Hiester’s late-game heroics lead Upper St. Clair past Bethel Park

Saturday, October 30, 2021 | 12:00 AM

Upper St. Clair’s abbreviation is USC.

Maybe the C should stand for cardiac, because for the second straight week, the “cardiac kids” used some late-game heroics and 14 fourth-quarter points to pull out a victory, this time 21-14 over Bethel Park to secure second place in the Class 5A Allegheny 6 Conference.

Last week in a 31-28 win over South Fayette, it was Hail Mary pass on an untimed down that tied the score and a blocked field goal by Ethan Hiester in overtime that helped lead the Panthers to victory. On Friday night, it was another blocked field goal from Hiester that directly led to the winning touchdown.

“All thanks to coach (Tim) Robbins, he puts me in the right position every week to make a play, and I was able to do that again tonight,” Hiester said.

As Bethel Park’s Cody Geddes lined up to attempt a 30-yard field goal in the waning seconds, Hiester broke through and blocked the kick. The ball caromed up in the air and into the waiting arms of Mateo Cepullio, who returned it 88-yards for the winning score with 22 seconds left.

“My heart’s still racing. You can’t make this stuff up,” Cepullio said. “I’d like to win games before the final minutes, that’s fun, too.”

Hiester was equally “ecstatic” after the win.

“Our team puts the effort in every week and our coaches make sure of that. I couldn’t be more-proud of this team,” he said.

Cepullio, who threw the tying touchdown pass on the last play of regulation against South Fayette, was up to his tricks again at against the Black Hawks, when the Panthers faced a fourth-and-14 at the Bethel Park 24-yard line.

The senior, who started the season playing wide receiver, avoided pressure, and rolled to his left and was able to find Jamie Smith just inside the front pylon for the touchdown that tied the score at 14-14 with 1:22 left.

“Coach (Mike) Junko told me before that last drive, make something special happen,” Cepullio said. “(The play) was originally supposed to go to (Aidan) Besselman up the seam, but he was covered. I saw Jamie (Smith) peek open, and I just put the ball on the front pylon, and he dove and got his feet in.”

Cepullio also had the first touchdown for Upper St. Clair, when he capped a 15-play drive that lasted 6:48 with a 5-yard run in the first quarter.

On senior night, senior Tory Volpatti paced the Black Hawks. Volpatti threw a 32-yard scoring pass to Ryan Petras on a halfback option play early in the second quarter to tie the score at 7-7.

Volpatti intercepted a Cepullio pass in the third quarter and then carried the ball nine times on the ensuing touchdown drive, which he capped with a 5-yard run.

Volpatti led the offensive attack for Bethel Park (5-5, 3-2) with a season-high 33 carries for 133 yards. The Black Hawks, who were winless last season, will enter the playoffs as the third-place team from the Allegheny 6.

Hiester lead the Panthers with 136 yards on 21 carries. The senior said the Panthers made some adjustments, which helped him gain 77 yards in the second half.

“We made a big adjustment at halftime with our blocking and tried to bounce the ball outside and take advantage of our angles,” he said. “Without those big men up front, that wouldn’t have been possible.

“These types of games make memories. I’ll remember these two weeks 30 years from now.”

Upper St. Clair improves to (6-4, 4-1) and might be looking at a home game when the WPIAL playoffs begin next Friday.

Cepullio pointed to the rushing attack as a key in the playoffs for the Panthers.

“We need to keep that run game going, we have our big five up front and we’re going to let him (Hiester) run the ball.”

“Coach Junko always preaches discipline to us as a team,” said Hiester. “That’s the biggest thing we’re going to need headed into the playoffs.”

Watch an archived broadcast of this game on Trib HSSN.

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