Potent offenses highlight Class 5A showdown between Penn-Trafford, Upper St. Clair

Thursday, October 29, 2020 | 2:29 PM

Some of the best matchups in the WPIAL football playoffs can occur in the opening round.

That appears to be the case in Friday’s Class 5A battle between two high-scoring teams: Upper St. Clair and Penn-Trafford.

The Panthers are averaging 33.6 points, and the Warriors are averaging 47.2. The difference is the Warriors are only allowing 13.2 points and the Panthers 29.6.

The teams have met twice in the last three years in the playoffs, with Penn-Trafford winning both: 31-7 in 2019 and 35-14 in 2017. Upper St. Clair won the 1997 Class AAAA title game 28-27 over Penn-Trafford.

“It seems we’re playing them every year,” Upper St. Clair coach Mike Junko said. “There are a lot familiar faces that will be playing.”

Said Penn-Trafford coach John Ruane: “It’s like playing a conference game. We’re familiar with their players and coaching staff. And we know the speed they like to play at.”

Upper St. Clair’s fast-paced offense is led by senior quarterback Ethan Dalhem, who has completed 102 of 162 passes for 1,472 yards and 14 touchdowns. Dalhem can also hurt teams with his feet, rushing for a team-high 371 yards and four touchdowns.

Dalhem isn’t the only player to have success on the ground. Jaden Keating has rushed for 312 yards, Ethan Hiester 304 yards and Jamaal Brown 283 yards. The top receivers are David Pantelis, with 30 catches for 448 yards and seven scores, and Mateo Cepullio, with 26 catches for 397 yards and a touchdown.

“We wanted to be more balanced this season,” Junko said. “We’ve accomplished that goal. A couple weeks ago, we threw for 350 yards against Moon. Last week, we rushed for 280 yards against South Fayette.

“Even though we’ve given up a lot of points, our defense has come up with big stops when we needed them.”

Upper St. Clair lost to Allegheny Six Conference champion Peters Township, 28-21, and to No. 1-ranked and Northwest Six Conference champion Pine-Richland, 34-13.

“They’ve played a tough schedule and have been involved in some high-scoring games,” Ruane said. “It helps that we’ve faced and prepared for their fast-paced offense before. They have a ton of skill, and they like to go downfield. They also run the ball well.”

Penn-Trafford limited Upper St. Clair’s high-powered offense to seven points last season. The Warriors return a veteran secondary and a solid front seven.

“Not only is Penn-Trafford explosive on offensive, its defense seems to score points every game,” Junko said. “They have a lot of skilled players, and they spread it around.”

Penn-Trafford is led by quarterback Ethan Carr, who has completed 51 of 82 passes for 829 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also has rushed for 422 yards and six scores.

Junior Cade Yacamelli is the leading rusher with 536 yards and eight touchdowns. Chase Vecchio (12 catches for 171 yards, four touchdowns), Mason Frye (11 catches for 180 yards) and Brad Ford (10 catches for 108 yards) are top targets in the passing game. Ford has scored six touchdowns.

Ruane runs an innovative offense, too. The veteran coach isn’t afraid to run a trick play at any point in a game. Last week, the Warriors successfully ran a hook-and-lateral play and a fake punt.

“We practice them a lot,” Ruane said. “They’re designed to score touchdowns. It also gives your opponent something to think about and prepare for.”

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at pschofield@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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