Moon faces another top wideout in Allegheny 8 clash with Upper St. Clair

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Thursday, October 10, 2019 | 11:06 PM


For the second week in a row, Moon faces a big-play offense with one of the WPIAL’s top wide receivers.

A week ago, Moon used a strong pass-rush and cornerback Dawson Snyder’s coverage skills to upset Peters Township, holding Penn recruit Josh Casilli to one catch for nine yards. This week, the Tigers will try to use that same combination against Upper St. Clair and junior David Pantellis, the WPIAL’s leading receiver.

“Wherever No. 11 goes for Upper St. Clair, he’s going to be right in tow,” said Moon coach Ryan Linn, whose fifth-ranked Tigers (5-2, 3-1) host Upper St. Clair (5-2, 3-1) at 7 p.m. Friday in a key Allegheny Eight matchup.

“He covered Josh Casilli last week for four quarters (in Moon’s 21-13 victory),” Linn added. “Any big-time wideout that we have to go against, Dawson travels with them.”

Of course, Moon isn’t the first defense to target Pantellis.

Yet the 6-foot junior leads all WPIAL receivers with 946 yards and eight touchdowns on 46 receptions. He’s the top target for junior quarterback Ethan Dahlem, who has 1,726 passing yards and 15 touchdowns this season.

They‘ve earned the attention of every defensive coordinator since Week 3, when Dahlem passed for 485 yards and Pantellis had 13 catches for 269 yards.

“We call it the defense of the week,” USC coach Mike Junko said. “The things you see on film, teams now will change what they do defensively to try to take David away. That’s a credit to David and what he’s been able to do.”

That matchup will play a role Friday as both teams try to stay in the race for the conference title.

Bethel Park (4-0), Moon (3-1) Peters Township (3-1) and Upper St. Clair (3-1) all are in contention. Fifth-place Baldwin (3-2) will impact that conversation as well. There are five head-to-head matchups involving those five teams in Weeks 7, 8 and 9, making the next few weeks unpredictable.

Already this season, Bethel Park defeated Moon, Moon defeated Peters Township, and Peters Township defeated Upper St. Clair.

Baldwin hosts Bethel Park on Friday. In Week 8, Peters Township visits Bethel Park. In Week 9, Bethel Park visits Upper St. Clair, and Baldwin hosts Peters Township.

“There’s so much parity,” Junko said. “Even the teams that have records that are toward the bottom of the conference, those aren’t bad football teams. Every night is going to be a struggle because they’re good top to bottom in the conference. There are no ‘gimmes’ in this one, that’s for sure.”

How deep in the Allegheny Eight? Two traditionally strong programs, West Allegheny (2-4) and Woodland Hills (0-5), could both miss the playoffs.

It’s no surprise that Upper St. Clair is in playoff position. The Panthers have reached the postseason in 36 of the past 37 years.

But Moon’s success is a little more surprising. The Tigers have experienced one of the WPIAL’s most drastic turnarounds this fall. They finished 2-8 overall last season and celebrated only one conference win.

“You put on the film and it’s no surprise they’re as good as they are,” Junko said. “They are good up front and they’ve got skill. They’ve got all of the makings of a really good football team. Once you get past the shock value of how good they’ve gotten so fast, you realize there’s a reason they’re so good. They’ve got good football players.”

Moon won last week with sophomore backup Tyler McGowan at quarterback. McGowan completed 8 of 13 attempts for 116 yards and two touchdowns in place of injured starter Dante Clay. McGowan threw a 16-yard touchdown to Jeremiah Dean and a 3-yarder to Dalton Dobyns.

The Tigers also scored on defense with a 17-yard interception return by Brenden Luffey. Luffey and Ben Bladel also lead the pass rush.

“They’re probably the most physical football team in our conference, which says a lot,” Junko said. “They’ll just road grade you if they can, and they’ve had a lot of success doing it.”

Upper St. Clair is coming off a 28-14 nonconference loss to South Hills rival Mt. Lebanon. The Panthers ran the ball 30 times that night including 20 carries by quarterback Dahlem, who’s the team’s leading rusher.

USC passed for only 64 yards on 14 attempts, and Pantellis had just three catches.

“We need to get back to being balanced on offense,” Junko said. “That’s something that got away from us.”

Dahlem is one of the WPIAL’s best dual-threat quarterbacks. He has 480 rushing yards and nine touchdowns this season. He scored on a short touchdown run last week.

“We’ve got to be able to keep him in the box,” Linn said. “If we can limit his running, that helps us out.”

Moon might be leading the conference if not for a heartbreaking loss in overtime to Bethel Park in Week 5. But for a team that didn’t win much last season, Linn took that moment to reinforce just how far they’d come.

“This shows you,” he said, “that you’re able to play with anybody you step on the field with.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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