Your luck finally ran out, Upper St. Clair's Jim Render told West Allegheny's Bob Palko with a lighthearted chuckle, as the two coaches embraced.
Palko shrugged, smiled and shook his head.
Faced with the choice to kick or try for the win, Palko went for two in overtime Friday night, a gamble he's won before. But this time, USC's Tom Kyle intercepted Mateo Vandamia's two-point throw and Upper St. Clair won 21-20, the final twist in what became an unpredictable finish.
“It was wild,” said Render, who made his own gutsy gamble a few plays earlier. “…I didn't expect them to go for two, honestly. In fact, I didn't watch it. I did see the interception. But when the play started, I couldn't look.”
West A celebrated the WPIAL Class 5A title last fall after a two-point play in overtime and defeated North Hills earlier this season the same way.
“We thought it would work,” Palko said. “Put it in our hands.”
The victory leaves No. 3-ranked Upper St. Clair (6-1, 6-0) alone atop the Allegheny Nine standings. But with 1 minute, 27 seconds left, No. 1 West Allegheny (5-1, 4-1) was just about to win in regulation.
The Indians led 14-7 and they'd just stopped Upper St. Clair on fourth down. But one play later, while trying to consume those final 87 seconds, a direct snap got away from West A freshman Nico Flati and USC's Phil Elias recovered.
“My last thing I said to them was to compete,” Render said. “Don't wake up tomorrow and say I wish I did something. Things were dire but they kept competing, and West Allegheny finally made a mistake.”
Given new life, USC moved 15 yards in three plays, and quarterback Jack Hansberry scored a game-tying touchdown on a 1-yard run.
“At that point, we know we're going to win,” said McLinden, who rushed for 53 yards on 15 carries. “… It was a surreal moment.”
On USC's overtime series, rather than attempt a 20-yard field goal, Render went for the touchdown on fourth down. Running back Colin McLinden took a direct snap, Hansberry threw a lead block, and McLinden stretched across the goal line. USC led 21-14 after Sean Martin added the extra point.
“I did think about (kicking a field goal),” Render said. “In fact I said to the players, ‘Do you want to kick?' No! That's a dumb question on my part because you know they're going to give you that answer.”
But, Render said, he never considered going for two.
West Allegheny's two-point call was a run-pass option. Usually, senior Will Weber would be the playmaker, but West A's top rusher was injured last week. The team's second-leading rusher, Dante Flati, is out with a fractured collarbone.
So the Indians turned often to Vandamia, a tight end who rushed for 69 yards and two touchdowns as a wildcat quarterback. Vandamia scored West A's overtime touchdown on a 1-yard run, and then lined up behind center for the conversion.
“Whenever he started running out he kind of peaked at the (receiver),” Kyle said. “I figured that he was either going to turn it up and try to score or throw it outside.”
West Allegheny had five players take snaps at quarterback. Flati had 67 yards on 11 carries and an 18-yard third-quarter touchdown to lead 14-0.
“When you lose your top two running backs coming into a game like this, with the way our kids performed and the obstacle we had to overcome, I'm proud of them,” Palko said.