Upper St. Clair and Sewickley Academy's boys soccer teams will both play for state championships in their respective classifications this weekend after neither won the WPIAL title.
Upper St. Clair lost to section rival Canon-McMillan, 1-0, in the WPIAL Class AAA title game on Nov. 3.
Following the game, many of the Panthers' leaders told the rest of the team to watch as the Big Macs were given their championship trophy and medals. They wanted to use the loss as fuel to spur them on during the state tournament.
"It's unfortunate we lost that game, but sometimes a loss like that can fuel a state tournament run," USC coach Uwe Schneider said. "We knew it was not the end of the season. We used it as motivation for states."
USC (21-2-1) beat Erie McDowell, 6-0, in the first round of the PIAA Class AAA tournament, setting up a rematch with Canon-McMillan. Like the previous time, the Big Macs took a 1-0 lead in the first half, but the difference this time was that USC responded with three goals.
"I actually think we controlled the game more the last time we played them than in the state playoff game, but the difference was we got goals," Schneider said.
USC followed the win against Canon-McMillan with a 1-0 win against Delaware Valley in the semifinals on Tuesday, getting a goal from Kevin Muck early in the first half.
It is the second season in a row USC has reached the state championship game. Last season, USC lost, 1-0, to Conestoga in the final. The Panthers have 12 players back from that team and Schneider said that experience should pay dividends.
"It will help keep down the jitters," Schneider said. "Not all of the 12 played for us last year, but they still were part of the experience and know what to expect."
In the final at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Hersheypark Stadium, Upper St. Clair will meet West Lawn Wilson (25-2-1), the third-place finisher from District 3. One of West Lawn's two losses this season was a 1-0 defeat against Peters Township at the East-West Classic at the start of the season. The Panthers went 0-1-1 against Peters Township this season.
"From what I've heard, they are a big, physical team," Schneider said. "They play a 4-4-2 with two big, strong guys at the top. I think we can match up with anyone physically if that's how they want to play."
Upper St. Clair will be looking for its third state title, having won back-to-back championships in 2003-04.
Sewickley will also be looking for its third state championship at 7:30 tonight when it faces Mountain View at Hersheypark Stadium.
The Panthers will be making their first appearance in the state championship match since winning the PIAA Class A title in 2007. The Panthers also won the PIAA Class AA title in 1997.
Sewickley advanced to the PIAA Class A final on Tuesday with a 3-0 win against Biglerville, getting goals from Jake Mulholland, Anthony Stinson and J.P. Bowell.
Mountain View (17-0), meanwhile, was a 3-2 winner against defending PIAA Class A state champion New Hope-Solebury Tuesday.
Sewickley coach James Boone said Tuesday after his game that he didn't know much about Mountain View, but expects a tough matchup.
"They were winning pretty convincingly until [Tuesday], when they had a pretty tough game," Boone said. "The teams from the East are usually pretty strong and well-coached. It will be a tough game."
Mountain View has scored 14 goals in their state tournament wins but will be facing a Sewickley team that had one of the top offenses in the WPIAL this season, having scored 81 goals in 23 games this season.
But the defense has been just as strong for the Panthers this season. Sewickley has given up just six goals all season, including the state tournament, Sewickley has allowed just one goal, on a penalty kick against Mercer in the first round.
The defense is led by senior defenders Rob Nogay and Max Proie and goalkeeper Hayden Moyer.
"Our defense has been very strong," Boone said. "We've been very consistent. We're not making mental mistakes. And when we get our chances offensively, we're putting them away."
Sewickley will enter the championship match with a 21-1-1 record. The only loss came against Greensburg Central Catholic in the WPIAL Class A semifinal. Since that game, Sewickley has outscored its opponents 10-1.
"We could have said enough is enough, we didn't win the WPIAL title and the season is over," Boone said. "But we didn't. Our players are working just as hard now as they did when the season started. I always tell them, 'Nothing is ever handed to you.' I'm proud of them."
Boone said if his players can handle their nerves early in Friday's game and do what they are supposed to do throughout, Sewickley will add a third title to its mantle.
"If we do what we are supposed to do, get a few lucky bounces and finish our chances, I think we will pull out a state title," Boone said.