Trib HSSN don’t-miss high school football matchups for 2023 Week Zero

Thursday, August 24, 2023 | 7:16 PM

As Billy Preston sang in his 1974 hit song Nothing from Nothing, “Nothin’ from nothin’ leaves nothin’.” That still holds true today, unless we’re talking about zero. In the case of a high school football schedule, zero means a whole lot.

This is the eighth season that the PIAA has allowed teams across the commonwealth to either hold a second scrimmage or play an actual game that has become known as Week Zero.

All but a few WPIAL and City League teams will tee it up to kick off the 2023 scholastic football season this Friday and Saturday.

Once again we will preview one of the top games in each classification every week.

Here is a look at some of the top contests slated for the only weekend of August high school football.

Class 6A vs. Class 5A

Class 6A No. 5 Seneca Valley (6-4, 1-3) at Class 5A No. 2 Penn Hills (5-5, 3-2)

7 p.m. Friday, Yuhas-McGinley Stadium at Penn Hills

Coaches: Ron Butschle, Seneca Valley; Charles Morris, Penn Hills

Last year: Seneca Valley and Penn Hills did not qualify for the district playoffs in 2022

Players to watch: Sean O’Shea, Seneca Valley (Sr., 6-0, 175, QB); Julian Dugger, Penn Hills (Sr., 6-4, 200, QB)

Team notes

Seneca Valley: There were high expectations for a senior-heavy Raiders team in 2022 and back-to-back losses in the final two weeks of the regular season kept them out of the four-team playoffs in Class 6A. Now a younger, less experienced Seneca Valley team hopes to turn the tables to a return to the postseason. Sean O’Shea takes over for Graham Hancox at QB. O’Shea did start four games as a sophomore and threw for 548 yards.

Penn Hills: The Indians finished tied for second place in the Northeast Conference, one game behind eventual champion Pine-Richland; however, Penn Hills lost a tiebreaker with Woodland Hills and North Hills and missed the playoffs. Hopes are high this season for the red and gold with the return of Pitt recruit Julian Dugger at QB. The four-year starter threw for 1,137 yards and rushed for 476 yards.

Historic factoids

• Seneca Valley held on to beat Penn Hills in the 2022 season opener, 17-15, when Indians kicker Owen Williams missed a 34-yard field goal attempt on the game’s final play. Graham Hancox had a scoring pass and touchdown run for the Raiders while Amir Key rushed for 115 yards and two touchdowns for the Indians.

• These teams met four straight seasons from 2014-2017 with each school winning twice. Overall, Penn Hills holds the all-time advantage in the series, 6-5.

• The Indians and Raiders have split their two playoff meetings with Penn Hills winning, 31-7, in 2002 and Seneca Valley prevailing in 2011, 30-13.

Class 5A No. 1 Gateway (4-1, 7-4 in 2022) at Class 6A No. 4 Mt. Lebanon (2-2, 5-6 in 2022)

7 p.m. Friday, Mt. Lebanon Stadium

Coaches: Don Holl, Gateway; Mike Collodi, Mt. Lebanon

Last year: Upper St. Clair 24, Gateway 21 in 5A quarterfinals; Central Catholic 28, Mt. Lebanon 7 in 6A semifinals

Players to watch: Brad Birch, Gateway (Sr., 6-0, 190, QB); Connor Young, Mt. Lebanon (Soph., 6-3, 255, DE, TE, OG);

Team notes

Gateway: The Gators are the only team ranked No. 1 preseason by Trib HSSN that did not lift gold a year ago. Senior quarterback Brad Birch is back after throwing for 2,018 yards a year ago with 19 touchdowns. Jaquon Reynolds also returns as the team’s leading rusher and third-leading receiver a year ago. Six starters are back on offense for the black and gold while four return on the defensive side of the ball.

Mt. Lebanon: The Blue Devils have a new head coach after the legendary Bob Palko retired following last season. Mike Collodi is a coaching vet who is getting his first taste of coaching at the highest classification. The former Elizabeth Forward head coach hopes to bring his physical philosophies that helped the Warriors become sustained contenders in Class 3A. Navy recruit Connor Young is one of the top players back for the Blue Devils.

Historic factoids

• In the season opener a year ago, Gateway defeated visiting Mt. Lebanon, 21-6. Birch completed 22 of 34 passes for 293 yards and three touchdowns for the Gators.

• Thirty-nine years ago, the Blue Devils defeated the Gators in the 1984 WPIAL Quad-A championship game, 20-12, as Art Walker bested Pete Antimarino in a battle of legendary coaches. It was the fourth district crown in five years for Mt. Lebanon. Gateway went on to earn a share of the WPIAL championship in 1985 and win the crown outright in 1986.

• The first-ever meeting between these gridiron powers was 45 years ago when the Blue Devils blanked the Gators, 20-0, in the 1978 regular season.

Class 4A

Montour (5-2, 7-5) at Mars (3-3, 6-5)

7 p.m. Friday, Planets Stadium at Mars

Coaches: Lou Cerro, Montour; Eric Kasperowicz, Mars

Last year: Aliquippa 41, Montour 7 in 4A quarterfinals; McKeesport 43, Mars 0 in 4A quarterfinals

Players to watch: Jake Wolfe, Montour (Sr., 6-1, 185, QB/WR/CB); Evan Wright, Mars (Sr., 5-9, 185, RB)

Team notes

Montour: With a young team, the Spartans had a strong season in 2022, finishing in third place in the 4A Parkway Conference behind powers Aliquippa and Central Valley. Back as starting quarterback for a third straight season is senior Jake Wolfe, who completed 109 of his 182 passes last fall for 1,473 yards and 17 touchdowns. His top target from a year ago, Keino Fitzpatrick II, is also back after catching 33 passes for 354 yards. Fitzpatrick is also a three-year starter at cornerback.

Mars: The Fightin’ Planets are considered one of the favorites in the 4A Greater Allegheny Conference after finishing tied for third place behind Armstrong and Highlands. This is year two for Eric Kasperowicz as head coach and for his son Eric, who is a junior. The younger Kasperowicz might not return at quarterback, though, following offseason shoulder surgery. Last year’s leading rusher Eric Wright is back after gaining 1,333 yards in 2022.

Historic factoids

• In his return to high school head coaching and in his debut at Mars, Eric Kasperowicz led the Fightin’ Planets past the Spartans in Week Zero last season, 34-26. Eric Kasperowicz Jr. began his sophomore season by passing for 186 yards and a touchdown, plus scoring on a 39-yard run. Trey Hopper threw for 100 yards in replace of Jake Wolfe, who was injured earlier in the game for Montour.

• This is only the sixth matchup between the schools and the fourth in the regular season. Mars beat Montour when they were in the 4A Northwest Nine Conference in 2016 (35-14) and 2017 (26-15).

• The two split their postseason clashes with the Spartans winning in the 2010 Class 3A semifinals, 35-14, while the Fightin’ Planets prevailed in a 2014 3A first round playoff game, 42-27.

Class 3A vs. 4A

Class 3A No. 2 West Mifflin (4-2, 6-6) at Class 4A No. 3 McKeesport (5-1, 11-2)

7 p.m. Friday, George Smith Field at Weigle-Schaeffer Stadium at McKeesport

Coaches: Rod Steele, West Mifflin; Matt Miller, McKeesport

Last year: Freeport 42, West Mifflin 6 in 3A quarterfinals; Aliquippa 42, McKeesport 7 in 4A semifinals

Players to watch: David Fleming, West Mifflin (Sr., 6-2, 165, QB/WR/FS); Anthony Boyd, McKeesport (Jr., 5-8, 175, RB/DB)

Team notes

West Mifflin: The Titans finished in a three-way tie for second place in the 3A Western Hills Conference with Beaver and South Park, two games behind conference champion Avonworth. After scoring over 50 points and beating Southmoreland in the first round of the playoffs, West Mifflin’s season ended with a loss to Freeport. David Fleming, a transfer from Central Catholic, will start at QB with Rico Steele, son of head coach Rod Steele, leading the way on the lines for the Titans.

McKeesport: While there are a lot old new faces this year at the skilled positions for the Tigers, they return four of their five starting linemen from last year in seniors Brady Boyle, Courtney Dunn, Jayden Keys and Nick Winowitch. Anthony Boyd, the younger brother of former McKeesport standout running back Bobbie Boyd, will likely take over as the workhorse in the triple-option offense.

Historic factoids

• Visiting McKeesport held the ball for all but 13 seconds of the first quarter as they dominated West Mifflin in the 2022 season opener, 40-0. Bobbie Boyd and fellow senior Aemond Knight each scored two touchdowns for the Tigers.

• Eighty-five years ago, McKeesport won the 1938 WPIAL 3A championship by beating Johnstown, 38-20. Sixty years ago, West Mifflin North edged Butler, 12-6, to win the 1963 WPIAL 3A title.

• The last time West Mifflin beat McKeesport was 45 years ago when the Titans tamed the Tigers, 28-26, in the 1978 season.

Class 2A vs. 4A

Class 2A No. 2 Serra Catholic (5-2, 7-4) at North Catholic (3-3, 5-5)

7 p.m. Friday, JC Stone Field in North Park

Coaches: Jose Regus, Serra Catholic; Chris Rizzo, North Catholic

Last year: Washington 49, Serra Catholic 21 in the 2A first round; North Catholic did not qualify for the 4A playoffs in 2022

Players to watch: Quadir Stribling, Serra Catholic (Jr, 6-2, 175, QB); Brady O’Hara, North Catholic (Jr., 6-6, 245, TE/DE)

Team notes

Serra Catholic: After winning a WPIAL championship in 2021, the Eagles finished tied for second place in the 2A Allegheny Conference with Ligonier Valley, two games behind eventual district champion Steel Valley. Serra Catholic lost to Washington in the postseason opener. Junior QB Quadir Stribling is back for the Eagles after throwing for 1,435 yards and 12 touchdowns a year ago. Senior Drew Hairston anchors both the offensive and defensive lines.

North Catholic: After having success as a head coach in Arizona in recent years, Chris Rizzo returned to his native Pittsburgh area this summer to take over the Trojans following the resignation of Pat O’Shea after last season. North Catholic has seven starters back on offense and eight on defense, including stud tight end and defensive end Brady O’Hara. The junior already has offers from Pitt, Penn State and West Virginia among others.

Historic factoids

• North Catholic, the 2021 3A runner-up, rolled past 2021 2A champion Serra Catholic to open up the 2022 season last fall, 37-14. Jason Siket had a touchdown pass and a scoring run for the Trojans while Jack Fennell rushed for 63 yards and a touchdown.

• The Trojans hold a 7-3 lead in the all-time series with the most recent meeting before last year coming in the 2017 WPIAL Class 2A quarterfinals, a game North Catholic won, 35-14.

• The Eagles’ last win over the Trojans was 14 years ago in the 2009 season, 27-20.

Class 2A vs. A

City League No. 1 Westinghouse (4-0, 14-1) at Class A No. 4 Clairton (5-1, 6-6)

7 p.m. Saturday at Neil Brown Stadium in Clairton

Coaches: Donta Green, Westinghouse; Wayne Wade, Clairton

Last year: Southern Columbia 37, Westinghouse 22 in PIAA 2A finals; Bishop Canevin 29, Clairton 6 in Class A quarterfinals

Players to watch: Kyshawn Robinson (Soph, 5-10, 165, RB/DB); Michael Wright, Clairton (Sr., 5-10, 180, QB)

Team notes

Westinghouse: It was a dream season for the Bulldogs in 2022, winning their first 14 games before falling to traditional power Southern Columbia in the state championship game. It was one of the best seasons by a City League team in the state playoff era. Now they look to finish the deal with five starters back on offense and defense. Sophomore Kyshawn Robinson could be a star after starting at DB last season. He already has offers from Pitt, Penn State and West Virginia among others.

Clairton: The Bears overcame a rough start last fall against a rigorous nonconference schedule to finish in second place in the Eastern Conference. Clairton lost to 2021 champion Bishop Canevin in the Class A second round of the playoffs. The orange and black have six starters back on offense and defense, but they’ll have a new quarterback after Capone Jones graduated. Senior Michael Wright threw for one touchdown and ran for four others in 2022.

Historic factoids

• In a much-anticipated season opener last year, Westinghouse defeated Clairton, 40-8, in the first of 14 straight wins. The Bulldogs led 20-8 at the half before outscoring the Bears 20-0 in the second half.

• Westinghouse has won 37 City League football championships, including three titles in four years between 2019-2022.

• Clairton has won 14 WPIAL titles with its most recent crown captured in 2019. However, these District 8 and District 7 powers have only met on the gridiron three times before with the ’House winning all three. Prior to last year, Westinghouse defeated Clairton in 1982, 20-19. Then 40 years ago, the Bulldogs once again edged the Bears, 14-6, in 1983.

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