Bethel Park, Upper St. Clair renew rivalry ranked 1st, 2nd in WPIAL Class 5A
Thursday, October 6, 2022 | 11:43 PM
It’s only Week 6, but the South Hills rivals meet at 7 p.m. Friday at Upper St. Clair with first place in the Allegheny Six up for grabs.
There’s maybe less suspense, but no less drama.
“It’s kind of fun when it’s the last game, but it’s going to be fun no matter what,” said Bethel Park coach Brian DeLallo, pointing out how the teams are ranked first and second in WPIAL Class 5A. “I don’t know if that’s ever happened in this rivalry.”
Upper St. Clair (6-0, 2-0) is first with Bethel Park (5-1, 1-0) second in TribLive HSSN rankings. The teams have met 10 times since 2010 and the series is tied 5-5 in that span.
“It’s going to be a typical Bethel vs. Saint Clair game,” DeLallo said. “Hard hitting. Well coached. Great defense. When we’re both good, it’s a three-point game, a six-point game, a one-point. That’s just how it ends up.”
Three of the past four matchups were decided by a touchdown or less.
A year ago, Bethel Park was about to kick a go-ahead field goal with 22 seconds left when Upper St. Clair blocked the kick and returned it 88 yards for a 21-14 win.
“That was a roller coaster of emotions, I think for both teams,” USC coach Mike Junko said. “For us to block a kick and take it back for a touchdown to win the game was one heck of a way to win a football game. I’m sure they haven’t forgotten about that.”
The two teams have a lot in common. They’re both physical, they like to run the ball, and they’re surely among the most experienced in 5A. Each team returned 18 starters. That experience has helped them avoid some of the upsets experienced by other Class 5A contenders this season.
“We have a pretty mentally tough team,” DeLallo said. “We’ve been down against some good teams. We were down 14 against Lebo and came back and won. We were down 13 against Canon-Mac and came back and won. We were down 13 or 14 against Central Catholic got within a few points.
”We don’t panic when things don’t go our way early in the game.”
“The biggest thing we’ve been able to do this year, which has been a problem for us in past years, is we’ve managed to stay healthy,” Junko said. “We’re coming into Friday night in one piece. That’s a big part of our success.”
Upper St. Clair’s offense starts with senior running back Jamaal Brown, who has rushed for 655 yards and five touchdowns on 78 carries. For Bethel Park, the top offensive weapon is running back Austin Caye, a senior with 463 yards and five touchdowns on 105 carries.
Each team also has a second rusher with more than 200 yards. Bethel Park’s Gavin Moul has 269 yards and three touchdowns. USC quarterback Julian Dahlem has 208 yards and three TDs.
Here’s another similarity: Each team has a sophomore at quarterback.
Dahlem, the younger brother of former USC quarterback Ethan Dahlem, has passed for 674 yards and 12 touchdowns. Bethel Park’s Tanner Pfeuffer has thrown for 791 yards and five touchdowns.
Bethel Park’s top receiver is sophomore Ryan Petras, who has 29 catches, 254 yards and eight total touchdowns. USC’s Aidan Besselman has 436 yards on 23 catches and seven touchdowns.
“I think it’s going to be pretty close,” Junko said. “They’re almost a mirror image of us. They’ve got a lot of kids that have played a lot of Friday night football. … It should be a pretty good game.”
Bethel Park’s most-recent win in the series — 14-13 in 2019 — included a late goal-line stand by the Black Hawks defense. USC had scored a touchdown with less than two minutes left but the two-point run was denied.
“I’m sure it’s going to come down to the fourth quarter,” DeLallo said, “and someone’s going to make a play or someone’s going to make a mistake that will be the difference.”
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .
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