Each Wednesday, the PUP high school sports staff will preview the game of the week.
Between the hash marks
Who: Central Valley (1-0) at Avonworth (1-0)
Where: Avonworth High School
When: 7 p.m. Friday
The coaches: Mark Lyons (Central Valley), Duke Johncour (Avonworth)
When they last met: The two perennial championship contenders also met in Week 1 last season, when Central Valley stormed out to a 30-0 halftime lead at home before Avonworth attempted to mount a late rally in the second half. The game was already well out of hand, though, as the Warriors held on for a 37-22 win that wasn’t as close as the score would indicate. Then-senior running back Brett FitzSimmons shredded the Antelopes defense for 212 yards and four touchdowns on only 10 carries. Central Valley also dominated the previous matchup between the teams in October 2021, recording a 43-6 win at Avonworth.
On deck: Central Valley will host Hampton in Week 2, while Avonworth will visit Sto-Rox in the teams’ final tune-up games before beginning conference play.
This and that: Since forming in 2010 following the merger of Center and Monaca, Central Valley rapidly ascended into one of the premier programs in the WPIAL under coach Mark Lyons, capturing a WPIAL Class 3A championship in its very first season and five WPIAL titles overall along with two state titles during that 13-year span. The Warriors have reached the WPIAL championship game in four consecutive seasons. … Avonworth has made it to two WPIAL title games in the past four seasons, beating Washington for the Class 2A crown in 2019 before losing to Belle Vernon in last year’s Class 3A final. The Antelopes are led by Bucknell recruit Brandon Biagiarelli, who rushed for 201 yards in a season-opening 35-14 win against Grove City. … Central Valley had a 36-game winning streak snapped by Aliquippa last October, and the Warriors have not lost to a team other than the Quips since a 21-14 defeat against Wyoming Area in the 2019 PIAA Class 3A championship. They have an overall record of 52-4 since 2019. … Quarterback Carson Bellinger has taken the reins for Avonworth in place of three-year stater Nate Harper, and he appears ready for the role. Bellinger completed 8 of 12 passes for 108 yards in the Antelopes’ win vs. Grove City. … Central Valley scored an impressive season-opening win last week at Austintown-Fitch, Ohio, using a touchdown and 2-point conversion in the game’s final seconds to eke out a 36-35 win. Mason Dixon ran for 143 yards in his first game as the team’s lead tailback.
Steve Rotstein: Central Valley 24, Avonworth 21
Brad Everett: Central Valley 31, Avonworth 27
John Santa: Central Valley 35, Avonworth 17
On the radar
Armstrong at Aliquippa, 7 p.m. Friday
Aliquippa received arguably its toughest test from any WPIAL opponent last season at Armstrong, when the Quips used a strong second half to pull out a 28-14 victory. The teams will meet again in Week 1, but this time, the game is at Aliquippa — and it will also serve as the grand opening for the Quips’ brand-new, fully-renovated field at “The Pit.” Formerly known as Carl A. Aschman Stadium, the stadium is now known as Heinz Field after a $1.3 million donation from Kraft Heinz to help with renovations. This is the season opener for Aliquippa, which is coming off back-to-back WPIAL Class 4A titles and state championship appearances. The River Hawks opened their season with a 49-16 win against Valley, as sophomore quarterback Colt Sprankle enjoyed a strong debut in his first start in place of record-setting QB Cadin Olsen. Sprankle completed 9 of 13 passes for 160 yards and three touchdowns, while junior receiver Ian Olsen caught five passes for 105 yards and two TDs.
North Catholic at Shady Side Academy, 7 p.m. Friday
Coming off perhaps the wildest win of Week 0, North Catholic fans could be in for another roller coaster of emotions on Friday night when the Trojans travel to Fox Chapel to take on Class 3A No. 5 Shady Side Academy. Class 4A No. 5 North Catholic needed seven touchdowns last week to outlast Serra Catholic, 49-42 — including four from senior running back Jack Fennell. Fennell might need another huge game against the Bulldogs, who steamrolled Summit Academy in their season opener on Friday, 55-0.
Penn-Trafford at McKeesport, 7 p.m. Friday
Penn-Trafford will be eager to take the field and erase the taste of last week’s season-opening 14-0 loss to Canon-McMillan, but the Warriors may be in for some tough sledding again this week at Weigle-Schaeffer Memorial Stadium. Class 4A No. 3 McKeesport knocked West Mifflin out of the Class 3A rankings with a 35-7 beatdown last week, as Anthony Boyd and Kemon Spell each ran for a pair of scores. The Tigers won last year’s matchup at Penn-Trafford, 19-7.
PUP ‘underdog’ to watch
Norwin (hosts Penn Hills at 7 p.m. Friday)
It’s been a while since Norwin made some noise in Class 5A, but now is its chance to make a massive statement by knocking off Class 5A No. 1 Penn Hills at home on Friday night. Yes, the Knights (0-1) are coming off a season-opening loss to Upper St. Clair, but they gave the Panthers all they could handle in a 24-21 defeat — and with a budding connection between sophomore quarterback Tristyn Tavares (238 yards passing, 3 TDs) and all-conference receiver Jackson Pons (4 catches, 75 yards, 2 TDs), this could be Norwin’s best team in years. On the other side, there’s a chance the Indians could already be looking ahead to a Week 2 matchup against defending WPIAL and state champion Pine-Richland, the No. 2 team in Class 5A. The key will be the Knights defense and their ability to slow down the dynamic duo of Penn Hills quarterback Julian Dugger and running back Amir Key. If Norwin can keep it close until late in the game, one or two big plays from Pons could be enough to help the Knights pull off a big-time upset.