5 things we learned in Week 4: WPIAL upstarts winning over their doubters

Saturday, September 24, 2022 | 9:22 PM

The last time Mapletown started a season 5-0, longtime Maples coach George Messich was in middle school and the team’s quarterback was an older boy who lived next door.

That was 1968.

“They had some really good football players on that team,” said Messich, a 1973 graduate. “The running back went to Youngstown State. The quarterback went to West Virginia University. It was just a great group of guys.”

It’s an all-time great team that’s remembered fondly in the community, he said. So, it’s understandable that there’s some excitement around the school now that this year’s team has also won its first five games.

Even if some outsiders aren’t easily convinced these Maples are for real.

Mapletown is among a handful of WPIAL teams who likely won over some doubters with their performances Friday night. Hempfield, Leechburg and West Allegheny all had strong showings that they, too, are for real — despite being seen as underdogs entering their Week 4 matchups.

“We’ve noticed that,” Messich said of the doubters. “When we played Beth-Center last week, we were hearing comments that, ‘You’re going to find out you’re not playing Avella or Frazier.’ People were telling us that down there, and it kind of hit a nerve with us.”

Mapletown defeated Beth-Center, 43-14.

“Then after the Beth-Center game, people will say, ‘Beth-Center is down. They’re not that good this week,’” Messich said with a laugh. “’You’ve got Carmichaels coming up.’”

Well, think again.

Against Carmichaels on Friday, senior Landan Stevenson rushed for 140 yards and scored three touchdowns as Mapletown celebrated a 42-0 rout. Stevenson broke the school’s career scoring record and leads the WPIAL in touchdowns with 19.

He’s one of five seniors who’ve started since freshman year. As a result, the Maples are 5-0 for the first time since that 1968 team went 8-0. That’s certainly quieted some doubters.

“I do think it’s opened some eyes up,” said Messich, a starting lineman on Pitt’s 1976 national champion team, who has coached the Maples for 40 years. “We’ve been looking for this team for awhile, watching them all the way up. When they were in eighth grade, they were undefeated. We knew it was going to be a good group.”

Hempfield has waited almost as long for a 5-0 start. The Spartans haven’t started with five consecutive wins since 1971, when the team started 6-0. They stayed undefeated Friday by defeating No. 1-ranked Penn-Trafford, the defending state champion in Class 5A.

Jake Phillips threw for two touchdowns and rushed for another in the 28-17 win.

Leechburg and West Allegheny each lost Friday, but they proved themselves as real playoff contenders. They maybe won’t celebrate any moral victories, but they did battle tough with two of the WPIAL’s winningest programs.

Parkway newcomer West Allegheny held a two-point halftime lead over conference heavyweight Aliquippa, but the Quips escaped with a 19-16 win. West A entered Friday 4-0, but the combined record of its first four opponents was 3-17.

A year ago, Leechburg lost at home to Clairton, 48-27, dropping its all-time record to 0-27-1 against the Bears. In the rematch, Leechburg lost by only a touchdown, and its defense stopped Clairton three times inside the 15.

Sto-Rox quarterbacks club

Sto-Rox’s Josh Jenkins surpassed 4,000 career passing yards Friday, adding another name to rich quarterback tradition that no other WPIAL school can match.

The senior is the eighth Sto-Rox player to reach the milestone, according to team statistician Ken Hohman. Jenkins has 4,023 career yards after throwing for 143 in Friday’s 52-0 win over Keystone Oaks.

He has 754 yards this season.

The all-time list of WPIAL passing leaders is dotted with former Vikings including a pair of 8,000-yard passers in Lenny Williams (8,508) and Eric Wilson (8,006). The other Sto-Rox QBs with more than 4,000 were Adam DiMichele (6,741), Paul Jones (5,667), Jody Dickerson (4,638), Chuck Fusina (4,316) and John Simmons (4,007).

Working overtime

Four of the best games from Week 4 needed overtime to decide a winner. Two of them might be called stunners, since Penn Hills and Beaver were ranked teams, yet lost in OT.

West Mifflin’s DeRicco White scored on a 4-yard touchdown run on the road to defeat No. 4 Beaver, 31-24. The Titans, a newcomer to Class 3A, improved to 2-3.

North Hills pulled off a 27-26 win over No. 2 Penn Hills when Damon Mickail kicked a winning extra point in overtime. The win was the first this season for North Hills (1-4).

• Laurel’s Landon Smith scored on a one-yard touchdown run in overtime to defeat Union, 28-22.

• Another dramatic finish came on Saturday. Shaler’s Brandon London caught a winning 2-point pass in double overtime to defeat Franklin Regional, 42-41. Franklin Regional had scored first in the second OT and kicked an extra point.

2 down, 2 to go

The playoff race in Class 6A is halfway over but far from decided.

All five teams have played two conference games and the standings don’t look the way most probably predicted. Preseason favorite Central Catholic is 0-2 and alone in last place after Friday’s 7-3 loss to North Allegheny.

Canon-McMillan, Mt. Lebanon and Seneca Valley are tied at 1-1. North Allegheny leads at 2-0.

No more zero

Getting the first win of the year isn’t always easy.

The WPIAL and City League entered Week 4 with 23 winless teams, yet almost a third of them won Friday. Charleroi, New Brighton, North Hills, Shady Side Academy, University Prep, Valley and West Greene all replaced the zero in the wins column with a one.

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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