Five Upper St. Clair running backs carried the ball Friday night, showing how coach Jim Render is trying to find a feature running back.
But Upper St. Clair found its team in the second half.
Upper St. Clair did more than come on strong in the second half. The Panthers were dominant in just about every facet. Upper St. Clair trailed by two touchdowns in the first half and managed only a field goal in the first two quarters.
Then, Upper St. Clair muscled its way past visiting Woodland Hills in the second half for a 31-12 victory on a steamy opening night of high school football in Pennsylvania.
"I kind of felt like since tonight was really hot, the [Woodland Hills] guys across from us were getting kind of gassed in the second half," said Austin Park, Upper St. Clair's senior center.
But Upper St. Clair's linemen stepped on the gas and won this WPIAL Class AAAA Southeastern Conference showdown. Upper St. Clair came in as the Post-Gazette's No. 3 Class AAAA team and Woodland Hills No. 5. Upper St. Clair had only 66 yards offense in the first half and gave up two big pass plays on defense to fall behind, 12-0. In the second half, Upper St. Clair had 193 yards offense.
"I think our kids are in pretty good condition," said Render.
Woodland Hills quarterback Cody McClelland finished 8 of 16 for 231 yards and had first-half touchdown passes of 68 yards to Trevon Mathis and 39 yards to Tom Greene. But, in the second half, Upper St. Clair's offensive and defensive lines controlled the game.
"I thought we played well in the first half and made a couple of big plays," said Woodland Hills coach George Novak. "We had a lot of kids going both ways, and that showed in the second half."
Woodland Hills started two freshmen -- Miles Sanders at halfback and Wilford Clark at guard.
"I've been here 25 years and I think the only other freshman that started was Tutu Ferguson," Novak said.
Ron Brown was expected to be Woodland Hills' top halfback, but he transferred Wednesday to Imani Christian.
"It wasn't athletic intent. It was a family thing," Novak said.
Also, Harry Randall, expected to be one of Woodland Hills' top receivers, did not play.
"Let's just say he's not available," Novak said.
Sanders had a rough night. He carried 17 times, but gained only 3 yards.
Upper St. Clair's ground attack had four players carry at least three times, and Mac Pope led with 36 yards on nine attempts. Nick Tancredi carried only once, but gained 23 yards. On top of that, senior quarterback Pete Coughlin rushed for 62 yards on 15 attempts. He had minus-4 yards on six attempts in the first half and was sacked three times.
Coughlin finished 8 of 9 passing for 81 yards.
"We didn't run him too much early on," Render said. "A little of that was by design."
Upper St. Clair looked like a different team from the get-go in the second half, moving 54 yards in seven plays for its first touchdown. On first-and-goal from the 6, Pope ran near the goal line and fumbled, but Park recovered in the end zone.
Later in the third quarter, Upper St. Clair started at its 20 and moved 80 yards in nine plays for a score. Coughlin capped the drive with a 10-yard touchdown run and also ran for the two-point conversion to give Upper St. Clair an 18-12 lead with 11:21 left in the game.
"That second half, I think we were playing a lot of guys, keeping fresh," Park said.
"I don't think we had the same offensive line on any possession in the second half."
Woodland Hills had poor field position again on its next possession, punted and Upper St. Clair returned it to the Woodland Hills 19.
It took only two plays before Coughlin was in the end zone on a 2-yard touchdown run.
Upper St. Clair's final touchdown was set up when Robert Plummer stripped McClelland of the ball and Ben Huss recovered at the Woodland Hills 44.
Coughlin then scored the game's final touchdown on a 1-yard run.
"We made some mental mistakes in the first half," Render said. "We might not be a bad team down the road if we get smart. We fly all these excellence in education flags here. We have to start proving it."
For more on high school sports, go to Varsity Blog at www.post-gazette.com/varsityblog. Mike White: email@example.com, 412-263-1975 and Twitter @mwhiteburgh. First Published September 1, 2012 4:45 AM