George Novak ended an interview with a few reporters on the field and immediately yelled for his grandkids. This grandpa is going back to the grandest of stages.
Novak, the only coach in Woodland Hills High School football history, is taking the Wolverines back to the WPIAL Class AAAA championship after they defeated Upper St. Clair, 28-21, in a semifinal game Friday night at Baldwin.
Woodland Hills had a goal-line stand late in the game to preserve the win and give Novak a ticket to his 11th title game as coach -- 10 with Woodland Hills and one with Steel Valley. Woodland Hills (10-2) will play in the championship next Saturday at Heinz Field against Central Catholic.
Woodland Hills 28, Upper St. Clair 21
Woodland Hills takes on Upper St. Clair in the WPIAL AAAA semifinals Friday night. (Video by Matt Freed; 11/15/2013)
Novak, 63, is a reserved coach, but this championship stuff still excites him.
"You work for this and try to get better every week," Novak said. "Hopefully, you do things the right way coming down the stretch."
It was the second consecutive year Woodland Hills ended Upper St. Clair's season with a semifinal win at Baldwin. A year ago it came a little easier. This one was like a basketball game with momentum swings and runs of points from both sides. And it ended with a pressing defense and a block.
Upper St. Clair came back from a 28-7 third-quarter deficit and sliced the lead to 28-21. Woodland Hills running back Miles Sanders caught a short pass, but fumbled the ball away. and Upper St. Clair's Ben Southorn recovered at his 48 with 3:42 left. Southorn also had an interception earlier.
On the first play after his fumble recovery, Southorn caught a 42-yard pass from Joe Repischak to put the ball at the Woodland Hills 10. A first-down pass fell incomplete. Steve Mackowick gained 8 yards on second down, but Mac Pope was stopped for no gain on third.
On fourth down, Upper St. Clair coach Jim Render called for a run by Repischak. He took the snap, but Woodland Hills' Daechaud Ausbrooks blitzed up the middle and had Repischak's leg. Repischak tried to throw a pass into the end zone, but it was batted down by Trevon Mathis with 2:35 left. Woodland Hills ran out the clock.
"He's come up big for us all year. He's our leading tackler," Novak said of Ausbrooks.
Upper St. Clair coach Jim Render said: "That play was a designed run, and I'd have to see the film. But I don't know how that [Ausbrooks] kid got through there so fast. He really disrupted the play."
Woodland Hills disrupted Upper St. Clair's plans for a 12th championship appearance under Render. The Panthers, the No. 1 seed for the playoffs, finished 11-1. They were dogged by injuries the past few weeks. Leading rusher Trevor Morrow was questionable, but he played. Fullback Mac Pope played a little after missing a few games with a knee injury.
But Upper St. Clair lost a few other players to injuries.
"I've never been through anything like this," said Render, the winningest coach in WPIAL history.
"We had a lot of kids fight through things. I think Morgan Lee played the second half with a separated shoulder."
Upper St. Clair had three big turnovers in the first half and also a botched punt snap that set up a score.
"We gave it away in the first half," Render said.
Woodland Hills' Mathis also was a big key to the win -- and he impacted things with big plays. After Upper St. Clair took a 7-0 lead, Mathis caught an 80-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Harry Randall, who finished 3 of 10 for 118 yards.
Randall scored on a 4-yard run and Sanders on a 1-yard run to make it 21-7 at halftime. Sanders, who missed the past two games with an ankle injury, finished with 55 yards on 17 carries.
Mathis had a dazzling kickoff return to start the second half as he ran 96 yards for a touchdown.
"They have some marvelous athletes," Render said. "That kickoff, we had about six guys who should've made the tackle."
Mathis said: "We knew big plays and special teams would be the key. It was the same thing as last year when we beat them."
Upper St. Clair's second-half touchdowns came in the third quarter on Southorn's 29-yard pass from Repischak and Repischak's 8-yard run.
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.