USC ready for NA Tigers
While watching “60 Minutes” on Sunday, Upper St. Clair head coach Jim Render settled on a game plan for his team’s WPIAL Quad-A football quarterfinal playoff game. The Panthers will play three-time defending district champion, North Allegheny, at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 8 at Baldwin.
Render’s approach to the fray will be quite similar to the strategy Nick Saban applies when readying Alabama for an opponent. In the interview, Saban said that the Crimson Tide “doesn’t worry about somebody else.” Saban also stated that “we just compete and we do what we’ve been taught and the results will take care of themselves.”
Because Render, who is the winningest coach in the WPIAL, has quality players with experience, too, he will advise his Panthers to do the same against the Tigers. “We’ll go out and do what we do best and keep doing it and see where the results fall.”
The approach has worked so far. With a 44-13 win over Kiski Area in the first round of the playoffs, the Panthers improved to 10-0. They have outscored the opposition, 381-43, and have allowed only 4.3 points per game.
Meanwhile, the Tigers improved to 7-3 overall with their shutout win against Bethel Park, 28-0. The Hawks finished their season at 6-4 overall.
In the Tigers, USC faces, an experienced club that is not only the reigning district winner but the defending state champion as well.
Pitt recruit Elijah Zeise leads the club with 42 receptions for 831 yards and a 19.8-yard average per catch. Issaac Weaver is NA’s top tailback. While he averages 10.6 yards a catch, ranking him third on the club, Weaver averages 7.5 yards a carry. He rushed for 120 yards and three scores against BP. Plus, in his first start for Jeff Clemens, who has 1,164 yards passing and 13 TD aerials for the season, Cage Galupi completed 7 of 13 passes for 81 yards against BP.
“When you play NA, you are playing a team with a lot of depth and a team that is well-coached,” said Render. “Their football players have had long, extended seasons, giving them extra practices, that even though they graduate key kids, they’ve gained a lot of experience.”
USC has plenty of experience itself. The Panthers, who last won a WPIAL and PIAA title in 2006, advanced to the WPIAL semifinals last season. They played in the district finals in 2011, losing to North Allegheny, 28-21, at Heinz Field.
The Panthers excel in each area of the game, offense, defense and special teams.
While starting fullback and defensive tackle Mac Pope, who injured his knee against Mt. Lebanon, is listed as probable against the Tigers, the USC’s rushing attack is in the capable hands of Trevor Morrow. The senior has rushed for over 1,000 yards and 16 touchdowns. He averages 6.8 yards per carry. Morrow rushed for five scores of 21, 6, 3, 1 and 61 yards against Kiski. He rolled up 157 on 11 carries against the Cavaliers.
Mike Krenn had the other rushing score for USC on a 39-yard run. Krenn represents the depth of the USC ground game. The Panthers have rolled up 2,716 yards on the ground and seven players have carried the ball 15 or more times this season. Stephen Mackowick is the second-leading rusher with 345 yards and six scores.
Joe Repischak leads the air assault. He has completed 59 of 97 passes for 986 yards and four scores. Morgan Lee leads the team with 212 yards receiving followed by Pope, Ben Southorn, who has 11 receptions for 177 yards and Guiseppe Orsini, who has 144 yards.
Defensively, the Panthers have registered six shutouts this season. Kyle Page is the top tackler with 73 followed by Jesse Slinger and Lee, Ben Huss and Rori Blair comprise an impressive 1-2 pass rush, leading the team in sacks with four and 6.5 sacks. J.J. Conn and Repischak join Page and Lee as core members of the linebacking corps. Mackowick, Southorn and Krenn lead the secondary and the team in interceptions.
Slinger, who averages 41 yards per punt, and Max Herold as well as Connor Brennan, who average 52.8 and 48.2 yards per kick, spearhead the special teams.
“We have to continue to do what we do best,” said Render. “All we can do is work and compete.”