Ever the perfectionist, Jim Render stood near midfield with his arms crossed and a flat facial expression.
His Upper St. Clair team had just completed an outright dominant victory against surprising Penn Hills and when asked what he believed about his team, he paused for a brief moment.
"Well, I think our defense is very good," Render said before stopping mid-sentence. "Although they completed some passes that bothered me."
Upper Saint Clair 35, Penn Hills 0
USC takes on Penn Hills in Friday night football action. (Video by John Heller; 9/21/2013)
Though their coach is harder to please than most, the Panthers were able to impress enough people with nothing more than a quick look at the scoreboard.
Behind an overpowering and balanced rushing attack, visiting Upper St. Clair scored on its first three possessions to build a big halftime lead that set the tone for a 35-0 rout Friday night in a game pitting two of the top teams thus far in the Class AAAA Southeastern Conference.
"We knew that we wanted to make a statement because this [was] a 3-0 team," Upper St. Clair quarterback Joe Repischak said. "This is a big win for us, a big statement win."
Leading a Panthers offense that was never forced to punt, Repischak rushed for 37 yards on five carries, three of which went for touchdowns. Running back Trevor Morrow had a game-high 114 rushing yards as Upper St. Clair finished with 315 rushing yards against an Indians defense playing without leading tackler Joe Navari.
Penn Hills, which found early success this season with a run-based offense headlined by quarterback Billy Kisner, was held to 41 rushing yards, many of which came late in the game. In the first half alone, the Panthers outgained the Indians (3-1) on the ground, 169-0.
A methodical 76-yard touchdown drive began the scoring for the Panthers. It gave a glimpse of what the rest of the night would bring for the Upper St. Clair offense -- a variety of running backs moving through gaping holes created by an offensive line that almost always had its way.
The Panthers added touchdowns on their next two possessions, both of which concluded with rushing touchdowns from Repischak.
Opening the second half with the ball, Upper St. Clair went on a drive that lasted 8:30 and was punctuated by a 1-yard touchdown run from running back Mac Pope to increase a lead that already seemed out of reach.
"I thought we were good, but I thought this game would tell us something," Render said. "I don't want to gloat, but I was very pleased with my coaching staff. It was one of our finest hours of preparation and the kids executed."
For the Indians -- who got off to their first 3-0 start since 2005 -- it was a disappointing performance in an opportunity to make a statement against the top-ranked team in Class AAAA.
In the decisive first half, what had been an explosive offense recorded only three first downs -- all of them, uncharacteristically enough, through the air. The Indians did not get their first rushing first down until late in the third quarter and did not advance past the Upper St. Clair 35-yard line until the final minute.
Kisner did most of his damage through the air, more than doubling his season passing total with 108 yards and improving his completion percentage by more than 18 points.
With the shutout, the Upper St. Clair defense has not allowed a point since a season-opening victory Aug. 30 against Woodland Hills.
Though his team fell short in a game considered a measuring stick for his players, Penn Hills coach John Peterman knows the Indians are still a work in progress, one that will have time to improve and learn from what happened Friday.
"Their ranking is what they deserve," Peterman said of Upper St. Clair. "They're a veteran football team, a well-coached football team, a disciplined team.
"They deserve where they're at, but I believe, in the end, we'll be getting better through the season and make a run at it later."hsfootball
Craig Meyer: email@example.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG. First Published September 21, 2013 4:00 AM