Upper St. Clair challenges Fox Chapel
A battle of wits will take place when Jim Render brings his Upper St. Clair football team to O’Hara Township Sept. 22 to face Tom Loughran and his Foxes from Fox Chapel. The legendary Panther skipper has a profound “respect” for Loughran, who coached South Park to great heights, including a state title, before moving over to Fox Chapel.
Noting he used to reside in South Park, Render said that he got to know Loughran when the two coached in one of the East-West All-Star games.
“He’s a good guy. Intelligent,” said Render of Loughran, who is a Carnegie Mellon grad. “He’s really brought (Fox Chapel) back to respectability. With Tom, they have taken steps forward.”
With Render, the Panthers have done likewise. At 3-1 overall and 3-0 in the Allegheny Nine Conference, they already are halfway toward matching last year’s number of victories. USC finished a so-so 6-4 in 2016.
Since their opening loss to Steubenville, 37-7, on Aug. 25, the Panthers have taken steps forward, too.
“We have a variety of weapons. That’s what a good team has,” Render said. “We give people things to think about.”
While the Panthers will be thinking about ways to “thwart” Fox Chapel’s offensive arsenal, which includes quarterback Nick Gizzo and running back Michah Morris, the Foxes must contend with USC’s one-two punch of Jack Hansberry and Colin McLinden.
Hansberry completed 15 of 22 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns in a 42-12 win against Baldwin on Sept. 15. The senior signal caller has completed 36 of 63 attempts this season for 583 yards and five scores. He has also rushed for 111 yards, second-best on the team.
McLinden rolled up 166 yards rushing on 22 carries against the Highlanders. He reached the end zone twice on 21- and 1-yard scampers. On the year, McLinden, who plays on all special teams and starts at outside linebacker on defense, leads the team with 338 yards rushing and four scores.
“Hansberry is doing well. He’s making much better decisions in the game, taking the short passes when they are there,” Render said. He added Hansberry is also hitting the deep ball when it presents itself as it did when Chris Pantellis hauled in 33- and 25-yard scoring strikes against the Highlanders. “There’s nothing like experience,” added Render.
McLinden is certainly experienced. He has started since his freshman season. Against Baldwin, he made the tackle on the opening kick-off.
“Colin never leaves the field. He’s on the field at the start and at the end of the game,” Render said. “He is playing like the veteran he is even though he is just a junior. We are asking him to do a lot of things but he’s been a stalwart in all he does.”
Unwavering for the Foxes have been Gizzo and Morris. Gizzo has completed 25 of 58 passes for 358 yards this season. He has also rushed for 347 yards and has been responsible for six of his team’s touchdowns. His top targets have been Cole Waxter, who owns a 21.6-yard average, Drew Witt and Brayden Thomas, who averages 22 yards a catch.
Morris leads the team in rushing with 393 yards. He owns a 5.5-yard average. Chase Willani follows with 149 yards and a 6.0-yard average per carry.
“They have two running backs and a good running quarterback,” Render said. “They also have people in the back that makes them a dangerous team. Fox Chapel is a real test for us.”
Notes: The Upper St. Clair student fan section was out in full force against Baldwin and Render noted the reason for the attendance uptick was due in part to the school’s new athletic director. “Kevin Deitrick has worked on that,” he said. “He has some innovative ideas for keeping the kids at the games and having fun on a Friday night instead of them leaving at halftime and creating their own fun.”
In the win against Baldwin, Jesse Fera returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown and Antonio Orsini scored on a 5-yard run.
Defensively, Fera and Matt Kissinger intercepted passes. Kissinger and Harvey Rauch also recovered fumbles.