Six weeks into the 2013 season, a point at which most conference title races are usually down to just two teams, if even that many, the competition for the top spot in the Class AAA Greater Allegheny Conference is particularly crowded.
With identical 5-1 overall records, Highlands, Mars Area and Franklin Regional sit atop the conference standings, with the Golden Rams technically in first place because they have played one more conference game than either the Planets or the Panthers.
What makes matters even trickier is that there is no clear-cut tiebreaker among the trio of teams based on their head-to-head results because each of them is 1-1 against the other two. Franklin Regional defeated Mars in the first game of the season, Highlands beat Franklin Regional on Sept. 19, but Highlands lost to Mars the following week, 39-0.
In the event of a three-way tie to end the season, Gardner Points and, if necessary, tiebreaker points would decide the conference champion, but with one-third of the regular season left, it would be extremely difficult to figure which team has any kind of an edge.
As far as remaining schedules go, it would appear that the Panthers have an advantage. The combined record of their final three opponents is 6-12, a mark that's largely a product of a game against 0-6 Derry Area. The Planets' three remaining conference opponents are a combined 9-9 while the two conference foes left on the Golden Rams' schedule are 5-7.
Red Hurricanes making history
Bolstered by a five-game win streak, New Castle is 5-1, giving the Red Hurricanes their best six-game start since 1987. After falling in its season opener, New Castle has gone undefeated, averaging 41.8 points per game while holding opponents under 15 points in four of those five victories.
Expectations were high for a team that brought back 18 of 22 starters, a group of players that has not disappointed. Wide receiver/defensive back Malik Hooker, an Ohio State commit, gets much of the attention, but several other players have played a large role in the strong start, particularly on offense.
Coach Joe Cowart pointed out the contributions made by quarterback Julian Cox, who has thrown for 10 touchdowns and no interceptions in the team's past three games, as well as tight end Stew Allen, who has thrived while other teams have put an extra defender on Hooker.
A difficult game awaits the Red Hurricanes Friday, as they play host to undefeated West Allegheny, but a reasonable two-game stretch against Moon Area and Hopewell to end the season should have them poised for not only a playoff berth, but more success beyond that.
"We want to win the Parkway Conference, we want to win a district championship and compete for a state championship," Cowart said. "That's what we're competing for on a yearly basis."
While New Castle is on one end of the spectrum of historical starts, Deer Lakes finds itself on the other through its first six games this season.
With a 46-8 loss to Summit Academy last Friday, the Lancers fell to 0-6, their first winless start through six games since 2000. In those games, Deer Lakes has lost by an average score of 36.8-8.8.
A few weeks after Clairton's historic 66-game win streak was snapped, the WPIAL's longest remaining run of consecutive victories came to an end, as Avella lost to Frazier last Friday, 33-9, ending the Eagles' six-game win streak dating back to the final week of last regular season.
Now, 17 teams in the WPIAL are tied for the area's longest winning streak with six consecutive wins apiece. Two of those teams are in the North Xtra coverage area -- Shady Side Academy and North Catholic.
Games of interest
North Hills at Seneca Valley, 7:30 p.m., Friday -- The two teams are separated by a half-game in the Northern Eight Conference standings, meaning this game could very well be the difference between finishing second and fourth.
Seton-LaSalle at Quaker Valley, 7 p.m., Friday -- Exciting as their 5-0 start was, the Quakers knew they were about to face the most difficult part of their schedule. After a 34-point loss to South Fayette, they now have to face the Rebels, who are tied with them in the Century Conference standings.
Craig Meyer: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG First Published October 9, 2013 8:00 PM