USC battles BP for South Hills supremacy
USC hosts BP in key Southeastern Conference clash
While Bethel Park and Upper St. Clair know each other well, their football clash this Friday, Oct. 11 is not exactly a friendly fray between neighbors. It’s a fight for supremacy in the South Hills, not to mention the Southeastern Conference championship.
“It’s what Western Pennsylvania football is all about,” said BP skipper Jeff Metheny.
“Our kids know their kids and they know us. We play each other in football. We play them in basketball. We play them in baseball. So we know them well and we respect them.”
Opponents, like BP, have high regard for the Panthers because they are ranked No. 1 in the region and No. 2 in the state. Entering week seven of the season, USC sits atop the league standings with an unblemished 6-0 mark after blanking Butler, 37-0, for its sixth shutout in a row.
“They have good players and they have a great coaching staff,” explained Metheny. “Over the years, St. Clair has made us better.”
Indeed, for the Hawks are in contention for the conference championship with the Panthers. After edging Penn Hills, 21-19, BP is 5-1 overall and in second place in the league.
“Bethel Park teams always seem to get better as the season goes on,” explained USC head coach Jim Render. “You don’t see too many BP teams tailing off. They are well-coached and they always seem to play us well.”
Indeed in the past six years, USC is 3-3 against the Hawks, who have held home-field advantage in four of those seasons. Last year, BP upset, 24-17. Touchdowns on special teams did in the Panthers.
Noting those two decisive scores on kick-off returns, Render said, “We faltered on special teams. In fact, in the two games that we lost last year we gave points away. We gave Bethel two touchdowns on kick-off returns and against Woodland Hills, we were down, 21-0 before we knew it,” Render said referring to that 42-20 defeat in the WPIAL semifinals. “We can’t do that in a big game.”
And, Metheny doesn’t expect USC to falter in that department or any other area they have dominated this fall.
“USC is really good at special teams. They have been,” he said. “That’s why they are really good.
“They are good on defense. They are good on offense. If they beat us on special teams, then it’s going to be a rough night (for us). We have to play at least even with them (in that department).”
Few teams even come close to playing with the Panthers in any department this autumn. USC has scored 220 points and has allowed only 10. The Panthers have five shutouts. Opponents have netted 655 total yards or 2.6 per play while USC has amassed 2,131 yards of offense, a gain of 7.3 per play.
The Panthers have punted just eight times and in that area, Jesse Slinger is averaging 45.1 yards. Max Herold averages 54.5 yards per kick-off. He has booted one field goal and 26 extra points.
In their tune-up for BP, USC flexed its muscles against Butler by out-gaining the Golden Tornado, 363-58, on offense. Five different players scored in the 37-point rout. While Joe Repischak connected with Ben Haus for a 20-yard scoring strike, USC’s other touchdowns came on the run with Trevor Morrow, Marcus Galie, Mac Pope and Stephen Mackowick rushing into the end zone from 15, 6, 1 and 26 yards.
USC, which tacked on a safety midway through the third quarter, rested its starters throughout the second half. The Mercy Rule, which employs a running clock once the deficit becomes 35 points or more, kicked in less than three minutes into the third quarter.
While Render said USC did not approach the Butler game as a “tune-up” for Bethel Park, he admitted that he could not have written a better script for preparation. “This would have been perfect,” he said. “We were able to be methodical in our play. We did not get too many (players) too tired or hurt. We got a lot of men in. It worked out well.”
A balanced offensive attack has worked out well for USC. Against Butler, 11 players carried the ball with Morrow leading with 94 yards rushing. Morrow leads the ground game with 533 yards on 84 carries. He has scored seven times. Pope and Mackowick follow as leaders but 16 players have rushed this season for USC.
“They have a stable of running backs,” said Metheny.
And BP prepared in a way for that challenge when they faced Penn Hills. The Indians featured Billy Kisner and Isaiah Jones. They have combined for 1,408 yards this season. They rushed for 113 and 105 yards respectively against the Hawks.
“Penn Hills actually has three running backs. All three have done well for them. Their schemes include the quarterback whereas USC doesn’t use him as much (as a runner),” explained Metheny.
“USC has five, six guys that can carry the ball and we’ve got to stop the run. If we don’t, then they’ll run all over us like they have against everybody else.”
“They are physical up front,” said Metheny. “They have a lot of talent.”
Paving the way for the USC offense are experienced linemen such as Zack Morris, Ben Huss, David Dougherty, Joe Pateras and Austin Himler. Plus, the Panthers boast a proven defense. Eight starters are back from last year’s 10-2 semifinal playoff squad.
“They are really, really good on defense. Their stats definitely say so,” Metheny said. “We’ve seen them come out and destroy other people.”
Metheny, who has coached at BP for 20 seasons, knows all too well what those experiences feel like. Before last year’s triumph, USC skunked BP, 55-0, in 2011 and 44-21 in 2010. When BP has beaten USC in the past, the scores have been close, 16-14, in 2009 and 10-6 in 2008. In 2007, USC won a 13-10 decision.
“Defense is a key,” Metheny continued. “We can’t get in a 35-point game with them. With the shutouts they have strung together, our changes of scoring 20 are not good.”
With limited numbers this season, BP has made good use of its talent. The Hawks, themselves, are not too shabby on defense, having allowed 60 points or 10 per game. They average 25.2 points per game.
While Alex Minton has been a WPIAL leader in scoring and rushing this season, Zac Enick and Gary Gerst have afforded BP versatility and depth in the backfield. Against Penn Hills, Gerst proved the leader. He rushed for 110 yards. He rushed for a 31-yard touchdown and hauled in a 14-yard scoring strike from Levi Metheny.
A sophomore, Metheny rushed for BP’s other score. He passed for 114 yards.
Of the Penn Hills game Metheny said that it was good to get a conference win. “We have a lot of obstacles and mountains to climb,” he added. “We’ve got to play better at all positions; protecting the quarterback; the quarterback throwing better passes; receivers not dropping passes; running the football.
“If we are to be a legitimate playoff team, then we need to get better, particularly at the passing game. We certainly have things to sure up.”
In their preparation for Bethel Park, USC intends to stay the course. “We are what we are,” said Render. “We’re not going to draw up brand new plays but we’re going to prepare hard. We prepare hard and we execute.”
The execution is what Render relishes most. “I enjoy watching this team play,” he said.
“Having veterans on defense at all positions is a huge plus. And, I think the defense and the offense compliment each other very well. We possess the ball and they (the other team) are not scoring. And conversely, the defense is giving the ball back to us. We’ve also been able to take advantage of great field position.”
Great positioning in the conference awaits the winner of this contest.
“It’s late in the season. It’ an important conference game,” Metheny said. “We’re going to give it our best shot.”
“It’s going to be exciting,” agreed Render. “I know (my players) are excited to play this game.”