When North Allegheny and Seneca Valley get together on the gridiron, it always seems to have pivotal WPIAL Class 6A implications.
Friday's showdown at NexTier Stadium will follow suit.
With Mt. Lebanon and Central Catholic having already locked up the No. 1 and 2 seeds, respectively, in the upcoming district playoffs, SV (4-2, 6-3) and NA (4-2, 6-3) will square off with the No. 3 seed at stake.
The difference between seeds 3 and 4 can't be overstated.
Placing third in the Quad County Conference means getting a bye into the district semifinals, giving that team two weeks to prepare for a Nov. 12 meeting with Central Catholic.
The No. 4 and 5 seeds will meet each other in a playoff game Nov. 5.
“We want to beat NA, period,” said Raiders' coach Ron Butschle, “but when you think about everything that's on the line, you can't get much bigger than this game.”
Butschle said the status of junior quarterback Graham Hancox is still “day-to-day.” The latter, who was injured in the waning moments of a 24-17 overtime victory against Canon-McMillan Oct. 8, has passed for 1,333 yards, eight touchdowns and seven interceptions this season.
SV's backup, sophomore Sean O'Shea, threw for three touchdowns and ran for two in a 49-12 win at Baldwin Oct. 15.
In last week's 38-7 loss at undefeated Mt. Lebanon, O'Shea was held to 68 yards while being picked off twice. He did throw a late scoring pass to Luke Lawson.
“Even in the game against Baldwin, he learned how much faster the (varsity) game is,” said Butschle. “He's a competitive, tough kid and we don't have enough time to worry about him being a sophomore.”
NA coach Art Walker said his team is preparing to face Hancox.
“Our thinking is, it's a very big game and if there's any way he can play, he will,” Walker said. “If (O'Shea) plays, we've watched film on him, too.”
If Hancox is forced to sit out a third straight game, both teams will be starting a sophomore at quarterback. NA's Logan Kushner split time at the position with Tanner Potts earlier in the season, but has been the team's top signal caller for the last three games, including last week's 65-13 win over Hempfield.
For the season, Kushner has 710 yards through the air, eight touchdowns and three interceptions. He is also a threat to run, scoring on a 67-yard jaunt last week.
“He's done well for a sophomore,” Walker said of Kushner. “He's growing and improving each week and has a good understanding of what we expect of him.”
The Tigers are sparked by sophomore slot receiver Khiryn Boyd, who has totaled nine touchdowns in just six games. Against Hempfield, he scored on a rush, a reception and returned a kickoff 99 yards for another touchdown.
“He was hurt in the first game and missed three weeks,” Walker said. “But he's had a lot of impact for us. He has a great feel for the game and is dynamic with the ball in his hands.”
Defensively, NA asks a lot out of 6-foot-1, 170-pound Kolin Dinkins. The senior has played linebacker, cornerback and safety this season.
Seneca Valley's defensive line will have a say in NA's ability to spread the ball around to its skill players. The front includes ends Brian Olan and Aiden Lyczek and tackles Alex Paulsen and Logan Armstrong.
“We're undersized there, but our guys are playing bigger than they actually are,” Butschle said. “Brian Olan has turned into one of the best defensive linemen in the conference.”
Kickoff is set for 7:05 p.m.