5 things to watch for Week 6 of high school football: USC, Mt. Lebanon renew rivalry
Imagine a college football season without Michigan vs. Ohio State or another historic rivalry, and that’s the equivalent of a WPIAL season without Upper St. Clair vs. Mt. Lebanon, said USC coach Jim Render.
“That game should always be on the schedule,” Render said. “You’re talking about one of the great rivalries in Western Pennsylvania history. Whether we’re a conference opponent or not, it still should be played.”
The South Hills rivals were yearly opponents until six-class expansion split the schools into separate classifications. But after two years apart, they’ll renew their series at 7:30 p.m. Friday in a nonconference game at Mt. Lebanon.
The matchup drew immediate buzz when the WPIAL revealed its football schedules in January.
“We told our kids that this was a season unto itself,” Mt. Lebanon coach Mike Melnyk said. “It’s going to be a fun game. It’s a rivalry game, there’s a lot on the line, both of the communities are going to rally behind the teams. I think people are thirsty for it after taking a two-year hiatus.”
Six-class expansion separated a number of rivals, and some have managed to continue playing with Week Zero matchups. However, others remain dormant, including the longstanding North Hills vs. North Allegheny rivalry.
The Mt. Lebanon-Upper St. Clair rivalry was renewed only because the WPIAL scheduled this nonconference game. USC (5-1) is ranked fifth in WPIAL Class 5A. Mt. Lebanon (3-3) in fifth in Class 6A.
Melnyk, who arrived at Mt. Lebanon from Manheim Township in 2012, said he quickly realized the rivalry’s importance to the two communities.
“First year, it didn’t take very long,” Melnyk said. “I got an email from an alumni, I think he lived down in North Carolina, and he was giving me tips on the USC rivalry and this is what you need to beat them. I was like, ‘Wow, this is big time.’ ”
Mt. Lebanon defeated USC when the teams last met, 34-21 on Oct. 30, 2015. That game was played in the final week of the regular season, a WPIAL tradition for conference rivals. This year’s nonconference game falls in the middle of the season.
“I’m not crazy about where the game is, in the middle of the schedule,” Render said. “We’re trying to win a conference championship and then you have this big rivalry right in the middle. It’s different, let’s put it that way.”
Nonconference games are often a chance for coaches to rest some banged up players if needed, but Render said: “You don’t hold them out for Mt. Lebanon.”
Another big battle in Big East
The Class 5A Big East is always formidable with Gateway and others, but the Class 3A Big East has become a beast of a conference, too.
For the third week in a row there’s a battle for first place Friday when North Catholic (5-1, 3-1) visits Elizabeth Forward (5-0, 4-0). EF has the inside track for the conference title after last week’s win over Derry (5-1, 3-1), but a North Catholic win this week could set the stage for a three-way tie for the title.
In Week 4, Derry defeated North Catholic, 27-0.
In Week 5, EF defeated Derry, 25-22.
Hardly a ‘meaningless’ game
The No. 1 seed in Class A could be decided Friday night when No. 4 Our Lady of the Sacred Heart visits No. 1 Jeannette in a nonconference game.
Jeannette (6-0) leads the Eastern Conference. OLSH (6-0) leads the Big Seven.
If OLSH were to win Friday, the Chargers could run the table in the final three weeks (Jefferson-Morgan, Union, Cornell) and claim the No. 1 seed.
If Jeannette wins, the No. 1 seed almost certainly will be whichever team finishes first in the Eastern Conference
Midwestern taking shape
The logjam atop the Midwestern could shift this week as the top four teams face off. Freedom (5-1, 3-1) visits New Brighton (2-4, 2-1), and Riverside (4-1, 3-1) hosts Mohawk (5-1, 4-1).
All four have just one conference loss. The Class 2A Midwestern and the Class 5A Allegheny are the only WPIAL conferences without an undefeated team at the top.
Winning by land or by air?
Among this week’s matchups, Rochester and Sto-Rox might have the most drastic contrast in styles.
Rochester has the WPIAL’s fourth-leading rusher in Noah Whiteleather, who has 1,099 yards. Sto-Rox features quarterback Eric Wilson, the WPIAL’s second-leading passer with 1,715 yards. Wilson attempted 39 throws in a single game this season while Rochester has attempted 20 all year.
The Big Seven teams play Friday at Rochester.