Each Wednesday, the PUP high school sports staff will preview the game of the week.
Between the hash marks
Who: Central Catholic (4-0) at North Allegheny (4-0)
Where: Newman Stadium at North Allegheny High School
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
The coaches: Ryan Lehmeier (Central Catholic), Art Walker (North Allegheny)
When they last met: North Allegheny quarterback Logan Kushner rushed for 184 yards and a touchdown to lead the Tigers to a 35-21 win over Central in last year’s WPIAL Class 6A championship game, bringing North Allegheny its first WPIAL title in 10 years and fifth overall.
Last week: Central manhandled previously unbeaten Mt. Lebanon on the road, 49-0, as senior quarterback Payton Wehner and senior running back Elijah Faulkner each accounted for three touchdowns. North Allegheny also went on the road and trounced Baldwin, 67-20, after putting up 61 points in the first half.
On deck: Central hosts Canon-McMillan at Carnegie Mellon University, and North Allegheny will host defending WPIAL and PIAA Class 5A champion Pine-Richland in another marquee matchup.
This and that: Two of the preeminent football factories in all of Pennsylvania and two of the WPIAL’s most bitter rivals will go toe-to-toe for the top spot in the Class 6A rankings and all the bragging rights that go along with it when the Vikings and Tigers collide on Friday night. Many view this game as a de facto WPIAL championship preview, as both teams appear to have their best squad in several years — and they’ve both had some pretty stellar teams to look back on during that stretch. … First-year coach Ryan Lehmeier is the talk of the town after installing his up-tempo spread offense at Central that worked wonders under Eric Kasperowicz at Pine-Richland, and the results have been eye-popping. The Vikings lead the WPIAL with an average of 50.25 ppg through four games. … Central senior quarterback Payton Wehner is putting together a potentially historic season, with more than 1,000 yards passing and 19 total touchdowns through four games. He has an outside chance to surpass 7,000 yards passing for his career. … North Allegheny isn’t far behind the Vikings offensively, ranking third in the WPIAL in scoring offense at 48.75 ppg. The Tigers held a 61-0 halftime lead en route to a 67-20 win against Baldwin last Friday, one week after Central took a 62-20 halftime lead against Bethel Park in an eventual 62-46 win. … A key matchup to watch is North Allegheny cornerback Khiryn Boyd against future Penn State wide receiver Peter Gonzalez. Boyd (5-11, 170) had a lot of success against Gonzalez in man coverage last season as the Tigers won both meetings between the teams, but Gonzalez (6-3, 200) looks like a whole different beast this year. … The difference in the game could come down to the defenses and which unit is able to generate enough pressure to disrupt the opposing quarterback. Both teams boast several fearsome pass rushers capable of wrecking the game in the backfield along with a handful of standout linebackers. Tyree Alualu (North Allegheny) and Anthony Speca (Central Catholic) are both phenomenal players, but Central’s Cole Sullivan might be the best of the bunch.
Steve Rotstein: Central Catholic 42, North Allegheny 31
Brad Everett: Central Catholic 34, North Allegheny 21
John Santa: Central Catholic 35, North Allegheny 21
On the radar
Thomas Jefferson at Belle Vernon, 7 p.m. Friday
Yes, it’s only a nonconference matchup these days, but you still could make the argument that the best rivalry game in the WPIAL will be taking place at “The Beach” in Belle Vernon on Friday night. These two former conference foes have faced off in no shortage of memorable contests in recent years — anyone remember the “Devin Whitlock Walk-Off” in 2021? — but the top-ranked Leopards (3-0) are now down in Class 3A, where they look poised to make a run at back-to-back WPIAL and state titles. Meanwhile, Class 4A No. 2 Thomas Jefferson (4-0) has cruised to an unbeaten start behind a two-quarterback attack of senior Brody Evans and junior Luke Kosko. The Jaguars used to own this rivalry, but Belle Vernon has now won three matchups in a row in the series dating back to 2020 — and you can bet star senior running back Quinton Martin would like to add one more win against the Leopards’ arch rival to his resume before heading to Penn State next year.
Upper St. Clair at Peters Township, 7 p.m. Friday
The top spot in the Class 5A Allegheny Six Conference and potentially the No. 1 ranking in all of Class 5A will be up for grabs when these two high-powered offenses collide in a battle of unbeatens. Upper St. Clair comes in averaging 33.75 ppg, while Peters Township averages 38 ppg — and both teams posted shutout victories last week, so something has to give on Friday night. Two of the top sophomore quarterbacks in the WPIAL will go head-to-head in this one, as Ethan Hellmann (Upper St. Clair) and Nolan DiLucia (Peters Township) square off for what could be the biggest win yet of their promising young careers. Senior running back Mason Chambers and junior wideout Julian Dahlem have also played key roles for the Panthers (4-0), while Peters Township (4-0) features a talented tandem of tailbacks in Vinny Sarcone and Preston Blair.
Knoch at Elizabeth Forward, 7 p.m. Friday
Knock, knock — who’s there? It’s the Knoch Knights knocking on the door of the Class 3A rankings after a 4-0 start to the season not even Dr. Strange could have forecasted. Knoch picked up its most impressive win yet with a 27-0 triumph against then-Class 3A No. 4 Southmoreland last Friday, and the Knights will get the chance to top it when they travel to Elizabeth Forward to take on the Class 3A No. 3 Warriors. Elizabeth Forward (4-0) is extremely tough to beat at home, but don’t count Knoch out of this one. Junior quarterback Codi Mullen is among the leading passers in the WPIAL, with 855 yards and eight touchdown passes to two interceptions along with 266 rushing yards and three rushing TDs — and he is also the team’s place-kicker. Mullen has 10 successful PATs and one made field goal. Elizabeth Forward junior Charlie Nigut is one of the most dynamic players in the WPIAL, and his stat line is proof — 44 carries for 329 yards, six catches for 108 yards, 2-of-2 passing for 35 yards, and eight total touchdowns through the Warriors’ first four games.
PUP ‘underdog’ to watch
Beaver Falls (hosts Neshannock at 7 p.m. Friday)
You might not think of Beaver Falls beating Neshannock as an upset in most seasons, but this time, it’s the Lancers (3-1) who carry a No. 3 ranking in Class 2A and a three-game winning streak into this Midwestern Conference clash. Back-to-back losses by a combined seven points against Beaver and Knoch dropped the Tigers (2-2) out of the Class 2A rankings, but they responded with a resounding 63-20 win at New Brighton last week — and by the way, Beaver and Knoch are both undefeated. Neshannock had to eke out a 27-26 victory against Western Beaver last Friday, and the Lancers will need a big performance from talented sophomore quarterback Jino Mozzocio to avoid an upset defeat at Beaver Falls.