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Peters coach looks to mentor for advice, program model

| Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012, 8:59 p.m.
Christopher Horner
Peters Township quarterback Corey Owen works out during the Indians' practice. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Upper St. Clair quarterback Pete Coughlin leads the Panthers over Woodland Hills in their conference opener Friday August 31, 2012. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

When Peters Township police investigated complaints this past winter about whether he pressured players into returning to games despite injuries, Rich Piccinini sought counsel from an old friend he considers a coaching mentor.

Piccinini called Jim Render, who has endured criticism at Upper St. Clair despite being the winningest coach in WPIAL history.

“I get advice from Jim regularly, whether it's football advice or life advice,” Piccinini said. “Jim's been around for years and knows how to handle every situation that comes along. He's had to handle undeserved adversity at St. Clair.”

After spending two seasons as an assistant on Render's staff, Piccinini modeled Peters Township's program after its Route 19 rival. He led the Indians to a 4-6 record and WPIAL playoff berth last fall in his first season.

Both schools are 2-0 entering Friday's game, where the winner will claim sole possession of first place in the Quad Central

“There's a lot of games to play, but this is a big game for us,” Piccinini said. “We've worked hard to get in the conversation with Upper St. Clair, Woodland Hills and Penn Hills. We've got our system going in the right direction.”

Piccinini was cleared of any wrongdoing but has used it as motivation, leading Peters Township to it first-ever victory over Penn Hills last week.

Now, the Indians are trying to beat USC and qualify for the WPIAL playoffs for the third consecutive season. Both would be firsts in school history for Peters Township.

“I'm very happy for him because they gave him an inordinate amount of grief,” Render said.

“They were well-coached, disciplined and they responded to him. If he was as bad as some of those parents think, they never would have made the playoffs with kids who saw very little playing time the year before.”

Peters Township's record won't be the only thing that looks familiar to Upper St. Clair. Piccinini pulled some of the schemes from the Panthers' playbook to run at Peters, which got a 247-yard, four-touchdown performance from senior Mike Minjock in a 40-12 victory over Baldwin.

“I have all those thoughts going through my head,” Render said. “How much does he really know? What might I draw from the old files that he doesn't know?”

What Piccinini doesn't know is how Peters Township will stop USC quarterback Pete Coughlin. Or whether the Indians can withstand another defensive performance where the Panthers score on a blocked punt, a takeaway and set up another with an interception in a 50-0 victory over Canon-McMillan.

“Year after year, Jim's teams looks the same: They fire off the ball, they block, they fly to the ball,” Piccinini said. “What concerns me about them, definitely, is Pete Coughlin. Pete is the guy where the whole operation starts.”

Where Render is happy for Piccinini about Peters' success, he doesn't want it to come at USC's expense.

“They will be pumped up, I'm sure, about the fact that they're 2-0 and beat the likes of Penn Hills and have a home game this week,” Render said. “I'm sure they can't wait to get their claws on us. I think our kids, they're smart enough to have a healthy respect for Peters Township. ... We can be a season maker for them if they beat us.”

Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at kgorman@tribweb.com or 412-320-7812.

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