With less than five minutes remaining in its WPIAL quarterfinal game against North Allegheny, Upper St. Clair was in an unfamiliar position.
The top-ranked team in Class AAAA was trailing by a field goal and its customarily stingy defense had already allowed 23 points after not giving up more than 13 in a game this season.
Offensively, the team's primary threat, running back Trevor Morrow, could only stand on the sideline and watch because of an injury.
So, with a suddenly porous defense and without their leading rusher, the Panthers turned to their relatively overlooked quarterback to lead them one step closer to Heinz Field. And with the season in the balance, senior Joe Repischak came through.
Repischak, who entered the game with just four touchdown passes and no 200-plus yard performances this season, had 300 total yards (257 passing, 43 rushing) and four touchdowns (two passing) to lead Upper St. Clair past North Allegheny, 41-23, Friday night at Baldwin.
The loss marked the end of a run at four consecutive WPIAL championships for the Tigers, who had to replace 19 starters from 2012.
"My message at halftime was this -- keep competing," Upper St. Clair coach Jim Render said. "We didn't play a particularly good first half, but they did what I asked them to do. They kept competing and good things happened."
For an Upper St. Clair defense that dominated the regular season, holding opponents to an average of 4.3 points per game, the start to the game was unnerving.
Led by quarterback Cage Galupi, North Allegheny easily moved up the field, going 70 yards in six plays, a drive ended by a 5-yard touchdown pass from Galupi to Elijah Zeise not even three minutes into the game.
The Panthers (11-0) responded with consecutive, prompt possessions that encompassed only nine plays, but produced two rushing touchdowns to take a 13-7 lead by the end of the first.
After a Tigers' field goal, Upper St. Clair got inside the North Allegheny 10, but Zeise intercepted a Repischak pass to give the Tigers (7-4) the ball with slightly more than two minutes remaining. From there, North Allegheny briskly moved up the field and got a 9-yard touchdown pass from Galupi with 36 seconds left in the half.
Without Morrow, who suffered an injury after rushing for 59 yards and a touchdown in the first half, the Panthers took to the air in the final 24 minutes. On the second offensive play of the half, Repischak found a wide-open Ben Southorn, who scampered untouched from near midfield for a 76-yard touchdown.
After the Tigers cut the lead to 23-20 seven minutes later, Repischak, yet again, responded, this time connecting with Dustin Hess on a 31-yard touchdown. From there, Upper St. Clair would not trail.
A 40-yard run from Marcus Galie set up a 2-yard touchdown run from Repischak on the next play. Just 42 seconds later, Upper St. Clair recovered a blocked punt in the North Allegheny end zone.
The Tigers played the second half without Zeise, who finished with seven catches for 121 yards and a touchdown, but separated his shoulder in the second. Starting in his second game of the season, Galupi finished with 288 passing yards and three touchdowns.
"I'm ecstatic and proud of them," North Allegheny coach Art Walker said. "When you replace 19 starters and you talk about a group of kids that have come that long of a way and people didn't consider them to be in the game tonight ... [Upper] St. Clair knows they got a game."
For Upper St. Clair, it marks the third consecutive trip to the Class AAAA semifinals.
And though it did not come in customary fashion, at least by this season's standards, it was enough to keep the hope of a WPIAL championship alive.
"We wanted to win for a lot of reasons," Render said. "It's a tournament and it's not an easy tournament and they were standing in the way."
Craig Meyer: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.