Jim Render usually doesn't like comparing players. He doesn't like saying who was the best at this and the best at that over his three-plus decades as Upper St. Clair's football coach.
But, when the subject is lineman Ben Huss, it is hard for Render to hold back the superlatives.
"I was just saying to our coaches that if we were to coach another 35 years, I don't know if we would have a lineman as athletic as Ben Huss," Render said.
That's saying a lot, considering Render is in his 35th season and is the winningest coach in WPIAL history with a 371-118-6 record. Huss is a 6-foot-3, 275-pound senior two-way tackle. He is the Panthers' own Big Ben.
"We've had some big linemen before and some good ones," Render said. "We had Ian Park a few years ago and he's starting at Northwestern. But we've never had a linemen as big as [Huss], as athletic as him who can do the things he does."
Upper St. Clair has a number of standouts, including Huss, who have made the Panthers the No. 1 defensive team in the WPIAL, in terms of points allowed. Upper St. Clair has given up only 23 points and two touchdowns. The Panthers had five consecutive shutouts in a row at one point.
Huss has been so good that he is third on the team in tackles with 37 (linebacker Kyle Page leads with 54 and linebacker Jesse Slinger has 40). Huss has four sacks.
"He's the type of kid who when we practice special teams on Thursday, he'll go back and field punts and return them -- and he's very good at it," Render said. "He'll grab a ball and say I'm going to throw this and hit the goal post -- and he'll do it. Those are just things that show how athletic he is for a lineman."
Render believes Huss possibly could play at the Division I college level, but Huss' only offer so far is from Youngstown State, a Division I-AA program. But Huss is like a lot of players on this Upper St. Clair team. They are excellent on the high school level, but are not being recruited heavily by Division I colleges.
One of Upper St. Clair's other top players on defense has talent in his genes. Defensive back Morgan Lee is fourth on the team in tackles with 36 and also is averaging 22.9 yards on punt returns. Lee, a 5-11, 185-pound senior, is the cousin of former USC star Sean Lee, who now plays linebacker for the NFL's Dallas Cowboys.
• Aliquippa and Thomas Jefferson have clinched playoff berths for the 19th consecutive season, the longest streaks in the WPIAL.
• Aliquippa also will be in the playoffs for the 37th time overall, the most in WPIAL history. It's likely that Jeannette will be tied with Aliquippa for the most playoff appearances, but the Jayhawks haven't clinched a spot yet.
• Woodland Hills has clinched a spot for the 18th consecutive year while McKeesport is in for the 16th year in a row. Rochester has the fourth-longest streak at 16 consecutive years, but things aren't looking good for the Rams to extend the streak. They are 2-4 in the Class A Big Seven Conference.
• Mt. Lebanon is third on the all-time list of playoff appearances with 33, but the Blue Devils are 2-4 in Southeastern Conference play and in danger of not making the playoffs. Upper St. Clair will be in the playoffs for the 32nd year and Penn Hills also is trying to make it for the 32nd time.
When it comes to surprise stories in WPIAL football this season, much of the talk has centered around West Shamokin, Avella and even Summit Academy. But also count Kittanning among the teams having one of the most memorable seasons in a while.
Kittanning is 7-0 for the first time since 1997 and the Wildcats are flirting with going undefeated in the regular season for only the second time. The other time was 1976 when the Wildcats were 10-0 before losing to Brentwood, 22-16, in the quarterfinals of the WPIAL Class AA playoffs.
But to go undefeated, Kittanning might have to beat another undefeated team in the regular-season finale. Shady Side Academy also is 7-0, and Kittanning plays at Shady Side Academy next Friday.
One of the big reasons for Kittanning's success this season has been its "Boy Toy." At 5 feet 6, 140 pounds, Braydon Toy is one of the smallest quarterbacks in the WPIAL. But Toy, a junior, is averaging 243 yards offense a game. He has completed 60 of 79 passes (76 percent) for 1,109 yards, and also rushed for 591 yards on 83 attempts.
This is the second year Kittanning coach Frank Fabian has used the spread offense and it's Toy's first year as a starter. But another reason Kittanning is averaging 41.3 points is 5-10, 165-pound freshman running back Zane Dudek, who has rushed for 520 yards on 40 attempts.
Also, Nick Bowers leads the team with 28 receptions and has 286 yards rushing.
For the record
Greensburg Central Catholic soccer player Frannie Crouse finished the regular season with 41 goals and is third on the WPIAL all-time list with 183 career goals.
Although Greensburg Central Catholic is expected to make a long playoff run, Crouse still seems like a longshot to break the WPIAL record. she needs 22 goals to reach the mark of 205 held by Steel Valley's Jess Strom. Charleroi's Shellie Cotton is second at 199.
Crouse and teammate Malea Fabean are the most potent goal-scoring tandem of all time in the WPIAL. Fabean has 141 career goals and needs 17 to reach the top 10 in WPIAL history.
Keystone Oaks is naming its gym after David Kling, a 1965 alumnus who won more than 300 matches as Keystone Oaks' wrestling coach.
Kling retired in 2003 as one of the winningest coaches in WPIAL wrestling history with a 30-year record of 381-152-2. He also was an assistant coach in football, track and golf at the school and is a member of a few different Halls of Fame.
He was inducted in the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame Western Chapter in 2006.
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 October 17, 2013 8:00 PM