Upper St. Clair rallies in second half to pull away from Baldwin

Friday, September 6, 2019 | 11:28 PM

Through one half, it looked as if Baldwin finally would end its nine-game losing streak to Upper St. Clair.

But the Panthers defense had other ideas.

Baldwin (1-2, 0-1) was held to 12 yards after halftime, and Upper St. Clair (2-1, 1-1) rallied to defeat the Highlanders, 35-21, in a Class 5A Allegheny Eight game.

The Highlanders, looking to beat the Panthers for the first time since 2009, got an explosive first half from quarterback Mason Stahl. He ran for a score and threw a pair of touchdown passes to wide receiver Naseer Penn, helping Baldwin build a 21-14 halftime lead.

But Stahl was held to 2 passing yards and 8 rushing yards after halftime, finishing 10 of 21 for 178 yards. He had 17 carries for 54 yards and had an interception returned for a touchdown.

“We felt like the plan was good,” Upper St. Clair coach Mike Junko said. “We needed to contain the quarterback, who was very good with his legs, make sure to limit his big plays and just (give up) no more big plays in the passing game.

“Give our defensive staff credit because with a few tweaks in our front, our kids responded, and it worked out great for us.”

While the defense racked up five sacks after intermission, the offense also started to click.

Panthers quarterback Ethan Dahlem, who had just two incompletions before halftime, passed for 151 yards and a touchdown in the final two quarters. He ran for 89 yards and two more scores, both in the second half.

His touchdown pass, an 87-yard strike to David Pantelis, kickstarted the offense and tied the score at 21-21.

“We had to get the ball to David Pantelis and make him part of the game, so that was an emphasis in the second half,” Junko said. “Give them credit. Those guys executed.”

Said Dahlem: “At halftime, our coaches said to stick with the same thing, so we did that. Our plan was to throw the ball a lot if they had a certain front. But they never showed that front, so we just kept running it down their throat.”

The Panthers ran for 193 yards.

Baldwin scored on its opening drive, as Stahl found Penn streaking down the sideline for a 65-yard score. Upper St. Clair answered three minutes later when Jaden Keating scored from 6 yards.

Three drives later, Stahl was intercepted by Upper St. Clair cornerback Mateo Cepullio, who returned it 65 yards, putting the Panthers up 14-6.

The Highlanders responded with back-to-back scoring drives. Stahl scored on a 2-yard run and hit Penn for a 23-yard touchdown, sending Baldwin to the locker room up 21-14.

“We ran out of gas,” Highlanders coach Loran Cooley said. “We had some key injuries up front. In the second half, some guys went down, and we lacked the depth there. Hats off to Upper St. Clair. They adjusted and basically outplayed us in the second half.”

Baldwin also was done in by 12 penalties for 120 yards, including eight penalties in the second half.

“Upper St. Clair kept their composure and put it together,” Cooley said.

The win was the first for new Panthers coach Junko at Upper St. Clair’s renovated stadium, which is still partially under construction.

“I’m so proud of our community,” he said. “The commitment they’ve made to the facilities. … I stood down there with a great deal of pride for my team, for our community. To be a part of it was something special.”

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