Never mind a battle. This matchup of the top two teams in Class AAAA of the WPIAL was more like a survival of the fittest.
The heat got to Woodland Hills and Upper St. Clair Friday night. Players cramped in the second half. Tongues wagged and players dragged.
But Upper St. Clair limped across the finish line just ahead of Woodland Hills and will force a shake-up at the top of the Class AAAA rankings.
Upper St. Clair, No. 2 in Class AAAA, knocked off Woodland Hills, 16-10, in a steamy Wolvarena in Turtle Creek.
Upper St. Clair came back from a 7-0 deficit after the first quarter, scored 16 points in the second quarter and hung for the win in the second half. Woodland Hills put a charge in the crowd, driving from its own 20 to the Upper St. Clair 49 with less than a minute left, but quarterback Harry Randall couldn't handle a bad shotgun snap and Upper St. Clair's Mac Pope recovered at the Woodland Hills 29.
"All of our team got a little tired in the heat," said Upper St. Clair coach Jim Render. "That was a little disappointing. We were really scrambling because of cramps. I don't know if Woodland Hills had the same problem with cramps, but we have to do something about it."
Upper St. Clair played much of the fourth quarter without quarterback Joe Repischak, who had cramps.
"At the end of the game, I think both teams were tired," said Woodland Hills coach George Novak. "A lot of people were going both ways for both teams. It was hot. The heat kind of works itself out when you go through the season, but, when you have it the first game, it's tough."
The win had "special" meaning for Upper St. Clair. The Panthers' special teams were excellent.
Rori Blair, a Pitt recruit, blocked a punt out of the end zone to give Upper St. Clair a safety. Punter Jesse Slinger averaged 50 yards on three kicks, and he booted a 62-yarder to get the Panthers out of bad field position before Woodland Hills' final possession.
Also, Upper St. Clair kicker Max Herold booted all three kickoffs for touchbacks.
"Special teams were big and that's good because the games we lost last year special teams hurt us," Render said.
Upper St. Clair led, 16-7, at halftime and Woodland Hills started the second half on a 19-play drive that ate up eight minutes. But Upper St. Clair's defense kept the Wolverines out of the end zone, and they had to settle for a 27-yard field goal by Donald Cassidy.
Woodland Hills outgained Upper St. Clair, 203-194, and Woodland Hills sophomore running back Miles Sanders rushed for 101 yards on 11 carries. Sanders was the main reason Woodland Hills' offense looked promising early. On its second possession, Woodland Hills took over at the Upper St. Clair 45, and it took only four plays before Sanders was in the end zone on a 5-yard run. Sanders had a nifty 34-yard run to set up the touchdown, breaking tackles, reversing his field, then racing down the left sideline.
But after that scoring possession, Woodland Hills had only 3 yards offense the rest of the half, and Sanders had only four carries. Upper St. Clair kept him and quarterback Randall in check the rest of the game.
"When you play a team with that kind of speed, it takes awhile to adjust to it because you can't simulate in practice," Render said.
Upper St. Clair played Render-style football in the first half. In other words, it used a strong running game, threw in a few passes, made plays on special teams and didn't make mistakes. The Panthers tied the game on Pope's 1-yard run and Herold's extra-point kick that capped an 11-play 80-yard drive.
Upper St. Clair took a 9-7 lead when Blair came up with the big special-teams play. With Woodland Hills punting near its own goal line, he burst through the middle, broke free and blocked Randall's punt. The ball rolled out of the end zone, and Upper St. Clair took a two-point lead with 7:41 left in the half.
Blair missed all of last season after suffering a life-threatening stroke.
"I'm just happy the young man is alive," Render said. "Anything he does on the football field beyond that is wonderful."
Upper St. Clair added another touchdown three minutes later. On third-and-10, Repischak ran a perfect quarterback draw 24 yards for a touchdown. It turned out to be the winning points.
For more on high school sports, go to "Varsity Blog" at www.post-gazette.com/varsityblog. Mike White: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1975 and Twitter @mwhiteburgh. First Published August 31, 2013 4:15 AM