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“Mr. High School Sports” LIVE from Panther Stadium

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By Matt Popchock

(mpopchock@kdka.com)

Talk about deja vu…in more ways than one.

Yes, you read the headline correctly, Mr. High School Sports is blogging live from Upper St. Clair High School tonight…and yes, Mr. High School Sports was here before.

That was Week 5, when the Panthers posted a ho-hum blowout win over Baldwin in their conference opener. This time, the stakes are much higher.

The Panthers (4-0, 7-1) and visiting Mount Lebanon Blue Devils (4-0, 6-2) traditionally share a mutual distaste. They also share the lead in the Class AAAA Great Southern Conference. Although both will definitely enjoy home-field advantage in their First Round playoff game, regardless of tonight’s result, the winner of this regular season finale claims the outright conference title.

USC quarterback and Pitt (defensive) recruit Dakota Conwell has racked up over 1,400 offensive yards, including 600-plus on the ground, and 14 total touchdowns. Mount Lebanon has its own fleet-footed runner, Cornell recruit Luke Hagy, who ranks second in the WPIAL with 1,517 yards rushing to go with 20 TD’s.

Lebo edged USC 14-10 last year for the conference crown. But both these teams are as well peopled up front and as tough on defense as they are well coached; Chris Haering has had a very successful 17-year run at Lebo, and USC’s Jim Render is the third-winningest coach in PIAA history, going for career victory No. 351 tonight.

Once again, I’ll be keeping an eye on this game, and some of the other games around the WPIAL with playoff implications as the night goes on.

More to come…

7:03 – Mount Lebanon marching band playing “Boys of Winter” (the Pittsburgh Penguins’ theme song). Appropriate, considering the temperature has dipped to 40 on the nose, and is expected to drop a little more before game time…and rumors of snow coming in from the east at some point this weekend are persisting, with possible rain later tonight. Of all the days to leave your earmuffs at the office…

7:16 – USC marching band and color guard are doing their thing, as senior night festivities get underway. We’re less than 15 minutes from kickoff…

7:20 – First updates of the night: West A fumbles, which sets up a Hopewell field goal, and the Vikings lead 3-0, 7:00 left in the 1st. Hopewell must win to make the playoffs.

Playoff-bound Fox Chapel off to a quick start, leading conference champ Central Catholic 7-3 in the 1st.

7:23 – Rushel Shell, by the way, has minus-5 yards on his first 3 attempts. Kudos to the Trib’s Kevin Gorman for that one. Meanwhile, Central Valley, the conference champ in the Parkway, has an early 14-0 lead on Ambridge.

Shell is going for his 37th straight 100-yard game. He would need at least one playoff game to tie the national record set by future Heisman winner Billy Sims back in the 1970s.

7:25 – USC football seniors being introduced with their families on the field. Game time draws nigh…

7:28 – Chris Harlan of the Trib (who, by the way, is seated directly to my right) informs me West A has taken a 7-3 lead over Rushel Shell and Hopewell.

That TD came on a gadget play: Dylan Bongiorni to Tory Delmonico to Tanner Cogar. 2:00 left, 1st quarter.

7:32 – Our “UPMC Centers for Rehab Services Game of the Week” coverage has begun on 93.7 The Fan with Lanny Frattare and Bob Orkwis. Lanny signed on with “Hi, friends, and a pleasant good evening to you.” I never get tired of that.

7:33 – I’m usually non-plussed by attendance figures, but there are a lot of empty seats at game time, considering what this game means. Chris Harlan showed me something else–a weather map–and it looks like the heavy stuff is going to miss Pittsburgh and hit central PA, but still, we’re both willing to bet some fans are avoiding the cold…and hopefully listening on The Fan. (ROOT Sports, by the way, is also in the house, and their coordinating high school football producer, Craig McConnell, can be heard tomorrow on “The UPMC Centers for Rehab Services High School Football Show” on 93.7 The Fan.)

7:37 – Lebo will take the ball to start the game, and attack left to right on your computer screen or mobile device.

7:38 – Hopewell leads West A 10-7 early in the 2nd. Shell scores an 8-yard TD (he had a longer one called back on a holding penalty earlier) and is now the No. 3 rusher in PIAA history.

Shell has 1,569 yards on the year and 8,838 all-time.

7:40 – Lebo goes 3 and out. Hagy: 4 yards on 2 carries. Meanwhile, Central Catholic leads the Foxes 10-7 to begin the 2nd.

7:41 – How Tyler Roth didn’t have that punt blocked, I have no idea. USC’s gunners were right in his face, and the Panthers start their first possession near midfield.

7:43 – Update: Gateway leads McKeesport 7-0 in the 1st in a battle for 2nd place in the Quad-A Foothills Conference. Meanwhile, Woodland Hills, which lost a head-scratcher to Pine-Richland last week, is up 7-0 on Penn Hills.

7:45 – After Northwestern recruit Jack Schwaba hauled in a 9-yard pass, Conwell keeps for 11 and a 1st down inside the red zone.

7:46 – TOUCHDOWN USC! Zach Deitrick, the tailback, stretches the run out to the right, follows his blockers, and cuts it up the far sideline for a 13-yard TD. Killian Mulkern makes his extra point…7-0 Panthers, 7:10 left, 1st quarter. USC’s line won that battle for sure.

Conwell had 22 yards on 3 carries on that drive.

7:50 – Luke Hagy runs for 19 yards and a 1st down, Lebo’s first of the night…as Franklin Regional takes a 20-0 lead on Greensburg-Salem in the 2nd. If F.R. wins, outright conference title.

7:54 – Rivalry game update from Beaver County: Beaver and Beaver Falls scoreless after one.

7:55 – Lebo punts again after a holding call near midfield does them in. 4:36 left, 1st quarter, same score.

Updates: Seth Miller 39-yd FG…GCC leads Jeannette 3-0 after 1st. Gateway still up 7-0 on McKeesport after one.

7:59 – USC punts for the first time as Conwell fires incomplete. Hagy is run out of bounds inside his own 5, but will be aided by a late hit foul.

Correction: they swallowed the flag, and give Hagy a couple extra yards out to the 7.

8:01 – Update: 17-7 Hopewell late in the 2nd. Shell now has a 65-yard TD to his credit as well. 12 runs for 92 yards and 2 TD so far…

8:02 – Hagy and Conwell collide, as Hagy runs for short yardage and a 1st down. Now USC does pick up a personal foul after the play. It wouldn’t be a rivalry game without at least one of those, but it can’t make Render happy.

8:04 – North Hills and N.A. scoreless after one. The Indians handed the Tigers their only loss last year.

8:06 – Nice punt coverage by Lebo’s Doran Graham…and a nice kick by Roth, for that matter. Seconds remaining in 1st, same score.

8:07 – End of 1st quarter. USC 7, Lebo 0. So far this one is shaping up like we expected–a game in which just one or two big plays might be enough to win it.

Hagy has 49 yards rushing unofficially, while Conwell has 29 on the ground. 1-of-3 passing for 9 yards.

8:10 – Jason Buchert 24-yd FG…3-0 North Allegheny over North Hills, early 2nd. Hopewell up 17-7 on West A at the half.

8:11 – Update: West Mifflin leads TJ 7-0 in the 1st. The Titans were the last Big Eight team to beat the Jaguars, all the way back in Week 9 of the 2005 season.

8:13 – Personal foul on Lebo as Conwell was whacked up high out of bounds. Emotions running a little higher, Lebo fans getting a little angrier as another flag is thrown for a facemask.

8:15 – Max Goldberg, younger brother of fellow lineman and Wisconsin recruit Arthur Goldberg, has a couple of tackles on this drive. USC threatening early in the 2nd.

8:18 – TOUCHDOWN USC! Conwell follows the sea of humanity and scores from 2 yards out, his 15th total TD of the year. Mulkern converts…14-0 Panthers, 8:38 left, 2nd quarter.

Conwell had 6 carries for 30 yards on that drive.

8:20 – Update: N.A. has opened up a 10-0 lead on North Hills in the 2nd at Neuman Stadium.

A weird-looking kickoff is fumbled by the Blue Devils and recovered by Pete Coughlin of the Panthers. Conwell then tackled for a 3-yard loss on botched snap. Can USC bust this open?

8:22 – Timeout USC. 1st of the half. 7:28 left in the 1st half, same score. By the way, give two more tackles to Max Goldberg. Patently obvious where he gets his genes.

8:23 – A couple of halftime scores for you: Beaver and BF are scoreless; Gateway leads McKeesport 10-0.

8:25 – TOUCHDOWN USC! Conwell now has a pair, as he squeezed through the left side, and took off like a rocket for a 26-yard score on 3rd down. 16th TD of the year. Mulkern’s kick is good…21-0 Panthers, 7:18 left, 2nd quarter.

8:27 – Conwell is nearing 100 yards rushing. Meanwhile, Dimitri Orfanopoulous nearly fumbles another kick for Lebo. Offsetting personal fouls, as both teams push and shove after the whistle.

Update: Albert Gallatin leads Laurel Highlands 20-13 at the half. Mustangs must win to have shot at playoffs.

8:29 – Hagy breaks loose for 34 up the Panthers’ sideline. That’s exactly the shot in the arm Lebo needs with under 7 minutes left in the half.

8:30 – West Mifflin now leads TJ 14-0 late in the 2nd. Meanwhile, Pat Goff completes just his second pass of the night, but it’s good for a 1st down to Dylan White in USC territory.

8:32 – Wow…a 38-yard TD pass by Goff to a wide-open Troy Apke is wiped out by a holding call. That hurts. Six penalties now on Lebo.

8:35 – Lebo ultimately has to punt, and it’s a touchback. Blue Devils’ defense needs to find an answer for Conwell here.

8:36 – Updates: Jeannette 6 GCC 3, 2nd quarter…Burrell leads Ford City 13-7 at the half…Highlands leads Hampton 24-7 at the half.

Highlands and Hampton are both still alive for playoff spots out of the Greater Allegheny Conference.

8:37 – Once again, Lebo can’t catch a break; Conwell fumbles on a 1st down run, but the Panthers recover.

8:39 – TOUCHDOWN USC! Conwell again disappears into the pile and reappears while streaking right down the middle for a 51-yard TD. He now has over 140 on the ground, and 3 TD on the night…17 on the year. Mulkern converts…28-0 Panthers, 1:55 left in the half. Knew Conwell and USC were great, but didn’t see this coming.

8:41 – USC squibs a kickoff near Lebo’s 40, but give the Panthers’ special teams credit for flying to the ball. They’re firing on all cylinders right now, as Hagy runs for 3 yards.

8:43 – Hagy picks up the 1st down, and Apke makes the catch into USC territory. 51 seconds left. Goff hits Apke again from 29 away.

8:44 – Hagy stopped short of the goal line, as Lebo takes timeout. It has 2 left. 34 seconds left.

8:46 – TOUCHDOWN MOUNT LEBANON! Hagy gets the goose egg off the board with a 1-yard run over the right side. 21st TD of the year. Orfanopoulous clangs the extra point, however, off the left upright, so it remains 28-6 USC with seconds left in the half.

USC, which had allowed the 2nd-fewest points in Class AAAA coming in, loses its chance at a sixth shutout.

8:48 – Updates: TJ trails West Mifflin 14-7 at half…Central leads Fox Chapel 33-7 in the 2nd half.

8:50 – Rushel Shell is now the 2nd-leading rusher in PIAA history, surpassing James Mungro of the Syracuse Orange and Indianapolis Colts. With a 7-yd TD run, he also topped 100 yards. He needs one game to tie Sims’ national record.

Halftime. USC 28, Lebo 6.

9:02 – Chick-Fil-A in the press box. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again; a fed media is a happy media.

Updates and stats on the way…

9:03 – Updates: Highlands 24 Hampton 7 at half. Shady Side 14 Deer Lakes 7 at half. Burrell 13 Ford City 7. Burrell and Shady Side still have a shot at the Allegheny Conference crown, as does Freeport. That conference may have a three-way champ.

9:07 – Gateway has now extended its lead on McKeesport to 24-0 in the 2nd half. TJ and West Mifflin are now tied at 14.

9:11 – Conwell with 152 rush yards unofficially to go with his 3 TD. Hagy has 98 unofficially to go with the lone Blue Devil touchdown. Second half beginning soon.

Last year Lebo was down 10-0 after three before scoring twice in the 4th quarter to win. Tonight the mountain to climb is obviously a bigger one. It isn’t fair to say Lebo’s line has been dominated, because the offense did move the ball at times, and the defense made some nice plays. But USC has definitely controlled the line of scrimmage, and Conwell is making the Blue Devils look slow.

Render is doing a good job of mixing in Deitrick and P.J. McGuire, who has 37 yards, to keep some of the pressure off Conwell.

9:17 – USC attacking left to right on your computer screen or mobile device to begin the half. Conwell with 11 on 2 carries. 1st down Panthers.

9:19 – We already have a final (thanks again to Chris Harlan of the Trib): Central Valley beats Ambridge 48-7.

West Mifflin has retaken the lead, 21-14, over Thomas Jefferson, early 3rd…

9:21 – Conwell is flagged for intentional grounding, which is one of the few things that has not gone in his favor tonight. Punt team on for Panthers, 7:39 left, 3rd quarter, still 28-6 USC.

9:22 – Update: Jordan Edmunds 1-yd TD…Jeannette leads GCC 13-3 in the 3rd.

Springdale RB Sean Dugan has 227 rush yds…Springdale up 49-0 on Riverview in 3rd. (Shout out to blog reader Becky B., a Springdale alum.)

9:24 – Jake Radziukinas and Rori Blair with sacks of Pat Goff to force a punt.

9:26 – Update: Gateway gets a running clock on McKeesport (there’s something you don’t hear every day), leading 38-0 after three.

Long touchdown by GCC to cut Jeannette’s lead to 13-10 with 9:00 left in regulation.

9:28 – Timeout USC, 1st of half, after a 28-yard sweep to the left by Conwell. He’s nearing 200 rush yards, and the Panthers are nearing paydirt with 4:44 left in the 3rd.

9:30 – TOUCHDOWN USC! As if on cue, Deitrick busts loose and runs in from 23 out down the right side. 2nd TD of the night for him. Panthers in command 35-6, 4:36 left, 3rd quarter. Once again, USC’s line doing a great job putting hats on hats.

Conwell: 181 rush yds, 3 TD. Deitrick: 52 rush yds (and, again, 2 TD).

9:33 – Rushel Shell’s career isn’t done yet. Hopewell beats West A, 31-14. Shell had all 4 TD’s, the last coming on a 20-yd run. 35 carries for 212 yards tonight. Hopewell is in the playoffs (3rd in conference), West A is in at 4th place.

9:34 – Hagy needs just two runs to top 100 yards and pick up a 1st down. Give him credit for continuing to battle.

(Nice piece of trivia from Lanny; Scott Hagy, Luke’s father, is the principal at Keystone Oaks High School.)

9:35 – Goff can’t hook up with Apke. He’s been drawing tight man coverage all night. Mount Lebanon fans wanting pass interference on Pete Coughlin, but nothing doing.

9:37 – Final in from the Wolvarena: Penn Hills knocks off the Wolverines, 14-10. Both make the playoffs, however, though Woody High will start on the road.

9:39 – A couple more finals: Franklin beats Salem 53-14. Gateway whacks McKeesport 38-0.

Congrats to Greg Botta (who appeared on our airwaves last weekend) and the Panthers on a perfect regular season.

9:41 – Big upset brewing in AAA; TJ trailing W. Mifflin 27-14. Meanwhile, it’s the end of the 3rd quarter here at USC, where the Panthers are in complete control, leading Mount Lebanon 35-6.

9:44 – Central beats Fox Chapel 49-7. Erie McDowell whips Altoona 59-0.

9:45 – Ford City nips Burrell, 14-13. Bucs lose shot at conference co-championship. Both teams are in the playoffs.

9:46 – Wow! Conwell reverses his field, and ALMOST goes all the way. 84 yard run. 1st and goal.

9:47 – TOUCHDOWN USC! Austin Stephan finishes the drive with a 2-yard TD run. 2nd TD of the year for the senior. Conwell has 265 rush yds unofficially. And the Panthers get the running clock. Who knew? 42-6 Upper St. Clair, 10:57 left in the game.

Update: N.A. leads North Hills 17-0 in the 4th…West Mifflin leads TJ 27-14 with 5:00 left in the game…

9:50 – Beaver Falls beats Beaver 18-0 in a battle of playoff-bound MAC teams.

9:51 – Bethel Park eliminates Baldwin with a 17-14 win in other Great Southern action.

9:52 – Laurel Highlands beats Albert Gallatin 47-26. Mustangs clinch a playoff spot.

The streak is over! West Mifflin beats TJ 27-14…first conference loss by Bill Cherpak’s squad since ’05.

9:55 – Conwell still out there, as Render elects to let his seniors finish the game on senior night. Meanwhile, Seton-LaSalle runs the table, beating Keystone Oaks 49-14. This means K.O. needs Steel Valley to lose to make the playoffs.

9:57 - Steve Gannon picks off Goff. 1st and 10 from the Lebo 12. Under 5:00 left. Meanwhile, Canevin blanks N. Catholic, 19-0. Trojans need help.

9:59 – Clairton wins again, beating Serra 48-0, to keep the 2nd longest winning streak in WPIAL history alive (39 games).

10:02 – Peters Twp. makes playoffs with a 46-27 win over Canon-Mac. Jeannette beats GCC 13-10 to win Interstate Conference title.

10:04 – Highlands beats Hampton 37-15. Golden Rams are in.

10:05 – Congrats to Jim Render and the Panthers, your Great Southern Conference champs. Final score: USC 42, Mount Lebanon 6.

10:22 – Jim Render: “I’d trade all [351 career coaching wins] for what happened out here tonight.” Team is definitely peaking at the right time. Didn’t think it would go as smoothly as it did, a lot of respect for Mt. Lebanon. Happy for Dakota Conwell for echoing great performances of older brother Dane Conwell en route to 2006 WPIAL title. Linemen played well, feels like they exploited Blue Devils. Hopes they can channel same emotion going into the playoffs that they did tonight.

10:27 – Dakota Conwell: Didn’t think it was easy, despite the score, proud of way his team executed. They’re definitely starting to come together. On 51-yd TD: blocking materialized, “saw a gap, then I saw all green, then I just took off.” Going to playoffs “back to 0-0, then we’re going to make some noise.” Happy with his season, but happier for getting to share conference title with teammates. Wanted to win one for older brother Dane, part of USC’s last conference champ in ’06. Team motto this week was “revenge.” Had “a salty taste after last year’s game,” came out fired up.

Dakota Conwell is scheduled to appear in the second hour of “The UPMC Centers for Rehab Services High School Football Show,” presented by ROOT Sports, Saturday morning 7-9 on 93.7 The Fan.

We’ll also have Craig McConnell, ROOT Sports producer, in that hour, and Connellsville head coach Dave McDonald in the first hour to talk about that team’s amazing turnaround this year.

Check KDKA.com for all of tonight’s WPIAL/PIAA Week 9 scores, and be sure to catch highlights on the KDKA-TV 11:00 P.M. news, after the end of the MSA Sports Scoreboard Show on 93.7 The Fan.

I’ll have final numbers from tonight’s game later Friday night/Saturday morning.

1:00 A.M. Sat.: First of all, a quick correction: Clairton does indeed own the 2nd-longest win streak in WPIAL history, but Friday marked the Bears’ 40th straight win, not their 39th.

Second of all, final (unofficial) numbers for Conwell and Hagy:

Both men ended with 22 carries; Conwell finished with 277 yards to complement his three TD’s, and Hagy ended with 133 to go with the lone Lebo touchdown. Conwell was also 2-of-5 passing for 29 yards, and Hagy caught one pass for minus-2 yards.

On an unrelated note, Rushel Shell needs under 500 yards to become the PIAA’s all-time leading rusher, according to KDKA-TV Sports. Cheers to Bob Pompeani, the “real” pride of Hopewell, for that nugget. As I previously mentioned, Hopewell is in the playoffs, so he has an outside chance.

Finally, another friendly reminder to tune into 93.7 The Fan Saturday at 7:00 A.M. for more high school football coverage, and on Monday at 7:00 P.M. to find out what the football playoff pairings look like in each classification. Keep reading the “Mr. High School Sports” blog this weekend, and all next week as we run down the section champions and playoff qualifiers, and get you ready for the 2011 postseason.

Stay warm!

(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)

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