Upper St. Clair wins slugfest with Bethel Park, making 1st WPIAL finals in 11 years

Saturday, November 12, 2022 | 12:07 AM

When rain is the forecast, old-school football is on the horizon.

No. 5 Upper St. Clair certainly brought that to the table in a 17-7 victory over No. 1 Bethel Park in the WPIAL Class 5A semifinals Friday night, but frankly, these two teams might have played just as hard-charging a game even in perfect fall weather.

“I think we probably would have been more balanced if the weather didn’t do what it did,” Upper St. Clair coach Mike Junko. “But in the end, it worked out for us, so we’ll take it.”

The Panthers advanced to the WPIAL championship game for the first time since 2011. They will meet Pine-Richland next Saturday at Norwin.

The teams combined for 16 straight runs to begin the game through the pouring rain at Big Macs Stadium in Canonsburg.

In the end, the passing game made the most significant difference, and once again, it was another hero of the day for Upper St Clair (10-2)

Ethan Hellmann, the freshman quarterback replaced on the final drive by Julian Dahlem in last week’s thriller against Gateway, caught lightning in a bottle.

He connected with Cody Marn, who did the rest of the business in a 74-yard catch and run on the Panthers’ first drive of the second half. Hellmann went 3 for 5 for 135 yards.

“We knew we weren’t gonna throw a lot,” Hellmann said. “We ensured we got consistent passes and ones we can make.”

Both teams used their workhorse backs early. Jamaal Brown for USC and Austin Caye for Bethel Park (10-2) caused a quick-moving first quarter.

In the second quarter, USC senior receiver Aidan Besselman scored on a reverse for the game’s first touchdown.

The biggest story of the game might have been Caye’s injury in the first quarter.

Caye was on crutches for the rest of the game and did not return. It was another crushing blow to the Black Hawks, who were already without Ryan Petras, who has been out since the final game of the season against Peters Township.

Caye being out led to extended touches for Gavin Moul and Blake Striegel, who had some success, but it felt like too much for the Bethel Park offense to overcome.

Sophomore quarterback Tanner Pfeuffer tried to make things happen with his arm, but the rain affected him throughout the game as four attempts were nearly intercepted.

“It affected us, but both teams dealt with injuries and rain,” Bethel Park coach Brian DeLallo said. “Their kids played hard, and their coaching staff did a great job.”

Similar to their game on Oct. 7, Bethel Park did have a long drive in this game, taking nearly eight minutes off the clock when Pfeuffer punched in a sneak for the Black Hawks’ only score.

Going into the second half, the Hawks owned time of possession until Brown took over. He had 87 of his 129 yards after halftime, and along with Aiden Conn’s 61 yards in the second half, they helped USC take back an edge in time of possession, which finished 25:52 to 22:08.

“We knew they were a physical team, and we wanted to match their physicality and better it,” Brown said. “The line did a great job the whole day.”

Bennett Henderson hit a 19-yard field to extend Upper St. Clair’s lead early in the fourth quarter.

“We’ve got 25 (seniors),” Junko said. “To see them get to this point, it means the world to me.”

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