USC knows Mt. Lebo will bounce back
Mt. Lebanon and Upper St. Clair don't play in the same conference anymore, but the rivalry between two of the WPIAL's best Class AAAA programs still remains.
'When I first took the job at Uniontown, the team they said they wanted to beat more than anyone else was Mt. Lebanon,' said Upper St. Clair coach Jim Render, who now is in his 23rd season. 'When I got to Upper St. Clair, it was the same as it was at Uniontown.'
Mt. Lebanon left the Quad South for the Quad North before last season as part of the WPIAL's enrollment-based realignment. However, the grudge match between these teams, which have combined for nine WPIAL Quad A titles, hasn't waned despite the outcome having no bearing on the playoffs.
'Oh sure, it's still there,' Render said. 'It's like saying Notre Dame-Michigan doesn't mean that much.'
This game does have meaning for Upper St. Clair after a 41-0 loss to Mt. Lebanon last season.
'It still sticks in my mind,' Render said of one the worst defeats in his career. 'That's not fun to lose 41-0 to Mt. Lebanon. It ranks right up there.'
Upper St. Clair (1-0) will host Mt. Lebanon (0-1) at 7:30 p.m. on Friday in a non-conference game.
'We know they are better than what they showed at Massillon,' Render said of Mt. Lebanon's 54-20 loss. 'They played tough all four quarters at Massillon. Not everyone has a 6-foot-4, All-American quarterback.'
The Blue Devils fell to the right arm of Ohio State-recruit Justin Zwick, who passed for five touchdowns and 235 yards for one of Ohio's best Division I (the largest Ohio classification) teams.
'We need to work hard this week and get ready for Upper St. Clair,' Mt. Lebanon coach Chris Haering said.
But not all went wrong for the reigning WPIAL Quad A champions. The Blue Devils ran for over 200 yards. Senior halfback Brian Young rushed for 199 yards on 31 carries, highlighted by a 63-yard touchdown run, while showing the cutting ability and toughness to be one of the WPIAL's best this season.
'Brian played well,' Haering said. 'He ran hard and was physical.'
Another positive was the play of sophomore quarterback Andy Goff, who was making his first career start. Goff's stats weren't great, going 7 for 12 for 41 yards and an interception, but he showed poise under a strong Massillon rush and an accurate right arm.
'He did OK, but he needs to improve just like the rest of us,' Haering said. 'The coaches need to improve. The players need to improve. We all need to improve.'
Upper St. Clair defeated Connellsville, 34-20, last week behind a spectacular performance by halfback Brad Wilson. The senior ran for three short touchdowns and returned a second-quarter punt 69 yards for another score.
'He did a little bit of everything,' Render said. 'He returned a punt and ran the ball really well.'
Wilson, also an all-star catcher for the Panthers, has been making plays like this for a long time.
'Brad's been a big-play guy for three years,' Render said. 'We've seen him do that consistently.'
The Panthers, who lost in the first round of the playoffs last season, are improving in the early season.
'I've been pleased,' Render said. 'I thought we were giving good effort, trying to get better in all phases of the game. That's the thing that pleased me the most.'
These teams have had several memorable games over the years.
'There has been a lot of them,' Render said. 'We beat them here when they were ranked fifth or sixth in the country in the early 1990s. We beat them in the playoffs on the way to our first WPIAL championship (1988), after they beat us earlier in the year.'
This one doesn't quite have the clout of past years simply because it is non-conference, but it is still intriguing. Is Massillon really that good• Is Upper St. Clair back after three-straight first-round playoff losses following a WPIAL title in 1997•
'I think we got off to a good start, but I'm not satisfied with that,' Render said. 'We want to build on that.'