USC's backup QB engineers stunning upset of No. 1-ranked Central Catholic
Upper St. Clair quarterback Pete Coughlin carries Friday against Central Catholic. Coughlin started the game in place of an injured Dakota Conwell.
Upper St. Clair's A.J. McGuire carries as he's defended by Central Catholic's Leo Loughery last night.
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Jim Render has a number of conference championships, a handful of WPIAL titles and a couple of PIAA championships in his overflowing basket of coaching wins.
But this 354th victory, this upset win, this improbable triumph had Render fighting back tears.
Upper St. Clair got a memorable performance from its backup quarterback and knocked off powerful Central Catholic, 28-14, in the WPIAL Class AAAA semifinals Friday night at Chartiers Valley.
"There's no question, it's one of the greatest wins," Render said.
Then the winningest coach in WPIAL history had to compose himself as he got emotional.
"You don't know how this team lifted me up this week," Render said.
The win might have been surprising to some because Central Catholic has been the Post-Gazette's No. 1-ranked Class AAAA team in the WPIAL and state since the preseason and also ranked in the top 25 in national polls. But what Upper St. Clair overcame to win was downright shocking.
Upper St. Clair (11-1) played without star quarterback-linebacker Dakota Conwell, the heart of the team and a Pitt recruit who had more than 2,000 yards of offense the past two seasons. Conwell injured an ankle in the game against Erie McDowell and was not in uniform. He wore a protective boot and watched from the sideline.
But for Pete's sake, Upper St. Clair's offense didn't miss a beat. The offensive line was tremendous, and the 5-foot-9, 155-pound substitute quarterback was beyond tremendous. Pete Coughlin, a junior making the first start of his career, was so nervous that he got sick twice in the first quarter.
Then, he caused a migraine for Central Catholic (11-1), which lost in the semifinals for the second year in a row. The smallish Coughlin rushed for 209 yards on 21 carries and completed 4 of 8 passes for 61 yards.
That is almost 300 yards for the boyish-looking kid who looks like the neighbor you take fishing. Not the kid you ask to win a game in place of a stud player like Conwell.
"This feels unreal. It's surreal," Coughlin said, surrounded by a number of reporters. "I've never done an interview before."
Until Friday night, his biggest claim to fame was that he was the scout team MVP a year ago. But he tortured Central Catholic's defense with his quickness, speed and improvisation. When asked if he could have expected to run for more than 200 yards against Central Catholic, Coughlin gave a boyish grin and said: "Not in my wildest dreams. This experience is just unreal. I can't believe it's happening."
Coughlin's biggest -- and most exciting play -- came after Central Catholic had taken a 14-13 lead on Perry Hills' 14-yard run on a quarterback draw with 11:56 left.
On the first play after the ensuing kickoff, Coughlin took off running to his right. He eluded a tackler and ran toward the right sideline. Then, he stopped and came all the way back across the field, dodging a few more tacklers before taking off on a 73-yard touchdown run that gave Upper St. Clair the lead for good.
"I saw O.J. [Simpson] run 99 yards in the Rose Bowl in 1969," Render said. "He made a couple cuts, too. That run ranks right up there."
Render then paused before adding, "Are you allowed to talk about O.J.?"
Besides Coughlin, the talk of Upper St. Clair's team was the offensive and defensive lines. The offensive line of Jack Schwaba, Jake Radziukinas, Ian Park, Mike Mondzelewski, Austin Park and Jared Hess pushed around Central Catholic's defense as the Panthers had 304 yards rushing and dominated time of possession.
The Upper St. Clair defensive front played a huge role in holding Central Catholic to 141 total yards, including only 37 on the ground. Damion Jones-Moore, who finished his career as the fourth-leading rusher in WPIAL Class AAAA history with 4,747 yards, was held to 33 on 15 carries.
But the game started like Central Catholic would have its way with Upper St. Clair.
Jones-Moore ran 58 yards with the opening kickoff and Hills, who finished 9 of 19 for 104 yards, threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Nixon.
That was one of the few times Central Catholic's offense moved with efficiency.
Upper St. Clair tied it, 7-7, early in the second quarter on A.J. McGuire's 8-yard touchdown run, and took a 10-7 lead late in the half on Killian Mulkern's 24-yard field goal.
Mulkern added a 21-yard field goal with 5:15 left in the third to put Upper St. Clair ahead, 13-7.
An Upper St. Clair fumble set up Central Catholic's go-ahead touchdown, but Coughlin answered with his long run, and then he clinched the game with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wilcox with 3:35 left.
If anything, this game proved Upper St. Clair was not a one-man team with Conwell.
"We have some good players, some Division I college recruits," Render said. "We have a lot of fine high school players, too."
First Published November 19, 2011 12:50 am