A first-round WPIAL Class AAAA football playoff game between No. 8 seed Bethel Park and No. 9 seed North Allegheny was shaping up to be a battle between two stellar quarterbacks.
It still could be, although North Allegheny -- which has won the past three WPIAL Class AAAA championships and two of the past three PIAA Class AAAA championships -- will send Cage Galupi out to direct the Tigers against the Black Hawks in a game that kicks off at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Bethel Park's Black Hawk Stadium and features a pair of teams with matching 6-3 records.
Jeff Clemens, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound junior who was having a solid season in his first year as the Tigers' starting quarterback, sustained a knee injury on the fourth play of this past Friday's 31-0 victory at North Hills that capped the regular season.
"Jeff is a great kid, and I'm not completely sure what's wrong with the knee, but he won't be able to play," North Allegheny coach Art Walker said.
Galupi, a 6-2, 175-pound senior who served as a backup a year ago to Mack Leftwich, did a fine job when he came off the bench, completing 11 of 18 passes for 203 yards and two touchdowns against North Hills.
"He's played in a couple of games and he knows our offense," Walker continued. "You always tell guys they need to be ready, and Cage was ready when he came into the game. He has a clear understanding of our offense, and we're not going to change too much.
"We're going to go with what got us here. Both [quarterbacks] had plenty of reps with the starting offense, and both have an understanding of what's going on."
As far as Bethel Park coach Jeff Metheny is concerned, Galupi will be just as effective in directing an offense that has plenty of quality running backs and a stable of quality receivers, led by the reliable Elijah Zeise, a 6-2, 200-pound senior and Pitt recruit who has caught 31 passes for 651 yards and eight touchdowns.
"We know all about him, and he'll be a tough matchup for anyone," Metheny said. "You have to know where he is at all times. He's big and experienced, and it doesn't surprise me that he's had that many catches for all of those yards. He's a tremendous football player."
Walker has the same feeling about Black Hawks quarterback Levi Metheny, a 6-1, 205-pound sophomore, the coach's son.
"He didn't play like a freshman last year, and he's not playing like a sophomore now," Walker said.
Metheny has completed 36 of 76 passes for 329 yards and four touchdowns. He's also been effective near the goal line, rushing for eight touchdowns.
"When he's a senior, you'll think he's been around for six or seven years," Walker said. "He's a tough kid who hangs in the pocket, runs well and also is tough on defense.
"He's the kind of kid you'd like to have on your football team. I have a lot of respect for him and his dad. He's a tough Western Pennsylvania quarterback."
Walker also is concerned with the Black Hawks offensive line anchored by Pitt recruit Michael Grimm, a 6-6, 308-pound senior.
"They run the ball effectively and are very good at play-action [passing]," he said. "What makes them so effective is their big offensive line. They will go as their line goes, and our biggest task is trying to counteract their line. There's no question their offensive line is bigger than our defensive line."
Led by Alexander Minton, a 5-8, 175-pound junior, the Black Hawks have three running backs who have combined to rush for 977 yards. Minton leads the way with 496 yards, while Zach Enick, a 5-8, 190-pound senior, and Gary Gerst, a 5-9, 176-pound senior, have rushed for 248 and 233 yards, respectively.
"We've got a big offensive line, and we've had a lot of success moving the ball," Metheny said. "We're really excited about that."
The Tigers haven't been shy about running the ball either. Isaac Weaver, a 5-8, 165-pound senior, has rushed 50 times for 323 yards, and Sean Idowu, a 6-0, 200-pound senior, has rushed 54 times for 300 yards. Josh Bergman, a 5-8, 185-pound junior, has rushed 45 times for 235 yards.
"They do have a lot of balance," Metheny said about the Tigers running attack. "With that many people carrying the ball, that tells you something.
"They might not have the elite running back in Quad-A, but they have a powerful line, and they know what they are doing."
Metheny sees the game as one between two evenly matched teams that had very similar results against common opponents. Both handily defeated Mt. Lebanon, and both lost to Seneca Valley.
"It's an advantage for us to play them at home," he said. "But I don't think being on the road is going to bother them that much."
Walker said this group of Tigers hasn't played too many first--round games on the road.
"We've experienced [playing on the road] as coaches," he said. "We understand it, and we'll make sure that our players are ready."
n Game: North Allegheny (6-3) vs. Bethel Park (6-3).
n When: 7:30 p.m. Friday.
n Where: Black Hawk Stadium, Bethel Park.
n Skinny: Teams with similar resumes will battle for the right to move on to the quarterfinals.