A logjam has formed atop the Greater Allegheny Conference.
Four of the six teams -- Franklin Regional, Hampton, Mars Area and Knoch -- enter week eight tied for first place with 2-1 records.
"It certainly has put a little wrinkle into the playoff race," Hampton coach Jacque DeMatteo said. "The final two weeks will determine who comes out on top. It will come down to who is playing the best and, most importantly, who can stay healthy."
At least one of the four tied teams will suffer a loss tomorrow as Franklin Regional plays host to Hampton.
"I knew we had some good football teams in our conference and this is proof," Franklin Regional coach Greg Botta said. "We have four teams fighting for the top spot with only two weeks left in the season."
Both teams rebounded from a loss in week six with a victory in week seven. Hampton dropped a 10-7 decision at Knoch, then returned home and beat Mars by the same score.
"The kids really stepped it up against Mars and played a very physical game," DeMatteo said. "I've been preaching to the kids since I took over last year about the importance of playing [a physical style]. I'm finally getting my message across. We're finally turning the corner."
Franklin Regional dropped a 14-0 decision to Mars in week six, then posted a 33-19 victory against winless Highlands last week.
"We can determine our own fate in the next two games," Botta said. "If we can beat Hampton, we have a good chance of winning or sharing the conference title."
Franklin Regional enters the game with the most potent offense in the conference. The Panthers (5-2 overall) are averaging 28.0 points per game.
"We have been scoring, but have been making too many mistakes," Botta said. "We had 120 yards in penalties last week. If we do that against Hampton, we will lose the game. We have to be more consistent on offense."
Franklin Regional has been led by a trio of talented skill players, tailback Chad Bowman, wide receiver Josh Staniscia and quarterback Steve Liberatore.
Bowman has rushed for 904 yards and 10 touchdowns on 121 carries. Liberatore has completed 58 of 99 passes for 1,052 yards and 14 touchdowns. Staniscia has 24 catches for 598 yards and eight touchdowns.
"Josh is as good as any receiver in the WPIAL," Botta said. "And Chad rushed for more than 700 yards as a junior, so I knew we had two established skill players.
"Steve has picked up where Anthony Vendemia [last year's starting quarterback] left off. The biggest question mark was our offensive line. They've done a great job thus far, but are facing another stiff challenge."
Hampton (4-3 overall) has been outscored by its opponents thus far. The Talbots are averaging 16.3 points per game and allowing 17.9 per game.
"Each week brings a new challenge," DeMatteo said. "Hopefully we're up to the challenge."
Like Franklin, Hampton has been led by a tailback (Andrew Bly), quarterback (Phil Powell) and wide receiver (Bill Young).
Bly has rushed for 493 yards and three touchdowns on 85 carries. Powell has completed 34 of 77 passes for 403 yards and four touchdowns. Young has 192 yards and two touchdowns on 17 catches.
"We've been taking what the defense gives us," DeMatteo said. "Phil Powell, a junior, is a young man who had not played football since eighth grade and had never played quarterback before. He's improved significantly since the season started. He's a very intelligent kid, who is still making rookie mistakes, but improving every week."
DeMatteo feels two players have been the key to Hampton's success on offense.
"Tackle Joe Raimondi and tight end Jordan Paskorz [a Michigan recruit] have really stepped it up," DeMatteo said. "Both have done a fantastic job on the offensive line."
Franklin Regional concludes its conference schedule next week with a game at Indiana. Hampton plays host to Highlands.
"The conference title is within our reach," DeMatteo said. "We just have to keep working hard and continue playing with the physical style we exhibited against Mars."
• What: Hampton at Franklin Regional.
• When: 7:30 p.m. tomorrow.
• Where: Franklin Regional's Panther Stadium.
• The skinny: Franklin Regional, Hampton, Knoch and Mars Area are tied for the Greater Allegheny Conference lead with 2-1 records.