Woodland Hills outs Upper St. Clair to reach Class AAAA final
After opening the season with two losses, Woodland Hills has managed to find its way back to Heinz Field for the WPIAL Class AAAA championship game.
The surging Wolverines scored early and often in the semifinals — they needed all they could get — in handing top-seeded Upper St. Clair its first loss on Friday night at Baldwin Stadium, holding off the Panthers, 28-21, to advance to the title game against second-seeded Central Catholic.
Fourth-seeded Woodland Hills (10-2) has won 10 consecutive games after opening the regular season with losses to USC and McKeesport.
“We've used those films as motivation,” Woodland Hills coach George Novak said.
Harry Randall passed for 118 yards and rushed for 80, and Trevon Mathis scored on two long plays and deflected a potential game-tying touchdown pass with 2:35 remaining to spark Woodland Hills, which lost to North Allegheny in the 2012 championship game.
“It was a great game,” Novak said of Woodland Hills' latest victory. “You can never count that team out. I've seen them come back before. Our kids had to play their hearts out to win.”
Mathis caught an 80-yard pass from Randall and returned the second-half kickoff 96 yards to help Woodland Hills build a 28-7 lead before USC rallied in the second half.
After USC (11-1) closed within 28-21 with touchdowns on back-to-back possessions in the third quarter, the Panthers were in position to tie the score in the closing minutes. But Mathis batted down a fourth-down pass by USC quarterback Joe Repischak in the end zone to deny the Panthers a shot at extending the game.
“We knew what they were going to do, either run a play-action or fake,” Mathis said. “We saw them overload one side, and we didn't bite on it.”
Woodland Hills looked as though it would run away with the outcome when Mathis shocked USC by returning the second-half kickoff for a touchdown, shedding numerous potential tacklers, to give the Wolverines a commanding 28-7 lead.
But USC, which lost to Woodland Hills in the semifinals in 2012 and was victimized by turnovers and penalties in the first half Friday night, had other ideas.
The Panthers, who defeated the Wolverines, 16-10, in the regular-season opener, scored quickly on their next two possessions.
Repischak played a part in both scores, firing a 29-yard pass to Ben Southorn — who made an acrobatic catch and held onto the ball in the end zone — and rushing 8 yards for another touchdown.
Suddenly, the momentum had changed, though USC still found itself in an unfamiliar position: trailing in the fourth quarter. Southorn's 42-yard reception from Repischak to the Woodland Hills 10 set up the late-game drama. USC pushed the ball to the 2, but on fourth down Mathis deflected Repischak's pass to seal the victory.
“We gave it away in the first half,” said USC coach Jim Render, the WPIAL's all-time leader in victories.
The Woodland Hills' defense dominated USC after the Wolverines fell behind 7-0 on Morgan Lee's 33-yard run, capping the game's opening drive for USC.
Woodland Hills capitalized on USC's sloppy play in the first half, recovering a pair of fumbles and forcing a botched punt, leading to two scores.
The Wolverines tied it at 7-7 on Randall's 80-yard touchdown pass to Mathis with 1:20 left in the first quarter.
Woodland Hills' Devin Nixon recovered a USC fumble on the following kickoff at the USC 20, but the Wolverines were hurt by a penalty and forced to punt.
However, they took advantage of USC's next mistake early in the second quarter, taking over at the Panthers' 8 when punter Jesse Slinger mishandled the snap and recovered the ball, turning it over to Woodland Hills on downs.
Two plays later, Randall's 4-yard run gave Woodland Hills a 14-7 lead.
Woodland Hills stretched it to 21-7 after Donte Broadus recovered a USC fumble on the Panthers' next possession and Miles Sanders, making his first appearance in the playoffs, scored on a 1-yard touchdown run.
Sanders, Woodland Hills' leading rusher with just over 1,000 yards, entered the Wolverines' lineup in the second quarter after missing the team's first two playoff games with a severely sprained ankle and finished with 54 yards rushing on 15 carries.
Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com.