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Upper St. Clair stuns Woodland Hills, 16-10

| Friday, Aug. 30, 2013, 10:45 p.m.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Upper St. Clair's Joe Repischak rushes for a touchdown against Woodland Hills on Friday, Aug. 30, at Wolvarena in Turtle Creek.

With little more than 4 minutes left, Upper St. Clair recovered a fumble to halt Woodland Hills' potential game-winning drive.

With 24 seconds left, it happened again.

Against a team considered by some as the best in the state, USC's Trevor Morrow and Mac Pope recovered fumbles less than 4 minutes apart in the closing moments of Friday night's 16-10 season-opening victory at the Wolvarena.

In a meeting of evenly matched teams with title aspirations, the difference was slim.

“I kept thinking to myself, they haven't made a mistake yet,” USC coach Jim Render said. “And then they made one. They're a well-coached team and they've got talent. With cramping and a lack of offense, we were very fortunate.”

The teams combined for just three points in the second half, a 27-yard field goal by Donald Cassidy in the third quarter. USC's offense was held scoreless in the second half, yet the Panthers still won with defense.

The two turnovers halted consecutive Woodland Hills drives that had crossed midfield.

“The thing about it is, I thought we adjusted to the speed,” Render said. “We can't simulate that speed in practice. After the first touchdown we settled down and kept our composure.”

USC's defense had a number of stars. Ben Southorn knocked down two passes in the end zone when Woodland Hills was inside the 10, teaming with Morgan Lee and Stephen Mackowick to solidify the secondary. Rori Blair blocked a punt through the end zone for a safety. Robert Plummer had a sack on third down and Blair added another.

Woodland Hills sophomore Miles Sanders rushed for 101 yards on 11 carries and scored a 5-yard touchdown in the first quarter. But after that, Woodland Hills never again reached the end zone.

USC scored all of its points in the second quarter. A 1-yard touchdown run by Mac Pope and a 24-yarder by Joe Repischak came on consecutive possessions. In between was Blair's blocked-punt safety.

With 4:32 left in the second quarter, USC led, 16-7.

“They got turnovers,” Woodland Hills coach George Novak said. “The fumbles and blocked punt, that was nine points. You can't make those kind of mistakes against good football teams.”

Time of possession (24:29-23:44) and total yards (203-194) were nearly identical, but the Panthers found defensive stops when they needed them most. USC also had 62-yard punt by Jesse Slinger between the two recovered fumbles.

“I was very proud of our special teams,” Render said. “You could probably build a pretty good case that they helped us win the game.”

Woodland Hills' last possession ended near midfield when a snap bounced past quarterback Harry Randall. One possession earlier, Randall was hit and fumbled in USC territory.

This was the third time in about 12 months that these teams have met. Upper St. Clair won last year's regular-season opener, 31-12. Woodland Hills won the rematch in the WPIAL semifinals, 42-20, by using USC turnovers to score the first 21 points.

Chris Harlan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.

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