USC tackles Woodland Hills in conference clash

Published Aug 27, 2013 at 10:31 pm (Updated Aug 27, 2013 at 10:31 pm)

At last, the 2013 high school season kicks off this Friday and football fans will flock to Turtle Creek Aug. 30 to watch what could be a preview of the WPIAL championship later in November at Heinz Field as Upper St. Clair battles Woodland Hills at 7:30 p.m.

“It doesn’t get any better than the Wolvarena,” said Jim Render, who enters his 35th campaign with one of his most experienced clubs.

USC returns nine starters from a defense that allowed 120 points in 12 games. Ranked No. 2, the Panthers are the defending Southeastern Conference champions. They finished 10-2 last season after falling to the Wolverines, 38-0, in the Quad-A semifinals.

Meanwhile, Woody High enters the fray ranked No. 1 in the WPIAL. The Wolverines finished 10-3 overall and tied Bethel Park for third place in the conference last fall.

Though George Novak’s club graduated quarterback Cody McClelland (1,640 passing yards and 20 TDs) and receiver Tom Greene (713 yards), Woodland Hills features two Division I prospects in defensive back Harry Randall and wide out Trevon Mathis. Despite an injury, Randall managed to rate as the team’s No. 2 rusher with 307 yards on 28 carries last season. However, he should see time at quarterback along with sophomore Jeremiah Jones. Meanwhile, Mathis is also a standout defensive back. Plus, the Wolverines boast sophomore tailback Miles Sanders. He racked up 641 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns before suffering a season-ending injury last year.

USC, like the Wolverines, welcome a new quarterback as Pete Coughlin (1,331 passing, 687 rushing yards, 27 TDs) has moved on to Washington and Jefferson College. Joe Repischak and J.J. Conn, who battled throughout camp for the signal caller spot, however spearhead the defense at linebacker.

If games are won in the trenches, then USC holds the edge as the Panthers boast two Division I prospects of their own in Ben Huss and Rori Blair. An all-conference tackle, Huss has an offer from Youngstown State while Blair is committed to Pitt. (See related article.)

Experience is USC’s trump card as the Panthers boast a plethora of senior talent. Among the other veterans that will power the defense are: Morgan Lee, Zack Morris, Robert Plummer, Steve Mackowick, Mac Pope and Kyle Page. With more than 900 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns between them, Pope and Mackowick will fuel the ground attack on offense.

While Render says that he could name four or five teams in the division that will be good and provide stiff opposition for his Panthers, he declared Woodland Hills as one of the toughest. “It’s doesn’t get any tougher than starting your season at the Wolvarena.”

Lebo at NA

While not a conference clash, Mt. Lebanon starts its second season under Mike Melnyk with a tough assignment. Beat the defending state champion on its home turf. The Blue Devils visit North Allegheny at 7:30 p.m.

The Tigers, however, have a much different look in 2013 as only three starters return from last year’s undefeated squad. Elijah Zeise is one of those veterans and the wide receiver/defensive end is a key player to watch. He is a Pitt recruit.

Lebo boasts a pair of Division I recruits in Troy Apke (Penn State) and Alex Bookser, who has narrowed his choices to Pitt, Penn State and Ohio State. Apke, who shattered school receiving records last year, will catch his passes this fall from rookie quarterback Kellan Stout.

Plum at BP

With Pitt recruit Michael Grimm and a slew of veteran starters, including quarterback Levi Metheny (1,000 yards), running back Zac Enick (696 yards) and placekicker Dan Christenson, Bethel Park has its eye on the conference championship. While Lebo and USC shared the league title, the Hawks were the only conference club to beat USC during the regular season.

Meanwhile, the Mustangs look to turn things around under new coach Matt Morgan. Plum posted a 0-9 record last season. In 2011, the Mustangs won one game.

Kyle Smecker leads Plum’s ground attack. The junior rolled up 219 yards after carrying the ball a team-high 49 times.

Kick-off is 7:30 p.m.

PT at Baldwin

The Highlanders look for their first winning season since 2003 under new head coach Jim Wehrer while the Indians plans to continue the success they have enjoyed under Rich Piccinini. Peters Township has advanced to the playoffs the past three seasons.

Because of the strength of their big men up front and the return of signal caller Cory Owen (715 yards), the Indians could make it four straight. In Friday’s 7:30 p.m. kickoff, PT and Owen will rely upon three-year starter Dane Sehnert and two-year veterans Chris Corrado and Lukas Cervanek for protection up front. Additionally, Greg Watts, Connor Pope, Caorey Sheetz and Andrew Rao will provide a strong line of defense.

In this Southwestern Conference opener for both teams, PT hopes to find Mike Minjock’s replacement. A freshman now at CMU, Minjock rushed for 1,323 yards and 19 TDs in 2012. Marcus Ubinger could fill the void. Though he carried the ball only 30 times last year, Ubinger did average 13.7 yards per rush.

CM at Penn Hills

When Canon-McMillan travels to Penn Hills for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff, Rod Coder debuts as head coach. The former NFL lineman knows a bit about winning as he coached the Pittsburgh Passion to a championship.

Coder has his share of talent with which to work as the Big Macs return their quarterback Alec Hutchin (363 yards passing) and a trio of running backs. Deonte Kelly, Jules Gdovic and Justin Mattola combined for over 1,000 yards rushing.

Meanwile, the Indians missed the 2012 playoffs for the first time since 1997. They were 3-5 last year.

Moon at CV

This Parkway Conference clash marks the debut of Niel Loebig as the head coach and the Colts’ new skipper is focused solely on the Tigers, who look to rebuild under Mark Washington after a 2-7 campaign.

While the Tigers graduated Caleb Jakiel (801 passing yards and 10 TDs), they return leading rusher Anthony Colaianinni (902 yards, seven scores). Their top receiver Manny Torres had 13 receptions for 165 yards and two TDs last year.

Meanwhile, CV’s one-two punch appears to be Josh Lapiana (75 of 183 for 1,036 yards and 8 TDs) and Andreo Coury (25 receptions for 385 yards). The Colts also boast Division I prospects Hunter Steel and Ben Kumpf on both sides of the ball.

Century Conference

Keystone Oaks second-year coach Matt Taylor spoke for everyone concerning the slates ahead for Class AA league opponents. “The Century Conference is one of the top conferences in the area. The table is set for a tough battle every week.”

This weekend’s openers are no exception.

On Aug. 30, South Fayette travels to McGuffey, the Golden Eagles host Steel Valley at Dormont Stadium. On Aug. 31, Seton-La Salle hosts Steel Valley at 1 p.m. at Chartiers Valley Stadium.

Though the Lions graduated All-State receiver Zach Challingsworth to Pitt, they return enough talent to defend their conference championship.

SF boasts Brett Brumbaugh. During the regular season, he led the WPIAL in passing and finished with 2,138 yards and 32 scoring strikes. One of his top targets will be Justin Watson, who recently committed to Penn.

Meanwhile, the Lions’ adversary sports the duo of James Duchi and Patrick Frey in the backfield. Duchi rushed for 1,514 yards and 12 TDs. A transfer from Trinity, Frey racked up 940 yards and nine scores last year.

McGuffey finished 5-5 last fall under first-year coach Ed Dalton.

Though Luke Brumbaugh (Brett’s brother) has moved on to Robert Morris University, SLS intends to battle SF for the conference title. The Rebels will do so with a balanced rushing attack spearheaded by Tom Rizza, Rick Mellick and Daquay Broadwater as Tyler Perone settles into his signal caller spot.

A Division 1-AA recruit, Rizza led all rushers with 550 yards on 102 carries, Mellick has the best average with 6.3 yards per carry and Broadwater finished with 172 yards on 42 carries for a 4.1-yard average.

The secret to SLS’s success Saturday will be how well the Rebels can penetrate the Ironmen’s line. Steel Valley returns four starters on both sides of the ball, including Dvision I prospect Corey Pinerton. The Iornment have made the playoffs four years in a row.

Meanwhile, Kobe Phillippi (see related article) and Jim Canello fuel KO’s offensive attack while Chris Grecek anchors the line. Phillippi threw for more than 1,000 yards during last year’s 2-7 campaign while Canello averaged 4.93 yards per carry and ranked No. 3 on defense in tackles. An all-conference performer, Grecek returns at guard and defensive tackle.

Class A action

Because Imani Christian folded, Darren Schoppe’s debut as Bishop Canevin head coach has been delayed a week until the Crusaders travel to Chartiers-Houston Sept. 6 for their Black Hills Conference opener.

Meanwhile the Bucs open action Aug. 30 at Clairton. Kick-off is at 7:30 p.m. against the Bears, who have won the past four state titles.

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