When Upper St. Clair won its first boys state soccer title in 2003, the Panthers didn't win a section or WPIAL title.
This season, USC also came up short in its quest to win a section or district title. But just like nine years ago, the Panthers held up the PIAA Class AAA trophy in Hershey.
USC's Doug Hapeman scored less than 20 minutes into Saturday's championship game against Wilson West Lawn (25-3-1) and the Panthers (22-2-1) maintained that lead the rest of the game to win its third boys state soccer title in school history
The Panthers also won the PIAA Class AAA title in 2004.
"This year reminded me a lot of 2003," said Panthers coach Uwe Schneider, who has been on the coaching staff since 2000 and been the head coach since 2002.
"We didn't win a section title that year either, and we lost in the semifinals of WPIAL. But we always believed."
The Panthers had just one loss and one tie during the regular season, but both came against Section 5-AAA rival Peters Township, which won the section title.
Another Section 5-AAA team, Canon-McMillan, knocked out Peters in the WPIAL semifinals, then the Big Macs also took down Upper St. Clair in the WPIAL championship game, 1-0, denying the Panthers their second consecutive district title.
Upper St. Clair opened the PIAA Class AAA tournament with a 6-0 victory against McDowell, setting up a rematch with Canon-McMillan in the state quarterfinals.
Like the first game, the Big Macs jumped out to a 1-0 lead, but unlike the first game, USC was able to get the ball past James Hathaway. Kevin Muck, Troye Kiernan and Ethan Dysert each had a goal to send the Panthers to the semifinals with a 3-1 win.
Then Muck tallied the only goal in a 1-0 win over Delaware Valley as USC advanced to the PIAA state title game for the second season in a row.
In 2011, the Panthers fell, 1-0, to an unbeaten Conestoga team in the PIAA title match. But early in Saturday's game, Schneider felt a lot better about his team's chances.
"We started out a lot better this year than against Conestoga," Schneider said. "Last year, it seemed like we didn't know what to do out there early in the game. This time, we took control early on. There were some early jitters, but we did really well."
Hapeman, the lone goal scorer Saturday, was playing a different position. A sophomore defenseman, he usually plays as a right back, but switched with center back Wes Burdette so that Hapeman could use his height to match up with Wilson's Adam Bainbridge.
"Our adjustments seemed to be working," Schneider said.
It also helped that Joe Conlon was the last line of defense. The Panthers' senior goalkeeper notched his third shutout of the postseason, preserving the win with a key save in the final minute.
Schneider said Conlon has been an underrated part of the team's success this season.
"He had a tremendous season," Schneider said. "Honest to God, he was one of the key reasons we were as successful as we were this season.
"I don't think he gets enough recognition for his play. I know he was an All-WPIAL selection, but he was an all-state player."
Whatever the label, Conlon is a state champion goalkeeper and the Panthers are a state champion team.
"For me, personally, I'm relieved and I'm really, really happy for the players," Schneider said. "It means the world to them. They've been working toward this goal all season long."