overlook this Class 2A matchup

Central Catholic at Pine-Richland and Gateway at Penn-Trafford will draw the most attention Friday, but there is another matchup with two ranked teams this week.

In the Class 2A, No. 5 Freedom (4-1, 2-0) visits No. 4 Riverside (3-1, 3-0), a contest for first place in the Midwestern Conference.

Freedom features Cody Ross, a 210-pound fullback/linebacker who scored three rushing touchdowns last week.

Riverside's star is Austin Dambach, a 6-foot-3 wideout committed to Lehigh.

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at or via Twitter .

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