USC’s Steel Curtain
The Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s patented the phrase for their defense, but the Upper St. Clair Panthers are borrowing the moniker while emulating the Steel Curtain this football season.
After allowing 10 points in their season opener, a six-point triumph over then No. 1-ranked Woodland Hills, the Panthers have recorded five straight shutouts. Their defense is allowing just 1.7 points per game while the offense is rolling up an average of 36.7 points.
“Defense is a source of pride with this team,” explained head coach Jim Render.
Kyle Page epitomizes that pride. And while Render says that he doesn’t dwell on the shutouts, Page admits the streak is a focus of his teammates.
“We do speak about it,” he said. “On Thursdays (before our next game), we say ‘let’s get another. Keep it rolling.’”
For two years, Page has kept the defense rolling. Dubbed “Old Faithful” by his coach, Page anchors the middle of the defense. In fact, he leads the team in tackles with 43 from his inside linebacker position.
“I like playing there because there are a lot of opportunities to make tackles,” said the senior captain. “You are always getting to make the hits.”
Because the unit has played together since second grade, Page expected defense to be the hit for the Panthers this fall. In fact, Page is one of eight returning starters from last year’s conference championship club. In reaching the WPIAL Quad-A semifinals, USC registered five shutouts. Its defense surrendered 120 points, allowing on average 10 per game.
“We have a lot of veterans so we were expecting big things,” said Page, who owns a 4.2 GPA and is a member of the National Honor Society. “We’ve all grown up playing together through the years. That’s one reason why we are tough as a unit,” he added. “We have something special.
USC’s special group, which has accumulated 20 sacks and three interceptions, includes Jesse Slinger, Ben Huss and Morgan Lee. They follow Page in the tackle department with 32, 31 and 28 respectively. Huss and Rori Blair, who missed last season because of a life-threatening stroke, pace USC with four sacks each while Mac Pope and Page follow with 2.5 and 2 respectively.
While Stephen Mackowick and Ben Southorn have joined the secondary as starters on the corners this season, Joe Repischak and J.J. Conn continue to dominate the outside at the linebacker slots. David Dougherty and Zack Morris have returned to anchor the line with Huss. Plus, Robert Plummer and Trevor Morrow have made their presence known, with double-digits in tackles as well.
“We’re really gelling as a team,” explained Page.
That’s critical for the Panthers because they enter the final third of their regular season before beginning their quest for championships at the district and state level.
“The sky’s the limit,” said Page of his team’s potential.
However, the Panthers must tackle one of their primary rivals first. USC hosts Bethel Park at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 11. The Hawks are 5-1 overall. BP boasts its own staunch defense, allowing 10 points per game, to along with a productive offense that puts up 25.2 points per game.
“Bethel Park is definitely the best team we will have seen or played since Woodland Hills,” Page said. “They are a really good, competitive team. But, we will be ready for them.”