Each Wednesday, the PUP high school sports staff will preview the game of the week.

Between the hash marks

Who: Elizabeth Forward (9-0) at Belle Vernon (7-1)

Where: Belle Vernon’s James Weir Stadium, aka “The Beach”

When: 7 p.m. Friday

The coaches: John DeMarco (Elizabeth Forward), Matt Humbert (Belle Vernon)

When they last met: Belle Vernon stormed into enemy territory and throttled previously unbeaten Elizabeth Forward, 48-14, in the final game of the 2022 regular season.

Last week: Belle Vernon cruised to victory at Southmoreland, 49-7, while Elizabeth Forward pounded Greensburg Salem at home, 48-13.

On deck: WPIAL Class 3A playoffs (matchups TBD)

This and that: Two Interstate Conference rivals meet in a high-stakes showdown with the conference championship on the line. Elizabeth Forward enters the regular-season finale against Belle Vernon with an unbeaten record for the second year in a row, looking for revenge after last season’s 48-14 blowout loss at home. … The Leopards’ only loss came in a 24-19 home defeat against Class 4A No. 4 Thomas Jefferson on Sept. 22. Since then, the defending WPIAL and PIAA champions have won four consecutive games by a combined score of 214-27, winning all four games by 40 points or more. … Star senior and Penn State recruit Quinton Martin has only touched the ball 86 times this year, but the 2022 PUP co-Player of the Year sure knows how to make the most of his opportunities. Martin leads the team with 24 receptions for 324 yards, and he’s averaging nearly 10 yards per carry on the ground (604 yards on 62 attempts) with 16 total touchdowns. … Senior quarterback Braden Laux has 837 yards passing and 79 yards rushing with 11 total TDs for the Leopards, and he is also a standout defensive end who will play college football at Eastern Michigan. … Junior Kole Doppelheuer has been a revelation in the backfield for Belle Vernon, rushing for 427 yards and eight touchdowns on only 22 carries (19.4 ypc). Senior running back Jake Gedekoh, who returned in Week 7 after a multi-week absence, has 37 carries for 278 yards and five TDs. … Sophomore quarterback Ryan Messina has passed for 1,364 yards and 13 touchdowns for Elizabeth Forward, and senior wideout Isaiah Turner leads the team with 37 catches for 640 yards to go with seven TDs on the year. Make no mistake about it, though — junior Charlie Nigut (5-6, 150) is the Warriors’ go-to weapon on offense. So far this season, the electric do-it-all playmaker has 20 receptions for 330 yards, 90 rushes for 625 yards and a team-leading 19 total TDs. … Elizabeth Forward’s unquestioned leader, senior defensive lineman Charlie Meehleib, is a Bucknell recruit with a penchant for wreaking havoc in the opposing backfield. His ability to get penetration against the Leopards’ elite offensive line, led by all-conference seniors Luke Bryer and Dane Levi, will go a long way toward determining the Interstate Conference champion.

Expert picks (records in parentheses)

Steve Rotstein (5-4): Belle Vernon 38, Elizabeth Forward 23

Brad Everett (6-3): Belle Vernon 34, Elizabeth Forward 14

John Santa (6-3): Belle Vernon 35, Elizabeth Forward 14

On the radar

McKeesport (8-1) at Thomas Jefferson (8-1), 7 p.m. Friday

Two of the WPIAL’s most tradition-rich programs meet to determine the Class 4A Big Seven Conference championship, with McKeesport already having earned at least a share of the conference title. Thomas Jefferson can split the crown with a win, and the winner would likely lock up a top-two seed for the WPIAL playoffs in what should be an absolutely loaded bracket in Class 4A. It’s no secret that the Tigers will look to run the ball down the Jaguars’ throats, while Thomas Jefferson’s balanced offensive attack could give TJ the edge in what should be a physical, hard-hitting affair.

Mohawk (8-1) at Neshannock (8-1), 7 p.m. Friday

Two red-hot rivals ride eight-game winning streaks into a marquee matchup on Friday night with the Class 2A Midwestern Conference championship at stake. Mohawk enters the contest averaging 36.4 ppg while allowing just 14.1 ppg, and Neshannock isn’t far behind (34.5 ppg scored, 17 ppg allowed). The winner will have a legitimate argument for the No. 1 seed in the WPIAL playoffs — not to mention bragging rights throughout all of Lawrence County until further notice.

Washington (8-1) at McGuffey (7-2), 7 p.m. Friday

After going undefeated through the first eight weeks of 2023, Washington ran into a trap game on senior night against Keystone Oaks and dropped a 21-14 verdict at home last Friday. McGuffey, meanwhile, has been on a roll for several weeks now, carrying a six-game winning streak and 5-0 mark in conference play into an always-entertaining rivalry matchup against the Little Prexies. The Highlanders have already clinched a share of the Class 2A Century Conference title, but they would love nothing more than to hand Washington a second consecutive defeat while securing the conference title outright.

PUP ‘underdog’ to watch

West Allegheny (plays at Montour at 7 p.m. Friday)

Although West Allegheny is only 6-3 overall and 4-2 in conference play, the Indians consistently bring their “A” game against top-notch opponents — evidenced by their single-digit losses against Class 4A No. 1 Aliquippa and No. 5 Central Valley — and they’ll need another inspired effort on Friday in order to take down No. 3 Montour (8-1, 5-1) on the road in a crucial Parkway Conference clash. West Allegheny’s Brock Cornell is a dynamic player who can take over a game at any time, and he could very well prove to be the difference in the game if the Indians manage to pull off the upset.

Steve is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at srotstein@unionprogress.com.

Steve Rotstein

Steve is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at srotstein@unionprogress.com.