Woodland Hills running back Miles Sanders looks for running room against a stingy Upper St. Clair defense.
By Nicholas Tolomeo / Tri-State Sports & News Service
Playoff spots are clinched and first-round home games are already determined but there is still plenty on the line when Penn Hills and Woodland Hills meet at 7:30 p.m. Friday night at Penn Hills' Yuhas-McGinley Stadium in the 27th edition of the rivalry.
Woodland Hills (6-2, 6-1) has clinched a playoff berth and can finish no worse than second place in the Southeastern Conference, guaranteeing the Wolverines a first-round home playoff game. The Wolverines have a shot at a share of the conference title if it wins and Upper St. Clair loses at Mt. Lebanon.
Penn Hills (5-3, 4-3) has clinched a WPIAL playoff berth and will likely finish in fourth place in the Southeastern Conference, ensuring that the Indians will be on the road in the first round of the playoffs.
"There is a lot of motivation," Woodland Hills coach George Novak said. "I know both of us want to go into the playoffs on a winning note. I am sure this is the biggest game all year for them and it is a big game for us. I don't think either team needs any more motivation.
"It would be a big game even if we weren't going to the playoffs. We play them in all sports, a lot of kids know each other, there are a lot of relatives [on both sides of the rivalry]."
Woodland Hills has won six games in a row after starting the season with back-to-back losses against Upper St. Clair and McKeesport Area. Upper St. Clair and McKeesport are two of the only three unbeaten teams in Class AAAA along with Central Catholic.
Last week Woodland Hills brushed aside an early 3-0 deficit at home against Peters Township to roll to a 42-9 win. Junior running back Art Thompkins rushed seven times for 64 yards and two touchdowns and he also caught a 79-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Harry Randall.
Penn Hills has even more urgency to go into the playoffs on a winning note. The Indians watched a 14-0 first-quarter lead slip away in a 24-21 loss at Mt. Lebanon.
"We would have liked to have not backed into the playoffs, but we are in," Penn Hills coach John Peterman said. "We watched the game film. We got to see the mistakes we made and also the opportunities we left out on the field.
"This is an opportunity for our kids to redeem themselves. We are going up against a pretty good opponent and with this being our rivalry game, I don't think our kids will have a problem [getting motivated]."
Penn Hills had won six games in a row in the series from 2003 to '09 but that streak was snapped when Woodland Hills won 30-5 in 2009. Since then, the Wolverines have won three of the past four meetings.
"The rivalry has gone back and forth," Novak said. "It is probably pretty even since we started playing them in 1987. I think we have a lot of rivalries now in our conference but this is an old rivalry. It is a crosstown rivalry."
Against Mt. Lebanon, Penn Hills had great success running the ball. Isaiah Jones had 81 yards on 11 carries and Billy Kisner opened the scoring with a 47-yard touchdown run. As a team the Indians rushed for 217 yards but they were 2-for-9 passing for only 16 yards.
"We run the ball first," Peterman said. "Hopefully, we can be able to use our run game like we have used it all year. It depends on how the game is going and it depends on the situation, but we want our passing game to be involved."
While head coaches may change at Penn Hills, Novak knows the Indians offense is much like the ones he has faced for the past 27 years.
"They have a lot of team speed," Novak said. "They are very deceptive on offense. It is kind of like a triple option on offense where they run the jet sweep play a lot and they run an inside zone play and they run the quarterback off that.
"It is one of those situations where you have to cover all three."
When on offense, Novak knows his players need to be ready for Penn Hills' blitzing defense.
"They are hard to prepare for offensively," Novak said. "They run multiple defensive looks. They are a blitzing type of team. We have to work really hard to pick up the blitzes."
n Game: Penn Hills (5-3, 4-3) vs. Woodland Hills (6-2, 6-1).
n When: 7:30 p.m. Friday.
n Where: Yuhas-McGinley Stadium, Penn Hills.
n Skinny: It's the 27th edition of this classic east suburban rivalry with bragging rights going to the winners.
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