USC ready to run with Penn Hills
Tailback depth has USC running full speed ahead
When it comes to running the football, Upper St. Clair believes in distributing the wealth.
“We use as many running backs as we can,” said head coach Jim Render. However, once Render ran Sean Lee 31 times in a game. “For that,” he said, “I was ashamed of myself.”
While Lee exhibited no ill effects from that many carries, having gone on to excel at Penn State and now the Dallas Cowboys, USC’s stable of runners has proven indeed that less equates more. So far this season, 11 players have toted the ball and only one, Trevor Morrow, has accumulated more than 31 carries…in three games.
“The ability to rotate running backs allows us to have fresh legs,” explained the 17-year-old tailback. “All of us have been able to stay fresh and the competition among us has made us better, too.”
Indeed, there may be no better running team with so many options out of the backfield in the WPIAL this season. While Morrow leads the Panthers in rushing, his numbers are not gaudy. With his 41- and 3-yard touchdown runs in USC’s 41-0 shutout over Peters Township last week, Morrow improved to 177 yards rushing on 33 carries for a team-high five scores, four of them on the ground.
While Morrow defined his performance against Peters as “good”, the senior added, that “not one man’s performance was better than the other.”
True. Mac Pope also scored twice, once on a 27-yard TD strike from Joe Repischak and once on a 19-yard rush that staked USC to a 14-0 advantage 13 minutes into the game. After Morrow’s back-to-back TD runs, Stephen Mackowick and Kevin Chrissis tacked on 25- and 35-yard rushing scores for the Panthers.
Though injured in the contest, Phil Saracco, along with Andrew Bartusiak, Mackowick, Marcus Galie and David Dougherty contributed to the rushing attack, which now has racked up 611 yards and 13 scores on the ground in three games.
“Each running back brings something different to the table,” Render said. “Pope and Morrow are good-sized kids. Galie has come a long way and Mackowick is doing a fine job.”
While Mike Krenn and J.J. Conn have done their share in versatile roles, Joe Repischack, who has rushed six times for 46 yards, had done a fine job for the Panthers in his role as quarterback. Against the Indians, he threw for 123 yards. On the year, he is 21 of 37 for 347 yards
Experience has plenty to do with USC’s success, particularly on the run. The Panthers start seniors in virtually every position on both sides of the ball.
“With all the seniors as running backs and the others who play positions in the game, all that experience factors into our success,” said Morrow. “It’s the reason why our offense is doing so well. We are all playing as a team and we don’t rely on one player.”
The running backs, however, rely on the big men up front. Ben Huss, who is being pursued by Youngstown State, anchors the unit, which also features Joe Pateras, a newcomer at center, having replaced Austin Park, a three-year starter who is now playing at Amherst. Joe Plummer, Dougherty and Zack Morris have also been mainstays on the line.
“It’s the offensive line,” said Morrow, “that has allowed us to play well.”
Render agreed. “The offensive line is getting better. We have some new blood in there,” he said. “We are real pleased with (Pateras). He had not played Friday nights much last year and David Dougherty played DL last year. Plummer started defensive line, too.”
Those two-way starters, along with the other veterans—USC has 10 starters back on defense—are a big reason why the Panthers have recorded back-to-back shutouts and surrendered only 10 points in their opener to the then No. 1-ranked team in the WPIAL, Woodland Hills.
“We’re off to a good start,” Render agreed. “We’ve played great defense and we’ve run the ball well.
“Our defense is playing with confidence and they are smart. They don’t give up too many plays. They are resilient and they adapt.”
If the Panthers are to run their record to 4-0 when they tackle Penn Hills Sept. 20, they must continue to do all those things for the Indians, who are also unbeaten in the Southeastern Conference. With their 37-21 win over Baldwin, Penn Hills improved to 3-0, its best start in eight years.
The Indians boast the 1-2 punch of Billy Kisner and Isaiah Jones. A 5-10, 180-pound quarterback, Kisner rushed for 148 yards and two scores against Baldwin. He ranks among the leading rushers in the WPIAL with 568 yards. A 5-10, 179-pound back, Jones also is a top tailback in the district with over 400 yards rushing.
According to Morrow, USC’s 16-10 win over Woodland Hills particularly prepared the Panthers for Penn Hills.
“Not just Peters and Canon-McMillan, but especially Woodland Hills was good preparation for us against Penn Hills,” he said. “We are pumped up for Penn Hills. They have some tremendous athletes but we’d like to show them that we have some good athletes here, too.”
And, the state, as well as the region, is noticing. Currently, the Panthers are ranked No. 1 in the state.
“We’ve done some good things,” said Morrow, “but we have high expectations for the season. One of the goals is to win at Heinz Field,” he said of the site for the WPIAL Quad-A championship contest in late November.
Christmas, rather than Thanksgiving, is on Render’s mind when he considers his team’s ranking in the state.
“To me, it’s recognition that you’ve done something right but until it’s decided on the field in the state championship game, it doesn’t mean a whole lot,” he said of the current No. 1 label. “It will be more fun to be ranked No. 1 on Christmas Day.”
Who is he: Upper St. Clair’s leading rusher with 177 yards on 33 carries and leading scorer with five touchdowns.
Parents: J.C. and Linda
Sibling: Tyler. He plays lacrosse at Vassar.
Sports: Football, lacrosse.
College choice: Undecided but open to all options.
Career path: Architecture and graphic arts.
Favorite color: Red
Favorite class: Science
Favorite food: Fettuccini Alfredo
Social medium: Twitter because more people in high school are on it.
Dream destination: Italy