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Penn Hills hitting its stride

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Look out for Penn Hills, the once and future giant of the WPIAL.

The Indians came into their Thursday Night Lights game against Central Catholic with a 2-3 record, which might have been considered the overall biggest surprise of the high school football season. With stars such as run-stuffing linebacker Dan Mason, who looks like he could step right onto any Southeastern Conference team in a matter of months, backs Teddy Blakeman and Chris Darby and senior quarterback Tom Fulton, who has been a starter since he led the Indians to the WPIAL championship game as a sophomore, fans and foes alike expected more from Penn Hills.

Even though Central Catholic is the defending PIAA and WPIAL champion, came into the game with a 4-1 record and is coached with savvy and intelligence by Terry Totten and his staff, the game wasn’t close.

Penn Hills 30, Central Catholic 7.

It was Central’s first loss to a WPIAL team since 2006.

Penn Hills (3-3, 2-0 in the Quad East) won the game like the best teams in the WPIAL usually do — running the football. Blakeman (188 yards) and Darby (82) combined for 270 on the ground and a young Central Catholic team had no answer. On this night, Penn Hills didn’t need Fulton, but he has thrown for 809 yards and seven touchdowns this season, and he will play a bigger role as the Indians head into the playoffs.

The significance of the victory is that it clearly defines Penn Hills as the best team in the Quad East. Penn Hills has two of its final three regular-season games at home (Woodland Hills and Kiski Area), and it should finish undefeated in the conference.

The game at Fox Chapel (4-2, 2-0) on Oct. 17 may be the biggest game in years for the resurgent Foxes, but Penn Hills should win.

Go ahead, Fox Chapel fans. My inbox can take it.

For all of its problems, Penn Hills was the highest-scoring team in the Quad East before the Central Catholic game and now is averaging 25.3 points per game. Explanation for Penn Hills’ three losses appears to be a veteran team adjusting to a new coach while playing a killer schedule — Gateway, Bethel Park and North Allegheny — early in the season. Combined record of those three teams: 16-2.

Is there a rematch with No. 1 Gateway in Penn Hills’ coach Ron Graham’s future? It’s possible, and this one won’t be like the first one. Gateway won’t win it by 28 points.

Home away from home

Upper St. Clair was home, but its home was in Bethel Park on Friday night when it extended its losing streak to three games in a 10-6 loss.

A water main break forced Upper St. Clair School District officials to move the game 5 miles to Bethel Park, taking away an important edge that the Panthers could have used in a close game.

Coach Jim Render has needed one victory to become the second-winningest coach in state history for three weeks, and he just can’t get it. Total margin of defeat in those three games: Six points.

Dare we say it? Upper St. Clair should beat Baldwin next week. Baldwin is 0-6 and coming off a 53-6 home loss to Canon-McMillan.

Don’t knock Yough

Yough is on the brink of running away with the Class AAA Keystone Conference championship. With running back Ben Hoffer (801 yards, 13 touchdowns and five interceptions), Yough (4-2, 4-0) has won four in a row decisively. A victory at home against Uniontown will all but end any doubt about which team is No. 1 in the Keystone.

NA on a roll

Alex Papson is a 5-foot-9, 165-pound sophomore at North Allegheny. Who would guess he would be the dominant runner in Class AAAA, with 766 yards on 103 carries through six weeks? Meanwhile, North Allegheny (4-2) has scored 90 points in its first two Quad North games against Seneca Valley and Shaler.

The lights shine on North Allegheny on FSN’s Thursday Night Football this week when it ventures across Route 19 for its first game all-time against Pine-Richland.

Running for Ron’s son

The Seneca Valley community is again rounding up its resources to come to the aid of coach Ron Butschle’s 1 1/2-year-old son Nate, who is suffering from a rare form of cancer.

Larry Bettencourt, a longtime assistant coach at the school, is looking for sponsors to make per-mile donations when he runs the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 12. All of the money will be earmarked for Nate’s medical costs.

If you are so inclined, make checks payable to SV Raider Nation (with Nate in the memo) and mail to:

The Friends of Nate

3158 Unionville Road

Cranberry Township, PA 16066

You can phone campaign organizer Kim LaValle (724-473-9263 ) for more information.

“You have to do whatever you can for the little guy to win his battle,” said Kim, who has contacted the Lance Armstrong Foundation, seeking support.

Bettencourt is hoping to raise $10,000, but his is just one of many community fund-raisers this year on behalf of Nate. There was a barbeque in the spring and softball and golf outings in the summer.

Perhaps the endeavor that most touched Butschle occurred last winter when his players sold blue bracelets engraved with the words “Keep swingin’, Nate.” They sold 1,000 at $2 each in two days.

“I was emotional beyond even words,” Butschle told the Tribune-Reveiw’s Tricia Lafferty in March. “I had a hard time talking to them. I hugged each one of them. It means more than I could explain.

“We always talk about the football team being a family. To have your football family really come through for you and have your back, it was really emotional for me.”

Win or lose, Butschle, who teachers English at Seneca Valley Intermediate School, always will have a special relationship with his players. Last year, he crossed striking teachers’ picket lines to coach the team while it was making its first run to the playoffs in five years.

The move did not especially endear Butschle to many of his fellow teachers or his union, but he did it because he believed it was the right thing to do.

“I have to look at those boys,” he said.

Playoffs, already?

There are three weeks of games remaining before the WPIAL holds its playoff pairings meeting Oct. 27 at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Coraopolis. But some teams already have clinched postseason berths.

They include Gateway in Class AAAA, Class AAA’s Chartiers Valley and Yough, AA teams Sto-Rox, Shady Side Academy and Greensburg Central Catholic and Avonworth from Class A. Brashear (6-0) also is assured of competing in the City League playoffs.

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