Upper St. Clair’s 28-27 loss to Canon-McMillan a year ago is not one that can be forgotten easily.
The Panthers rallied from a 14-point deficit with under three minutes to play to knot the score at 21-21 and send the game into overtime. After allowing a touchdown to Canon-McMillan, USC quickly answered to bring the score to 28-27.
Head coach Jim Render decided to go for the win, but a pass attempt to receiver Steve Lias was broken up, dealing the Panthers a heartbreaking loss.
On Friday night, USC hopes to erase the taste of that bitter defeat when it takes on Canon-McMillan as part of Nike’s 5 Days 2 Friday National Road Tour.
Nike 5 Days 2 Friday Road Tour - Week4 Day3
Just like in the 2008 clash, Render and the Panthers will have to keep a watchful eye on Canon-McMillan’s star duo of Mike Hull and Chad Hagan. Both play linebacker but will also line up on offense; Hull is committed to Penn State, Hagan to Ohio State. In fact, it was Hull’s offensive outburst that prompted Render to decide on trying a two-point conversion.
"There was no use giving Michael Hull another opportunity to score," Redman told the Observer-Reporter after the game.
This go-round, USC already knows what to expect.
"(We need) to shut down the big, key players, Mike Hull and Chad Hagan," said Tim Kitka, who plays defensive back and receiver for the Panthers. "Hagan is playing with a lot of emotion right now after coming back from having to sit out a couple of games, and Mike Hull has always been strong. So if we shut them down, we should win."
Hagan missed time at the start of the season after undergoing heart surgery over the summer. He appears to be at full strength. Hull, who entered his senior season with 322 career tackles, will once again be a thorn in the Panthers’ side. Render thinks that an unpredictable offensive attack is the optimal way to keep the Big Macs’ defense off-balance.
"I think we have to mix it up. I don’t think we can hang our heads on running plays or passing plays," he said. "We’re capable of doing both."
Calling the shots behind center for USC will be veteran quarterback Alex Park. The 6-foot-2 senior quarterback has thrown for six touchdowns and nearly 500 yards in the team’s first four games.
"He’s an accurate passer and he’s a scrambler," Render said. "He’s been doing very well."
The key to the team’s success could be the offensive line, which exhibits both size and athleticism. It has opened up enough holes to allow the Panthers’ to put up over 30 points per game. Joe Laukatis (6-2, 280) and Gordon (6-2, 230) Mathews are the leaders in the trenches for USC. The duo, both seniors, makes the left side of the offensive line particularly formidable and should create opportunities for running back Jacob Siwicki.
Ultimately, the outcome of the game will likely hinge on whether the Panthers can slow down the Canon-McMillan offense. USC’s defense got the job done in its first three games, but allowed 31 points in a loss last week to Central Catholic.
"We’ve got to really gang-tackle," said Matthews, who also plays on the defensive line. "Just come out, hit hard, and get ready."
Visit the Nike 5 Days 2 Friday Road Tour page.