6:37 – Summer has disappeared as quickly as three yards into a cloud of dust, so believe it or not, it’s time for the 107th season of WPIAL football. “Mr. High School Sports” is live at Panthers Stadium on the campus of Upper St. Clair High School for an already pivotal Week 1 showdown between the Panthers and their new Class AAAA Southeastern Conference rivals, the Woodland Hills Wolverines.

It’s a battle of two of the last three district runners-up in Quad-A, and it could prove to be a sign of things to come this November as well. We’ll be providing periodic updates on this and as many of the other games in District 7 as we possibly can this evening, so stick around!

6:48 – These are traditionally two very deep and very talented teams, but this year, with both enduring heavy roster turnover at the skill positions, they’re also unproven teams. Junior running back Ron Brown, despite only piling up 275 yards on 50 carries last year, will probably become a more integral part of George Novak’s offense. Conversely, the x-factor for USC is new starting quarterback Pete Coughlin. Coughlin, as a junior, ran for 207 yards, following in the footsteps of an injured Dakota Conwell, in a huge WPIAL Class AAAA Semifinal upset of Central Catholic that included an electrifying 73-yard TD scramble.

The Panthers lost a lot up front, but they’re still a physically tough bunch, and they have a dependable center in senior all-conference honoree Austin Park (5’11”, 250 lbs). Both teams otherwise dress mostly juniors and sophomores up front, meaning the battle of attrition should be fairly even, whereas, in the past, USC could overwhelm most opponents. At the risk of channeling Captain Obvious, whoever controls the line of scrimmage probably controls this game.

6:58 – From a meteorological standpoint (please note I’ve used my first “big word” of the season), this is deja vu. We were at the Wolvarena to see Woody High open the 2011 season against Thomas Jefferson on a stinking hot Friday night. The weather here this evening, though very pleasant, is also sadly reminiscent of that balmy night in the East Hills. Pregame temperature has been pushing 90 since I got here, which means it’s probably well above that on the field right now. Then again, considering what training camp weather is usually like around here, this is probably second nature to the players.

7:00 – You can tell how big this game is because of who’s here: everybody. Two of my favorite people in the business, Lanny Frattare and Bob Orkwis, are about to sign onto the KDKA-AM side, and “Deuce” is here, which I saw coming from a mile away. I was sure to congratulate him (because he told me, and I felt obliged) on his 58th season following WPIAL football. Congrats, Deuce…aww yeah.

7:02 – As both teams warm up, the USC marching band plays “Boys Of Winter,” which makes me hungry for a different sport…but that’s another conversation for another time…

7:13 – As long as we’re waiting for the game and season to begin, which should be in under 20 minutes, I would be derelict in my duty as “Mr. High School Sports” if I didn’t make my annual WPIAL Championship matchup predictions before kickoff:

In Class A, I’m banking on Clairton setting the PIAA record of 60 or more consecutive wins, and defeating Monessen for their unprecedented fifth straight WPIAL Championship. The revised Black Hills Conference is brutal this year, and the ‘Hounds have a dynamic offense, so the Bears, maybe more than ever, will earn their keep this season. The meeting between those teams in two weeks will be worth watching.

In Class AA, I’m confident on Aliquippa getting at least a shot at a title defense, but I’m not confident on anything else. Lost in the fact that “Muzzy” Colosimo is gone is the fact that Greensburg C.C. is still a heck of a team. The Battle of the Brumbaughs in the Century Conference between Seton-LaSalle and South Fayette should be interesting too, and don’t be surprised if one of the Allegheny Conference teams flies under the radar. I’ll go with the Quips versus the Rebels because of Seton-LaSalle’s experience.

In Class AAA the Parkway Conference has had at least one team in the WPIAL Final six straight years, and Central Valley will make it seven, but not without stiff competition from defending champ Montour and Blackhawk. I think Franklin Regional, with its running game and hard-hitting defense, will oppose the Warriors.

In Class AAAA I’ve been more certain of my preseason pick than I have been in a while. North Allegheny is by far the toughest and most complete team in the classification, while Central Catholic and Gateway aren’t far behind. I like the Gators, with their balanced offense and motivation playing for a beloved and potentially lame-duck coach, to give Terry Smith at least one more shot at a ring.

7:19 – The national anthem and alma mater have come and gone, and as long as we have your attention, let’s put up the first scoring update of the 2012 season:

A Seth Miller TD run has Jeannette out to an early 7-0 over Southmoreland in AA Interstate Conference play.

7:20 – Just in: a 66-yard TD pass from Chandler Kincade to Alex Caratelli has given Blackhawk an early 7-0 lead over West Allegheny in AAA Parkway Conference play (thanks Grando!).

7:26 – As the Panthers have taken the field before a modest-looking crowd, we should point out, though we always try to focus on the kids first, that the battle of wits on the sidelines tonight is very fascinating.

Jim Render, the winningest coach in WPIAL history, third-winningest in PIAA history, enters with 354 wins with three different teams. George Novak, with 258 career wins, ranks No. 8 in WPIAL history, and has coached with Steel Valley and the Wolverines. Render is entering his 44th year as a head coach, and Novak his 35th.

7:30 – Hempfield leads McKeesport 3-0 after one quarter in Foothills Conference play. Meanwhile, USC won the toss, and deferred. The Panthers have kicked right to left, and we’re underway.

7:33 – The Wolverines go three and out. USC starts at Woody High’s 42. Meanwhile, Hampton and Indiana tied 7-7 after one, Jeannette leads Southmoreland 14-0 after one.

7:39 – No score here midway through the first quarter. Meanwhile, Knoch leads Greensburg-Salem 13-7 after one, Bethel Park has a 21-0 lead over Plum, and Mars is on upset alert, leading Franklin Regional early, 7-0.

7:42 – Timeout by the Panthers with still 4:44 left in the first, scoreless game. Two timeouts left for USC.

Neither team has attempted a pass. Meanwhile, Jeannette now up 28-0 on Southmoreland; Gateway leading Latrobe 6-0 in the first quarter.

7:44 – Want a huge upset? We’ve already got one in the making. In Rich Bowen’s debut as Hempfield coach, the Spartans lead McKeesport 10-0 late in the first half.

7:50 – End of 1st quarter: Woodland Hills 6, USC 0. On the final play, Cody McLelland hits a wide-open Trevon Mathis up the near sideline, and he outruns the trailing defender for a 62-yard score. Extra point is wide left. Grass-roots football here at Panthers Stadium. Each team with only one first down in the period. WH giving lots of carries to freshman back Miles Sanders. USC’s defensive front, through all the changes, still comes at you in waves. Yards at a premium, that TD not withstanding.

7:55 – Some scoring updates in Quad-A: Butler leads Seneca Valley 6-0, Mt. Lebanon leads N.A. early, 7-0. Hempfield has extended its lead on McKeesport to 17-0.

7:58 – Woodland Hills takes a 12-0 lead on USC, 10:39 left, 2nd quarter. Right after a Gabe Boyd fumble, McLelland hit Tom Greene in man coverage in the back left corner for a 39-yard score. Sanders fumbled a would-be two-point pass in the end zone. USC caught off guard by WH opening up the playbook.

8:00 – Central Valley up 7-0 on New Castle, Bishop Canevin leads Imani Christian 7-6 after one in the debut game for the Saints. Seneca Valley now up 7-6 on Butler after a Jordan Brown 20-yard TD run.

8:05 – Render doesn’t hide his consternation for having to use his second timeout with 7:20 left in the half, Panthers down 12-0 but driving. Coughlin getting into a nice rhythm with his arm. Meanwhile, Hempfield has extended its surprising first-half lead over McKeesport to 20-0, while Mount Lebanon and N.A. are tied 7-7.

8:08 – SSA leads Ford City 7-0 after one, and Seton-LaSalle leads South Fayette 14-0 in the Battle of the Brumbaughs early in the second quarter, thanks to a Luke Brumbaugh keeper.

8:10 – N.A., by the way, has fumbled three times already, which is a little uncommon for that team. TJ leads Ringgold 14-0 in the second quarter.

8:12 – Blackhawk has taken a 21-14 lead over West Allegheny. Jeannette has mercy-ruled Southmoreland, up 42-0 at the break. USC with great field position at the Woodland Hills 30 after a good punt return by Morgan Lee…

8:20 – Peters Twp. leads Baldwin 13-6 in the second, while Bethel Park is all over Plum, 41-0, at half. Timeout USC, its last one, with just over a minute left in the half, and the Panthers have cut the deficit to 12-3, thanks to a Ben Stalnaker 38-yard field goal.

8:23 – More Quad-A scores: Gateway leads Latrobe 26-6 in the second, North Hills leads Penn-Trafford 7-0. Here at halftime, it’s Woodland Hills leading Upper St. Clair, 12-3.

8:25 – Clairton, owners of a 47-game win streak, is clinging to a 14-7 lead over Chartiers-Houston.

8:30 – With apologies to Jerry Micco, Central Valley has opened up a 14-0 lead over New Castle.

8:34 – In the second quarter, we saw more confidence from the USC offense, and we started seeing some of the leadership displayed by Coughlin in the playoffs last year. But Woodland Hills, to their credit, has recorded three sacks, including one right after a procedure penalty negated a first-and-goal for the Panthers. Still, if Coughlin picks up where he left off on the first drive of the second half, we’ve got a ballgame. Neither team has been able to run much, so whichever one gets that phase of their game going will probably have an advantage in the second half.

8:35 – Gateway has extended its lead over Latrobe to 33-6 in Foothills action.

8:37 – North Hills leads Penn-Trafford 7-0 at half. Deer Lakes leads Valley at half by the same score.

Wow…Clairton only up 14-13 on Chartiers-Houston…interesting…

8:39 – Freeport up 20-0 on Kittanning in AA Allegheny Conference play. South Park leads QV 7-0 at half.

8:41 – After a 23-yard TD scramble by Akron commit Ed Stockett, McKeesport has cut Hempfield’s lead to 20-12 in the third (thanks to Keith Barnes for that one).

8:44 – Gateway looks to be well on its way to a season-opening win, leading Latrobe 40-6.

Meanwhile, Hempfield has responded in earnest, now leading McKeesport 27-12, on a 64-yard pass from Ty George to Joey DeFloria. Beaver Falls with a commanding 36-6 lead over Riverside (thanks to John Perrotto for that one); Springdale up 28-0 on West Shamokin at the break.

8:50 – Here at Panthers Stadium the two teams are back onto the field. Second half keys:

Woodland Hills – Get back to your passing game. You have the athletes. Earlier in the game it was obvious USC wasn’t totally prepared for it.

Upper St. Clair – Keep flying to the ball, and give Coughlin plenty of room to maneuver.

Wolverines kick right to left to begin the second half.

8:53 – Moon up 14-0 on Chartiers Valley, and, in a game of interest to many CBS employees, Pine-Richland leads Fox Chapel 6-3. USC doing a nice job controlling the game with its ground attack early in the third.

8:57 – Park recovers a Mac Pope fumble in the end zone for an offensive TD, and USC has cut it to 12-10 with 8:29 left in the third. The real star of that drive was Coughlin, who put the Panthers on his back with his running.

9:00 – N.A. leads Lebo 17-14 at half. Mack Leftwich is 12/16, 221 yards, one TD.

Holy statement game, Batman…33-12 Hempfield leads McKeesport late…

By the way, last Hempfield TD was a fumble return by DeLorian Day. Awesome name for any sport. Mathis shaken up for Woodland Hills.

9:04 – Woodland Hills calls its first timeout after a three-and-out and a punt that gives USC the ball just beyond midfield. Chance for the Panthers to take their first lead of the night and the season with six minutes left in the third quarter.

9:06 – Just like that, the Panthers fumble it away for a second time. Kevin Soloman on the recovery on the USC side of the field.

9:09 – Ellwood City leads New Brighton 18-14 entering the fourth, and Seneca leads Butler 17-9.

9:11 – Woody High now down to just one timeout with 3:00 left in the third quarter, punting inside USC real estate. The punt goes for a touchback with the Panthers still down 12-10.

Penn-Trafford and North Hills tied 7-7 thanks to a Devin Austin TD run. Peters up 20-6 on Baldwin.

9:16 – Correction: South Fayette in action against McGuffey, not Seton-LaSalle (chalk that one up to the bumps in the road of Week One), and the Lions have won, 42-6. Jeannette beats Southmoreland 48-6.

Meanwhile, Coughlin has USC on the march as the third quarter winds down, thanks to a couple big pass plays.

9:18 – End of 3rd quarter; Woodland Hills leads USC, 12-10, but the Panthers have the ball, 3rd down, on the plus side of the field. Once again, the star of that period, collectively, was the Upper St. Clair running game, though we should also credit the defense for making sure that fumble didn’t come back to haunt them.

9:20 – Central Catholic leading Shaler 35-0, Bethel Park beats Plum 55-14.

9:22 – Injury timeout as one of the Panthers is being stretched out. Still very humid here. USC in the red zone, same score, early fourth quarter.

Clairton still in a dogfight with Chartiers-Houston, believe it or not, leading 14-13 in the third.

9:24 – USC takes a 16-12 lead with the extra point pending, as Coughlin called his own number for a 13-yard score. 11:21 left in the game.

After a timeout unofficially called by Render, Coughlin runs in through a hole you or I could’ve hit. Two more points to make it 18-12 in favor of Upper St. Clair…

9:26 – N.A. leads Lebo 21-17 in the third, Hempfield up 33-18 on McKeesport in the fourth.

9:28 – Washington upends GCC, 28-7. I’ll say one thing for the subtraction of non-conference games: it’s made the start of the season much more exciting.

Meanwhile, USC’s run defense is starting to flex its muscles again.

9:35 – USC now up 24-12 on the Wolverines. A bad punt and a better return by Morgan Lee set the stage for a two-yard standing-up score by Coughlin (extra point was blocked) with 9:00 left in the game. If Woodland Hills can’t get something going on this drive, this game might be in the bag for the Panthers….

New Brighton beats Ellwood City, 21-18.

9:36 – Clairton has opened up a 21-13 lead over Chartiers-Houston in the second half.

Mt. Pleasant routs Waynesburg 38-0, and Steel Valley hammered Keystone Oaks, 35-7. Impressive effort by the Ironmen there. I though KO would be pretty decent this year.

9:40 – Hampton beats Indiana 45-21…meanwhile, Woodland Hills’ Alex Beasley had registered a couple long first downs, but Ben Huss recovered a fumble on a sack-and-strip. McClelland took a beating on that drive, and, once again, it appears Render’s defense has seized control of the game midway through the fourth period.

9:44 – As the Panthers try to close this one out in Woody High territory, we learn that Burrell has defeated Brownsville 41-7.

9:48 – USC leads now 31-12 after a two-yard run by Coughlin. Two minutes and change remaining.

Finals in Class A: Brentwood 48, Serra 0; West Greene 22, Bentworth 21 (OT); Jefferson-Morgan 21, Carmichaels 14.

9:53 – Woody High trying to make it interesting. Meanwhile, N.A. now leads Lebo late, 39-14.

Mars makes a powerful statement in the Class AAA Northeastern Conference, upsetting Franklin Regional, 21-14. Elsewhere, Central beats Shaler 35-0; TJ beats Ringgold 41-14; Hollidaysburg beats Highlands 33-26.

9:55 – FINAL: USC 31, Woodland Hills 12.

More to come…

(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)

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