Upper St. Clair ends North Allegheny's run at the top with quarterfinal victory
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For the first time in four years, a team other than North Allegheny will win the WPIAL Class AAAA title.
A blocked punt recovered in the end zone let No. 1 Upper St. Clair score fourth-quarter touchdowns just 42 seconds apart in Friday night's 41-23 quarterfinal victory over No. 9 North Allegheny in the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs at Baldwin.
With 10 minutes left, USC's lead was only four points.
A 2-yard touchdown run by quarterback Joe Repischak pushed that lead to 11 points with 9:47 left. But the Panthers seized control when Jesse Slinger blocked a punt and Andrew Bartusiak recovered in the end zone for the game's final touchdown with 9:05 left.
The Panthers scored the final 21 points.
“I hate to single anybody out (for praise),” USC coach Jim Render said, “because that was a team victory. We called on people who weren't always on the front line of the drawing board.”
The victory carries Upper St. Clair (11-0) into the WPIAL semifinals for the third consecutive season. USC will rematch No. 4 Woodland Hills (10-1), which eliminated No. 5 Seneca Valley on Friday. USC beat Woodland Hills, 16-10, at the Wolvarena in Week 1.
North Allegheny (7-4) hadn't lost a WPIAL playoff game since 2009. The Tigers had won the past three WPIAL titles and were defending state champions, but only three current starters were holdovers from those lineups.
“I'm ecstatically proud of them,” Walker said. “St. Clair knows they had a game. They'll wake up tomorrow knowing they had a game.”
Repischak, who also plays outside linebacker, had two touchdown runs and two touchdown passes. The senior completed 11 of 14 passes for 257 yards, including a 76-yard touchdown to Ben Southorn and a 31-yarder to Dustin Hess. Both passes were in the third quarter.
Repischak's touchdown runs covered 3 and 2 yards.
A 48-yard touchdown catch by senior Isaac Weaver gave North Allegheny a 23-20 lead in the third quarter. NA senior quarterback Cage Galupi, making just his second career start, threw three touchdown passes.
“We came in here believing we could win,” Walker said, “and we had a shot.”
Galupi completed 18 of 39 passes for 288 yards and two interceptions.
USC hadn't allowed more than 13 points this season.
This was the 13th contest between these north-south rivals since 2002. NA had won the previous three matchups, including 28-21 in the 2010 WPIAL championship.
Both teams lost key players to injury.
USC tailback Trevor Morrow had 60 yards on nine carries and a touchdown before a leg injury forced him to the bench in the second quarter.
NA wideout Elijah Zeise missed the second half with a shoulder injury after making seven catches for 121 yards and a touchdown. He also had an interception near NA's end zone.
“It changed our team and our attack when Zeise goes down,” Walker said. “We had some things that were really clicking and some more things that we were ready to go too. ... When he got hurt, that hurt us.”
Two touchdown passes by Galupi gave North Allegheny a 16-13 halftime lead. It included a go-ahead 9-yard pass to junior Paul Blendinger just 36 seconds before half. Galupi completed 4 of 7 passes for 68 yards on the go-ahead drive while leading NA 93 yards in two minutes.
Galupi's first touchdown was a 6-yarder to Zeise in the first quarter, when NA took the opening kickoff and moved 70 yards in six plays. At just 2:48 into the quarter, NA led, 7-0.
USC countered immediately with touchdowns on its first two possessions. A five-play, 71-yard game-tying drive led to a 3-yard touchdown run by Repischak. A 14-yard touchdown by Morrow gave USC a 13-7 lead with 2:35 left in the first quarter.
NA retook the lead with a 9-0 second quarter. A 32-yard field goal by NA's Seth Mancuso and Blendinger's touchdown catch gave NA a 16-13 halftime lead.
Galupi waited until the playoffs of his senior year before making his first varsity start. Galupi, who replaced injured teammate Jeff Clemens in Week 9, completed 13 of 22 first-half attempts for 209 yards.
Chris Harlan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.
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