Woodland Hills looks to avenge loss to Upper St. Clair
Woodland Hills and Upper St. Clair had a lengthy hiatus in their series, but the teams are quickly making up for lost time.
After not playing since the Wolverines came away with a 28-15 victory in the 2005 WPIAL Class AAAA quarterfinals, they will take the field for the second time this season Friday at Baldwin, with a spot in the championship game at Heinz Field on the line.
Upper St. Clair (10-1) got the best of Woodland Hills (9-2) when the teams met in the season opener Aug. 31. Panthers quarterback Pete Coughlin ran for three fourth-quarter touchdowns in a 31-12 victory.
“It's hard for both of us to play a team we've played before, but you look at what they did well against you before and how they've done in their recent games because they've evolved to where they're at,” Novak said. “Playing Upper St. Clair, it's always tough to play them because coach (Jim) Render is, by far, the best coach in the WPIAL; defensively, they're one of the best defenses in the WPIAL year in and year out; and their offense, with all its motions, is tough to prepare for.”
Woodland Hills is coming off one of its best defensive performances of the season in a 17-14 quarterfinal victory over second-seeded Gateway. The Wolverines made the Gators one-dimensional by negating their running attack (minus-39 yards on 18 carries).
“When you're in the playoffs every game's different, and against Gateway, our first objective was to stop the run and not let them throw deep on us,” Novak said. “We were able to contain their run, and they threw the ball 49 times on us and that was a lot of passing. But our secondary did a nice job, and against St. Clair, it's going to be totally different.”
One of the reasons Woodland Hills was able to defeat highly touted Gateway was the offensive spark of freshman Miles Sanders, who carried 14 times for 93 yards and both of the team's touchdowns.
Though Sanders was a nonfactor when the Wolverines and Upper St. Clair met in the opener — he had just three carries for 17 yards — he developed into the team's leading ground gainer with 111 carries for 640 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Unfortunately for the Wolverines, he'll be on the sideline watching the rematch. Sanders left the Gateway game in the third quarter with an undisclosed injury.
Without him in the lineup, the Wolverines will return to a running-back-by-committee approach they used early in the year with senior Alex Beasley and Dequan White in the backfield to complement reverses from wide receiver Khalil Harper.
“We have some other running backs that will get opportunities this week,” Novak said. “We'll see who goes in.”
Coming up with a winning formula, even with senior 1,000-yard passer Cody McClelland, will be a challenge against an Upper St. Clair defense that has not been scored upon in the tournament. The Panthers are the only team in the WPIAL playoffs in any classification not to allow a postseason point.
Still, Woodland Hills was able to hold Gateway to more than 23 points under its season average. Maybe the Wolverines can glean something from that first meeting to help them break the Panthers' shutout streak.
“We threw the ball a little on them, but we weren't able to run the ball at all,” Novak said. “We won't have Miles this week, so we'll let him take the week off and see what happens.”
Keith Barnes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-664-9161 Ext. 1977.