Upper St. Clair bounces back with decisive win over rival Mt. Lebanon

Friday, September 29, 2023 | 11:52 PM

Upper St. Clair came into Friday night’s game looking for a bounce-back effort after suffering its first loss of the season last week.

Mason Chambers made sure the Panthers got one.

Chambers scored on a 79-yard run in the first quarter and finished with 202 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-27 homecoming win over Route 19 rival Mt. Lebanon.

“The best thing he did was he ran away from people,” Upper St. Clair coach Mike Junko said. “And once he got into the secondary, he got loose. Credit to our guys up front too. They did a heck of a job opening things up for him. Definitely a great senior memory for Mason for sure.”

The Panthers got on the board first on Chamber’s long touchdown run with 8:07 left in the opening quarter.

Mt. Lebanon answered late in the quarter, taking advantage of a turnover. Ezra Heidenreich’s interception and 41-yard return set the Blue Devils up inside the upper St. Clair 20-yard line. Michael Malone found Noah Schaerli on a 9-yard scoring pass with 1:26 left in the quarter.

Upper St. Clair blocked the extra point, and the first quarter ended with the Panthers up 7-6.

The second quarter scoring started off of a turnover as well. This time, USC turned defense into offense, as Zachary Salapow picked off Malone at midfield and returned it to the Blue Devils’ 33 yard line. Two plays later, Chambers scored for the second time, this time on a 25-yard run, to put the Panthers ahead 14-6 with 7:46 left in the quarter.

Chambers found the end zone again with 4:51 left in the half on a 4-yard run to push the USC lead to 21-6.

Mt. Lebanon answered on the ensuing drive when Malone found Schaerli on a 62-yard TD pass 2:10 before halftime, cutting the USC lead to 21-13.

The Blue Devils then pooched the ensuing kickoff and recovered the ball at the USC 30-yard line. But the Panthers defense came up big, only allowing one yard and forcing a turnover on downs to end the first half.

Mt. Lebanon scored first in the second half despite some adversity. Malone was injured on the drive and didn’t return to the game.

Enter sophomore Pat Smith, who connected on a 35-yard pass to Schaerli, which set up Fred LaSota’s 4-yard TD run with 2:46 left in the quarter. Smith was stopped on the 2-point conversion run, and USC held onto a 21-19 lead.

It didn’t take the Panthers long to answer, though, as they scored on their next play from scrimmage, when Julian Dahlem ran 64 yards for a score to push the lead back to 28-19 with 2:35 left in the quarter.

“There were a lot of swings in the game,” Junko said. “I give our kids a lot of credit. They bounced back and did a great job of putting together some big plays.”

The big plays continued in the fourth quarter for the Panthers, as Chambers scored 47 seconds into the final frame on a 59-yard run, making it 35-19.

Dahlem did it on defense next, as he picked off a pass at midfield and returned it 40 yards to set USC up inside the Blue Devils 20-yard line. Ethan Hellman found Cam Phillips on a 12-yard pass to increase the lead to 42-19 with 10:12 left in the game.

Mt. Lebanon rounded out the scoring when Andrew Hyland connected with Kris Kambitsis on a 6-yd TD pass. Hyland then found Matt Nguyen on the 2-point conversion to make it 42-27 USC with 5:16 to play.

Mt. Lebanon drove inside the USC 15 later in the quarter, but the Panthers defense forced another turnover on downs.

Schaerli finished with six catches for 144 yards and two toundowns for the Blue Devils.

With the win, Upper St. Clair improves to 5-1 overall. The Panthers return to Class 5A Allegheny Six Conference play next week when they travel to Bethel Park to battle another local rival for the third straight week. They suffered a 31-0 setback against Peters Township for their first loss last week.

“They’re a really good team,” Mt. Lebanon coach Mike Collodi said. “They’re balanced and have a good tailback. They’re very well coached too. They’re 5-1 for a reason.”

Mt. Lebanon falls to 4-2 overall. The Blue Devils host North Allegheny in a Class 6A matchup next week.

Matt Vandriak is a contributing writer.

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