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

Between the hash marks

Who: Thomas Jefferson (9-2) at Montour (9-1)

Where: Montour’s Thomas J. Birko Memorial Stadium

When: 7 p.m. Friday

The coaches: Bill Cherpak (Thomas Jefferson), Lou Cerro (Montour)

When they last met: The teams last met four years ago, also in the quarterfinal round of the Class 4A playoffs, on Nov. 1, 2019. In the midst of a historically dominant 16-0 season, Thomas Jefferson trounced Montour at home, 49-7, to begin its postseason journey en route to winning WPIAL and PIAA titles.

Last week: Montour received a bye into the WPIAL quarterfinals, while Thomas Jefferson toppled No. 11 Kiski Area at home, 57-13.

On deck: The winner will advance to the WPIAL semifinals to take on the winner of No. 2 McKeesport vs. No. 10 Trinity next week.

This and that: Thomas Jefferson has reached the WPIAL semifinals in 11 consecutive seasons and 24 of the previous 25, but the No. 6 Jaguars (9-2) will need to go into hostile territory and take down a laser-focused Montour team on Friday to keep their remarkable streak alive. … The No. 3 Spartans (9-1) have won six games in a row and lay claim to one of the most pristine resumes in the WPIAL in 2023, with a trio of extremely impressive road wins at Mars, Moon and Central Valley, plus another quality home win over South Fayette — not to mention their only defeat coming against two-time defending WPIAL Class 4A champion Aliquippa. … Montour is led by supremely talented senior quarterback Jake Wolfe, who has accounted for a WPIAL-leading 2,956 total yards during the regular season to go with 38 total TDs (25 passing, 13 rushing). Wolfe has a trio of talented receivers at his disposal in Keino Fitzpatrick (34 receptions, 741 yards, 10 TDs), Andrew Alston (29 receptions, 567 yards, 8 TDs) and Daniel Batch (23 receptions, 427 yards, 8 TDs). … Thomas Jefferson also has an elite receiving corps led by seniors Sean Sullivan and Jason Salman, and junior Brayden White is also coming on strong for the Jaguars. Sullivan leads the team with 47 catches for 932 yards and 12 TDs, and Salman isn’t far behind with 40 catches for 698 yards and nine scores. … Thomas Jefferson is still employing a two-QB system with senior Brody Evans (1,334 yards passing, 13 TDs) and junior Luke Kosko (950 yards passing, 9 TDs), and both are having their fair share of success this season. Still, one of them may need to break out for their biggest game yet in order to out-duel Wolfe, who is all but assured to put up plenty of points on the other side — unless Salman or Sullivan can come up with enough big plays on defense to swing the game in the Jaguars’ favor.

Expert picks (records in parentheses)

Steve Rotstein (7-4): Montour 31, Thomas Jefferson 27

Brad Everett (8-3): Montour 23, Thomas Jefferson 21

John Santa (7-4): Thomas Jefferson 31, Montour 28

On the radar

West Mifflin at Elizabeth Forward, 7 p.m. Friday

These teams met way back on Sept. 1, when No. 3 Elizabeth Forward outlasted No. 6 West Mifflin on the road for a 24-7 win in a game that was tied at halftime. Since then, the Warriors (9-1) went on to win eight consecutive games before falling against Quinton Martin and top-ranked Belle Vernon in the regular-season finale, 49-28. On the other hand, the Titans (7-4) are scorching hot going into Friday’s rematch, winning five games in a row and seven of their last eight after an 0-3 start, with the only loss during that stretch coming against No. 2 Avonworth. Freshman sensation Armand Hill has taken the WPIAL by storm with a string of three consecutive games rushing for 200-plus yards for West Mifflin — including a 495-yard game that ranks as the No. 2 single-game total in WPIAL history. Hill ran for 219 yards in a 40-14 first-round win against Mount Pleasant last week, and he is now up to 1,110 yards rushing on only 76 carries this season.

Central Valley vs. Mars, 7 p.m. Friday at Ambridge High School

Central Valley needs two more wins to reach the WPIAL finals for the fifth season in a row, but the No. 5 Warriors (8-3) face an uphill climb to get there, starting with a neutral-site showdown against No. 4 Mars (9-2). The surging Planets have won six games in a row and boast one of the WPIAL’s most explosive offenses (39 ppg), led by record-setting quarterback Luke Goodworth (1,872 yards passing, 19 touchdowns) and senior running back Evan Wright, who leads the WPIAL with 31 TDs in 2023. Central Valley will likely be counting on another big game from breakout freshman Jance Henry in order to win, as Henry needs only 44 yards rushing to reach 1,000 for the season.

Pine-Richland vs. Penn Hills, 7 p.m. Friday at North Hills’ Martorelli Stadium

The regular-season meeting between these Class 5A stalwarts back on Sept. 8 was a memorable one, as Penn Hills prevailed in enemy territory, 26-20, behind 148 rushing yards and two TDs from star quarterback Julian Dugger. The sequel could be even better considering what’s at stake, as Dugger hopes to lead the No. 2 Indians (9-2) to the WPIAL Class 5A championship game for the first time in his stellar four-year career. Beating No. 3 Pine-Richland twice in one season won’t be easy, as the ultra-physical Rams (8-3) are known for getting stronger as the season goes on. Pine-Richland has won five games in a row after a 3-3 start, including a 26-19 win against Class 6A No. 1 Central Catholic, and the Rams are attempting to mirror their midseason turnaround from 2022, when they started 1-3 before winning their final 12 games en route to becoming WPIAL and PIAA champions.

PUP ‘underdog’ to watch

Beaver Falls (plays at Neshannock at 7 p.m. Friday)

Although Beaver Falls (6-5) is only a No. 10 seed in the Class 2A bracket after finishing fourth in the rugged Midwestern Conference standings, the Tigers are a proven playoff commodity with a reputation for winning big games under coach Nick Nardone. Beaver Falls has reached the WPIAL championship game in three consecutive seasons and four of the last seven, and although this might not be Nardone’s strongest team during his seven-year tenure, the Tigers have already proven they can hang with Neshannock. The Lancers (9-1) have won nine games in a row following a season-opening defeat against District 10 foe Sharon, but they had to dig deep to pull out a 27-26 overtime win against Beaver Falls when the conference rivals faced off earlier this season. Expect another hard-fought slugfest on Friday night with a trip to the WPIAL semifinals on the line.

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.