By Matt Popchock


It’s cold, it’s rainy, and it’s dreary, but it’s also time to really get excited about high school football in western Pennsylvania. We’ve reached the midpoint of the 2011 WPIAL regular season, as marked by the beginning of conference play in the Great Southern Conference of Class AAAA, the smallest section in the district.

Tonight “Mr. High School Sports” will be providing updates throughout the game as the Upper St. Clair Panthers host their Great Southern rivals, the Baldwin Highlanders. USC is coming off a come-from-behind win over West Allegheny in Week 4, while Baldwin also notched an impressive victory over a Class AAA opponent, knocking off that “other” team on Clairton Boulevard, the Thomas Jefferson Jaguars.

The Panthers and Highlanders are both 3-1 overall; USC’s hard-nosed, but venerable head coach Jim Render comes in with 346 career wins. He is the winningest coach, retired or active, in WPIAL history, and entered this season third all-time on the PIAA charts. Baldwin is coached by the veteran Jim Wehner, who has done a solid job helping a program that had fallen on hard times get back toward its glory of yesteryear.

In order to pull of the upset, Baldwin must contain USC’s dual-threat quarterback, Dakota Conwell, who has been recruited by Pitt as a linebacker/safety. Conwell has racked up nearly 800 total yards of offense this season, including 335 rushing, and has scored eight times.

Meanwhile, another deft runner, Dorian Brown, will be the focal point of Baldwin’s offense. Brown enters Week 5 as one of the top ten rushers in the WPIAL with 651 yards to go with seven total TD’s, including a district-high 278 yards against TJ last Friday.

Here’s what Brown had to say to “Mr. High School Sports” earlier this week:

Felt good to win a game against a high-profile opponent like TJ that people didn’t expect them to win…key to beating the Jaguars in Week 4 was that the team, as a whole, never gave up…on the 80-yard, game-winning touchdown run in the 4th quarter, saw a hole and just tried to hit it…feels like the team now has momentum going into its conference schedule…Upper St. Clair will be a tough matchup on both side of the ball, and team has practiced particularly hard this week, though Coach Wehner has been pushing them hard every week…expects a tough, low-scoring game, and a close game, which could benefit his own team…work ethic of the team, as a whole, has improved the last couple years…Coach Wehner has been pushing them academically as well.

A lot of good stuff there from a pretty good, and perhaps under-rated, player. More to come…

7:32 – Normally we would be kicking off at this time, but the start of the game has been pushed back about ten more minutes to make room for homecoming festivities, including a special ceremony honoring the new inductees into the Upper St. Clair Athletic Hall of Fame.

A couple Upper St. Clair natives are making big names for themselves in the world of football as we speak; Kirk Ferentz is the head coach of your Iowa Hawkeyes, and Sean Lee is a starting linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys, who are coming off a win on Monday Night Football.

By the way, Lanny will hate me for writing this, but it’s kind of funny nevertheless…when he opened our “UPMC Centers for Rehab Services Game of the Week” coverage on 93.7 The Fan, he accidentally said ‘Pirates’ (boy, that takes me back).

Old habits die hard…

7:37 – Still waiting for both teams to take the field. A steady wind is blowing inward, and a pretty steady rain is falling as the USC marching band forms rank.

7:38 – Baldwin takes the field…and we already have our first update of the night: Seneca Valley leads North Allegheny 7-0 as Forrest Barnes scored on a 57-yard TD run just 30 seconds in. Meanwhile, Fox Chapel leads Kiski Area 14-7 at the end of the 1st (yay, Josh Miller!).

Speaking of Fox Chapel, senior OL and new Pitt recruit Adam Bisnowaty is scheduled to appear on “The UPMC Centers for Rehab Services High School Football Show” Saturday at 9 A.M.

7:41 – Upper St. Clair takes the field…and we have more updates:

Washington 8-0 over Keystone Oaks (2nd)

Gateway 7-0 over Norwin (1st)

7:42 – Tonight’s referee is named Sam Adams. (The rest I’ll leave up to your imagination.)

On a serious note, you know it’s a Lanny Frattare broadcast when you know what the entire officiating crew does for a living. He had biographical info ready to go on every official…something I never hear anywhere else. I admire his professionalism, and his respect for his fellow man.

7:44 – USC kicking off from right to left on your computer or mobile device.

7:46 – Brown lined up as wildcat QB and kept for 5 yards. Highlanders using multiple quarterbacks, as they typically do.

7:48 – Update: Gateway and Washington have each opened up 14-0 leads; NA has tied Seneca 7-7 on a 13-yard QB keeper by Mack Leftwich midway through the 1st.

7:50 – Touchdown USC! After a Baldwin 3-and-out, the Panthers go roughly half the field, aided by a personal foul, and Dakota Conwell scrambles for a 24-yard score, his 9th total TD of the year. Great job by Conwell not just to sell the run fake, but to keep his footing as he hit the hole and got bounced around. Killan Mulkern’s extra point is good…7-0 USC, 9:11 left, 1st quarter.

7:52 – Update: Gateway now leading Norwin 21-0 with still 5 minutes left in the 1st.

7:53 – Rocky start for the Highlanders, as a pitch-out is fumbled, and Brown has to fall on it for a 12-yard loss on Baldwin’s first ensuing offensive play.

7:55 – Touchdown Panthers! What an incredible 65-yard punt return to the house by Mike Wilcox! He ran up the far sideline, and, at around the 10 yard line, somehow, some way, spun out of a sure tackle to score otherwise untouched. Great vision, great job of following the wedge. USC clicking early, up 10-0, 6:55 left, 1st quarter, as Mulkern converts.

USC getting set to kick. Freshman QB Doug Altivella has hit on two of his first three passes for Baldwin, but the Highlanders’ offense has been held to 2 net yards.

8:00 – Senior Zack Denardo, the third different QB used by Baldwin, keeps for 9 yards and Baldwin’s first 1st down.

8:02 – Updates, as Baldwin punts for a third time, following back-to-back pre-snap penalties (and Wilcox almost fumbles it right back):

Blackhawk 13 Hopewell 0 (1st)

Ford City 0 Freeport 0 (end 1st)

Chartiers Valley 7 Belle Vernon 3 (1st) (as seen on ROOT Sports)

Franklin Regional 28 Derry 3 (half)

Gateway 28 Norwin 0 (2nd)

NA 14 Seneca 7 — Leftwich 41-yd TD pass to Brendan Coniker w/ 4:18 left in 1st

McKeesport 20 Latrobe 0 (end 1st)

8:07 – Timeout USC, their first. Panthers near midfield up 10-0, 1:39 left, 1st quarter.

Update: Washington leads Keystone Oaks 20-3 at half. Look out for the Little Prexies…they’re doing a heck of a job against a great offense thus far.

8:09 – Conwell’s first pass attempt is a 45-yarder complete to Wilcox right down the middle. Nice grab by Wilcox. 1st and goal.

8:10 – Touchdown Panthers! They’re running away with it early, as Conwell runs in over the right side from 11 yards out–once again, bouncing off would-be tacklers, and showing impressive balance. Mulkern’s kick is good. 21-0 USC, 25 seconds left, 1st quarter.

USC ran the ball really well on that series, as Northwestern recruits Ian Park and Jack Schwaba pushed around the Highlanders up front. This team has a toughness that you need to be a WPIAL champion.

8:13 – Dorian Brown ends the 1st quarter with a 5 yard run. Baldwin needs him to spark its offense, as the Highlanders trail 21-0 after one.

8:14 – Updates:

It’s the end of the first quarter…and Gateway has already mercy-ruled Norwin, up 42-0.

Chartiers Valley leads Belle Vernon 7-3 after one.

8:16 – A 58-yard gain by Brown, bouncing it out to the left. Showed nice legs on that play. That’s exactly the B-12 shot Baldwin needed.

DB Steve Gannon walking off with some assistance after an apparent minor left leg injury…

8:18 – Great last-ditch tackle by Zack Deitrick to prevent Brown from getting loose. On 4th down…Pete Coughlin breaks up a pass intended for Justin Zinsmeister, as USC’s defense bends, but does not break.

8:21 – Update: Mt. Pleasant up 14-7 on GCC with 5:00 left, 2nd quarter.

8:22 – Fumble-itis is contagious, as Wilcox recovers a bad lateral. Wilcox, who came in as USC’s leading receiver, is responsible for both of Conwell’s completions.

8:25 – Tim Witenske on to punt for USC, and it’s a beauty…51 net yards, no return.

8:26 – Updates:

NA 28 Seneca 7 (2nd) — 4-yd TD run by Nick Passodelis

Fox Chapel 14 Kiski Area 9 (half)

Gateway 48 Norwin 0 (1st half)

Blackhawk 27 Hopewell 0 (2nd qtr) — big upset in the works here, though I guess nothing is ever really an upset in the Parkway Conference…

8:29 – Update: Mt. Pleasant and GCC tied, 14-14, at half.

8:30 – Snap sailed over the head of Wilcox, who recovered and threw the ball away. The rain may be affecting ball control, as Pete Coughlin recovers a punt at the Baldwin 30 fumbled by Jeremy Joyce.

4 punts, 1 turnover on downs, 1 fumble lost by the Highlanders…

Ian Park limping off the field under his own power…

8:32 – Touchdown USC! It doesn’t matter if they don’t have their D-1 propsect, because that line still drove the pile for Zack Deitrick, who snuck through the left side and sprinted easily into the end zone for a 32-yard run. Mulkern’s kick ricochets off the left upright and gets through (hey, when you’re playing well, you get those breaks), and USC goes up 28-0 over Baldwin…2:23 left, 2nd quarter.

USC’s offense, which led the conference with 153 points coming in, has been a model of efficiency in this first half, while Baldwin, a team averaging over 20 points per game, has been at the polar end of that spectrum.

8:36 – Updates:

N.A. leads Seneca 28-14 at half

Gateway up 55-0 over Norwin

Chartiers Valley leads Belle Vernon 15-10 midway thru 2nd

Greensburg-Salem up 35-0 on Laurel Highlands at half

8:39 – Baldwin punts for a fifth time after a 3-and-out with 39 seconds till the break.

8:40 – Touchdown USC! Dakota Conwell has the hat trick, as he takes off up the middle and turns on the afterburner for a 51-yard score, thanks to great block by Alex Garwig. Mulkern converts…35-0 Panthers, 6 seconds left. Pitt fans, you’re going to love this kid…who now has 11 TD’s on the year.

8:42 – Updates:

Penn-Trafford 26 Connellsville 0 (half)

Gateway 62 Norwin 0 (half)

Freeport 7 Ford City 0 (half)

Not a lot of barn-burners this particular Friday–not yet, anyway–but that Allegheny Conference meeting between the Jackets and Ford City looks interesting. Those could be the two best teams in that conference, regardless of finish, and the Sabers’ defense, though it usually flies under the radar, is always tough.

8:45 – Anyway, it’s halftime here at Panther Stadium, where USC leads comfortably, 35-0, over Baldwin in this Great Southern lid-lifter.

Jim Wehner is doing the right thing; Dorian Brown is his bell cow, and when you’re fighting and uphill battle, you put the ball in the hands of your best player, and Brown has shown impressive grit and playmaking ability in this first half. Once again, he has been Baldwin’s biggest positive. But other than a couple nice tackles by Joyce from his DB spot, that’s the only real positive in that first half for Baldwin…oh yeah, and their band sounds pretty good. USC has dominated this game physically, and the Panthers are simply out-executing the Highlanders.

First half stats (unofficial):

Conwell: 107 rush yds, 3 rush TD, on 8 carries; 2-of-5 for 56 yds, both to Wilcox

Brown: 18 rush for 93 yds, one fumble (not lost); 1 catch for -3 yds

8:57 – USC boys’ basketball coach Danny Holzer introduces the homecoming court. Meanwhile, some updates from around the WPIAL:

Clairton 70 Avella 0 (2nd)

Blackhawk 30 Hopewell 0 (half)…Rushel Shell, in case you’re (still) curious, has 66 yards on 17 carries.

Fort Cherry 7 Brentwood 7 (about to start 2nd half)

9:03 – The second half, which gets underway shortly, will begin with the PIAA mercy rule in effect. Under that rule, once a team accumulates a lead of 35 or more points, the clock runs nonstop, and is only halted for the following reasons: an injury, a coach’s/officials’ timeout, or a score.

(Meanwhile, special thanks to the USC Athletic Department for the Chick-Fil-A spread at halftime. A fed media is a happy media.)

9:06 – Updates:

Clairton up 76-0 on Avella at half. No, don’t adjust your screen, because you’re reading that correctly.

N.A. up 35-14 on Seneca Valley early 2nd half; Nick Passodelis adds 6-yd TD run

Central Catholic up 23-0 over Penn Hills at half

Erie McDowell 21 Pine-Richland 10 (3rd)

Fox Chapel 21 Kiski Area 9 (3rd)

9:11 – Touchdown USC! The Dakota Conwell Show continues, as he fumbles the first snap from scrimmages, but still finds a wide-open Carleton Gibson for a 65-yard TD pass. Mulkern has six now, and the Panthers lead 42-0 just 44 seconds into the 3rd quarter. 12 total TD’s this year for Conwell, four on the night.

Interesting that USC would pass during a running clock. Hey, at least they know they can still do it…

9:14 – Update: Central Catholic now up 29-0 on Penn Hills, as the Vikings take the 2nd half kickoff for a score.

9:18 – Looks like Render is emptying his bench. Nick Tancredi carries for the first time tonight, 14 yards for a 1st down, though Zack Deitrick and Dakota Conwell remain in the game.

9:20 – USC goes for it on 4th and inches and A.J. McGuire converts. Panthers’ OL not taking their collective foot off the gas either. Pete Coughlin now at QB for USC.

9:22 – Updates:

N.A. now up 42-14 over Seneca Valley, as Nick Passodelis scores for a third time (late 3rd)

North Hills 42 Hempfield 0 (2nd half)

9:23 – Murphy’s Law, like the PIAA mercy rule, in full effect at Panther Stadium; Baldwin recovers a fumble at its own 20, but on the same play, fumbles it back to USC.

9:24 – End of the 3rd quarter. The 4th quarter clock will run nonstop as well, as Upper St. Clair leads Baldwin 42-0. Dakota Conwell’s night appears to be over with over 200 all-purpose yards and four TD’s, three on the ground.

9:26 – We have our first final, and it’s an important one: Washington beats Keystone Oaks 41-16 in Century Conference play. Meanwhile, Shaler up 34-0 on Butler, and Freeport up 14-3 on Ford City early in the 4th.

9:28 – Freshman Stephon Harris getting a couple carries for Baldwin. Looks like Jim Wehner may be trying to protect his star tailback from unnecessary wear and tear with this game well out of hand.

9:30 – USC still up 42-0 with under 9 minutes to go on a running 4th quarter clock, as the Highlanders try to get the goose egg off the board. Upper St. Clair will go to 1-0 in Great Southern Conference play and 4-1 overall; the Panthers travel to Peters Township in conference action next week. Baldwin will fall to 0-1 in the Great Southern and 3-2 overall; the Highlanders will host Mount Lebanon in conference action next Friday.

Baldwin’s defense, by the way, came into this game averaging under 10 points allowed per game.

USC, which has now inserted backup QB J.J. Conn into the game, is working on its third shutout of the year, after blanking Shaler and Norwin to open the 2011 season. This was an impressive effort by the Panthers’ defense, which it needed after giving up 55 points in its last two games.

9:35 – A few finals:

Greensburg-Salem 41 Laurel Highlands 7

Woodland Hills 28 Altoona 7

Fox Chapel 24 Kiski Area 9

Knoch 42 Hampton 6

9:36 – Gateway, last I heard, leading Norwin 69-0. Once again, a lot of clunkers in Week 5, save for maybe Blackhawk’s probable upset of Hopewell.

A couple more finals:

Hollidaysburg 31 Uniontown 0

Central Valley 51 Moon 20

9:38 – Upper St. Clair makes its third shutout official, beating Baldwin 42-0. More to come…

Post-game thoughts from Dakota Conwell:

Good week of preparation, wanted to go out there tonight and send a message to the rest of the conference. Credit to coaches for pushing them hard, and preaching consistency on offense like the kind they showed tonight. Dad taught him balance–keep your shoulder pads low, keep your feet moving, worked hard in the offseason to get bigger and stronger, and thinks it’s paying off. Offensive line has played inspired football every week. Nice to get the shutout, but they need to get used to playing four quarters of football, because they haven’t done a good enough job finishing games. Not afraid to pass, adapt to opponents, but feels team’s strength is running game. Won’t take Peters Township lightly.

Post-game thoughts from Jim Render:

O-line getting better each week, knew it would take time, even for seniors, to get continuity. Team needs to improve on playing four quarters. Has fun coaching this team because, when they do so, it’s fun to watch. Second-half comeback against West Allegheny was good fuel for this week, but even better fuel was the offense rebounding from a bad, unimpressive practice earlier in the week. Kids took Baldwin seriously because of Baldwin’s upset of USC in Jim Wehner’s first year there, and although this isn’t the best team TJ has fielded recently, that win by Baldwin impressed USC. What most impressed Coach tonight is that everybody made plays. One of the things he harps on is that team hasn’t had a signature win in a while, even after beating West Allegheny last week, and that’s one of their goals (“Nobody’s patting each other on the back just yet.”).

Final stats (unofficial):

Brown: 87 yards rushing on 16 carries; 1 catch for -3 yds; 1 fumble recovered for loss

Conwell: 3-for-6, 121 yds, TD; 107 rush yds on 8 carries, 3 TD

Jim Render is scheduled to appear at 7:40 Saturday morning on “The UPMC Centers for Rehab Services High School Football Show” on 93.7 The Fan.

10:25 – A few final scores before “Mr. High School Sports” hits the road:

Frazier 25 Geibel 8

Highlands 35 Plum 0

Shaler 34 Butler 6

Mars 40 Kittanning 7

TJ 39 E. Forward 0

Ringgold 40 Albert Gallatin 6

N.A. 49 Seneca 28

Shady Side Academy 44 West Shamokin 0 — 39 straight L’s by Shamokin, ties WPIAL record set by Geibel in the 1990’s

Chartiers Valley 36 Belle Vernon 10 (this game will re-air at 11:00 P.M. on ROOT Sports)

Ellwood City 38 Mohawk 7

OLSH 38 Leechburg 16

Chartiers-Houston 66 Bentworth 0

N. Catholic 18 Monessen 0

Freeport 28 Ford City 3

Erie McDowell 28 Pine-Richland 10

Beth-Center 39 California 2

S. Fayette 23 Burgettstown 6

Trinity 22 W. Mifflin 13

UPSET ALERT: Blackhawk 37 Hopewell 13 — Rushel Shell now at 5th all-time on PIAA rushing list, surpassing Honesdale’s Terrin Ash

Rochester 47 Shenango 7

Brentwood 20, Ft. Cherry 19 (a mild eyebrow-raiser)

S. Park 20 McGuffey 7

Beaver 28 Brownsville 6

Central Catholic 36 Penn Hills 6

Clairton 84 Avella 0

(But the Gators did them one better…)

Gateway 85 Norwin 0

Franklin Regional 49 Derry 3

Perry 41 Langley 6

10:32 – UPDATE: Rushel Shell got 109 yards on 26 carries, struggling once again versus Blackhawk, which has been the story of his career…but he still gets his 34th straight 100-yard game, the second-longest streak in U.S. history.

Check out the 11:00 news on KDKA-TV and for a comprehensive rundown of Friday night’s scores.

In the meantime, be sure to visit the “Mr. High School Sports” blog at again soon for more Week 5 coverage.

Also, be sure to check out “The UPMC Centers for Rehab Services High School Football Show,” brought to you by ROOT Sports and hosted by John Phillips, Saturday at 7 A.M. on 93.7 The Fan!

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