Each Wednesday, the PUP high school sports staff will preview the game of the week.
Between the hash marks
Who: Central Catholic (0-0) at Woodland Hills (0-0)
Where: The Wolverena, Turtle Creek
When: 7 p.m. Friday
The coaches: Central Catholic (Ryan Lehmeier); Woodland Hills (Brian Tarrant)
When they last met: It has been a while since these teams squared off. In fact, the previous meeting came in the WPIAL playoffs when there were only four classifications. Central Catholic’s Ron George returned the opening kick for a touchdown, and the Vikings went on to defeat Woodland Hills, 24-6, in a WPIAL Class 4A semifinal Nov. 20, 2015, at Fox Chapel. Some future NFL players shined in the game, with Central Catholic’s Damar Hamlin collecting a team-high 15 tackles and an interception and Woodland Hills’ Miles Sanders rushing for 111 yards.
On deck: Central Catholic travels to Cleveland St. Ignatius next Friday, while Woodland Hills hosts Gateway.
This and that: It’s a battle of first-year coaches in the season opener. Central Catholic’s Lehmeier won three WPIAL and two PIAA titles as the offensive coordinator at Pine-Richland and spent the past two seasons in that same role at Seneca Valley. Tarrant, who is only the third coach in Woodland Hills history, was the cornerbacks coach at California (Pa.) last season and was previously the defensive coordinator at Penn Hills. He also spent a season as head coach at old Wilkinsburg High School. … Central Catholic features four seniors who will play at Power Five schools: linebacker Cole Sullivan (Michigan), linebacker Anthony Speca (Penn State), wide receiver Pete Gonzalez (Penn State) and defensive lineman Ty Yuhas (Pitt). … Woodland Hills has some big talented linemen, among them seniors Pierce Cannon and Mejaun Rose, both of whom have FBS offers. Cannon has one from Syracuse. … Both teams return a lot of offensive punch. Central brings back senior quarterback Payton Wehner (2,504 yards, 18 touchdowns), senior wide receivers Vernon Settles (54 receptions, 660 yards) and Gonzalez (42 receptions, 735 yards), and junior running backs Elijah Faulkner (521 yards) and Amari Shields (498 yards). Woodland Hills is led by a pair of sophomores — quarterback Cam Walter (1,011 yards, eight touchdowns) and wide receiver Scoop Smith (30 receptions, 455 yards). Both started as freshmen last season. … A season ago, Central Catholic lost to North Allegheny in the WPIAL Class 6A championship and Woodland Hills fell to Pine-Richland in the WPIAL Class 5A semifinals.
Brad Everett: Central Catholic, 41-13
Steve Rotstein: Central Catholic, 31-10
John Santa: Central Catholic, 28-13
On the radar
Westinghouse at Clairton, 7 p.m. Friday
Will reigning City League champ and PIAA Class 2A runner-up Westinghouse earn a big opening-night road win or will Clairton start the season with a huge dub following a couple of “down” seasons? Did you know the House has won 39 of its past 43 games? Pretty remarkable. However, a bevy of key players graduated from last year’s team, so the Bulldogs will look to reload quickly behind running back-defensive back Kyshawn Robinson, a sophomore with major college offers. Meanwhile, Clairton went 6-6 last season after going 7-3 a season earlier. Last year marked the first time the Bears did not finish with a winning record since 2005. There’s plenty of optimism in the “City of Prayer” due to the return of quarterback Mike Wright and wide receivers Michael Ruffin and Martin Lawrence. Westinghouse won last season’s matchup, 40-8.
Canon-McMillan at Penn-Trafford, 7 p.m. Friday
This is one of four matchups featuring WPIAL Class 6A teams taking on 5A opponents. Neither is a championship favorite in their respective classes, but both could surprise. Canon-McMillan has quite the experienced player under center in senior Mike Evans, a three-year starter who threw for 1,448 yards and 18 touchdowns a season ago when the Big Macs advanced to the WPIAL Class 6A semifinals. Evans passed for 309 yards and four touchdowns in a 35-28 Week 0 loss to Penn-Trafford. Penn-Trafford has a couple of talented linemen in seniors Zach Tomosovich and Matt Sarnowski. Tomosovich is an Army recruit. Sarnowski placed third in the discus at last season’s PIAA Class 3A track and field championships. Junior running back Tasso Whipple also returns for the Warriors, who made it to last year’s WPIAL Class 5A quarterfinals.
Montour at Mars, 7 p.m. Friday
A pair of Class 4A teams with high hopes square off in a game that should be out of this, umm, it should be pretty good. These two played a fun Week 0 game last season, with Mars claiming a 34-26 win in coach Eric Kasperowicz’s Mars debut. Kasperowicz’s son, Eric, had a touchdown pass and run in the game, while Montour quarterback Jake Wolfe threw for a score before leaving the game with an injury. Both quarterbacks return this season, but the younger Kasperowicz likely won’t play the position anytime soon as he recovers from shoulder surgery. Mars senior running back Evan Wright (1,333 yards, 17 touchdowns) is the No. 2 returning rusher in Class 4A, while Wolfe (1,473 yards, 17 touchdowns) is the No. 2 returning passer in the class. Mars lost in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs and Montour in the quarterfinals.
PUP ‘underdog’ to watch
Franklin Regional (hosts Thomas Jefferson at 7 p.m. Friday)
Thomas Jefferson doesn’t lose very much, period, so this would be an early stunner. Yes, the Jaguars are expected to once again be one of the top teams in Class 4A. However, the big question mark is the quarterback situation, where senior incumbent Brody Evans has been battling it out with strong-armed junior Luke Kosko. Coach Bill Cherpak said both will play in this game. Kosko’s action will be his first since he was a freshman at Seton LaSalle in 2021. Franklin Regional brings back a good number of starters from last year’s team that finished 6-4. Senior wide receiver Ayden Hudock is one of the top playmakers in Class 5A. A season ago, he had 42 catches for 957 yards (22.8 yards per catch) and 15 touchdowns. The Panthers also return junior lineman Andrew Devola, a three-year starter who collected a team-high 11.5 sacks.